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issue 52

CONTENTS

editorial 3

In the Beginning Was the Form BY BRIAN KAUFMAN

fiction & poetry

subTerrain A LITERARY MAGAZINE EDITOR

4 5 6 43

Wintering & Viaticum BY ROB TAYLOR Salmo Creston, Creston Salmo BY J. JILL ROBINSON Getting High with Thomas the Apostle BY DEREK KÜNSKEN Laud We the Gods BY DAMIAN TARNOPOLSKY

Brian Kaufman

2008 LUSH Triumphant Literary Award Runners-Up

MANAGING EDITOR Pat MacKenzie

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, Aimee Ouellette

10 Melhos Place (creative non-fiction) BY AMBER DAWN 13 Talking, Talking (poetry) BY KATH MACLEAN 39 Adelaide’s Initial Interest in Taxidermy (fiction) BY EMILY KENDY

L AYO U T HeimatHouse

feature folio: Form

ADVERTISING Brian Kaufman, Janel Johnson

COVER Derek von Essen

I L L U S T R ATO R S Arlea Ashcroft, Dave Barnes, Justin Chen, Amanda Church, Gavin DeLint, Eamonn Donnelly, Patrick McQuade, Arlo Volera, Derek von Essen, Marlena Zuber

B OOK REVIEW EDITOR Karen Green

ART EMISSARY Sharon Bradley

INTERN Janel Johnson 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

16 19 21 22

Fictional Economies BY PATRICK MACKENZIE 3 Poems BY JOHN CREARY Soon I Will Find You BY SAL DIFALCO The Deathbed Confession of Christopher Walken BY PAUL CORMAN-ROBERTS

25 26 29 31 32

Wendigo BY SANDY POOL Libby BY AARON HELLEM You’ve Lost Your Marbles BY TARYN HUBBARD Grandpa BY MICHAEL SASI Nice werk if you can get it (sic) BY DAVIS SCHNEIDERMAN & NICK MAMATAS

34 Hair Dryer BY MARGUERITE PIGEON 35 15 Diminishing Sentences for a Red Fox BY ALLISON BLYTHE 36 Fear of Fighting BY STACEY MAY FOWLES

commentary 52 Hunkamooga: “How Jew you do?” BY STUART ROSS 46 Book Reviews: Heidi Greco on Gary Geddes’ Falsework; Christine Rowlands on Betsy Trumpener’s The Butcher of Penetang; Ramona Bea Grandbois on Paul Headrick’s That Tune Clutches My Heart; Lyle Neff on Jim Oaten’s Accelerated Paces; Alex Leslie on Rebecca Brown’s The Last Time I Saw You, What Keeps Me Here, Annie Oakley’s Girl, and The Terrible Girls; Bart Campbell on Bruce K. Alexander’s The Globalisation of Addiction; Peter Babiak on Annie Ernaux’s The Possession; Pat Mackenzie on Stephanie Dickinson’s Half Girl.

issue 52

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CONTRIBUTORS

Arlea Ashcroft is a multi-disciplinary artist involved in the media and visual arts. Although based in the prairie island of Winnipeg she has received local, national, and international exposure through publication, broadcast, and public presentation of her films and artwork. Dave Barnes’ artistic approach involves the practice of transforming modern concepts to reveal a nostalgic mood, sometimes referred to as “Oldification.” Recycled elements, faded colours, layered/collaged backgrounds, and sandpapered imagery all play a part in this process. See more at davebarnes.ca Allison Blythe’s poetry has appeared in Prism International, Island Writer, and This Side of West, and was included in the 2008 anthology of contemporary BC poetry, Rocksalt. She is currently writing a series of diminishing poems. Justin Chen started drawing when he was a little boy; his first work was a red car in crayon. Now he draws much more than that. With a background in architecture, he often sees his drawings as floor plans for some fantastical buildings. You can view his works at http://jkhc.blogspot.com/ Amanda Church: Born in Vancouver, 1980. Attended Emily Carr Institute 1998-2002. Moved to Nelson on graduation, got book published by George Braziller NYC called An Alphabet for Lonely Children. Did cover art for Mogwai’s “Mr.Beast” album. Had work exhibited in NYC, LA, Paris, Seattle, Vancouver, Chicago. Likes graphic novels by Chris Ware, Dan Clowes, and Canadian indie music. Paul Corman-Roberts once had the pleasure of sharing coffee and donuts with Eldridge Cleaver and is currently writing about the demise of the New College of California in San Francisco. His recent collection of poems is neocom(muter) from Tainted Coffee Press. paulcormanroberts.com John Creary’s poems have been published in Contemporary Verse 2 and Grain. He was awarded the Calgary Literary Kaleidoscope Undergraduate Award for Creative Writing in 2008. He makes a unique blend of hip hop music as Ginsberg’s Inkling (www.myspace.com /ginsbergsinkling) and lives inside a mountain. Amber Dawn is a writer, filmmaker, and performance artist based in Vancouver. She is the co-editor of With a Rough Tongue: Femmes Write Porn and the editor of Fist of the Spider Woman: Tales of Fear and Queer Desire. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia. Gavin de Lint is a freelance illustrator living in Regina, SK on purpose. He draws pictures for fun and profit. Please take a look at some of his other work at gavin.delint.ca. Eamonn Donnelly was born and raised

