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Elysium • Stories Pamela Stewart

This is a debut collection from a self-described “literary proctologist.” These are stories about ordinary people searching for meaning. People are rescued, but not always in the way they hoped for or expected.

DAMP is a long overdue, visually exuberant, critical engagement regarding the specificities of the Vancouver media arts scene—now. DAMP includes over 25 contributors, including work from Laiwan, Fiona Bowie, David Rimmer, Warren Arcan, Clint Burnham, Randy Lee Cutler, and Ann Marie Fleming. isbn: 978-1895636-89-5 144 pp. | cloth | full colour | $40

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issue 49

CONTENTS

subTerrain A LITERARY MAGAZINE EDITOR Brian Kaufman

MANAGING EDITOR Jenn Farrell

fiction & poetry

EDITORIAL COLLECTIVE Brian Kaufman, Hilary Green, Jim Oaten, Peter Babiak, Day Helesic, Jenn Farrell, Robert Strandquist, Nadine Boyd, Karen Green, Sharon Bradley, Kate Lancaster, Paul Pitre, Pat Mackenzie

L AYO U T HeimatHouse

PROOFREADER Pat Mackenzie

ADVERTISING Brian Kaufman, Karen Green

COVER IMAGE John Lurie

PHOTOGR APHERS Derek von Essen

I L L U S T R ATO R S

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The Day Neil Armstrong Walked on the Moon BY NORMA DEPLEDGE

10 14 16 25 26 36 41 42

Floater BY BENJAMIN REED Acts BY TOM REYNOLDS Tagged BY MATT MULLINS Super’s Report BY PETER NORMAN Me Yukon (Lush Triumphant Winner) BY TOR FORSBERG Familiar (Lush Triumphant Winner) BY PAT NEWSON Black Sheep Missive BY MATT MULLINS Life and Death in Palm Desert BY CHELSEA ROONEY

Joel Kimmel, Katharine Jackson-Kaufman, Derek von Essen, Odette Hidalgo

B OOK REVIEW EDITOR Karen Green

ART EMISSARY Sharon Bradley

INTERNS

non-fiction 29 John Lurie is Sick: Who Will Help? BY ALAN MACINNIS 37 The Afterlife of Culture BY STEPHEN HENIGHAN

Pat Mackenzie

IMAGE: DETAIL FROM “BARCELONA” BY DEREK VON ESSEN

subTerrain Magazine P.O. Box 3008, MPO, Vancouver, B.C. V6B 3X5 Canada Tel: (604) 876-8710 Fax: (604) 879-2667 e-mail: subter@portal.ca website: www.subterrain.ca

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photo feature 18 Tour Bus Series BY DEREK VON ESSEN 45 Book Reviews: Kevin Williams on Bruce Serafin’s Stardust: Essays; Heidi Greco on Joe Rosenblatt’s The Lunatic Muse; Jim Oaten on Carellin Brooks’ Wreck Beach; Pat Mackenzie on Jamie Benidickson’s The Culture of Flushing; Lyle Neff on Matt Radar’s Living Things; Christine Leclerc on Andy Rees’ Genetically Modified Food; Robert Strandquist on Jenn Farrell’s Sugar Bush; Carolyne Van Der Meer on Licia Canton’s Almond Wine and Fertility. Cover Image: Of Course, Animals Have Souls by John Lurie

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contributors Norma DePledge lives and writes in Victoria where she teaches at Camosun College. She has published short fiction in the Malahat Review, Room of One's Own, Grain, Atlantis, on CBC radio, in Monday Magazine, Paperplates, Prairie Journal Trust. Her work has also appeared in the anthologies Dropped Threads III and Love and Pomegranates.

subTerrain FAC T U M

GENERAL GUIDELINES Fiction: max. 3,000 words Creative Non-Fiction & Commentary: max. 4,000 words Photos: b&w, 5 x 7; line art and illustrations welcome Poetry: no unsolicited poetry submissions

LETTERS ARE WELCOME We encourage your comments about what you find between our covers. Letters become the property of subTerrain Magazine and may be edited for brevity and clarity.

B O O K S TO R E S & R E TA I L O U T L E T S subTerrain is available in Canada from the Canadian Magazine Publishers Association (416) 504-0274 and in the U.S. from International Periodical Distributors (IPD) 1-800-999-1170.

Tor Forsberg’s history of becoming: funeral director, ostrich farmer, trapper, aerial photographer, events organizer, youth counselor, artist, and lately, weekly columnist for newspaper. His words to live by: exuberance, fascination, and hope. Stephen Henighan is the author of eleven books, including the forthcoming A Report on the Afterlife of Culture from Biblioasis. He is a contributor to many periodicals, including Geist, The Walrus, and The Times Literary Supplement. Katharine Jackson-Kaufman is a young illustrator who is currently learning the finer etiquette of safe driving, and finishing off her secondary studies. She lives in Ladner, B.C. with her mother and two cats.

WWW.SUBTERRAIN.CA Sniff the ether

ISSN: 0840-7533

IMAGE THIS PAGE, DETAIL FROM “LOS ANGELES” BY DEREK VON ESSEN

Volume 5 no. 49 • publishing since 1988 We gratefully acknowledge the support of the B.C. Arts Council and The Canada Council for the Arts. We acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada, through the Publications Assistance Program (PAP), and the Canada Magazine Fund for marketing and promotional initiatives.

COVER PAINTING BY JOHN LURIE

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subTerrain is published 3 times a year (Spring, Summer, Fall/Winter) by the sub-TERRAIN Literary Collective Society. All material is copyright of subTerrain, the authors, 2008. SUBSCRIPTION RATES: INDIVIDUALS: Canada/U.S.: One year $15.; Two years $20.; Elsewhere: One year $25.; Two years $38. INSTITUTIONS: One year $18; Two years $36. MANUSCRIPTS AND ARTWORK are submitted at the author’s or artist’s own risk and will not be returned or responded to unless accompanied by a self-addressed stamped envelope bearing sufficient postage for the submission’s return. Those submitting material from outside Canada must include sufficient International Reply Coupons to cover the material’s return. Please allow 2–4 months for a response. Indexed in the Canadian Literary Periodicals Index and the American Humanities Index (AHI). Canadian Publications Mail Products Sales Agreement No. 0361453. PAP Registration No. 09322. Postage paid at MPO, Vancouver, B.C. Date of issue: Spring 2008. All correspondence to: subTerrain Magazine, P.O. Box 3008 Main Post Office, Vancouver, B.C. V6B 3X5 CANADA TEL: (604) 876-8710 FAX: 879-2667 email: subter@portal.ca. No e-mail submissions—queries only, please.

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Joel Kimmel is an illustrator currently working out of Brookly, New York. Before that he was living in Canada’s beautiful capital city, Ottawa. Prior to his reinvention as a visual artist, John Lurie was a composer and bandleader on the downtown NY scene, recording several albums with his band, the Lounge Lizards, as well as with the John Lurie National Orchestra. He costarred in and/or scored Jim Jarmusch's Permanent Vacation, Stranger than Paradise, Down by Law, and Mystery Train; had supporting roles in films by Martin Scorsese, Wim Wenders, and David Lynch; and wrote a variety of soundtracks for Hollywood and independent films, including Get Shorty and Excess Baggage. He also scored and hosted his own IFC cult TV series, Fishing with John, and ran his own label, Strange and Beautiful Music. In addition to his several successful gallery and museum shows, two books have been published of his visual art: Learn to Draw and John Lurie: A Fine Example of Art.

Allan MacInnis is a Vancouver freelancer whose past interviews include Eugene Chadbourne, Terry Riley, Peter Stampfel, the No Neck Blues Band, the New Creation, the Minimalist Jug Band, Nels Cline, Mike Watt, Annie Sprinkle, and Reg Harkema. His blog is at http://alienatedinvancouver.blogspot.com Matt Mullins used to live in a rented room near US 131. He is obsessed with time travel and nature documentaries. His writing has appeared in Descant, Slipstream, Born Magazine, Fifth Wednesday and elsewhere. Pat Newson lives in the lush terrain of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. She is re-entering the sub-terrain of poetry after a twenty-year exile. Peter Norman is a Calgary freelance writer. His poetry has appeared in The Fiddlehead, The Malahat Review, Matrix, Descant and elsewhere, and received an Editor’s Choice award in Arc’s 2007 Poem of the Year Contest. Work by Benjamin Reed has appeared in Blue Mesa Review, The Southern Quarterly, Sou’wester, and Farfelu. He lives in Austin, where he is hard at work on his second novel. Tom Reynolds is an over-educated, technologically frustrated, cat loving, middle-aged man living on disability in Windsor, Ontario. His most recent publication is the poetry chapbook Travelogue, from Leaf Press. Chelsea Rooney is the proud new owner of a Creative Writing degree from the University of British Columbia. She is also proud to have her first publication in subTerrain Magazine. Stuart Ross’s books include I Cut My Finger (Anvil Press), and Hey, Crumbling Balcony! (ECW Press). A new book of poetry, Dead Cars in Managua, was just released from DC Books. Ross’s online home is hunkamooga.com, and his physical home is Toronto Derek von Essen is a multi-disciplinary, selfstarting, DIY type who recycles everything from objects to conversations within his creative fields of painting, photography and graphic arts.

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The Day Neil Armstrong Walked on the Moon NORMA DEPLEDGE I L L U S T R AT I O N BY J O E L K I M M E L

No ditches lined the side of the road. Just asphalt. Then no asphalt. Black, then sand. Silt, then gravel. A car could swerve off that road and shoot across space like a rocket, never slowing down, sketching a line of smoking dust for miles before it disappeared. Back home, there were ditches on the side of the road. They carried the run-off from spring snow. They were steep and deep, quilled with the spurs of splintered bottles. They contained hubcaps and mangled iron from discarded bed frames, or road signs shot through with holes. These were the kinds of things that landed in ditches. And cars. A tire would catch a soft shoulder, drag the vehicle down like a bicycle caught in a rut. A driver would jerk the wheel away from the tow—all instincts wrong—so the car would roll, plunging side over side, compressing the roof, shattering the glass. James wheeled the car into a gas station. He turned off the motor and sat looking at the flatness. His brother, Dillon, drove into a ditch three years earlier when he was sixteen. “Why?” asked James, when Dillon finally came to in the hospital. “Why can’t you just survive?” The service station was a jigsaw-building constructed in sections. It butted up against a trailer, shaded by a roof that

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extended over a windowless add-on. A sign above the door of the add-on read “Bar, Air Con.” Six pick-up trucks nosed against the building. James’ radio hadn’t been working. As he’d driven, hour after hour, the programs had doppled into one end of a signal and out the other. Clean reception had only lasted for about half an hour before it faded or deteriorated into static. Rather than keep switching stations, James had turned the radio off and ridden in silence, so he didn’t realize that the Eagle had landed. It was cool in the bar, and still. Just the hum of the air conditioner and robotic noises from outer space. The bartender, his back to his patrons, rested against the bar, one elbow on the counter, his head cocked toward the tv. Intermittently, he reached for a glass, filled it with draft, took money, made change, without taking his eyes off the screen. Several men were seated on chrome stools, elbows hooked over a high counter. They looked like short kids against a tall fence, all

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eyes fixed on the television that was mounted on a wall bracket behind the bar. It could have been the World Series, when men in bars hang on a thread of paralyzed time as a fielder launches himself off the earth and his body slams against a padded fence. His outstretched arm snaps backward, the frame freezes. And then he’s got the ball in his mitt. Time and life erupt. A clamour detonates. Victorious fists punch the air. But when Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon, the only sound that James heard was the hum of the air conditioner. No fists released. In a bar in the middle of nowhere, he sat stupefied, as if the fielder had launched himself from the earth but hadn’t come back down. James knew he was finished waiting somehow, and everything had changed. Only now his life was smaller than it had been before. Dillon had made a full recovery from the motorcycle accident. He’d gotten pins in his right arm and leg which, in years to come, would set off the metal detectors in airports, but other than that, the accident had left him more or less the same. They grew up in the same house. Same family. But from the time Dillon was four, you could see something different in the photographs. The uncertain tilt of his head, his vigilant eyes. As if he were on edge. Searching for a signal whether he should smile or run. He shadowed their father. “Get me a screwdriver,” their father would order him, and Dillon would run to the garage on his urgent little legs. “Which one’s a screwdriver, James. Gimme a screwdriver.” Then he’d run back to where their father was lying under a car, his overalled legs stuck out in the sunlight. James remembered Dillon’s legs, pumping as if he were desperate to get back before their father decided he didn’t need a screwdriver anymore. Sometimes James would watch Dillon, not wanting to see him but unable to help himself. Dillon made James queasy in the pit of his stomach the way a girl in his class once made him queasy. They were in Grade Two. The girl was sick but she kept coming to school. She got pale and very tiny. Her hair started to fall out and her father had to carry her and put her in a desk. The teacher said that the other kids weren’t to worry. The girl—James couldn’t remember her name, but it may have been Daphne—she didn’t have anything contagious, the teacher said, and she wanted to be with the other children and live as normally as she could for the time she had left. Once, the teacher made all of them put their coats on the floor at the back of the class to make a bed because the girl was so sick that day that she couldn’t sit up. She lay on the coats at the back of the room and they carried on with their lessons as if everything were normal. James put his hands beside his eyes, like blinkers on a horse, so his eyes couldn’t sneak a look when he was trying to keep them on the blackboard. Then, he remembered, he concentrated with all his might on practicing writing the lines of “m”s mmmmmmmmmm because concentrating helped him to not look, and it helped stave off the terrible clammy fear and revulsion. He couldn’t have touched her even if the teacher had tried to make him. He felt like he had to go home and wash. And he needed to forget because he was afraid that if he knew about this thing, it would get him. He left without his coat and Mrs. Damsen put it in the lost and found, but he never claimed it. At home, he said he lost it. He got a hiding for that, but he couldn’t bring himself to touch it. He hated Daphne for being sick.

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There was a birthday. Dillon was seven, maybe eight. Their mother had said Dillon could invite ten friends. He had invited friends from his class, he said. They were going to have blueberry pancakes and go skating on the pond. But none of the kids came—except the boy from next door, whose mother was a friend of their mother. Dillon had shined up his bike to show the kids a new trick he could do riding around the furnace in the basement. He wore his favourite shirt. He tidied up his bedroom, threw all the dirty clothes in the box beside the washing machine. He didn’t seem to have any idea that the kids wouldn’t be coming. The kid from next door arrived on time—his mother would have made him come—but the others didn’t show up. They were half an hour late and then an hour and then an hour and a half. James felt sick, but Dillon didn’t even seem to be aware of what was happening. “Well, should we start the pancakes, then?” his mother asked, and so she did, and Dillon said, “Oh yeah! Can I have blueberry syrup too?” He pulled a party cracker with the kid from next door and put the paper hat on his head. He sat at the head of the table and opened the present the kid had brought. It was a pair of socks, and he said, “Look Mum. Socks,” like he was pleased. He was laughing as if he didn’t even see that all the places were empty. And instead of feeling sorry for him, James wanted to yell at him, “What’s wrong with you? Can’t you see that nobody came? Don’t you feel ashamed?” But James didn’t say anything. He just ate half a pancake and said he was full and he had to go do something at school. Then he got on his bike and rode out to the cemetery and rode back and forth over the graves, even the new ones, leaving tire tracks all over them.

Their house was small, only two bedrooms, so from the time Dillon was four, James slept out in the porch. It was a narrow hallway of a room away from the other bedrooms, on the front of the house. Their mother and father’s room and Dillon’s were at the back. Outside in the yard, there was a garage, but it was small too and mostly filled with old cans of paint and boards, some tires, gardening equipment, their father’s tools. At the other edge of the lot was a shed. It had never been painted so the wood was blackened with rain and age. It had been a hen house, but you couldn’t have hens in town anymore, so it was mostly empty because it didn’t keep the weather out. James’ dog, Trixie, always had her pups under the shed. That June—1955—when Dillon must have been five and James, nine; Trixie had had another litter. Their father wanted them out of there while their eyes were still closed. He would put them in a sack and drown them. He didn’t say that, but James knew that’s what he would do. The topic hovered in the air, slid away among the eddies of silence. Their mother was going away again for a while. Much later, James and Dillon found out that those trips she had taken year after year had been to the hospital, for the treatment of some mysterious lethargy that was never diagnosed, but at the time they thought she was going to her cousin’s for a holiday. “The pups can come out when they’re big enough to walk out by themselves,” their mother said at supper, speaking to no one, speaking—in fact—as if no one were there, especially as if their father weren’t there. “I don’t want anyone crawling around under buildings with me away. Please, don’t let’s have an accident while I’m gone.” “I’ll have a little cream for this coffee,” his father said.

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“I’ll get it, Dad! I’ll get it!” Dillon said, throwing himself out of his chair and dashing to the fridge. The shed sat on four-by-six skids, leaving a six-inch gap between the joists and the dirt. Trixie’s tunnelling had deepened the space another couple of inches. James lay on his belly to see into the hole. It was very small. He scratched the dirt deeper in order to get his head under the first beam. He turned his face, his cheek against the earth and dug in with his feet to force his shoulders through the gap. The ground sloped downward so, inside, there was just enough space for him to lift his head and look around. It was dark. At first, he could see nothing but black. He started to pant because it was hard to breathe. The air was dusty and hot. He tried to look back behind him to make sure that there was enough space for air to get in but there wasn’t enough space to turn his head to see. He felt panic washing over him. For an instant, he was frozen, unable to go backward and afraid to go forward, but then, gradually, his eyes adjusted and he could make out shadowy shapes. In a depression where the ground dipped, Trixie lay curled around her pups, who were wriggling against her. She was still, patient, as she always was, panting rhythmically. Digging into the dirt with his elbows, James pulled himself closer until he could feel her breath on his cheek, the wet lick of her tongue. He nestled against her hindquarters, his face almost touching her pups, soft and fat, their eyes closed. He worked his arms around so he could reach for them, one by one, the fat black one, the greedy one that was white and long, the blond one with the twitchy tail, the tiny one—the runt—half the size of the others, brown with a white patch on one eye. James lay in the hollow cradling the pups, listening to their soft, sucking noises. After a long time, he nudged Trixie gently out of her nest. She shifted aside, making just enough space for James to turn around and crawl back out from under the shed, up into the tight space of the entry, leaving the pups where they were. James and Dillon’s mother had left that morning. Their father took her to the bus. He came back about lunchtime. James made fried eggs. Afterwards, he and Dillon did the dishes while their father sat in the living room and read the paper. Then their father said to Dillon, “You get in your room and have a nap.” Dillon’s face went funny—the crumpled smile, the widening of his eyes so that the whites showed too much. “He’s five. He doesn’t nap in the afternoon anymore,” James said. “Get in your room,” their father said to Dillon, lowering the newspaper and turning to face him. “And you get out to that garage and start cleaning it up. I want those tools put away, and you better sweep the place. Don’t let me see your face in here until it’s done.” But James crawled under the shed instead. When he came out, there was no one around. Through the small, high window in the back bedroom of the house, Dillon’s bedroom, he could see a head—it looked like his father’s head, a strange angle, a strange shudder, but James was some distance away, across the yard, and the head was in shadow, and he wasn’t actually sure that he saw anything at all. He went into the house. “Where is everybody?” he called. And then the door to Dillon’s room slammed open and their father rushed out. His face was red. “What the hell are you doing in here?” he shouted at James. “I told you to clean out the garage. Goddamn it, when I tell you to do something, you goddamn well do it.” He raised his arm to backhand James.

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“I was just trying to see if I could see the pups,” James said, ducking. “Where have you been?” “Under the shed.” His father lowered his arm. Then, in a calmer voice, he said, “Well you might as well take that pail out of the porch and get those pups out of there. Dillon!” he called. Dillon appeared at the bedroom door, his hair dishevelled, as if he had been asleep. He stood in the doorway, the crooked, apprehensive look on his face, as if he might cry. Or smile. “Bring the pail,” their father repeated, pushing past James and heading across the kitchen and out the door. Together, James and Dillon went to the shed. James crawled in and out of the space, bringing one pup at a time. Then he sat down in the dirt beside the entrance to Trixie’s nest, his knees pulled up to his chin. Dillon, always unsuspecting, carrying the pail, heavy with pups, ingratiating. The look on his face. He held it out in front of him, clenching the handle with both hands, his arms raised, his muscles straining to keep the bottom from dragging on the ground. “I’ve got them, Dad,” he called to his father who was back under the car. His body, on a little trolley, rolled out into the sunlight. “Can I have one, Dad?” asked Dillon. “Can I have this one? James has got a dog. Can I have a dog too?” He’d picked the smallest pup, the runt. Its front legs were squirming, its brown head lolling, flashing the patch of white over its right eye. “No point feedin’ that,” their father muttered, getting to his feet. He picked up the pail. “Gimme that pail.” “Can I help, Dad?” Dillon asked, hurrying after him. “Get in the house,” his father snarled at him. “What the hell’s wrong with you?” But Dillon didn’t go into the house. He just stood where he was, near the trolley, with the car behind him and the tools in the dust, and James sitting in the dirt beside the shed, Trixie beside him, her hot breath licking his ear. A whispered shuffle when Trixie snapped at a fly, and then the soft brooding of pigeons comforting themselves in the roof of the shed, and James, his knuckles white and his teeth clenched shut, and vomit rising up in his throat, and all he could think of was wanting to run at Dillon and throw him to the ground and kick him and scream and smash the pups like soft tomatoes against the side of the shed. That night, after everyone was supposed to be asleep, Dillon crept out to the porch. He climbed onto the edge of James’bed, his short legs dangling, and he tried to put his arm around his brother. James told him to get away. “Are you mad at me?” Dillon whispered. “I’m sorry, James. I’m sorry.” But James lay on his side and refused to hear him, faced the wall and wouldn’t look up. He was concentrating on the wallpaper that his mother had put there—a blue truck with a red bumper and stripes in the windshield that made it look like glass and a donkey in the back of the truck with one ear straight and one bent over.

Their father died of cancer. Their mother had died years earlier. She just seemed to fade away. Dillon acted as if he believed that their father would live forever. Two weeks before he died, Dillon put in an extra toilet in the corner of the bedroom. “It’s going to

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make such a difference, Dad,” Dillon told him. “We’ll knock out the closet so you’ll hardly have to get out of bed. You’ll be able to get more rest. That’s what you need. If you get rest and eat right, you’ll be on your feet again in no time.” Dillon, as usual, was between jobs, drifting as he always had done from one plan to another, so when the hospital said there was nothing more to be done for their father, Dillon moved back home. By then, James lived two provinces away. He came home a couple of times, but it was a long drive, he said. He couldn’t make it often. When he came, he was mad. If he’d been asked, he couldn’t have said why any more than he could have explained why he’d moved so far away, but when he was there—at home—he could feel himself close to punching someone, close to punching Dillon. He tried to contain it, but it hung in the air like an old hatred. It was early evening. Dillon had fed their father, given him the morphine, so their father was asleep now, a wasted frame, his face grey, his mouth open and twisted as his breath rasped in and out of his lungs. James watched from the doorway of the bedroom as Dillon straightened the covers, carefully tucking the corners of the bed, hovering over his father. Then he sat on the edge of the bed, smoothed his father’s hair. “Am I doing it right, Daddy?” Dillon asked in a boy’s voice. James spun around and stormed out of the house, slamming the screen door. He strode across the sun-burnt lawn, his body trembling. He pounded his fist into the wall of the shed, then pounded it again, punches that lacerated his knuckles. Dillon came out onto the step, following the sound. He started across the lawn. “What happened?” “Nothing,” James said, his chest still heaving. “He’s looking a lot better to me, don’t you think? He’s got more colour today. A lot of people beat this disease, and I got a feeling he’s going to be fine.” “For Christ’s sake, what’s wrong with you?” James said, his eyes brimming. “He’s not going to be fine. He’s going to be dead.” “Shut up,” Dillon said, his lip quivering and his eyes betrayed as they used to look when he was a child. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m the one who looks after him. You’re never here. I’m the one who knows if he’s doing better or not because I’m the one he turns to. And I know he’s going to be fine. He’s going to be just fine.” “You’re out of your goddamn mind. He doesn’t deserve this from you. You’d be a lot better off with him dead. He…he…” James seemed lost, unable to follow his train of thought. Then he blurted, “He killed your dog.” “What dog?” Dillon spoke almost in a whisper. “I never had a dog. Trixie was your dog. I don’t remember having a dog.” James ran his hands through his hair. “Look,” he said, shaking his head in confusion, “I’m sorry. I don’t know why I said that. It just came out. I don’t remember you having a dog. I had Trixie, but I don’t remember if you had a dog. I think I’m just upset. We’re both upset.”

The week after the funeral, they put the house on the market. They got rid of all the stuff: gave it to the Sally Ann; took much of it to the dump. When it was all gone and they’d talked to the realtor, they got in James’s car. James turned the key in the ignition. He drove out of the driveway and headed up the street toward the

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highway. At the intersection, he stopped at the stop signal and sat with the car idling. Someone came up behind them and honked. A car was coming along the highway from the left, so James signalled and turned right, which happened to be north. It was early July. It was about five o’clock. The days were long. James drove past Claresholm, High River, through Calgary, not going anywhere, just following the road, heading toward the sun. It was after midnight when they passed through Edmonton yet he hardly needed his lights. At that time of year and in that part of the world, even the dead of night is a dusky twilight. He stopped by the side of the road, the other side of White Court. They dozed in the car for a couple of hours, then switched drivers and Dillon drove on. Grande Prairie, Beaverlodge, Pouce Coupe, and Dawson Creek. The road past Dawson Creek was gravel. From there on, a pall of dirt hung over the towns: Fort St. John, Fort Nelson, strange little road-stops with names like Toad River. In the late evening of the second day, they crossed the Yukon border and kept on heading north, two brothers more speechless than strangers. Past Watson Lake, on toward Teslin, through the half-light of the second night, Dillon careened along the Alaska Highway, dodging potholes, wrenching the tires clear of ruts as James dozed fitfully, his head rolling with the lurches of the car. Except for the couple of restless hours near Dawson Creek, Dillon hadn’t slept for over forty hours. His eyes were ringed with red from both the grit and sleeplessness, yet they were wide open, glittery. The dust spun up under the wheel wells and seeped in through the floor, whitening the dash, coating the upholstery until its original colour was unrecognizable, sugaring their eyelashes and hair. Outside, it limed the interminable monotony of trees that hemmed the road, the endless miles of boreal forest, flat, unchanging, silent. Nothing to look at but road. Then, at four o’clock in the morning, he cracked. Wheeling the car off the road, he slammed to a halt in a ditch, his grip on the wheel so tight his arms were trembling. A howl bubbled up from his chest and he seemed to erupt. Half asleep, knees curled instinctively up to his chest, James defended his face with fisted hands in anticipation of impact, but instead of being hurled against the dash by the momentum of the car, he was thrown out of the passenger door and onto the ground by Dillon, who stretched across him. “You’re a damned liar,” Dillon yelled. James scrambled to his feet. He caught sight of Dillon dropping down an eroding clay bank, leaping and sliding down the steep slope. He was throwing off his clothes as he went. James staggered to the lip in time to see Dillon hit the bottom. Without stopping, his naked form plowed into the icy water of a lake—thawed along its shores but still clogged with ice at its centre. Dillon’s roar shattered the silence as he disappeared beneath the surface. The sound ricocheted off the banks, vibrating, teased to the thinness of a wire by the shock of cold. James threw himself after his brother, lurching forward toward the lake where Dillon had disappeared. Gravity and the stupor of shattered sleep unbalanced him. A clod of dirt crumbled beneath him, throwing him forward. He lunged back trying to regain the lip of the hill, but instead he dropped downward, his feet skating against the thawing earth. He clawed the air, grasping at the branches of trees, caught a needled limb. It jerked him sideways

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and yanked his feet out from under him before it snapped off, throwing him down the hill toward the edge of the lake. From below the water’s surface, Dillon lunged upward towards his brother, laughing with a strange, frightening laugh, his eyes bright. He caught James in his arms, gripping his brother and dragging him into the icy water. The two of them rolled together, slipping like eels in the soft mud of the bottom as if they no longer had any need for air, until James’s diaphragm spasmed and he threw himself up past the surface, his head back, gasping. Dillon clawed at him, trying to pull him back, but James fought free of his grip, staggered to his feet, and began thrashing toward the shore. Dillon’s face floated below the surface of the water, magnified, still, as if he were drowned. On the bank, James dropped to his knees, his wet clothes plastered against him, his body heaving. “There was a dog,” he cried, tears streaming down his face. “We both know there was a dog.” Slowly, Dillon stood up. The struggle was over. He dragged himself out of the water, his naked body blue-white with cold. On the shore, he kneeled beside his brother and wrapped his arms around him. “I’m sorry, Dillon,” James whispered, shaking with sobs. “Oh god, I’m so sorry.” Dillon rocked him in his arms until the sobbing subsided. Then he stood up and helped James to his feet. His arm around his brother’s waist, he managed to get them both back up the hill. At the top, he dug dry clothes out of the trunk of the car. Quaking

with cold, he undressed James and dressed him again before he dressed himself. He got James into the passenger seat and climbed in behind the wheel. He started the motor, and turned on the heater full blast, put the car in gear and headed back in the direction they had come.

Three days later, James dropped Dillon off in the southwest corner of Alberta, at the house where they had both grown up. Dillon had decided he would camp there until he got a job or until the house sold, whichever came first. “You can come and live with me for a while if you want,” James told him. “No,” he said. “I think I’ll stay here for a bit.” So James drove back to northern Manitoba alone, out of the southern corner of Alberta’s mountains, up through the wheat land, then east across the wide prairie, through one stretch of country so flat that no ditches lined the side of the road. There, he pulled into a service station that was a jigsaw-building constructed in sections with a sign above a door that read “Bar, Air Con.” Inside were six men and a bartender, their eyes glued to a television, and James realized that one small step had been taken. He stood inside the door looking at the screen. You could see a tire-track in the dust of the moon and Buzz Aldrin dancing and dust puffing around his feet. And James—watching from earth— was wondering if he’d ever get back home. ■

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CNQ 74: Salon Des Refuses: A Response to the Penguin Book of Canadian Short Stories CNQ 75: 75th Issue / 40th Anniversary Issue

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Floater BENJAMIN REED

Despite what the tugboat pilots of Pacific Star Marine Services may have claimed, it was Tim O’Mahony, a nineteen-year-old deckhand, who actually found the corpse. She was floating against the pilings of the company’s dock at Pier 46 in China Basin, on the bay side of San Francisco.

He could tell from a distance that she was in bad shape. He knew that he shouldn’t look any closer, that he should just walk away, treat her like a broken toilet in the men’s room. Clock out and wait for someone else to fix it. But he looked anyway. As soon as he did, he knew he’d made a mistake. She was bloated, blue-lipped and barefoot, her wax face pinched and livid, furious to have landed at this dock. Her rotten smell cut straight through the salt air and diesel. She looked Asian, maybe Chinese. But that could have been a distortion. Tim couldn’t sleep that night. She haunted him for weeks. He finally called the county coroner to see if they’d at least discovered her identity. The coroner replied no, they had not. Tim asked about her bare feet. The voice on the other end of the line said floaters who jump from the bridges are generally found without their shoes.

Sometimes after work Tim goes to one of the cheap strip clubs on Market. Usually The Silver Stallion. Tim has a hard time talking to girls, but this place is okay for him. Sometimes there’s music, but there’s no runway and they don’t serve drinks. There’s a Coke machine and a lurking cabal of faceless regulars. The closest thing to a lap dance is what happens behind the curtains in the private booths. The main attraction is in the back: Double in the Bubble. It’s a small carpeted stage completely enclosed by quarter booths. Each booth is completely dark inside, with a locking door and a large window that faces the octagonal stage. When you go in, the window is opaque. To the right of the window, there’s a coin slot. Put in enough quarters and the window de-fogs. Below the window is another slot where you can slide dollar bills directly to the girls. There’s also a glowing digital timer, like an alarm clock, so you know when to add more quarters. Making sure your time doesn’t run out and your window stays clear. There’s also a miniature trash can and little shelf with a box of tissues.

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Double in the Bubble is supposed to always have two girls inside, going to work against the windows and on each other. Thus the name. But usually there’s just one girl, naked down to her high heels. The girls inside aren’t exotic dancers, technically, since they never actually dance. And they aren’t exactly strippers, since they pretty much start out naked. Tim doesn’t think the girls are especially attractive. Most don’t even look healthy. He can smell their greasy body lotion through the tip slot, like the black creosote seeping from the old wood moorings under the dock. The girls probably make more money than Tim does, but they still look like bone-fed strangers. Probably just passing through town, doing this thing or the other, just to make a few bucks before heading on to a new city. When he watches two girls wear paper-thin masks of gratification as they rub each other’s sagging tits, coyly pinching the ashen nipples, he wonders: do girls like this jump at a chance to be the Double in the Bubble, or do they approach it with a measure of sorrow, knowing their juncture, soberly shouldering this humiliation as a kind of penance? But the faces change so often, he figures if they’re not travelling, then they’re only here for a couple days to make their rent, so they can avoid more obvious forms of prostitution. But then the window fogs and Tim’s hand plunges for more quarters. Not that he cares so much. He tells himself that strip clubs are just something to do when his shift ends in the afternoon, and he doesn’t feel like languishing in the gridlocked ascent to the Bay Bridge, wasting both gas and time. As long as he keeps sliding dollar bills through the tip slot, one at a time, he can keep the girl crouched in front of his window, parking her thick legs in the air, slowly rubbing a chipped fingernail around the dusky skin of a tired vagina, pressing her sex against the glass, beckoning the tip slot with her free hand, waiting for the next five dollar bill.

Tim puked in an empty oil drum and walked back up the pier to

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the office. Sweating and green-faced, he got Perry, the daytime dispatch operator and de facto foreman. Perry grabbed Jorge, the other deckhand. They put on hardhats and lifejackets and followed Tim down the concrete dock to the mooring of the sixtyfoot launch, the Ms. Katie. They stood on the edge of the pier and looked down. There, bobbing in the green water eight feet below, was the distended body of the dead woman. “Jorge,” Perry said. “Go get the stick.” Jorge came back with a ten-foot wooden pole capped by a corroded metal hook. It was the same stick they practiced man-overboard drills with. Perry grabbed the stick and tried to hook the woman’s shirt, but she was too bloated. Her halter top and stretch pants were skin-tight around her bleached body. Each time Perry tried to hook her, she just dipped underwater and bobbed a little farther away. “Careful,” Jorge laughed, “You might pop her.” Tim puked again, this time over the edge of the pier. His vomit fell into the bay, and the remains of his breakfast gathered around the dead woman’s feet. Scrambled eggs and sausage. “Jesus Christ, Tim. You think this isn’t disgusting enough already?” Perry shouted, glowering down on him in disbelief. “I swear, you’re as useless as tits on a goat.” The dead woman stared up at them through white, blown-out pupils as she bobbed against the bow of the Ms. Katie. “Jorge, get me some rope off one of the tugs.” Perry threw the stick over his shoulder and the sun-bleached wood clattered on the asphalt behind them. Jorge jogged to the Orion and returned with a coil of rope slung over his arm. He handed it to the Perry. “Now, maybe I can finesse her in,” Perry said, twisting his tongue over his upper lip in concentration. He threw the rope out and it slapped the dead woman across the face. Tim felt sick again, but his stomach was empty. He dry-heaved over the edge of the dock. Perry sighed as he pulled the rope out of the water. “Look, Timmy. If you can’t watch, why don’t you go make yourself useful and call the coroner, okay?” Tim turned and walked back to the office. He heard Jorge laugh. Perry said, “Goddamn flow tide. If she’d’ve jumped on an ebb, she’d be shark food already.”

The coroner shows up in a white cargo van. Tim stands a ways off, smoking a cigarette in the shadow of the warehouse. Perry and the coroner have a tough time getting the corpse to stay on the gurney, and they can’t lash her down because the orange nylon straps aren’t long enough to go around her body. She couldn’t have weighed much more than a hundred pounds in life. Buckten at most. Tim overhears the coroner say she must have been in the water for at least six days. “Definitely a jumper,” he notes impassively. “They stay under for a couple days, then rise up after they bloat.” The coroner finally gives up on the straps. Perry walks past Tim on his way into the warehouse, looking for some rope they can part with. He returns with a frayed spindle and they tie her to the gurney. Afterward, Perry and Jorge wash their hands in a bucket of soap and bleach water. Tim leans against the wall of the warehouse, still smoking. He realizes Perry and Jorge are laughing about something. They turn their heads to look at Tim, and then look back at each other. They burst into a fresh round of laughter.

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If you would have asked him, a few years ago, what the best part about being Tim was, even he would admit that it was his little brother, Todd. Todd was eight and had Down Syndrome and every time he saw Tim reading a book, he’d ask him if there was a dog in it. Todd loved dogs, and would only read or be read books with dogs in them. He had a worn-out vhscopy of Old Yeller and watched it almost every day, but always turned it off halfway through. He loved dogs, but couldn’t take it when they died. On Sunday nights Tim would read parts of Where the Red Fern Grows after he tucked Todd in, but never the last part, stopping before Old Dan and Little Ann get attacked by a mountain lion. He had a different, happy ending. One where Billy’s dogs get to live. One time, about the twelfth time pretending to read the last pages of the tattered paperback as Todd clutched his blanket to his chest, he was tired, and forgot the ending he usually made up. Todd remembered, though, and realized Tim had been lying the whole time, and he cried. Todd, Tim’s only redeeming, vicarious quality, died when Tim was a junior in high school. He choked to death in his sleep. Nobody noticed that he had outgrown the mouthpiece he wore for his apnea, and in sleep it had gotten lodged in his throat. There was an intense week after the funeral. Then it gradually dawned on Tim that he wasn’t needed around the house in the afternoons. Then, that he wasn’t especially needed around the house. That was around the time he found the job at Pacific Star, at first as a stevedore. Then he moved out, into a one-bedroom in a converted Victorian, still close to his mom’s house in the East Bay. Not long after, he found the Double in the Bubble.

The dead woman came back to life. Her body drained back to its normal size, exhausted of its bloat and stench and brine. She grew scales on her ankles, her long, pale legs fused together, and astonishingly, she became a mermaid. She was beautiful and radiant, and people flocked from all over the world to see her. She was given a home at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and Tim drove down to see her. He got his shift covered and filled the twenty-gallon tank of his 1970 Malibu. He laughed and slapped his steering wheel and sang along to the radio the whole way down Highway 101. When he got to the aquarium, he went straight to her tank. When she saw him in the crowd, she swam to the glass, her dark hair a cloud behind her. Unable to speak, she simply smiled and tapped on the glass. Tim smiled back, and he too put his hand on the glass, so they were almost touching. Then Todd appeared beside him. He took Tim’s hand in his. Tim couldn’t believe Todd was alive and tried not to squeeze his small hand too tightly. Todd asked Tim to show him the anemones. He said of course, he’d take him. But as he turned away, the woman’s smile dissolved. Her fingers stopped tapping. Her hands curled into fists and she starting pounding on the glass. The glass began to shake and people started getting nervous. Todd jerked on Tim’s arm, begged Tim to hurry up. The woman snarled, her lips turning black. Tim didn’t know what to do. “Hey, Tim! Wake up, asshole!” Tim jerks up, daylight blinding him. He realizes he’d been sleeping in his car, still parked on the dock with the engine running. Jorge smiles on the other side of his window, a scuffed red hardhat tucked under his arm.

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Tim rubs his eyes and rolls down the window. “Hey. Sorry to bang on your car like that, but you’ve been sitting out here with your engine running for half an hour. Perry told me to ask you if you’re working for him or the Arabs.” “Have I been asleep for that long?” “Yeah, man. At least.” “Geez. Just beat, I guess. Twelve-hour shifts are killing me.” “Still having nightmares?” “Huh? Oh, yeah. Same ones.” Three weeks without a full night of sleep. She creeps her way into every dream, sometimes speaking a language he can’t understand. Other times she just bobs across the water, rocked by the wake of passing tugs, slowly turning her pallid gaze to meet his own transfixed eyes. Tim spends most of the night smoking cigarettes and watching television, waiting until it’s time to go to work. Once, on a barge run to an Exxon tanker, he thought he saw her perched on a rock near Alcatraz. Jorge leans on the driver’s side door. “You thought about talking to someone?” “I’m talking to you right now, aren’t I?” Tim says, lighting the first cigarette from his second pack of the day. “That’s not what I mean, man. Like a shrinky-dink. Perry says it’s in our union coverage.” Tim sits up and kills the ignition. “Have you guys been talking about me?” “What? It’s not like your problem with the corpse is exactly private. I mean, you just burned a quarter tank of gas on a catnap. You’re about to lose some shifts until you can pull yourself together.” Tim sighs, unbuckles his seat belt. “I don’t get it, Jorge. It’s crazy. I called the coroner and she hasn’t been identified, and there was no report of her suicide. That means nobody saw her jump. How can somebody just jump off the Golden Gate Bridge without anybody noticing?” “Maybe it isn’t as simple as that,” Jorge offers. “Maybe somebody pushed her off the Bay Bridge at night. Or maybe somebody killed her first and then threw her body off the San Rafael. You’d never know. Besides, did you see her clothes? She looked pretty rundown. Like a hooker. Or a crackhead. Or both, probably. I mean, she didn’t exactly look like she fell off a high-society party boat.” “Yeah, I suppose,” Tim says, scratching his chin, measuring the stubble grown since he got to work. “I guess she did look like a hooker.”

It’s just after lunch and Tim is at the far end of the pier, laid out underneath Reliance, a forty-foot launch put in dry dock for an overhaul. Tim’s sandwiched between two beams of the thick wooden scaffolding that holds the thirty-ton boat three feet off the ground. He dips his paintbrush into a can of marine primer and lays a thick coat over a patch of hull. Every few minutes a glob of paint falls and lands on his borrowed coveralls. Perry appears and crouches next to him. “Jorge said you’ve been having bad dreams.” Tim stops painting. “Yeah, a few. It’s not that bad.” “Do you need some time off?” Tim looks up at Perry, shielding his eyes from the sun. “I’ve got three days off after this. I’ll be fine.”

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As if Tim hadn’t even replied, Perry says, “I’ve decided to give you the week off. I figured it might help if you didn’t see this place for awhile.” “Um, okay.” “It’s no problem. Go see a movie. Take a girl out. Something fun.” “Sure. I will. Thanks.” “Tim, did you know that the Golden Gate Bridge is the single most popular point of suicide in the Western Hemisphere?” “No, I didn’t.” “It’s true. I just read it online. Thirteen hundred people. Beats the pants off the Eiffel Tower.” “Okay.” Tim thinks about pulling himself out from underneath the boat, but it’s cooler in the shade. “The CHP says somebody jumps every two weeks, and I read a study once that it’s closer to four or five a month. And one time I met a Coastie in a bar who told me that it’s a big conspiracy, that the number of jumpers every year is well into the hundreds.” “Well, that’s a pleasant thought.” Still squatting, Perry says, “I also found out that at mean high tide it’s a two-hundred-and-twenty-foot fall to the water. That’s a four-second drop. You hit the water at about seventy miles an hour. Some bodies, they come up naked. The impact rips their clothes right off. But our little darlin’ was in some pretty tight-fitting clothes, wasn’t she?” Tim spreads more paint on the hull. “But she didn’t look that bad, not really. Not like she’d jumped off the Transamerica Pyramid or something.” Terry’s knees each pop under the strain of his folded torso. He’s now blocked the sun for so long, Tim’s pupils have relaxed and he can clearly see Perry’s face in the shadow of the launch. “People who jump off bridges die from internal injuries. Crushed vertebrae, collapsed lungs, stuff like that. The damage is all on the inside.” Tim runs the brush across bare metal, squashes paint around a welding seam. He can see the Asian woman’s broken but unbloated body, slowly rising back to the surface, into the rippling light around the sun, falling up through a silent shock of freezing water, her just-dying flesh still goosebumped in the cold, her black hair waving gently, like seaweed. “You know what else I remembered?” Perry shifts in his crouch. “There was this old guy here, a few years ago. Waiting for us to take him off a cargo tanker for his weekend leave. He said that while not everyone who’s ever jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge wearing Levi’s jeans has lived, everyone who’s ever jumped off and lived was wearing Levi’s.” Tim stops mid-stroke. “No way.” “That’s what the man said.” “That can’t be true.” “Hey,” Perry says, “If I’m lyin’ I’m dyin’.”

Tim finishes his shift and drives away from the docks. But at five in the afternoon, all approaches to the Bay Bridge are stopped for blocks. An hour wait just to get to the on-ramp. So he heads over to Market Street, to The Silver Stallion. As usual, he saunters into the dark club avoiding any possible eye contact with the leering men who hang around the change machine smoking and scratching themselves. He heads straight back to the quarter

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booths. He finds an unlocked door and enters the waiting darkness. He feeds eight quarters into the slot below the window, and the fogged glass becomes clear. The timer starts ticking off digits. Inside, there are two girls. One is occupied in front of a far window, her back to Tim, rolling her hips toward an unseen patron in the opposite booth. The other sees Tim and stalks over toward him. She’s plump with olive skin; her hair is dark, with a streak of bleach, her pubic hair waxed down to nothing. She curls a finger at Tim and he slips a five through the tip slot. She picks it up and rubs her tits, smiling. Then she takes a small step back and turns around, stops, and locks her legs, her tense hamstrings quivering under a quake of cellulite. She spreads her butt cheeks, showing Tim her anus, and gradually begins to rub her labia with her other hand. Then she bends over, hanging her head between her knees, letting her dark hair fall to the orange carpet as she looks directly at Tim. He gasps as he sees the dead woman’s face hanging

upside-down under the pocked skin of the stripper’s shifting ass, her pinched, waterlogged face staring back at him, pushing stale air through her bruised throat as she rasps, “I’m showing you mine . . . why don’t you show me yours?” Tim screams as he falls backward, dropping a sweaty fistful of quarters on the floor. Then, to his horror, he realizes that his coat sleeve is stuck to the wall. “Oh, Christ!” he yells, “Christ!” He peels himself off the wall and fumbles with the lock for so long, he thinks it might be broken. Finally it gives and Tim explodes from the booth and runs outside, hell-bent on sunlight and open air. The guys leaning against the change machine smirk as they watch Tim sprint past. Then they realize they can see past the open door of the abandoned quarter booth, straight through to the window, to the new girl, wearing nothing but an open mouth and a stunned expression. Then the time runs out, and the glass goes dark. ■

20th Anniversary Issue!

#50 To celebrate our 20th Anniversary, we plan to take aim at the city and region that spawned our publication.

Vancouver, and British Columbia, has nurtured and supported us over the years and now we want to cast an eye back, revisit, as it were, where we’ve come from and who we are here on the damp West Coast. subTerrain Turns 20 This August!

IMAGE: SHAYNE EHMAN

So long brave, suffering youth. It’s time to get serious!

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~ Solicited material only. ~

Summer 2008 Special 20th Anniversary Issue

“The Best Place On Earth”

po box 3008, mpo, vancouver, bc v6b 3x5 canada

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Acts TOM REYNOLDS

We were two writers sitting around talking about women, Michael and me, men both, and Michael said, “What the world needs is more love,” like he was thinking about his ex-girlfriend and I thought, “Are you crazy?” like I was thinking about mine. The world doesn’t know what to do with the love that it has now, what’s it going to do with more love? You can be in love and still be a rotten person. Criminals can love their wives and still be criminals. Hitler loved Eva Braun, poor thing.

Now better love, then you’d have something. Build a better lover and the world will beat a path to your door. But more? More of the same? More of what we’ve had so far? I don’t think so. “They say you never forget your first love,” Michael said, and I said, “Yes, but what gets me is they say it like it’s a good thing.” The difference between what love feels like in one’s head, which is as the strongest, most essential, universal, undeniable, unstoppable force in the universe, and what it actually turns out to be like in real life, which is as a temporary, inconsistent, undependable, easily thwarted, finite thing, that distance, that enormous gap, can hardly be closed by mere increases in quantity, no matter how many people in love try to tell you it can. “What’s the point?” Michael said. I looked at him and butted out my cigarette. “Shit,” I said. On one of those popular dating shows on tv a woman explained that she was looking forward to meeting her blind date because she had heard such good things about him. When the knock came to the door she opened it and saw him. He was handsome and holding flowers. She was thinking what a good start things had got off to when she looked down at his shoes. He was wearing jazz shoes. She said that those shoes ruined the date for her. She could not go out with someone who wore that type of shoe, so she cancelled the date right then and there. All the man’s hopes of romance, of love, crushed because he had the wrong type of footwear. You never know why you’re going to be rejected. If only women used their power for good instead of evil.

Michael and I were eating Kentucky Fried Chicken on the card table in my apartment. We neither of us played cards. It was just a table. It was just food.

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“My own son,” Michael said. Beth wasn’t letting him see his son. “She’s using him to crucify me,” he said, and threw a bone back in the bucket. He stood up. “It’s a goddamn world,” he said, “that’s for sure,” and he picked up a pornographic magazine from the couch. “I gotta go to the john,” he said, and left me. There used to be a woman named Mother Theresa who did good things for poor people in India. No one knows why. She said it was love but it wasn’t. If you love somebody you get married and have kids and grandkids and a little house and stay faithful and enjoy doing little inexpensive things like walking and watching tv and sex. You don’t feed a hundred or clothe two hundred or go out in the streets collecting people to bring in. That’s not love, that’s something else. That’s summer camp. That’s an illusion. That’s politics. Michael came back from the john and said, “What do you think?” and we both looked at the gun on the table. “It’s a cruel world,” I said. “Okay then,” he said, and picked it up.

Mike’s sister had a place out in the county where the roads that crossed the highway were gravel and the corn fields and Christmas tree farms came right up to the ditches on either side and Mike and I were walking down one of them towards a gas station. Michael and I seemed to spend a lot of time together. There didn’t seem to be many other people in the world. Two squirrels were having a stare-off in the road ahead and Michael wanted to shoot at them but I wouldn’t let him. He took a shot at a stop sign. Between us we put five holes through it. “Red like blood,” Mike said. “This too shall pass,” the book wrote. No one need stop at that sign ever again.

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How like the human heart is the earth, large and ancient, scars grown over it where something was torn from it, craters and valleys where something hit it, flat lands where it had some pressure long on it. How like the human heart is the earth, great stretches of it incapable of supporting human life, like deserts in India or Africa. It is often in the areas least capable of supporting them that the most people try to live, spending the most effort on the land that yields the least response. The earth and my heart track the same track. The earth and my heart are one. Michael and I sat in the Highway Star Tavern listening to country music. Neither of us wanted to eat. Neither of us wanted to talk. Michael picked up his beer and then put it down again without drinking. He stood up. “Fuck this,” he said and left. I had the keys. I wasn’t worried. I got up and left too.

Once I got a girl pregnant. I didn’t want to, of course, and if someone had asked me, “Do you want to get this girl pregnant?” I would have said, “Hell no,” and left. But the question is never quite asked that way, is it? Instead it is more like, “This is the first woman you’ve ever loved and do you really want to leave her when she’s looking at you like that and walk away and go home and sit by yourself and drink, and wonder what she’s doing without you?” So I stayed, and that’s what happened. Her name was Colleen. I believe she is buried out near Essex. In Windsor there is a park down by the water where the grass is always tended and green in summer and the bicycle paths cleared of snow in winter and an iron railing by the water and alwaysoccupied park benches and, of course, the bridge—huge black crisscrossing steel girders overhead fixed to enormous concrete supports themselves the size of small houses. Down there by the bridge poison is put out for the starlings. They tried to control the population with noise-makers and traps, but now they’ve settled on a chemical that makes the egg shells too thin for the young to survive but doesn’t actually kill the existing birds. Starlings live in large groups, have their own communities, and they like it there under the bridge around the park by the water. So the poison is spread and the starlings go on thinking that this is a good place to live and raise their young but we know that the families they plan to raise are as good as dead already. What the world needs is a new word, one that means both joy and sorrow, one that hammers the two together until no force can pry them apart. Only God knows such a word. A word like ‘love’ maybe. I met Michael at the car. “What’d you do?” he said. “Had it aborted.” “Fuck,” he said, and I let the word linger over me. “What’d she do?” he said. “Drove drunk.” “So what’re you gonna do?” he asked me, and looked me in the eye. I wasn’t used to being looked at like that. It made me uncomfortable. I shrugged. “Let’s go,” I said and we got in the car.

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Beth had sent little Timmy to a school in Wheatley, or rather, just outside Wheatley, and we drove there and parked and drank a coke and talked about Toronto. I talked about Toronto. He didn’t think it was far enough away. We heard a bell ring—they still use bells—and I lit a cigarette. I blew the smoke out the open window. In my head I was writing about the bridge, the part right under the bridge, the pier that protruded like a tongue out into the water. You could always look across the river to the far shore, extend yourself as high as the bridge itself overhead and as far as Detroit on the other side, as thin as the water around you. What can we say? Life is a water-colour left in the rain, bright colours but blurred shapes, all running and indistinguishable. Who can reconstruct the picture? Who can read the artist’s name? Michael looked at me and said what has been between us forever. “What if we were wrong?” It doesn’t bear thinking about but I thought about it. It’s never too late to have regrets. “Shit,” I said. Michael saw Timmy and got out of the car and walked across the road. I started the engine and waited. ■

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Tagged M AT T M U L L I N S

Please God help me so that everyone who passes by learns to love my Jesus. —Billboard: US 131 North near Kalamazoo, MI

I dropped the first tab around five p.m., walked up to the convenience store, bought a twelve-pack of PBR then climbed the ladder of a freshly posted billboard edging the highway where I stretched out along the slim, metal ledge and waited for the acid to come on.

The rushed hours of Monday’s commute home un-scrolled below me, vibrating the iron, pushing a steady sigh of tires and the hum of so much displaced air up through the grating against my back. I had just quit my job a few hours before. Enough of changing oil for Uncle Ed. It was going to be a warm spring evening, and I wanted to wipe my soul clean of the grime so I could feel things surging toward their beginning. suv after suv after suv after suv blew past below. The acid started breaking the world down, eating away the surface of things, pulling back the veils. Each car became a blood cell coursing through a grey ribbon of vein. The vein became a strand in a phosphorescent web, the web a net wrapped around a ball hurtling through a void. Every single molecule of the atmosphere, which I could see and stir with my hands, seemed charged with an innate yet untranslatable meaning. Sometime after dark the billboard floodlights snapped on to spotlight me at the trip’s peak. My muscles ignited with the firings of an ancient, universal, electro-chemical reaction. Rolling over onto my stomach, I pushed myself to my feet in the warm night and stared up at the gigantic billboard child with her hands clasped in prayer. Her lips were moving. The writhing, now audible, words writ large above her head pulled me toward a vortex of total understanding: somewhere in the infinite spaces between what she was saying and what I was feeling there was an eternal testament on the spun dust of all matter. The only thing left for me to do was claw past what had been papered over to expose the truth.

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I tore through that outer layer to discover a story with infinite endings, all of which I saw instantly and in their entirety. In one conclusion, I rip and flail at the billboard’s wrapping like a toddler mauls a birthday present, only to lose my balance and tumble from the ledge to my death. In another, it’s the police bullhorn that finally brings me to, and after an incomprehensible screed punctuated by hurled beer cans I am taken down with a tranquilizer dart to the neck, falling from on high into the fire department’s safety net where I am hog-tied, tagged, and carried off for further examination. In the ending I remember best, I hear the wolfish wailing of the sirens and the low growling of their engines on the wind miles before they top the highway’s rise. I smell the unnatural exhaust of their furious hurry, and, without thinking, I shed my oily human skin, swing down the metal trunk’s rungs hand over hand, my guts and meat falling from glowing bones as I go. Only to touch the ground at last stripped of all but the naked radar of an instinct that cuts me through the scrub lining the highway to the dark back streets where I know without thinking how to find my way home. ■

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A Stephen Henighan REPORT ON THE AFTERLIFE OF CULTURE

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A Report on the Afterlife of Culture Stephen Henighan 340 pages / paper 978-1-897231-42-5 $24.95 “. . . for his willingness to say the unsayable, and his enthusiastic piercing of the balloons of Canadian literary pretension, Henighan’s new volume is a welcome addition to the annals of CanLit criticism.” —Quill & Quire

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n A Report on the Afterlife of Culture, one of Canada’s most provocative writers ranges across continents, centuries and linguistic traditions to examine how literary culture and our perception of history are changing as the world grows smaller. Weaving together daring literary criticism with front-line reporting on events such as the end of the Cold War in Poland, the plight of indigenous cultures in Mexico and Guatemala and African reactions to the G8 Summit, Henighan evokes a world where astonishing cultural riches flourish under siege from all-consuming commercialized uniformity. The work of a writer whose vision is simultaneously local and global, A Report on the Afterlife of Culture is entertaining and essential reading. Available at better bookstores everywhere and online. Or order below:

B I B L I O A S I S www.biblioasis.com • biblioasis@gmail.com

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PHOTOGRAPHY

Tour Bus Series T E X T & I M AG E S BY D E R E K VO N E S S E N

Tour Bus is a sociological pictorial which recreates the experience of tourists who appear detached as visitors while still being engaged as participants in their new surroundings. The Tourists. Often marked by an accent or foreign language, oddly attired with camera slung around their necks and often standing near an obvious tell-tale sign: the Tour Bus. Upon arriving at their destination, the tourists portrayed here assemble outside their bus to await instructions. What to do? Where to go? What not to miss? What to avoid? Most importantly, when to meet back at the bus or risk possible abandonment or ostracism from the group for delaying the tour? They are disoriented and need to get their bearings at these new and unusual stops at mundane street corners, intersections and dodgy areas.The photographs in Tour Bus aim to capture the moment that these tourists have disembarked and congregate outside of the bus.

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i m ag e : E l Pa s o

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Tour bus passengers often travel in packs.They enjoy the camaraderie and planned agenda.They have group-based interactions with the outside world and find it easier to engage socially with this new set of familiar faces as there’s a sense of being in this

together. Maybe their lives are complicated when not on holiday and prefer the predictability and guaranteed satisfaction this mode of sightseeing offers. Personal barriers are less restrictive on holiday time. Friendships and relationships can develop during these unguarded moments. There are stories and dramas unfolding, some of which are suggested in the hesitation, anticipation, or awareness of their body language and positioning.The comfortable bubble these tourists travel within is about to be shaken like a snow globe in the hands of a five-year-old. Derek von Essen will exhibit the Tour Bus Series at the Isabella Egan Gallery (212 Abbott Street, Vancouver, BC) from September 26 - October 24, 2008.

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i m ag e : B a r c e lo n a

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HAMBURG

To ro n to

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C h i c ag o

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PHOTOGRAPHY

Kansas

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B a r c e lo n a

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New Orleans

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POETRY

Super’s Report PETER NORMAN I L L U S T R AT I O N BY K AT H A R I N E J A C K S O N - K A U F M A N Weeds discovered huddled at the tower’s base, in cracks, Were gassed. At last inspection, none had sprung back. Feisty but mortal, a gangsta tag was wiped From the north wall, leaving the merest smear, like that on an elder’s bib. Some vague flaw vexing an exec’s view—an amendable warp In her office window’s plexiglass—was rendered void by torch. All seems well and the marble’s polish gleams unscuffed and chipper. The dining room revolves, revealing dreamy views of gloaming vista. And I sign off, yours truly, humble super, bowing out, Handing my torch to the night shift guy with his paunch and laden belt. The chimes of his keys will chatter in halls until the dawn’s cheeks blush. His nametag will be accurate, his hounds on their leash robust. Let’s turn in, those hordes of us who need not know the night: Snore ensconced among the folds of Incident Logs unfilled. Dozing, let’s patrol the fabled room immune to grime, or sweep With brittle straw the pristine floor that greets the newborn feet. Pupils shifting under lids, wait, wait for the report: The gun that starts the race, or kills the lights.

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WINNING

E N T RY,

2007

LUSH

TRIUMPHANT

«FICTION»

Me Yukon TOR FORSBERG I L L U S T R AT I O N BY D E R E K V O N E S S E N & O D E T T E H I D A LG O

My teacher says I ought to enter this writing contest because I am so good with words but I think it’s because I am practically the only one in the fucking class who can read and write at all. She thinks I am this good and studious sort of guy because I get my schoolwork done and don’t hang out at the smoke pit. Jeez.

The schoolwork is so easy it is pathetic and the gang at the smoke pit are losers so what’s the big deal. This teacher is new here and she thinks everything and everyone here is just so cool but what she don’t know would make a goddamned book. I look at the categories and since I live in the Yukon and this is a Canadian contest I am pretty sure that this is supposed to be all about the Yukon and how great it is to live here. I’ll bet they don’t want to hear nothing but praise and I say fuck that because there is nothing great about living here and I think most people except the old Indians would get out of here in a flash if they weren’t so drunk or drugged or just fucked up and stupid that they can’t do anything but repeat their dreary days and sad nights. And I don’t think that it is just the Yukon either. From what I hear, the rest of the country is just as fucked up but at least they got movie theatres and cafes and music stores and concerts to go to and choices for chrissakes. Here there is fucking nothing – even if you got money there’s dick all to buy and there is not a place here where you can go and just sit with a cup of coffee and I guess that is what I hate most – no place to just fucking be. You sit in one of these cafes any longer than it takes to drink their lousy coffee and the waitress is going to start hanging around and doing that thing they do of nudging you out without actually telling you they don’t want your ugly Indian face there any more. Shit but that sucks especially on those really cold days when there is no firewood or food at home and everyone is too pissed to care about anything but drinking and fighting and the kids are bawling and the whole fucking house stinks. So I got choices what I write about and I know what it is she wants me to write and that’s about this old lady I met who everyone is saying has made me clean up my act and change my life for the better and on and on like my life is just terrific now man and

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it’s still pretty much the same boring shit it’s always been. Al I have really done is I hang out a bit with her and that’s only because she doesn’t hassle me and she always has good stuff to eat. And any kind of food is great because there not very damned much of anything to eat at the dump I get to call home. And she knows lots of stuff that no one else knows and I am interested, I admit it, because no one else here knows shit about anything. How I met old lady Jacks is like this; last summer I got a sliver under my fingernail and it got really infected and hurt like a son of a bitch and the fucking so-called nurse couldn’t do a fucking thing about it because she doesn’t seem to have a clue how to take out a simple goddamned sliver without it hurting so much I really thought I might puke right there in her office. Finally she says to go see old lady Jacks in the village. Well jeez, what could I do? My finger was a fucking mess. I find her cabin and that took some doing because no one seems to know much about her and this is in a place where everyone knows fucking everything about everybody. She meets me just outside the door like she knew I was coming and we go in and it’s all dark and spooky inside because she lives in one of the old cabins where there is no electricity and no running water and an old wood stove and this is one old old woman I tell you. I don’t know why she lives like this when there are all those new government houses all over the village and some of them empty but anyway she does and it is private for sure, way back in the bush. It turns out she doesn’t speak English, and I never learned any Kaska but I show her the finger and she has me sit at the table and she grabs a bunch of dried stuff that’s hanging from the ceiling and she dumps it in an old pot with some water and puts it on the stove and the whole time she doesn’t say a word, she just sort of

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FICTION

hums. She goes out and gets more wood for the fire and she really knows how to handle the axe and she isn’t all bent over or hobbling either. This is not some little shriveled old lady with no teeth like my old gramma was, this one is tall and straight and she looks strong like no one would fuck with her I’ll bet. Anyway she soaks a piece of white bread in the pot of stuff and it smells like shit, man. She grabs my hand and wraps that bread around my sore finger and it is fucking hot but I am not gonna make a fuss in front of this tough old broad. So while it is cooling, we just sit there and look at each other because we can’t talk and there is nothing else to look at in that little dark cabin. And it is the damndest thing because she looks right into my eyes and she isn’t scared or shy, she just looks and I don’t know why but I start to relax and I feel ok just sitting there and us staring at each other. Her face looks like a wrinkled piece of old moose hide and she has really long hair and it is white and braided like an old time Indian and her eyes don’t look old but very sharp like she sees and knows everything in the world and it’s all ok with her. It gets weirder and weirder. It’s like she is telling me somehow that she likes me and that I am an all right dude and she is glad to see me. I keep getting this spooky feeling that she knows me and has been waiting for me to show up. She gets up after awhile and gets me some stew from a big pot on the stove and I eat it with my good hand while the other one lies on the table with a wet chunk of bread cooling on my finger. Man it was the best thing I ever ate. There was some kind of meat in it, lots of meat, and potatoes and carrots and onions and I don’t know what all but I ate three goddamned bowls full and she smiles and just keeps dishing it out till I can’t eat any more. Then she takes the bread off my finger and the sliver is lying there in the bread and all the pus and crap is there too and my finger has a dark pink line where the sliver was and the rest of it is bright pink and all the swelling is gone and I can bend it again and there is no more pain. It is like a fucking miracle, I tell you, man, I can hardly believe it. And I am feeling full of stew and sort of peaceful and she has me lie down on a cot covered with old blankets and it is so quiet and dark and smells good and I just sleep. Yeah, so I start to go over there a bit, just to keep her company because no one else visits her and pretty soon we kind of talk and I start to learn some Kaska and that’s pretty fucking cool, to learn to talk another language and I start to remember some of the words probably from way back when I was a kid and my gramma used to talk it a bit to me. Old lady Jacks can speak some English, she just doesn’t like to and she won’t speak English with me – she just flat out fucking will not no matter how I try to trick her or even sometimes need her to speak it to explain stuff to me. She is one stubborn old lady but in a calm way like she don’t yell or hit she just keeps doing whatever she wants to do. I help her out a bit with wood and packing water and stuff and she feeds me good, man. She always has lots of really good food at her place and I can eat as much as I want and sometimes when things are truly shitty at home, I sleep at her place and I sleep good there. It’s quiet way back in the bush and I don’t have to worry about someone drunk coming in and waking me up to talk or fight or just fuck around. Jeez I hate that when I can’t even get a sleep even on a school night.

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She has a trap line and it is a big line for an old lady so when winter comes I go help her out and it’s pretty interesting and sometimes we stay out for a couple of days and use one of the line cabins and I gotta say I really like that sleeping and eating and walking around in the bush even though it is a lot of work to snowshoe for miles to make the trails and set the traps and then check the traps and then there’s the skinning and stretching. There is a lot to know to trap good and this old lady kinda reminds me of the teacher at school like she don’t nag and piss me off but she treats me like maybe I am smart and ok. We get lots of fur and I get stronger and stronger and even grow some I think from eating so good all the time. She gives me some of the money she gets for the fur though I try to tell her I don’t want to take it. She makes me take the money so I buy good stuff like new jeans and a jacket and I don’t buy beer or dope and the kids at school really fucking get on my case about that but fuck them it is my money and I am gladder to have some decent stuff to wear than I would be getting drunk or stoned. My goddamned family is all over me when they figure I am getting money and when they figure I am not giving them any it gets sort of rough and I have to stay with old lady Jacks for a few days till it cools down at home and after that I leave the cash in her cabin in an old baking powder can. I know she won’t be getting into it. I end up leaving more and more stuff there just because it don’t get fucked with at her place. My homework doesn’t get thrown in the fire there and I can bring books from the library there though I got to read them during the day because old lady Jacks doesn’t have any kind of light for nighttime except sometimes she will light one of those white emergency candles. She is not one bit interested in the books but she doesn’t mind that I will sit and read for hours and hours which I do because it is so fucking good to get that kind of quiet time with no one around to get at me for some thing or another. My teacher at school thinks it’s cool that I am learning Kaska and how to trap and stuff and she doesn’t care when I miss school to be in the bush. She has helped me find some books on the Kaska people and on the language and I am learning to read and write it too. And in the books, well shit! Who knew the Kaska were so smart about how to live here and how to get around. Man, they went all over the place. Old lady Jacks won’t even look at the pictures and I think she must know some of the people in the photos but she acts like books are nothing worth her bothering about and she seems to be doing good without them. So that’s the story my teacher thinks I ought to write. This teacher is from Toronto and she thinks everything here is the greatest, man. I cannot fucking imagine what she thinks this story is about. She is just so fucking ignorant of what is really going on and she doesn’t get it that if I lived somewhere more civilized I would have better things to do than hang out with an old Indian woman who lives in the bush. She says I am to her what the north is really all about. Huh! Me Yukon. ■

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E S S AY

John Lurie is Sick: Who Will Help? ALAN MACINNIS I M AG E S BY J O H N LU R I E

The story begins in coincidence. In 1999, two friends of mine, B.C. artists Thomas Ziorjen and Ian Cochrane, were sailing to Cortes Island with B.C./New York-based author Ruth Ozeki, whom they’d just met. As Ziorjen would later tell me, “Ruth and Ian and I were talking, and John Lurie’s name came up. I’d never seen Fishing with John, but had heard about it through you, so I turned to Ian and said ‘You know what Lurie’s been up to? He’s hosting this whacked fishing show...’ Ruth broke into a huge shocked grin, and said “You know about Fishing with John? I worked on Fishing with John!! Nobody outside of New York knows about Fishing with John!” Ian and Thomas described me to Ruth as a guy who “digs deep” for odd cultural treasures. At about the same time, I was living in Japan, and stumbled by chance onto an interesting-looking book, My Year of Meat (it was the British edition; the u.s. renders it as Meats). The author—her name meant nothing to me at the time— was, it happens, Ruth Ozeki. The book told a tale of Japan/u.s. and male/female relations as filtered through the experiences of a woman working on a documentary tv series about American beef. I bought it without knowing that Ozeki had just been hearing about me, or that she’d had anything to do with Fishing with John. Also around that time, I chanced upon

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Fishing with John at a Japanese video store, where it was available on vhs long before it came out in North America, and I wrote to Thomas to tell him that I’d finally been able to see it. It was then we realized that the woman he’d been sailing with was the author of the very book I was reading. To close the circle, I mailed Ozeki a copy of John Lurie’s hilarious vocal album, Marvin Pontiac’s Greatest Hits. She says she “howled with laughter” when she put it on. “Those coincidences, the synchronicity thing, that’s just God’s little way of saying hello,” Lurie says in his distinctive drawl when we discuss the story. “Shit just happens that’s unbelievable. It’s like the religious thing: there’s definitely something going on. I don’t know what it is, but there’s not nothing.” I’m delighted to be on the phone with the musician/actor/hipster-turned painter. I started listening to the Lounge Lizards, the band he led and played saxophone in for twenty years, when I was in high school in the 1980s, and of course, his roles in films like Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger than Paradise and Down by Law have long delighted me. Unfortunately, he’s not doing so well. Lurie’s first encounters with the illness that has severely constricted his life and creativity began in 1986, he tells me from

his home in New York, where he has lived almost as a shut-in for the last few years. “It was when No Pain for Cakes came out, and I had gone to France to promote that record, then I had to go to Japan to shoot this commercial. I went to Hawaii to relax on the way back, and when I got up, I thought, ‘I don’t feel right. This isn’t jetlag; I don’t know what this is.’ So that’s when it started.” On arriving back in New York, Lurie “spent three months in bed,” suffering from something he likens to chronic fatigue syndrome, “and from then on this thing would just come and go.” The sporadic episodes of illness always interfered with Lurie’s life to some degree, he tells me, “but I could always sort of rise above it and go into adrenal mode to get things done, so while I was on tour, on stage, doing a film score, whatever, I would kind of go into this super-other-level. But five and a half years ago, sometime in June of 2002, I had my first really full-on attack. I was still on Oz, and there was supposed to be a scene of me naked, so I’m working out like crazy. About a half an hour later, I just felt like I was on a boat in an ocean and I was on lsd. Everything was floating around, and lights were flashing, and I couldn’t keep my balance and I had these hideous electrical sensations going on from my heart down my left arm, and I went to the hospital and I said, ‘Look, I

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Wom e n S h o p p i n g i n C l eve l a n d

don’t know, but I think I could be having a heart attack,’ and they gave me fluids. I felt a little better and left, but these weird sensations continued for, like, two days. And then I was working out about a week later, and it happened again. And then shit just started happening all the time—my legs would go numb, my hand wouldn’t work, my vision would go crazy. Bees were stinging me that weren’t there, people were screeching their nails on unseen blackboards. My blood pressure would randomly skyrocket or plummet, causing really frightening sensations in my chest— after a while I stopped going to the er because I would prefer to die at home than in their care.” The majority of professionals Lurie has seen diagnose him as suffering from advanced Lyme disease—a tick-borne bacterial infection that is so multifaceted and debilitating that it has been studied as a bioweapon. Some people believe (on the Lyme Rage website, for instance) that it is Lyme’s secret status as a governmental bioweapon that keeps people like Lurie

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from receiving accurate diagnoses. Did he think they were onto something, or just conspiracy theorists? “I have nothing against conspiracy theorists!” he laughs. “I think probably forty-five percent of the time, they’re correct, but I’m not particularly interested, because you’ll never figure it out. There’s no way to know, you know what I mean? And I’m not even sure that it is Lyme disease,” the ailing musician-actor-painter adds. “When it got really bad, like, five years ago, I did all this research, and if you punch all my symptoms in, what you get is Gulf War Syndrome. It was exactly that, I mean, it was Gulf War Syndrome. So I figure, if they were manufacturing something, I guess it’s the same thing, you know?” Disenchanted with the inability of conventional medicine to help him, Lurie has been experimenting with ozone therapy. “It’s probably idiotic and desperate of me, because I just feel like I’m going to die for about half an hour after doing it,” he reports. “You get injected with ozone. It’s the theory that it kills Lyme bugs, mould,

yeast, and whatever else is in your body. But it really doesn’t feel safe. I mean— apparently, it is safe, but what it’s doing to me is just hideous.” Needless to say, Lurie can neither play music nor act in such a condition, and is no longer able to travel overseas; but at least he still has painting, right? Since 2002, Lurie—who has always painted— has been busily reinventing himself as a visual artist, and has been the focus of very successful shows in Amsterdam, Zurich, Munich, and Basel. He’s had a solo exhibition of works on paper at New York’s ps1 Contemporary Art Center, and another at the Musée des beaux-arts in Montreal; his paintings have been added to the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art. He’s said in interviews not too long ago that painting saved his life; he’s been immensely productive since his illness kicked into high gear, and has just had a second book of his art published, John Lurie: A Fine Example of Art, by PowerHouse Books. Despite various difficulties with the publisher—when first

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E S S AY

I t Wa s S u c h a N i c e D ay I D e c i d e d to Wa l k

we spoke, in late 2007, Lurie was considering suing to get the book back from them—Lurie concedes that “the book is quite beautiful. It actually transcended the creepiness of what happened with them. I thought I was going to hate to have it in my house, but they did a nice job of printing it, and it’s quite beautiful, and I’m proud of it.” There are over eighty full-colour reproductions of John’s work in the book, and some of them are jaw-dropping. “Your Life Is Meaningless.Why Don’t You Masturbate?” for instance—which shows a sickly green figure being tempted by a lizard in his hand—at first provokes laughter and a sort of gross-out “eww,” followed by a deeper, bemused-but-ominous embarrassment as you recognize yourself in it. While some pieces (Happy as a Penis) are playfully, crudely cartoonish, others, like Outdoor Boxing and It Was Such a Nice Day I Decided to Walk are rich, painterly, fully-realized works that linger in the mind. Often, as with Women Shopping in Cleveland, the paintings freely partake of the beautiful and

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ugly, the funny and the serious, combining them to startling effect. Having finally gotten my own copy of the book, the story John tells me about it is no surprise. “I’m doing this ozone thing. I go up. My friend’s with me and he’s got the book, and the cranky receptionist—this older Jewish woman—says ‘What do you have there?’ And so he shows her the book and she’s looking at it, and she calls the chiropractor, this young kinda waspy guy out, and says, ‘Look at this!’ And they’re looking, and the next thing I know, there’s an older black guy, a Chinese woman about forty, a teenage girl, another woman about thirty— all looking over this receptionist’s shoulder at the book. Some of them are laughing. And I go in and see the doctor, I’m in there for half an hour, I come out—and they’re all in the exact same position, laughing and pointing. It was just like, ‘What?!’ In New York City, where everyone suffers from add, to have them enraptured like that and have them looking at it thirty minutes later was just like, ‘Well, look, I’ve done something here!’ So that was really cool.”

Unfortunately, there’s only so much good news to be had. John shocks me when he tells me: he’s stopped painting, possibly for good. Is it because of illness, I ask. “Well, partly,” Lurie answers. “It was an incredible effort to do it, and I sort of felt like, by the time they came out into the world, the world would go, ‘Oh my God, you’re a sick man and you’ve done these wonderful things—you’re a hero!’ What I got was just (he adopts a nefarious voice): ‘let us take advantage of you in every way we can.’” His problems with PowerHouse head Dan Power—which he declines to go into—were only one of the exasperating experiences that led to his decision. “I mean, it’s not like it was the final blow, but it was like, a series of things—what this gallery did, what that agent did, what this museum did, and then with him, it was like, ‘My God. Why would I try?’…Maybe it’s me just having trouble with the world, and I’ve got some kind of psychological deformity that I don’t see, but I’ve had it. I

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feel like Richard Nixon, where it’s like, ‘You’re not going to have the name of Nixon to kick around anymore.’ If I could just be creative and do that stuff— wonderful. But it’s like—that’s about three percent of your time. The rest of it, you have to deal with the weird, bizarre egos and capriciousness of these people standing at the end of the tunnel when you do any project, or else it’s just ‘There’s ten thousand cds stuck at customs in Poland,’ and, ‘Oh, we’ve gotta send these paintings back, the frames are broken.’” When it comes to his frustrations with the art world, John is not lacking in illus-

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trative stories. “Last summer I had a show at the Montreal Musée des beaux-arts. Very nice guy, but he says, ‘We have to have all the stuff you’ve done: the fishing show, all your cds…’ And I said, ‘Well, it’ll be a lot of work for me to get all that stuff together, I don’t own everything,’ and he’s like, ‘Oh, no, somebody will take care of that for you.’ But they don’t. Still, I really like this guy, and I want them to have my stuff, and they want two hundred cds. Now I own all my cds, but I have a distributor, and in order for me to get cds from my distributor, I had to actually buy them. So I buy the cds, and have my

assistant send them to him, and I go to Montreal. For me to go to Montreal is like you climbing Mount Everest. I mean, I went there, and came back, and I was just a mess, and while I was gone, my assistant quit. I got back and my place was a disaster, but in the fax machine is this invoice for a hundred cds. But we sent them two hundred!” After about “forty phone calls” that Lurie was obliged to make between Montreal and his accountant, trying to sort matters out, he established that the error was not on his end. “So I called the guy again, and he says, ‘Yes, we found the other hundred, but we don’t need them now!’” Lurie’s exasperation comes through in his voice. “Do I want to be dealing with any of this? No! I say, ‘Well, I don’t want them!—I mean, I bought them, what am I going to do with them?’ He’s like, ‘Well, we don’t need them.’ Then, without telling me, they sent them back to my accountant. This is all day long, this kind of thing! It’s nothing evil, it’s normal business I suppose, but I just can’t stand it. And if you’re not well...” John offers another example. “The art world seems to take a great pleasure—kind of like how Hollywood does—in not returning people’s phone calls. It’s really a big thing with me. I call everybody back. Even when I was the most fuckin’ cool guy in New York City —I called you back! Anybody—it’s just rude not to; it negates you—it’s like somebody walking up to you on the street and saying ‘Hello,’ and you just walking away. Somebody calls and leaves you a message, you call them back! I mean, I had a friend who had a show and the gallery owner came up to me and said, ‘You must call me. You must call me. I’m going to Cuba, but you must call me.’ So I called him—‘No, he’s not here.’ And then I called again. I called a third time, I said, ‘Look, I don’t like it when somebody doesn’t return my calls; he asked me to call him!’ ‘Oh yes, Mr. Lurie, we understand.’ And he never called me back!” “This is just one small story,” Lurie notes. “I didn’t ask for anything. They asked me, and then it’s like—it was the same thing with this museum in Tennessee. ‘We’d like to have a show of yours, fill out these forms, send this image to this,’ and I do a lot of work and send the thing and then they say, ‘We reject your proposal!’ That’s what the art world is like, y’know? ‘Let us

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trick this person into thinking that we’re interested, and then go—No, we don’t want you!’ What the fuck?” I know that Lurie has had his share of frustrations with the music industry, as well. (His as-yet-unpublished memoirs are tentatively titled What Do You Know About Music,You’re Not a Lawyer). Were things much the same? “Yeah, of course, absolutely!” he laughs. “This is partly from twenty-five years in the music business, being just devastated by people’s creepiness and dishonesty. But it’s like— the guy across the desert was attacked by Huns, his well ran dry, mosquitoes attacked his family—and then his shoelace broke, and he killed himself. You know, it wasn’t the shoelace!” What does John do with his time, then? Ill, stuck in his apartment, with only a few

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loyal friends staying by him—including Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who, along with Steve Buscemi, Glenn O’Brien, Carter Foster, James Nares, and Stephane Aquin, wrote an appreciation of John’s art for the book—Lurie’s creative energies have found a new outlet, such as it may be: online poker. He becomes quite excited talking about it. “It’s the same thing: I don’t know if there are people cheating on there!” he laughs. “I really wish I knew, because sometimes it seems like ‘What? What just happened?’ y’know? And I’m sure that there are ways to cheat—you can hack into the thing and know what cards are coming in advance, or see somebody’s hand.” (Actually, I’m told cheat programs help players predict what other people will do, based on past games they’ve been in; such things do

exist, should anyone thinks Mr. Lurie is paranoid). “But still, I’ve gotten very good at it,” Lurie says happily. “I win all these tournaments online. There’s also a thing, which I’m quite addicted to, where you play for play money, but it’s quite serious actually, because there’s the low level, where you win enough money to go to the next level, and there’s hundreds of thousands of people on there, and at the top, there’s probably a thousand of the best players. I’m completely into it. One day I lost eight million play chips, but won a thousand dollars. That was a bad day! It wasn’t a good day, because I’m so invested in my play chips, and frankly they take longer for me to make than money.” Lurie, who favours Texas hold ’em, will occasionally chat with the other players, and every now and then will tell people

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who he is. “They either know who I am or they don’t.” Lurie thinks of something and laughs somewhat giddily: “I had a horrible thing go on—this is what I feel like, being stuck sick in my apartment; this is what it’s like. I had pocket aces, and this guy wrote, ‘Kruder and Acemeister.’ And I said, ‘Oh, do you know the musical group Kruder and Dorfmeister?’ And he says, ‘Yes, I’m listening to them right now.’ Now I only know who the fuck Kruder and Dorfmeister are because they once took a piece of my music—completely, just took my music—and added a few sparkles to it and put it out as their own thing, and I had to sue them. And they said, ‘Well, we don’t have any money. We do admit that we did steal your music. What we would like to

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offer is for us to remix some of your music for you.’” Lurie laughs scornfully. “I was like, ‘Why the fuck would I want that?’ y’know? That’s like some tailor stealing your coat and then offering to cut it to pieces!” “So anyways, I wrote on the chat link, ‘I sued them once!’ And he says, ‘Oh, what business are you in?’ ‘Oh, I used to do film scores.’ And he says, ‘Oh, then you must know David Holmes.’ This is the guy who did the score for Ocean’s Eleven and I guess the second and third one. I know the music of Ocean’s Eleven and three and four or whatever because I’m sitting there playing poker with my back to the tv and I hear this piece of music that’s like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ They’ve obviously taken a

piece of Get Shorty and plunked it in there and told some guy to copy it. So this guy is calling the guy who wrote the music to Ocean’s Eleven a genius, but the guy is just stealing my stuff! The two people he knows about are people who have ripped me off. But he has no idea who I am.” I laugh at Lurie’s summation, but it’s not that funny. Lurie deadpans bitterly, “It’s like, ‘Okay. I see my work here is done.’” Living in New York is probably not the best idea for a man in John’s condition, particularly given the picture he paints of his home. (“I’m living in this thing that’s almost a storage facility. There’s glassine and bubble wrap and boxes of paintings and this thing leaning against that. And I hate living like this, and so the idea—if I

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were to make any more (paintings), it’s just like making garbage!”) Travel would be challenging, however, if he were to try relocating, not to mention the matter of getting the help he needs to get through the day.

“Right now I have a good assistant, Michelle. She’s really good; she used to work for me six years ago. But I’ve had just a series of really bad people. You get these people who move to New York and they have a certain sense of entitlement: they’re creative, and they went to this college, and—they just don’t want to work. So you find out that forty paintings have been framed without you signing them, and this painting is in the silverware drawer with jam on it, and y’know—it’s just like that. So my place is filled with boxes of paintings—works on paper, black and white drawings, and they’re everywhere. And every box you open up and check against the FileMaker, well, it’s all wrong! The sizes are wrong. This painting is actually in Box C. This painting is torn. So me and Michelle have been working for the last two months to try and sort that out, but—I don’t have the strength; I can do it for maybe an hour, and that’s my day.” Not everything that has gone on in the last few years has been bad, though. Some of it has just been really fucking weird— for instance, the mass phenomenon spurred in Russia by one of John’s paintings, Bear Surprise—a rather cartoon-like work in which a bear with his arms raised shouts “surprise” at a couple fucking in a field. Somehow a translated version of the work—the happy bear with his arms up, shouting, in Russian, “Preved” (a pun on the Russian word for “hello”) has become the crux of a lengthy series of wordplays and references in the former Soviet bloc. “The whole thing is bizarre to me,” Lurie chuckles. “I mean, they’re using my bear—there’s a bank that uses it on their atm machines, and there’s like twenty condom companies, but I don’t know if there’s any copyright laws in Russia. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do, here! During a soccer game, they flash my bear on the scoreboard and the whole audience jumps up and yells, ‘Preved!’ It’s just weird, right?” Lurie has no idea how it all got started.

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“Apparently, at one point, when Putin took email questions or suggestions from the Russian constituency, the number one question was, what did he think of Preved?” Bear Surprise (known in Russia as Preved Medved) is one of Lurie’s paintings available as a print from strangeandbeautiful.com. “That one’s unlimited, because I thought that I would get nine thousand orders from Russia, but it didn’t really work.” I asked Lurie if the painting had any deeper meaning—there are often strange surprises in his work, confrontations between the normal and the not; and since I first encountered Bear Surprise in the midst of an std scare, the painting, for me, has always seemed to have a subtext of disease (personally I’d rather be surprised by a bear). Was any of that intended? Lurie gives a long New York “no.” “I mean, who knows. Everything’s very subjective. There might be a subtext to everything without me knowing it. But none of this is very thought out; it just sorta happens.” Usually he doesn’t know what he’s painting until midway through, and says that, “Whenever I have an idea for a painting at the beginning, they usually don’t come out…But I do have an idea for one painting at the moment,” he offers. “You know the expression, ‘You have the right to bear arms?’ But if you say it with that inflection, it’s, ‘You have the right to BEAR arms.’ I want to do a painting of a man standing there smiling with the arms of a bear.” It’s nice to hear that Lurie is still thinking about paintings, though he quickly repeats that he really just can’t do it anymore. Although he was raised an atheist, crucifixes and Christian imagery tend to recur in John Lurie’s visual art. Some of this is obviously intended as humour (The Bible Doesn’t Mention it, but Jesus Loved to Sleep Twelve to Fourteen Hours a Day), but there’s a seriousness to it, as well. The painter has little insight to offer. “I know they’re there all the time, it’s like something in the back of my mind. Because I try to not not not do it, you know what I mean? It’s like, ‘There should be an X over there.’ And I make one. So it’s really the subconscious getting splattered out on the painting, more than I thought, ‘this is going to have Christian symbolism in the corner.’”

The funniest of Lurie’s Christian-themed pieces is likely Harry Didn’t Want to Say Anything, But the Appearance of Jesus Was Ruining His Vacation, which he describes as “the meat of where I’m coming from.” The painting shows a recreational boater on the ocean, with a crucifix hovering above. “Christians think it’s an affront on Jesus, but it’s really the opposite, it’s an affront on yuppies!” Lurie chuckles. “It’s like—Jesus appears to you, but it’s going to ruin the luxury of your vacation?—Hello?” I asked Lurie whose side he was on. “I’m right down the middle of that! I’m Jesus and I’m the boat—I’m both!” Our interviews take us through some dark territories. At one point, during our December conversation, I asked Lurie if online poker was enough to keep him going, and he responded, “Look, you know, if I could get out of this life in a graceful way, I would, I really would. I mean, my days are miserable. I’m sorry to tell you all this, but it’s just the truth. I just don’t have any kind of show-business veneer to put on any of this...” In April 2008, he said of that period, “There wasn’t a minute that went by that I didn’t have the thought of, ‘just end it. You’re an idiot not to end it.’” Happily, though, at this writing, things are looking a bit better. Lurie whispers conspiratorially to me on the phone in April—having just won $840 in a poker tournament—that he thinks “the ozone may be fucking working!” He’s taking herbal antidepressants, and in early spring, he was able to get out and do some swimming. Having the book out is obviously exciting to him, too—he asks me to show it to as many people as I can. Given my lifelong love for his music, my joy at his film roles, and the pinch of binding coincidental weirdness between us, I’m really glad to be able to offer something back to him. I ask if there’s anything else I can do. He doesn’t answer right away. “I need help from somewhere,” Lurie finally concedes. “I really do. I need somebody to come along and say, ‘This guy is amazing. Look at what he’s done. Let’s stop bending his arms back.’ Maybe it’s a naïve notion.” He pauses a minute, then chuckles. “Send me—what do you call it? Not a mentor—you know, what do you call that, somebody who just sort of supports the painter? A patron! Find me a patron!” ■

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WINNING

E N T RY,

2007

LUSH

TRIUMPHANT

«POETRY»

Familiar (a gathering of near-ghazals) PAT N E W S O N

1. on this day of brightness, how can I think grave thoughts? the sun blazing a trail

3. the death of the drunk in me, the flowering rising forth which me is the poet? which the chronicling ibis?

sometimes my past seems real. as real as this minute I can remember with smells, colour, an ache

mourning has broken the back of inebriated night the emerald eye which shone so in the dark, seeks a new orbit

places that have fallen away, fallen into lashing green rivers & swept into the salt rim & rhyme of the sea

as my eye offends me, so I cast it out. now I cannot look back necessary surgery, I am told. all that’s left is the clean-up

a doe with her fawn, eating our flowers at their fullness, an eye over her shoulder, watching for guns amongst us

angels ascending from the fungus-furred forest lamentable aspirations. lyre-shaped wings thrumming

my cat sleeping on a sun-hot shelf, the heat stoking her apricot fur. does she forget where she came from?

is the poet the heap on the floor, mind flying far from? is it necessary that the heart is nailed to the hardwood floor?

2. meeting a like mind – rivers flowing into the age-gathering sea turtle, dolphin, dorado, whale, shark, flying mantis—

4. gazelles & giraffes, elephants & anteaters, squirrels & snakes, bunnies & rats, chickens & pigs – all want rescue

survive the savage sea, but not the savagery of humans thru brute labour, skeletal meanness, chains, cages, fences,

& where is the rowboat to save us, as we flounder? where is the white, winged horse, dancing thru the skies?

thru sport & entertainment, thru food & science, thru & thru fat profit off the fatted, killed calf, famine of land & heart

I wave & wave, goodbye to all that. bring on the disaster I am already burned to bone with nowhere to cast my ashes

companions making the crossing with us—the drunken dead: Kerouac, Lowry, Thomas, Thompson, MacEwan, Smart …

will my soul really take leave & find company? the millions, the numbers too infinite to cry over, the forsaken & the cast out

how can I, O so sober now, look to the ruined past of drunks, picking, picking for broken bits, each a luminous message?

the murdered below our feet make firm footing & all is forgotten their stories reformatted to fit our tv screens. too too familiar.

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The Afterlife of Culture STEPHEN HENIGHAN

The impact of globalized commerce on culture has been to transmute democratic ideals into I-express-my-individualism-by-shuffling-apersonal-selection-of-products-available-at-the-shopping-mall mass consumerism. This “mass” element pervades all contemporary cultural activity, from the cherry-picking of downloaded tunes on a teenager’s iPod that expresses her “individuality” to the book club reading lists that try to fill the void left by the disintegration of literary culture by establishing a common ground for literary discussion. It is evident in the weblog, where people put forth opinions, and others respond to them: an untutored exchange that is often touted as the “democratization” of culture, but which could be characterized as the penetration of the mass individualism of the shopper in the mall into political, social and intellectual debate. At its best the weblog provides a conduit into the public domain for issues ignored or under-reported by the conventional media, or develops arguments for debunking the palaver of politicians. More often the weblog is sloppy, fractured, grammatically tangled, intellectually malnourished, responsible only to a coterie of correligionists: in its universal visibility and the brevity of its entries, it epitomizes the word sapped of energy by its framing within the field of the visual image. The weblog, unlike a book on the same topic, is rarely held accountable to past debates in the field it is discussing; in this way it furthers the excision of the eternal present of the contemporary era from the progressive chronology of past eras. This difference becomes clear in a case such as that of Riverbend, the notorious “girl blog from Iraq,” an online favourite the value of whose insights into her society were widely and seriously debated only after a selection of her blogs was published in book form as Baghdad Burning: Girl Blog from Iraq (2005). The book was judged not only by different standards, but within a broader historical context, than her original blog. Mass culture promotes film, now transmitted on dvd, as the dominant narrative form. The widespread installation of dvd drives in laptop computers means that film must be sufficiently intellectually challenging to withstand multiple viewings; since visual language is crude, simplistic and over-obvious by compari-

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son with written language, complexity is achieved through variant endings, collections of bloopers or outtakes, “director’s cuts,” or willful obscurity. The consumer may choose a preferred version of the film from among those offered by the dvd, as he or she would choose favourite products from among the repertoire available at the mall. The consumer’s personal extraction of meaning from the film, however, remains less active, and less predicated on the subtleties of a given type of language, than the reader’s construction of meaning when reading a novel. Meaning becomes a question of selecting combinations of options rather than of the development of an imagination. The reader of a novel must supply the basic images of the story, down to the characters’ appearances; this exercise renders the reader’s imagination robust. None of us sees Heathcliff’s dark allure exactly as our fellow readers do. In film, by contrast, appearances are imposed on us: we all view the same image of the male and female leads gazing into each other’s eyes; the only exertion that we can be obliged to make is to disentangle the plot, and here at best a handful of options are available. The mass consumption of “culture,” its conversion into an ahistorical commodity, may not be unique to the post-1990 era; but in its distinctive present form, the “mass” quality erases both the eccentric individuality of the past and the pillar that upheld original perceptions: privacy. Culture, by definition, is now a question of personal preferences, expressed in a public context, and based on “feelings” rather than aesthetic judgements made within a tradition consciously mastered or painstakingly adopted. When I board the bus to the downtown core of the city where I live, half the passengers, and nearly all of the younger passengers, have wires trailing from their ears. I transfer to the intercity bus and, while some people are reading or conversing or talking on their cellphones, others are watching movies on their laptops; the ubiquitous wire may funnel the sound into the spectator’s ear alone, but people in three or

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four different seats can view the images flashing on the moviewatcher’s screen. The distracting presence of these images makes it difficult to concentrate on anything else. The books discussed in book clubs become public in the same way: they are read for a shared deadline, discussion may be channelled by the “Questions for your reading group” section at the end of the paperback edition, the level of literary debate descends to whether members of the group “liked” characters or regarded them as laudable models for behaviour, or saw them as raising salient public debates in a congenial way; appreciation of literary form or original uses of language sinks below the horizon. The effect is to reverse the intense introspection that distinguished the individual within the organic post-tribal society of early modern Europe; almost six hundred years after Gutenberg set in motion the implacable deterioration of the tribe, our solitude is punctured and we are restored to the community.

society that feigns blindness to the concept of social class). We know that being “cultured” is part of our social heritage as people who have attained a certain level of material success; we believe that children who read will advance in life, and that we must set a good example for our children. Yet our focus is on the public experience: the book club meeting, the lifestyle, the children’s careers. The actual act of reading, in a suburban house where nearly every room offers the enticement of a screen of some sort and other people’s music washes through the walls, often proves to be an ordeal. We inhabit the afterlife of culture because the forms we use to express ourselves possess only a vestigial relationship to the reality that gives them birth. The artist imagined by postmodernism, who creates a simulacrum or pastiche of an older work of art, remains nonetheless steeped in that tradition and is struggling, however ironically, to acknowledge his or her relationship to it. In

Like primitives dwarfed by the ruins of a collapsed civilization whose language and history they have forgotten, we imitate without being fully conversant with the traditions that we are copying; we simplify, we dumb them down to our level. But after centuries of modernity and the recent breakneck acceleration of global commercialism the tribe to which we are restored is hollow. The book club, the public forum for the expression of literary culture, dissolves the private spiritual dimension of the literary experience, as the muzak playing on the elevator, the rap lyrics thumping from a car halted at the intersection, winnow away this dimension of music. The book club absolves literature of non-conformist reclusiveness by projecting it into the neon-lit glare of the mass world (the most famous book club of all, that of Oprah Winfrey, is televised). Having originated in the cultivation of private, solitary perceptions in the context of uncompromising post-feudal societies, the book has descended to the role of being a social facilitator among a random collection of people who ultimately have little in common other than the “universal” values of very late modernity (whether they belong to a women’s book club or a Braille book club or a Pentecostal or Marxist book club). What they talk about when they talk about culture is a tamed package one step removed from lived experience. A telling cartoon in The New Yorker portrayed a group of disconsolate-looking women sitting on a couch with books in their laps; one woman says: “Well, instead of discussing the book we could discuss why none of us had time to read it.” This cultural afterlife is shared by literature, music and the visual arts. We persist in reading, or listening to classical music (while washing the dishes and talking about recycling with our mother-in-law) because we possess a vestigial historical memory that these things are good for us; residual associations link these experiences to pleasure and spiritual elevation. Books and music help to sustain our identities as people enjoying the best that life can offer; by passing on these hobbies to our children we certify our offspring as members of a superior class (in a

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the afterlife of culture, the connection withers. Like primitives dwarfed by the ruins of a collapsed civilization whose language and history they have forgotten, we imitate without being fully conversant with the traditions that we are copying; we simplify, we dumb them down to our level. In our case, the tradition that looms over us is one predicated on the assumption of broad swathes of silence and solitude. Our public print culture had its origins in the scholasticism of the middle ages, in the silence of monasteries. Even a medieval writer who was a busy public figure like Geoffrey Chaucer—one of his era’s most important diplomats—would find himself hyper-stimulated by the rapid-fire distractions of our era. It is not that reading groups, for example, have not existed in the past. Chaucer himself probably read sections of The Canterbury Tales aloud at the court of Richard II. One thinks of Victorian families where the novels of Sir Walter Scott or Anthony Trollope were read aloud in the evenings, or Cuban factories in the early years of the Revolution, where official “readers” edified the workers by reading the novels of Cervantes, Dickens and Pérez Galdós to them as they refined the sugar. But these events were supplements to the central culture of private reading (or, in the Cuban case, a way of stimulating interest in acquiring literacy during a period in which adult literacy classes were being promoted). Today, by contrast, we are never alone anywhere. To imagine past cultural, and particularly literary, events in a present-day context is to predict their annulment. Would Arthur Rimbaud’s flight to Abyssinia have made the same dramatic impact if the guardians of the French poetic milieu he abandoned had been able to contact him by email? Messages from Verlaine picked up at the internet café in Harrar might have persuaded impetuous young Arthur to forego gun-running and inveigled him

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to return to France to live out his career as an ordinary working poet. Flaubert would not have been left alone at the country house in Croisset, nor Faulkner in Oxford, Mississippi, nor Chaucer in his writing retreat in Kent, long enough to gestate their masterpieces. Televised news reports of the bubbling of talent in Paris in the 1920s would have precipitated a tidal wave of tourism and inflated Paris property prices to the point where James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound and Ernest Hemingway would have had to decamp from Montparnasse. Alfred Lord Tennyson would have been distracted from getting down on paper his mourning for his friend Arthur Henry Hallam by the string of condolence calls coming in on his cellphone. The spread of satellite television into remote areas of Yorkshire would have deprived the Brontë sisters of both the time and the imaginative originality to fill notebooks with stories of passionate young women. Jack Kerouac, rather than pursuing ecstatic

imperative conspires with the desire for integration and social peace to subordinate an awareness of historical continuity and imprison us in a cultural afterlife that we dare not rupture for fear of exploding the tranquil circumstances in which we live. When I moved from a rough neighbourhood on the east side of London, England, where ethnic diversity was fractious and no intercultural interaction failed to chafe on both parties, to suburban southern Ontario, my first thought was that here, contrary to what prevailed in London, ethnic diversity promoted cultural uniformity. The Canadian model may be more desirable from a purely public order point of view, but, in its present form, it accentuates our disconnection from culture. Since we do not talk about history in order to avoid discussing the fact that your ancestors were slaves and mine were slave-owners, that your ancestors were victims of the Holocaust and mine were collaborators in it, that your parents do not drink alcohol and mine come from a culture of whiskey, the

Canada loves to vaunt its “multiculturalism.” The reality is that Canadian society is increasingly multiracial rather than multicultural: a multiracialism rendered feasible by the downplaying of cultural differences rooted in historical consciousness and their replacement by the unifying ethos of consumption. enlightenment, might have been content to play computer games. The book club, under a triumphant 21st-century global capitalism that denies the existence of ideological alternatives (a denial rendered more effective by casting its sole threatening opponent in irrational religious, rather than rational political, terms), claims to perpetuate humanistic culture. Yet, as the economics of globalization shrink the middle class, the participants in most book clubs are likely to belong to a more privileged stratum of society than in the past. It should not be surprising that they seek out books that raise prominent public issues without ruffling very many well-preened feathers. The culture of the book club novel is sentimental, “life-affirming,” deflected from engagement with the world around it, and often obsessed with the therapeutic reconstruction of the individual psyche—think of Oprah Winfrey’s promotion of Wally Lamb, think of book-club standards, such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin—or with outdated solutions to social problems that have since acquired more nefarious dimensions. The revival in the United States of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), a gawky period piece about white liberals who try to help oppressed African-Americans in the pre-Civil Rights era South, coincided with the media blanket on discussion of the detention and abuse of thousands of Arab and Muslim men in U.S. or U.S.-run prisons. The mere fact that Oprah Winfrey can present writers such as Tolstoy and Faulkner as though they were new underlines the problem. It is impossible not to applaud Winfrey for trying to reconnect these writers with the diaphanous non-tradition of post-literate society, but the earnestness of her efforts lays bare our sundering from an organic web of culture. In radically ethnically diverse developed societies, such as contemporary urban and suburban Canada, the commercial

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commercial ground becomes the common culture in which we meet. This is particularly evident in urban Canada, which until about 1990 was believed by many sociologists to harbour the most conservative, insular immigrant communities in the Western world –the famous “Canadian mosaic”—and which, almost overnight, has begun to pride itself on effortless interculturalism. The central trope of this new interculturalism is the shopping mall, with its commercial values, its architecture unconnected to any past or tradition, its food court serving commercially streamlined falsifications of national cuisines full of sugar and extra calories absent from these meals’ prototypes, its dozens of stylized, logo-branded shops offering variety within the strict limitations imposed by production lines, the mass market and the relentless tyranny of seasonality. I once tried to buy ping-pong balls in June, only to be told by Canadian Tire, Zellers, SportChek and Sport Mart that ping-pong balls were “seasonally discontinued.” Reflecting the consumerist conformism that is the ideology of contemporary youth, teenage clerks regarded me as though I were a dangerous misfit for wishing to play ping-pong in the summer. The shopping mall is an apt metaphor for the terrain on which contemporary cultural mixing occurs; but it is also, in the most literal sense, the ground where the next generation of young people meet and mingle. Canada loves to vaunt its “multiculturalism.” The reality is that Canadian society is increasingly multiracial rather than multicultural: a multiracialism rendered feasible by the downplaying of cultural differences rooted in historical consciousness and their replacement by the unifying ethos of consumption. Different communities and different regions experience this phenomenon to different degrees. In some cases, the

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COMMENTARY

parents suffer and suppress their values to permit the children’s integration; in others the parents discover that the authority they assumed would be theirs by right is not recognized by their offspring, who live their lives as their friends do. The children, defining themselves as Canadian yet knowing almost nothing about Canadian history, perceive their ancestral cultures as fashion accessories, like a ring in the nose or a blouse that exposes the navel. It becomes easy to “respect other people’s cultures� when these cultures do not imply substantial differences in spiritual or moral outlook, as they did, for example, in my East London neighbourhood, where unassimilated Nigerians and Turkish Cypriots and Bangladeshis and Cockneys and Irish were so riven by incompatible visions of history that they never tried to speak to each other about anything serious. “In her culture they light candles when they give each other their presents,� the young woman in front of me in the line-up says to her friend during Christmas shopping at the mall. “Cool!� the friend replies. The two young women, who speak with identical accents, are of different racial backgrounds; the friend they are discussing is probably of a third. Their unselfconscious integration is admirable, yet whether you call the gift-giving season Christmas, Diwali, Ramadan, Hanukkah or Kwanza, it is all the same celebration of consumption, the god who unites the young women and their friends. This scenario is not pervasive, even if it appears to be on the way to becoming dominant. Some immigrant cultures retain their traditional values; some parents bring up their children in their ancestral languages and enforce their marriages to members of their own ethnic or religious groups. Groups who feel that their

efforts at integration have been rebuffed, such as young men of African ancestry who cluster together in street gangs with other young men of their own race (even if they have different cultures, the parents of one having immigrated from Trinidad, another from Somalia and a third from Ghana), suffer the paradox of being rejected on the basis of their race by a multiracial mainstream. The key to their exclusion lies in their failure –a failure that is often forced on them by the host society—to subordinate race to consumption. In response to their impoverishment in a wealthy society, these young men funnel their consumerist ambitions through the racial conduit of the gang, whose defiant specificity—a portmanteau “Black culture� that fuses Jamaican, African-American and generic pop-culture elements—insists on the primacy of culture in a society founded on its negation. The gang, in this sense, is marginalized for being retrograde enough to assert that culture matters. In some parts of the Western world, such as London or Los Angeles, integration-through-consumption occurs more slowly than in urban Canada; due to long-established local cultural barriers, the state of fusion predicted by the indicators in the Canadian shopping mall may never be realized in these cities. The meshing of ethnic diversity and cultural uniformity, however, is likely to win out in the end (though it may continue to exclude certain groups) because it is consistent with the economic structures of contemporary globalization. The more definitively this multiracial ahistoricism establishes itself, the clearer it will become that in our ritualized diversions it is no longer culture itself that we experience, but its afterlife. ■(An Excerpt from A Report on the Afterlife of Culture, forthcoming from Biblioasis)

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subTerrain


FICTION

Black Sheep Missive M AT T M U L L I N S

Back in high school when I’m fucking up much less seriously, I have my friends over for drinks on Saturday nights while my parents are out.

I water my father’s whiskey. Maybe use my fake id to get away from the Liquor Mart with a few cases of cheap beer. My friends, guys with nicknames like Dogger, Malt-o-Meal, Blockhead, Hula, Carp, and Gumby, the same dudes who call me doa, have their own sources, and they bring what they can when they can. Wherever the drugs and alcohol come from, the party always ends up the same: in a tape loop of the Rolling Judas Zeppelin cranked to TEN as I take drunken run of my parent’s large, lakefront home. There I am, pawing the current girlfriend on the living room couch while my wasted buddies argue at poker, grope their own girls, suck down beer bongs at the kitchen sink, puke in the odd corner as they stumble their way to the can. Right around two, I kick everybody to the curb, straighten out the knocked over knick-knacks, scrub the puke from the shag, bag the poker chips, and pass out. Only to awaken days later, straight into the long hangover of a condom wrapper or that stub of roach or the tightly rolled bill which found its place between the cushions or in some crack—the one and only thing I’d missed, the landmine that turns my mom into an explosion as she unearths it from behind a potted plant.

Oh, the black, time-warped magic in the way those luminous, throbbing afternoons suddenly dissolve through the years into this present tense where I’ve failed to find myself forever stoned, cool, righteous, young, and eternally immune to the possibilities of pot-belly, premature baldness and razor burn now that I’m too far gone for Pop to shoulder his frame into the doorway of this shitty rented room, the knot of his all-day tie torn loose: “Goddamn it, boy,” he is forever telling me as he holds up whatever my mom has given him between his thumb and first finger. “You think this is how you make a future?” ■

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FICTION

Life and Death in Palm Desert CHELSEA ROONEY

Marco insists his pale face and my white thighs require sunshine. Everyone looks better with a little colour and we’ll talk about skin cancer later. What does he know? He was born in the Swiss Alps with a tan. MidApril, finally, which means in two days we flee Vancouver. Vancouver is nice but California is hot. The Brave New Plays wrapped last week and I deserve a vacation.

Francine starred as the Harlequin heroine in a show I directed and tonight we dance together at The Media Club. Her corkscrew curls fly like fireworks and I hope I look as beautiful as she does. I drink too much red wine and tell Francine stories of my childhood I should probably keep to myself. I think she responds with an anecdote about her mother, but the conversation blurs here because of the wine and my selfishness. The next morning, before coffee, online news feeds shock me awake. Twenty-nine people and counting. The worst school shooting in history. Virginia. The name summons images of big trees, stately homes and maidens chaste and pure. Virginia sounds far, far away. Marco and I leave the day after and it rains buckets. I wear a sundress in protest. On the way to the airport we accept green Metro newspapers from a vendor outside the Skytrain station. The Virginia details overwhelm us so we flip to the back page and place tiny letters and numbers into tiny boxes, enamoured with the little worlds we can control. Marco’s Aunt Yvonne traveled from Switzerland to Palm Desert in the seventies for adventure and stayed for love. Now she and Fernando have three kids, three dogs, a pullout couch and a

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pool. I never gamble, at least not with money, and Marco says Las Vegas makes no sense at all so we should drive there from Palm Desert because I’ll probably win a jackpot. The airport in Palm Desert has fewer roofs than the airport in Vancouver. When we step off the plane our flip-flops stick to hot tarmac and it’s too dry to sweat. At Yvonne and Fernando’s house we eat homemade pizza and plan our road trip to Las Vegas. Take the back roads, Yvonne says. Through the Mohave Desert’s barren heart. That way Las Vegas hits you like a ton of bricks. In her SwissGerman accent Yvonne always sounds right. She cuts up another slice of pizza for her son Thomas as he bobs his chin up and down. Up and down. Thomas is eighteen years old and has Down Syndrome. You have a better chance of being born with Down Syndrome than you do of winning a jackpot. I win a jackpot after gambling my seventh quarter in Las Vegas; when the bell rings I’m looking over my shoulder for the server with the complimentary drinks. Six numbers lit up in Keno means more than I pay in rent for one month. What are the chances? Thomas stays in Palm Desert and twirls a shoelace in one direction, then the other, for hours. Sometimes he watches the

subTerrain


FICTION

On the fifth day of our vacation I call Titanic sink over and over but if you my mother who, in Eastern Canada, sit beside him he lets the dvd play on. On the third day of our vacation, in probably wears layers against the wet I want to ask Yvonne how she thinks the Flamingo Casino on the Las chill of spring. Recently diagnosed with the world occurs to Thomas, but I Lupus, she feels the most pain during keep my mouth shut. He eats very Vegas Strip, dozens of people sit in weather shifts. It’s hard to imagine her carefully and if your cup strays too immune system attacking her body, her close to the edge of the table he will front of a row of televisions and organs, so I don’t. Instead, I tell her how push it to safety with a smile. desert windstorms blow sand through On the third day of our vacation, in watch cnn coverage of the Virginia every crack of the house; an invisible carthe Flamingo Casino on the Las Vegas pet of silt textures the kitchen floor, the strip, dozens of people sit in front of a Tech shootings. I try to watch game toilet seat. She tells me that the French row of televisions and watch cnn covprofessor killed in Virginia was a mother erage of the Virginia Tech shootings. I seven of the Canucks/Stars series from Truro, a town an hour away from try to watch game seven of the where I grew up in Nova Scotia. This, I Canucks/Stars series but my eyes but my eyes wander to blurred decide, is not important, and I say “Oh, wander to blurred footage of heavyset really?” in a way that lets Mom know to policemen carrying bloody bodies. footage of heavyset policemen carmove on. No families, please, no names. Cho’s photo never leaves bottom corKeep those in the newspapers where they ner of the screen. This is what a mass rying bloody bodies. Cho’s photo belong. And for God’s sake don’t mention murderer looks like. Everyone wants her children. Leave it in Virginia, far, far to know his psychological history and never leaves bottom corner of the away. Mom changes the subject back to whether or not he was a virgin. Or Yvonne’s lagging roses. They’ll bloom maybe that’s just me. I look away screen.This is what a mass murderer best, she tells me, if the weather shifts; if when it comes to coverage on the viclooks like. Everyone wants to know the raging heat dies down. tims’ families. I make sure to smile at On the sixth day of our vacation the every Asian person I see. his psychological history and American High Court usurps Cho’s face We return to Palm Desert on the off the front page. The Justices have fourth day of our vacation. I can’t conwhether or not he was a virgin. Or upheld a ban of an abortion procedure vert Fahrenheit to Celsius but my legs called “partial-birth” by the pro-lifers burn when they touch anything black. maybe that’s just me. I look away and “late-term” by the pro-choicers. The We pull into Yvonne’s driveway and High Court calls it “gruesome and inhushe stands in the front yard looking at when it comes to coverage on the mane” which makes me think of Cho her roses and smoking the longest, again. Is it a coincidence that this thinnest cigarette I have ever seen. victims’ families. I make sure to purported protection of life trails hot on She tells us that the city had a record the heels of his rampage? For days we’ve of five days below freezing last winter smile at every Asian person I see. been hyper-aware of the ease with which and that’s why her roses are fewer and a person can attain guns, the ease with farther between. With a vigilant which a person can hate, the ease and efficiency with which a fingertip she rubs a petal of red bud, coaxing it into bloom. person can kill. Perhaps we accept, more willingly, an Fernando does not like hot water so he and I sit in a cold Jacuzzi at infringement on our rights in the face of tragedy. Perhaps, after a nighttime. We can barely see each other through the darkness and reminder of how senselessly people destroy lives, a woman will we look up to the California night sky. Beneath the stars Fernando back down sooner in the name of saving one. Strip away the offiand I take comfort in our insignificance. Natural life—save for the cialdom and the move reeks of humanity. The fear of death and cacti and weary inhabitants of this parched city—is hard to find in our scramble to control it. the desert, and the conversation strays to extraterrestrials, in which On the seventh day of our vacation it rains. Or, it rains in the Fernando believes. He dreams of a faraway planet where the mountains miles away and spits a few drops into the valley. The concepts of good and evil as we know them do not exist. Where cititemperature cools to the point of tolerable. Fernando says it zens balance their differences to create harmony, instead of pitting rains only ten days a year and though I expect he exaggerates I them against one another in dischord. He moved to California from still feel honoured. We drive into the sand and cacti. I take phoChile in the seventies and met Yvonne at English school. They fell in tos of the Santa Rosa Mountains swathed in grey scarves of mist love while repeating ludicrous rhymes to one another in an attempt and marvel at the goose bumps on my arms. Fernando waits in to accustom their tongues to foreign B’s and P’s. Now, when his Jeep and turns on the windshield wipers which immediately Fernando speaks to Thomas, he switches casually from English to snap in half and flap pathetically in the wind. Rigor mortis, I call Spanish to German. I imagine Thomas understands each one. to Fernando. They’ve been dead stiff for too long. We return home Isn’t it wild? Such a tragedy. People say these words in low voices and move on. What else can be said? Every business, government to Yvonne’s opened roses; their scarlet petals spread outward by building, and almost every home flies a flag at half-mast, but no the rain like pools of blood. Up and down the street neighbours one ever mentions why. stand on their lawns, point at the sky, awestruck by clouds.

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On the eighth day of our vacation the Pope abolishes the doctrine of Limbo. He alters reality for a large chunk of the world’s population, and at a moment when historic events already saturate the media. The fact that unbaptized babies no longer hover in eternal oblivion—that’s a point for pro-choice advocates, no? Curious, how his declaration trails hot on the heels of the lateterm abortion ban. I think he’s sending the world a message, and it goes a little something like this: abortion controversy? Seriously? Talk about smoke and mirrors. I think the Pope wants us to get our priorities straight. Plus, he has to cope with those thirty-three deaths too. More so than a lot of us—he’s the Pope. Maybe putting all those hovering babies to eternal rest helps him in a way. An attempt to ease the suffering of innocents. On the last day of our vacation my mother thinks she has a heart attack. My sister calls me from the hospital. She’s fine, it’s just pericarditis. Inflammation of the lining of the heart. This is how Lupus works. She’s fine. Fernando drives us back to the roofless airport. Thomas sits in the middle seat and blows bubbles at my face from a tiny plastic wand. Fernando tells Marco and me that if we ever win a big lottery we should start a project that will fulfill us for the rest of our lives. Invent something, he says. Something new. At the airport entrance a sign flashes Terror Level Orange. We don’t know what that means but Thomas keeps smiling so I smile back. Our plane takes off in a tunnel of turbulence. Sandy winds hacky-sack us out of Palm Desert valley and I wish the wings would shift eastward for an unscheduled layover, for just a quick visit home.

Our first day back in Vancouver Marco lights up the barbeque and I chill the beers. Friends make their way through the April dusk to Commercial Drive; through the cherry blossoms that fall like pink snow and the blue air fused with Pacific and the promise of summer. In this weather shift of newfound humidity, small red bumps sprout along the skin of my jawbone. Just like during East Coast springs, but without all that dirty melting snow and I think of Francine—my Harlequin heroine—who also hails from Nova Scotia, a town just an hour away from mine. I open my cell phone to invite her but Josh takes it from my hand, closes it. She’s still in Virginia, he tells me. Didn’t you hear? Her mother was the French professor killed in the massacre. I go inside to call Francine away from the music and the laughter and the moist breeze. Her voicemail comes on and she lists a myriad of reasons as to why she may not be answering the phone. I’ve memorized this list over the past several months while scheduling rehearsals and planning wrap parties. Among the reasons: studying. Sleeping. None of them: my mother died. Cho killed her. Right now the air in Virginia would be East Coast thaw and running wet. Spring will pop up any day there. Spring will shock them. My mother will feel it in her bones and I feel it, finally. Finally, I admit that I am afraid. I am afraid of this world and of how life happens just at the tips of our fingers, never grasped, and how death hovers inside everything. The operator asks me to leave a message after the beep. I tell Francine that I would like to know who her mother was. What her world was like. The details. I say, if you want to talk, I’m here. Ready to listen. ■

2009 Winston Collins / Descant Prize for Best Canadian Poem 1 Winner: $1000 / 2 Honourary Mentions: $250 each This annual prize is awarded in memory of Winston Collins, writer and enthusiastic teacher of literature at the universities of Cincinnati, Princeton and Toronto. The prize will perpetuate his remarkable talent for encouraging self-expression through writing.

Rules:

Deadline: Oct. 10 / 08 Postmarked, and mailed to:

2009 Winston Collins / Descant Prize Competition P.O. Box 314, Station P Toronto, ON / M5S 2S8

Awarded: Feb. 20 / 09

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• Maximum entry length is 100 lines, typed, double-spaced • Note that jury process is blind: the writer should therefore not be identified on the entry: include a separate cover sheet with name, address, email & phone number, and the title of the submitted poem • Previously published material, or material accepted elsewhere for publication, cannot be considered • Include a S.A.S.E. (with appropriate Canadian postage / IRCs / USD $1) • Descant employees are not eligible to enter

Judges: • The judges for this year’s competition are: Nora Kelly and Eric Wright — full Bios available at our website

Entry Fee: • $29 (includes GST + a one-year subscription; make cheque or international money order payable to: Descant) • Multiple entries are allowed: however, each entry must be accompanied by its own entry fee • Note that current subscribers will receive a one-year extension to their subscription period

descant.ca/contest.html subTerrain


REVIEWS

Reviews Stardust: Essays by Bruce Serafin New Star Books, 2007; 240 pp.; $18 I like the notion that what a given book is at any moment depends on the reader. Bound pages become what we think of as book when they are being read. The background and social context of the reader becomes the context of the moment for book. How does this intensify or alter the text when you know the author? Bruce was a friend of mine. We went back almost thirty years. We were not close friends in the sense that we no longer saw each other very often, but he still feels like a close friend and I like to think that Bruce felt the same way about me. Once, when I apologized to Bruce for having been out of touch for a while, he said to me, “Don’t worry, friends are on glacial time.” The sentence struck me like a thunderbolt and is a perfect Serafinism combining as it does Bruce’s sensitivity to people, and their feelings, and his art and craft of polishing every sentence and making every word count. I cherished every word in Stardust. It is a wonderful book and I would feel the same way even if I hadn’t known Bruce, but having known him, I was amazed and delighted with this volume. At times a reviewer uses their review to talk about the book they wish had been written on a certain subject. The little effort they devote to discussing the actual book at hand is merely to point out how it isn’t the book they hoped would be written. Stardust, however is very much the book I always wanted Bruce to publish. Bruce loved books of all kinds, but being an essayist himself he held the practitioners of that form very dear. The modern styles of the twentieth century excited Bruce, and he traced carefully the works of great essayists and prose innovators from William Gass to John McPhee,

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Roland Barthes to Umberto Eco, and our own practitioners such as Stan Persky and Terry Glavin. Bruce wrote fantastic essays that were mostly published in magazines. Bruce’s career unfolded such that he only published one other book, a novel, Colin’s Big Thing. Like many I hoped for more books from Bruce and in particular I wanted to see a collection of his essays, his carefully cut and polished jewels, radiating sensitivity, written in prose as weighted and sibilant as poetry, and full of ideas and curiosity. Hence my almost tearful delight, then, to discover this posthumous book to be just that. Ideas are slippery. Frequently they become murky, occluded or lost when brought close for examination, but Bruce’s grasp is sure, and in his hands, borne by his prose we relax and are ready to go places we might not otherwise. Bruce’s thoughts moved frequently from the local to the global village and back. In the opening paragraph of Stardust he slyly shows how being in love changes the reader and leads them to books they might not otherwise read: Pamela had a chunky body; she wore black knee-high boots and black stockings and black and white nubbly skirts over shirts that lacked sleeves so that you could see parts of her bra straps and the hair in her armpits. She wore her hair cut straight across her eyebrows and hanging straight down. In summer her skin freckled. I loved her; and that love made me more than ordinarily receptive that day she turned to me in our Grade Eleven English class and said, “I’ve got Parasites of Heaven. I’ve just read it. It’s great.You wanna read it?” Opening this essay with this deft conveyance of an idea through the remembrance of a scene he goes on after bigger, more elusive prey by showing the inter-

relationship between his own memories of innocence in an idyllic West Vancouver of the late sixties and the Zeitgeist of the time of hippies and the attempt to recover the innocence lost to us all in the massive wars of the twentieth century. Heady stuff for a few pages of work. He leads us to this conclusion, … the image which intoxicates is the one that provides the maximum stimulus for the alert consciousness —in realm of feeling, the image which provokes those “brief and bestial emotions” that Valery mentions in an essay he wrote on city life and which in our own time has lead to pop culture of an almost pornographic crudeness. This is the “stigmata that life in a metropolis inflicts upon love,” and I believe the best way to understand the romanticism of the sixties is to see it as quickly swept away reaction to that stigmata. Thus gliding in this short essay from the immediate and colloquial prose of the opening paragraph to work of the academic Serafin in the last. Bruce spent a long period of time working in the post office. This vast bureaucratic entity appears frequently in these essays, treated both with affection as well acknowledging its Kafka-like aspects. His co-workers are always portrayed with warmth and humanity though. And indeed Bruce’s sensitivity to others is in constant evidence throughout these essays. You realize that at times the intensity of emotion for Bruce was such that he would be forced to remain still for fear that he might explode into an intense physical reaction. In the harsh environment of the city the connections between people are treasured: Harry rang up my things. “You want any Drum?” “Sure. Good idea.” My voice was harsh and soft from disuse.

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REVIEWS

“Good. ’Cause then I can give you this for a Christmas present.” And Harry handed me a half dozen yellow packs of Vogue cigarette papers on top of a big box of Redbird strikeanywhere matches with their dual-coloured heads. I felt overwhelmed. “Thank you. This is terrific.” Bruce lived in a hyper-reality, like a good poet he was continually struck by beauty and tragedy. His mind roamed relentlessly between the local reality in front of him and the vast realms of literature where he spent most of his time. He was the ideal reader, attentive, inventive, and compassionate. Join him as he roams amongst the work of writers from William Henry Drummond to Carson McCullers. I cherished my friendship with Bruce, and while it was indeed on glacial time, now that he has passed I realize that friends must not just be kept, but visited. Actually I believe I know that Bruce cherished my friendship as well. In one of the essays towards the end of the book Bruce

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casually mentions my name. When I read it I felt an almost electric shock. Bruce considered every word in each one of his sentences so I know he put that reference there for me. —KEVIN WILLIAMS

The Lunatic Muse by Joe Rosenblatt Exile Editions, 2007; 196 pp.; $22.95 “… The lunatic muse for me is the poet’s dark side, his or her demons fluttering about from neuron branch to branch.” This is how poet and painter Joe Rosenblatt defines his lunatic muse. The Muse, lunatic or otherwise, has been visiting Rosenblatt since at least the early ’60s. She’s revealed herself as a slippery lass, but one who’s borne inspiration for many poems. The poems have been memorable enough to earn him a Governor General’s Award, back in 1976 when the medal may have actually been cast from some precious metal. She’s also brought him inspiration for drawings and wildly

coloured paintings. These usually depict a menagerie of beasts—mainly his most beloved creatures, cats and fish. But she has also graced Rosenblatt with a net full of ideas that have grown into essays and, er, musings. Fortunately, these have been gathered into this most one-ofa-kind book, The Lunatic Muse. The book is difficult to classify, as the pieces range from autobiography and poetics to a very personalized look at some of Canada’s literary history. The prose is dense, yet like poetry, lends itself to being read aloud. Heck, insert the odd clearing-of-throat, and you’ll hear the voice of Rosenblatt himself, grumbling a bit as he raises his eyebrows just far enough to peer out from under them— checking perhaps to see if you’re still there. Much of the book focuses on Rosenblatt’s mentors, especially poets Milton Acorn and Gwendolyn MacEwen. A section called ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at an Elephant’ explores Acorn’s classic poem “The Natural History of the Elephant.” Although Rosenblatt tries (mostly successfully) to explain away some of Acorn’s misogynistic and homophobic views, he sometimes gets caught up in fairly odd sexual politics of his own. Still, to punish the sins of the past seems a bit akin to blaming boys for once-upon-a-time getting their own entrance to the school. Right or wrong, some of this is simply the way things used to be. A long review of Shadow Maker, Rosemary Sullivan’s 1996 biography of MacEwen sees Rosenblatt taking Sullivan to task for not better exploring the mystery of MacEwen’s work, for not offering poems in revision as part of the bio. Although this article was apparently published previously, it is symptomatic of some of the pieces midway through the book, which should have been much better edited. Whether he’s extolling the flavour of a rump of roasted lamb adorned with a crown of roasted garlic buds, or admiring the finny rump of a trout dancing her way upstream, Rosenblatt does things with gusto and panache. These essays are a dance ’round the mulberry bush that curses, extols, decries and exalts with an abandon and a delight that ranges on the bacchanalian. He offers praise for life with all its rich pleasures from fine food to sex to fly-fishing.

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At his best when he’s dealing with the mysterious vagaries of the Muse, Rosenblatt’s given us a fine book for dipping into, à la the famed insect featured in Rosenblatt’s own classic poem, “Bumblebee Dithyramb.” Buzz on, fellow inmates of the asylum. —HEIDI GRECO

Wreck Beach by Carellin Brooks Transmontanus, 2007; 91 pp.; $19 I’ve only been to Wreck Beach once. Ambled on to it when the tide was low, curiosity was high, and I was on an extended foreshore saunter from Jericho. Doubt that I’ll return—public nudity really isn’t my thing, and neither is the tortuous climb up Trail Six—but I do like the fact that Wreck Beach is there, especially as the city expands, and grows more rule-bound every day. I like the idea that just out there, within easy reach, is a place where clothes and conventions are shed. And if I do go back, I’ll have a bit better understanding of what the beach is all about—and the real implications of my casual stroll—having read Carellin Brooks’ witty and well-informed tour of Vancouver’s most controversial chunk of tideland. Covering the beach’s geographic, political, and social terrain, Brooks’ Wreck Beach is an indispensable guidebook for anyone even remotely interested in our local nudists’ favourite shore. Like the best travel books, Brooks offers us a great sense of place—her introductory chapter literally takes readers by the hand and leads them on to the sand as it admirably tackles the eternal question of “what’s it really like there?” For the uninitiated, Wreck Beach is full of workaday advice like the best approach to the beach (biking along Marine Drive) and insider info such as the snidely amusing nickname given to an area largely frequented by older gay men (Jurassic Park). There are interviews with regulars and insights into accepted etiquette that add up to a how-to guide to going ahead and getting your toes wet on a nude beach. There is also, and more interestingly, an economically written social history of both the early struggle to make the beach bare and the constant efforts required to preserve Wreck’s isolated tract of mostly untamed nature. Developers, engineers,

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and other interested parties have always threatened the beach’s very existence and continue to do so to the present day. Ironically enough, and as Brooks alludes, development may not prove to be the beach’s biggest threat in the long run. More damage might actually come from beach-goers’ competing interests and love of Wreck’s unique appeal rather than grand plans executed in the name of stopping soil erosion. Clothing optional may mean that everyone is welcome, but as we all compete for getaway space, and the clothed increasingly encroach, Wreck Beach becomes more and more likely to become just like any other beach in the Lower Mainland—something that goes a long way in explaining Wreck Beach regulars’ disdain for day-trippers: their contempt toward “gawkers” more interested in satisfying their own curiosity rather than stripping down and giving into the spirit of the place and the people who love it. In short, the biggest threat to Wreck Beach is too many people like me. — J I M O AT E N

The Culture of Flushing: A Social and Legal History of Sewage by Jamie Benidickson UBC Press, 2007; 404 pp.; $29.95 The Culture of Flushing: A Social and Legal History of Sewage, by University of Ottawa law professor Jamie Benidickson is primarily an exhaustive, and at times dense, account of western civilization’s environmentally unsound relationship (can there be any other?) with sewage. Focusing mainly on the industrial history of Great Britain, the U.S., and Canada, Benidickson delves into the cultural and legal assumptions that have led to the ongoing blasé attitude most people, communities and businesses take in regard to water’s ability to remove waste. Certainly waste removal and sewage are the central areas of analysis here, but overtly The Culture of Flushing seems to be not so much about sewage but rather about humanity’s blithe relationship with water itself and by extension the natural world. Not surprisingly, and at almost every page, Benidickson shows that rela-

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tionship to be based on convenient but ultimately inadequate assumptions about the ability of natural systems to withstand the pollution created by human habitation and industry. Moreover, and to devastating effect, Benidickson shows that these assumptions—based in part on a lack of scientific understanding, and, more often than not, wilful ignorance on behalf of individuals, municipalities and business interests—helped endorse the primacy of human needs and desires over the maintenance of the ecological integrity of natural systems. Generally speaking, The Culture of Flushing can be read as a modern history of humanity’s disregard for the planet. Although his book is essentially a detailed scholarly work—Benidickson cites liberally, and at length, from legal sources (sometimes dating back as far as the 17th century) among others—The Culture of Flushing is highly accessible to general readers. And despite the ostensibly dreary nature of the subject matter—after all, who wants to read about, excuse me, shit—it manages to be mostly fascinating, literary and, at times, even entertaining. Benidickson, with bookish aplomb, describes a repulsive scene where literary greats Aldous Huxley and Thomas Mann walking along a beach near Los Angeles were “struck by the sight of myriad small whitish objects reminiscent of dead caterpillars. On closer inspection the caterpillars revealed themselves to be condoms.” Quoting Huxley, Benidickson continues by writing: “‘ten million emblems and mementos of Modern Love,’ an ‘orgiastic profusion’ that had poured out of Los Angeles’ nearby raw sewage outfall.” All details aside, legal, literary, or otherwise, there is a pro-environmental message to Benidickson’s book. By way of a brief history of sewage, he seems to present the reader with the dire ramifications inherent in casually flushing our wastes when he states in the introduction: Water became a ‘sink’ by design. Indeed, observers have been known to remark that “water is one of the most valuable media for the disposal of municipal, industrial and agricultural residuals.” All too frequently, it has been assumed that this is a primary purpose of water and waterways. It has even been argued

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on occasion that such usage enjoys the exalted legal status of a right, a central element of our perilous fantasy that the planet was created for human convenience. However, for the majority of the book, the author is content to play the observer, letting the lurid details of the development of sewage systems and all attendant damages speak for themselves. It is impossible not to be dumbfounded by the almost endless examples of environmental folly and negligence to be found in this volume. The reader is presented with the all too depressing accounts of business interests consistently, and unsurprisingly, trumping the needs of other riparians (water users), or municipalities balking at the cost of sewage treatment facilities. Perhaps the book’s main weakness is that it does not seem to offer any solutions to the continuing problem, indeed crisis, of human caused pollution. The Culture of Flushing seems rather to content itself with a historical analysis in the hope that such an examination will somehow contribute to more adequate environmental policy in the future. Let’s hope it does. — PAT R I C K M A C K E N Z I E

Living Things by Matt Rader Nightwood Editions, 2008; 88 pp,; $16.95 (reviewed from galleys) The weight of mellowness, of calm talk and laid-backitude, dragged down some of Matthew Rader’s earlier writing, and obscured his linguistic elegance. The weaker passages of this young poet’s previous collection, Miraculous Hours, were like The Dude of the Coen brothers’ film The Big Lebowski—they didn’t do much but abide. But Rader has got excited, and that makes this new book, Living Things, a lively and welcome development. There’s movement and passion in these precisely built poems. Rader throws off sparks from first to last here. In “Domestic Work,” for example, an infant beastie is calved from an unlikely metaphor, then: . . . teeters underneath The hull of its mother and braces itself to feed

As all mammals do in the beginning without need Of knives or forks or fingers but only need itself … Rader is a Wordsworthian, contemplative, lofty-voiced poet by nature. But at some key points in Living Things he ceases to muse, gets wild, and starts driving big poetic ideas home with sonic collisions, and big emotions. Great phrases leap from nearly every piece, demonstrating that this sharp poet has passed his brooding stage, and has begun to truly write: you can almost hear me humming in the rafters the trees were begging for autographs and tossing their hair The motor stuttered and in its stutter talked. The chain whirled like the hands of a clock. Beyond his de rigeur semi-formalism— Living Things is crammed with slant-rhymed thirteen-line sonnets, wonky near-ghazals and suchlike conventional subversions—Rader is becoming a useful Canadian poet because he can declaim in pretty plain language. (Most of the time; the more directly tree-oriented stuff here tends to meander.) Matt Rader always had style, dudes. He’s added some juice and jump now, and bowls strike after heavy strike in this terrific volume. Rader’s a poet—you could say—with “… a fresh knack for gravity at [his] command.” — LY L E N E F F

Genetically Modified Food: A Short Guide for the Confused by Andy Rees Pluto Press, 2006; 224 pp; $20.42 I don’t know about you, but genetically modified (gm) corn and conventional corn sure look a lot alike to me. The two might even taste alike. I certainly couldn’t tell them apart myself, without a microscope. But, according to Dr. Michael Hansen, whom Andy Rees quotes in Genetically Modified Food: A Short Guide for the Confused, “There is increasing evidence … that the various Bt endotoxins (Bt endotoxins are compounds derived from bacillus thuringiensis bacteria.)—

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including those from [gm corn], cotton, and potatoes—may have adverse effects on the immune system and/or may be human allergens.” For some reason, I’m not into risking my health just to chow down on corn chips. But unfortunately, like most North Americans, I do so on a daily basis. Not only are there plenty of gm crops grown in North America for human consumption, but public demand for mandatory labelling of gm “foods” has been essentially ignored thus far. As a non-suicidal person, I find the lack of labelling along with the proliferation of gm crops a bit tough to swallow. We humans may not have the “spideysense” to avoid unlabelled gm foods, but Rees provides anecdotal evidence that cattle, elk, and rodents have superior powers of discernment when it comes to food. To quote a couple from western Minnesota, “A captive elk escaped and took up residence in our crops of organic maize and soya. It had total access to the neighbouring fields of gm crops, but never went into them.” Might the reluctance of these animals to consume gm crops suggest that the gm seed companies are missing something when they say there are no health risks associated with human consumption of gm crops? Of course it’s in the best interest of the gm seed/agrochemical companies to keep people from linking various ailments to the consumption of gm foods. According to Rees, who is the former editor of gm Watch’s Weekly Watch, “there has been only one minor safety test of gm foods on humans.” And just as we have trouble telling the difference between love dolls and say, live human beings at times, it seems fitting that we, of all species, might have trouble telling the difference between something that’s edible, and some look-alike that is not. Poor us. We seem to be like the albatross that eats what it finds floating on the ocean’s surface, even if what’s floating is a pen cap—which the ocean seems to be quite full of these days. Other problems with genetic modification include the ethical questionability of inserting genes from one species into another and patenting the results, possible reductions in the effectiveness of antibiotics, and increases in environmentdegrading agrochemicals, upon which gm

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crops (i.e. Roundup Ready Canola) are dependent. So why are genes being patented? How might gm crops reduce the effectiveness of antibiotics? And why do gm seed/ agrochemical companies claim that gm crops use less insecticide and herbicide when in most cases, they use more? The answers, my friend, can be found in Genetically Modified Food: A Short Guide for the Confused. This slim, fact-packed, and easyto-read volume, provides useful insights into the grim mechanics of global food corporatization and practical information on how to avoid eating the inedible. —CHRISTINE LECLERC

Sugar Bush & Other Stories by Jenn Farrell Anvil Press, 2006; 168 pp.; $18 The first thing you notice about Jenn Farrell’s début collection of stories, Sugar Bush, is the vividness of the writing, both in terms of content and the craftsmanship of the prose. A different tone and voice tell each story, ranging from the omniscient through the idiomatic to the crass. And herein lies the author’s narrative muscle, whether she’s telling the story through the eyes of a young man exploring himself or a young woman discovering her faculty for destruction; whether it’s told in the highly formalized language of youth or the narcissism of innocent abusers we go inside for a first hand look at what makes these characters tick. In one of its most stunning portrayals of an unsuitable affair, “The Farm Report,” Ms. Farrell draws a picture where everyone’s a victim and no one’s a victim. Where modern morals would condemn, the young narrator takes a more natural view and sets her questions aside for the more interesting look into the psychological abyss of self-discovery. In contrast stands “Sugar Bush,” the title story, which turns the abuser theme on its head. It is told in a contrarily moving plot, where from its amazing opening scene, which is really the end, it moves backwards through time and ends where it begins. Together these stories form a foundational contradiction, which moves in both directions at once, an effective alchemical operation, resonating with the

flavours and taints of the other ten stories around it. The collection skewers modern society’s sexual morals and makes a mockery of our right to make moral judgements. Sugar Bush is a collection that forces the reader to see the world as is, while it encourages the suspension of our judgements. It is both sexy and inappropriate, which in reality is what makes the world so frightfully and delightfully mysterious. Farrell’s handling of dialogue is masterful in every case, from an old crone mother who can’t say anything nice, whose coarse admonitions hide what feelings can only be guessed at, to a guy in a wheelchair who has the balls to know what to say, and integrity to know what not to say. It is delicate and blunt, every word in its place, every utterance hitting where it is aimed. This book is a wakeup call for our moralist and hypocritical age as we go stumbling towards Bethlehem. Jenn Farrell’s Sugar Bush puts the lie to the ticky tacky garbage our forbearers want us be grateful for and uncovers real pieces of the shattered heart, still beaming, each fragment containing the whole. Here is the real deal. Pass it on. —ROBERT STRANDQUIST

Almond Wine and Fertility by Licia Canton Longbridge Books, 2008; 111 pp; $18 (reviewed from galleys) Montreal writer Licia Canton’s first collection of short stories, Almond Wine and Fertility, which will be launched in early May at Montreal’s Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival, delivers some powerful punches. Canton, a Italian-born Canadian who did her Ph.D. dissertation in Italo-Canadian literature, uses her fiction writing to explore the Italian-Canadian experience as well as the return of Canadian-born Italians to the homeland. But through this, she also explores the human condition, mostly poignantly, but sometimes with a hard edge. The first story in the collection, “The Vespa Ride” is Canton’s pièce de resistance. A wife tells the story of finding a loving husband by accident. What begins poignantly—the protagonist makes jokes

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Talonbooks poetry launch at the Western Front Wednesday, May 7 7:30 pm 303 East 8th Avenue Vancouver

Noise from the Laundry Weyman Chan 978-0-88922-578-7 $15.95

The Commons Stephen Collis 978-0-88922-580-0 $17.95

The Invisibility Exhibit Sachiko Murakami 978-0-88922-579-4 $15.95

Sentenced to Light Fred Wah 978-0-88922-577-0 $29.95

Talonbooks

www.talonbooks.com

subTerrain Finds God Does the Suffering Mean Nothing to You?

Winter 2008 - #51 Special Theme Issue

Religiosity Submit your writing for consideration in this special issue set to be on the newsstands in time for the Season of Giving.

P lu s : The Editorial Collective Recalls the Past (at least they’ll try!) Reminiscences of boozy days gone by, myths and homespun legends from the folks that were there. Be sure to join us for some fireside yarns, some barstool boasting, and scurrilous tales from the trenches.

IMAGE: DEREK VON ESSEN

po box 3008, mpo, vancouver, bc v6b 3x5 canada

about her older husband’s moniker for her, “Old Lady”—reaches a shocking climax. As a young girl, the wife went for a ride on a Vespa motorcycle with a man she would occasionally see on her way from walking the goats or getting eggs at a nearby farm. Months later, she gave birth to a tiny baby girl. When her mother and grandmother question her, she has little recollection of what happened when she took that ride on the Vespa—but clearly, her suitor had seduced her. Three months after the birth, the young girl’s mother and grandmother seek out the Vespa rider at his home some five kilometres away. He was away—but returned fifteen months later, ready and willing to marry the girl he’d gotten pregnant, and to take care of his new daughter. Forty-four years after, the wife muses at how lucky she has been to find this loving man in circumstances that were against the odds, a man for whom she had had no love and no passion—but with whom she spent a happy and peaceful life raising their two children. In “Coincidence,” the main character meets up with an old flame while visiting Italy and discovers his daughter carries her name, Luana, as her middle name. “Owed to My Spouse” is a short, moving story of the husband of a bed-ridden sick woman, who caters to her with tenderness. In “From the Sixth Floor,” an abusive husband tries to convince his wife that she is crazy and worthless and that she should simply jump from the sixth-floor window and kill herself. In the end, she realizes that dying would serve no purpose—he hates her so much, it would have no effect on him—and this gives her the strength to finally leave. “Self-Made Man” is a departure—the protagonist is a wealthy man who hates his wife and can’t wait for their divorce; he takes pleasure in holding her hostage in their marriage however, as he won’t give up custody of their children and has enough money to ensure it. She stays because she doesn’t want to lose her children—and he goads her while she stays. Canton has a knack for illuminating truths that are either inconvenient or painful. Sometimes she does it subtly, other times she’s in your face with the things you would rather not see. But she is always fair in her portrayal of the spectrum of human emotion. — C A R O LY N E V A N D E R M E E R

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Not to be missed boYs (stories) by Kathleen Winter Biblioasis, 2007; 192 pp.; $22.95 In the past year, I’ve found my reading shifting away from my usual fare of local and Western Canadian writers, all the way East. It began with Lynn Coady’s book of short stories, Play the Monster Blind (2000), and continued with another heavy-hitter, Michael Winter, and then many others. Kathleen Winter’s arresting, eclectic debut collection of short stories, boYs, released this past September by Biblioasis, continues my indulgence in the short fiction coming out of the other end of Canada. Writers from the Maritimes and Atlantic can’t be rolled into one ball—each insists on, and writes out of, the specificity of their region, Cape Breton for Coady, and Newfoundland for Kathleen (and Michael) Winter—but there are a few connective threads that have kept me reading these writers, bouncing from one to the next. First, there’s the abundance of local detail, which verges on catalogue-crazy—how the sea smells, how the face is lined, how the paint is chipped— which reminds me of Flannery O’Connor’s statement that bad writing is writing that disregards the richness of the local. One story, “Incinerator Times”, is narrated by a college dropout considering starting up a town newspaper by that name—the “dump with a rusted teepee incinerator” is a local gathering place. The level of detail gives the story its teeming, completely idiosyncratic feel: “He made his bed out of two sawhorses, three of Bill Walsh’s election signs and a Sears mattress. Irish linen sheets and a comforter he’s going to take the stuffing out of and

replace with feathers after he shoots a few endangered eiders.” A place, packed into sentences. Then, there’s the wild (dare I say rollicking?) oral storytelling style—the opening story “You Can Keep One Thing” is from the point of view of a little girl sitting in a tree, staring out over the chimneys of her working-class neighbourhood. Winter’s frequent use of the first person voice serves her well, showing her control of local inflection, the salt of the small, falling-apart, vivid towns her characters speak out of. Last, there’s the careful attention paid to characters who’d otherwise be written as oddballs or outcasts, but here instead become the inhabitants of complicated, self-created worlds. In my favourite story of the collection, for its tenderness and weirdness, “French Doors”, a pressboard shed is fixed up with “pale, shell-pink” doors that “opened from the centre with two cut glass handles, like French doors.” At the conclusion of “French Doors”, Marianne sits in the shed with Larry, the shed’s renovator and sole inhabitant, and thinks about “all the pursuits in which people involved themselves; all the things they wanted, and the beauty they wanted to attract to themselves. Here was beauty all around Larry; in the stillness, in the simplicity here.” Many of Kathleen Winter’s stories read as deep description, unlike the miniature narrative arcs of more traditional short fiction. I enjoyed the intensity of the closely-described scenes that distinguish her style, which is beautifully carried off by her language: in a scene where a character is beachcombing, “a gull screeled out loud against the endless speech of the sea.” Through her words, Winter has created a vivid landscape, one I hope to return to again in a second book. —ALEX LESLIE

Reviews issue 49

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HUNKAMOOGA MUSINGS ON THE LITERARY LIFE by Stuart Ross “Up Since 5:30, Down Since 1959”

Are all writers as negative and selfloathing as me? Is there even a single writer with a sunny disposition who greets the morning, pressing her face into the flood of sunlight that gushes through her bedroom window, and chirps, “Oh, glorious life! I can’t wait to write!” Me, I wake up slowly, groggily, reluctantly, eyes burning, always far too early, no matter what insomnia-driven time I get to sleep, and within seconds there’s the foggy realization of who I am and the sorry circumstances of my life, and I feel despondency set in. And while it’s true I don’t live in a lean-to made of rusting, battered automobile hoods in a garbage dump on the outskirts of Managua, I still somehow feel justified in whining. I lie on my back on my bookand paper-strewn bed and stare at the cobwebs on my ceiling and quietly murmur, “I can’t wait to see how I avoid writing today. I’m more than halfway through my life and I haven’t accomplished a goddamn thing.” Now, it can be scientifically determined that I have had five full-length poetry collections published, a book each of short stories and personal essays, a couple of collaborative novellas, and a heap of chapbooks. My last poetry book, I Cut My Finger, received rave reviews across the board, including in The Globe & Mail and The Toronto Star. Also, the excellent Montreal poet Jason Camlot, on taking the helm of a new imprint of DC Books called Punchy Poetry, contacted me and said he wanted the first title he put out to be by me. I’d just had a book out, its corpse not even cold yet, but I rustled together an insane new manuscript called Dead Cars in Managua, and Jason fell for it. But this isn’t enough to make me love myself. A cursory investigation would also show that over the past year and a bit, I have had the opportunity to edit books by four of my poetry heroes—guys who shook my world when I was real young, and whose works have been vital to me ever since.

Through my own Proper Tales Press, I published If I Were You, a collection of poems Ron Padgett wrote collaboratively with the likes of Allen Ginsberg, Ted Berrigan, and James Schuyler. Also through Tales, I put out the chapbook Concrete Sky, 15 haikus all beginning with the same line, by Tom Walmsley, with an assist by Michael Healey’s liver. Through Insomniac Press, I edited and introduced a 300-plus-page collection called Why Are You So Sad? Selected Poems of David W. McFadden, which may be the best book in the history of Canadian poetry. In fact, it is one of three books short-listed for the Canadian 2008 Griffin Poetry Award, and if it wins, Dave might pay for my next order of French fries at Legends. Most recently, as poetry editor for Mansfield Press, I edited a book called Dog, written by poets Joe Rosenblatt and Catherine Owen, based on photos by Karen Moe. Even though Joe flipped through about fifty of my poems, back when I was in high school, and muttered “Nothing worth salvaging here,” he is a hero of mine, and now I’ve edited one of his books. But this isn’t enough, either. Here are two other things that just aren’t enough. When the current coordinators of the Toronto Small Press Book Fair (an institution I co-founded a couple of decades ago) hired a lawyer to threaten me with a defamation suit because they didn’t like my harsh but constructive criticism of the [CENSORED] job they did coordinating the fair, I received scores of letters of support, and they, reportedly, received upward of a hundred letters of condemnation; I mean, what the hell are a couple of writers doing threatening another writer with a defamation suit? Good fucking gawd. Anyway, I’ve had so many people try to comfort me by saying stuff along the lines of, “Look, neither of them will ever write a poem as good as your worst poem.” And while that may be true, it isn’t really the point. Oh yeah—the other thing. My friend Ben Walker, who is a brilliant British

singer/songwriter and also the stepgrandson of Bertrand Russell, recorded a whole CD worth of songs he built around my poems. He and I jointly released it as An Orphan’s Song: Ben Walker Sings Stuart Ross (send me a twenty and I’ll send you one). It was perhaps the greatest compliment my poetry has ever been paid. But it’s still not enough to make me greet the morning with burbling enthusiasm. If this sounds like the kind of inventory one compiles before one kills oneself, you’re in no such luck. You wish I’d abandon this last page of sub-Terrain so that Karen Connelly could take over and write about far more Important Things, but you’ll have to pry this page from my cold dead hands. Not that I’m going to kill myself, mind you. I don’t have the heart to sentence anyone to the task of dealing with the archaeological morass that is my apartment. Plus, I’ll do everything in my power—including not killing myself—to stop Karen Connelly from taking over this page. When I moan about my sorry personal life, about the hurt I’ve caused, about the endless regrets I have, the lack of family, the chaos of my apartment (my entire apartment looks like the walk-in closet of some lunatic who has kept clippings of every newspaper article that contained the word “the” for 40 years)—when I moan about this stuff, my spectacular friends—and my friends are spectacular, I’m blessed that way—tell me I’m a good guy, and a good writer, and I inspire lots of other writers, and also I don’t live in a garbage dump in Central America. But this isn’t enough. I’d give up the whole writing thing in exchange for a life of serenity and self-acceptance.

Stuart Ross is a Toronto writer whose GP will prescribe only half the usual dose of Wellbutrin. His (Stuart’s, not his GP’s) most recent book is Dead Cars in Managua (DC Books).You can write him at hunkamooga@sympatico.ca and visit his website, hunkamooga.com.


3 categories • 3 cash prizes • 1 deadline

fiction • poetry • creative non-fiction

subTerrain’s Annual

Triumphant Awards Competition Competition Compet Literary Awards maximum 3,000 words POETRY: a suite of 5 related poems (maximum 15 pages) CREATIVE NON-FICTION: (based on fact, adorned w/fiction): maximum 4,000 words

FICTION:

Entry Fee: $25 per entry, includes subTerrain subscription! (You may submit as many entries in as many categories as you like)

Deadline for Entries:

May 15, 2008

$3,000 in cash prizes The winning entries in each category will receive a $750 cash prize (plus payment for publication) and will be published in our Winter ‘08 issue. First runner-up in each category will receive a $250 cash prize and be published in our Spring 2009 issue. All entries MUST be previously unpublished material and not currently under consideration in any other contest or competition. Entries will NOT be returned (so keep a copy for yourself ). Results of the competition will be announced in the Summer/Fall issue of subTerrain magazine. All entrants receive a complimentary one-year subscription to subTerrain.

SEND ENTRIES TO:

Lush Triumphant, c/o subTerrain Magazine PO Box 3008, MPO, Vancouver, BC V6B 3X5 • subter@portal.ca • www.subterrain.ca


Inside: Hot new fiction from Norma Depledge, Benjamin Reed, Tom Reynolds, Chelsea Rooney, and Tor Forsberg

A FEW THOUGHTS ON ORIGINS:

subTerrain started out as a dream, an idea of literary rebellion, a shadow self calling out to be born. It was the late ’80s, the nascent days of desktop publishing and a truly transitional period in the world of print. For the first time in the history of printing the means of production were actually in the hands of the people.

Equally hot new poetry from Peter Norman and Pat Newson

Armed with only a Personal PC, a “typesetting” program (not commercial typesetting equipment such as a Compugraphic machine), and a laser printer, virtually anyone

2007 Lush Triumphant Winners

was now able to produce a professional looking publication. [Sure, Gestetners had been around for years, but that was basically a carbon-copy of a typewritten page.] We were riding the cusp of a new age: part digital, part mechanical.We’d

Fe at u re s :

work late into the night laying out the pages in Xerox Ventura Publisher—an early desktop program (Pagemaker, Quark,

Essay on actor, musician, composer, and painter John Lurie by Alan MacInnis

InDesign were still in utero).Then we’d crank out the proofs from our postscript laser printer, waxing the sheets down in

Stephen Henighan on the “Afterlife of Culture” . . .

printer’s spreads, stripping in PMTs of photos and illustrations—no scanners in the early days!—and in the

Derek von Essen’s Tour Bus Series

morning we’d take the “flats” to the printer, where they’d shoot negs and expose the photo-sensitive metal plates that went onto the offset press. And just like that—shebang!—we were publishers. —B.W.K

499 4 I T ’ S L AT E R T H A N Y O U T H I N K .

“SCREAMING “CLOCKS”

M A N ” B Y J . L AW R E N C E M C C A R T H Y

B Y E D WA R D S M O R R I S O N

subTerrain 49  

The Best in Outlaw Literature

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