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around Washington D.C., playing soccer morning, noon, and night. Slowly but surely, he realized art was integral to his life, so he chose to attend the Maryland Institute College of Art. He graduated with honours in May 2008, and currently resides in Chicago. Stacey May Fowles is the author of the novel Be Good (Tightrope Books, 2007) and the illustrated novel Fear of Fighting (Invisible Publishing, 2008), and is the co-editor of the anthology She’s Shameless: Women write about growing up, rocking out and fighting back (Tightrope Books, 2009). She lives in Toronto where she is the publisher of Shameless magazine. You can find her at staceymayfowles.com. Aaron Hellem lives with his wife in Leverett, Massachusetts where he serves as managing editor of the Massachusetts Review. His short stories have been published or are forthcoming in Salamander, Wisconsin Review, Cottonwood, Menda City Review, South Dakota Review, and the Massachusetts Review. “Libby” first appeared in R-KV-R-Y, Winter 2008. Taryn Hubbard is a freelance writer in the Metro Vancouver area. She finished the Langara College journalism program in April. Emily Kendy is a freelance writer with articles in local and national publications including the Georgia Straight, The Calgary Herald and Adbusters magazine. She is the music editor of punk and metal magazine Absolute Underground. In 2008 she published her debut novel, What Was Left Behind, with Grant Street Press. She lives in Vancouver with no cats. Derek Kunsken worked with street children full time in Honduras for a year. When he was posted to the Canadian embassy in Colombia, he worked with street children part-time over eighteen months. He now lives in Ottawa and analyzes refugee policy. Known for her rich images, “breath-taking lyricism” and musicality, Kath MacLean’s award-winning poetry, prose, and non-fiction is generating critical acclaim across Canada. Her ghazals can be found on her cd, Seedbone and Hammer, available this spring. Nick Mamatas is the author of two novels, Move Under Ground and Under My Roof, and over fifty short stories, many of which were recently collected in You Might Sleep… A native New Yorker, Nick now lives in the California Bay Area. Pat Mackenzie has been a dishwasher, bicycle courier, warehouse worker, and gardener. How he became managing editor of subTerrain he has no idea. Patrick J. McQuade, a first time subTerrain contributor, is an illustrator who lives in Brook-

lyn, New York. His latest works can be seen in the upcoming Tales of Woe by John Reed - MTV Books and Magical Tales of Enchanted Mysteriousness due out in June. www.PJMC.TV Sandy Pool is a writer and multi-disciplinary artist who lives in Toronto. Her work has appeared in The Antigonish Review, dANDelion, Carousel, RAMPIKE, Kiss Machine and Qwerty. Currently she teaches English at Humber College and is the Playwright in Residence at Tapestry New Opera Works. Her opera One Lump Or Two? will have its world premiere in Toronto this March. J. Jill Robinson writes in Saskatoon. But by summer it’ll be Banff. Michael Sasi is the President of M.S.T. Company, a fictional corporation (and according to the law, a person), that types stories for children. Several of his works have appeared in Crow Toes Quarterly. Davis Schneiderman’s works include Memorials to Future Catastrophes (Jaded Ibis, 2008), Abecedarium (Chiasmus, 2007), DIS (BlazeVox, 2008), and Retaking the Universe: William S. Burroughs in the Age of Globalization (Pluto, 2004). He is Director of Lake Forest College Press/&NOW Books, and can be found at davisschneiderman.com/. Damian Tarnopolsky is the author of Lanzmann and Other Stories (Exile) and the forthcoming novel Goya’s Dog (Hamish Hamilton Canada). His work has been nominated for the Journey Prize, ReLit Award, and the CBC Literary Award. He lives in Toronto. Rob Taylor lives in Vancouver. His poems have appeared recently in The Antigonish Review, Rocksalt: An Anthology of Contemporary BC Poetry, and A Verse Map of Vancouver. He is the co-founder of One Ghana, One Voice, Ghana’s first online literary magazine. More of his work can be read online at http://roblucastaylor.com. Arlo Keo Valera worked as a textile artist and designer for eight years before pursuing his interest in illustration. He currently lives and works in Honolulu, Hawaii. Derek Von Essen is a multidisciplinary D.I.Y. type who recycles everything from objects to conversations within his creative fields of painting, photography and graphic arts. He is the photographer and designer of the recent anthology A Verse Map of Vancouver. Marlena Zuber’s illustrations have appeared in the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, HOW Magazine, BUST Magazine and Print Magazine. She is presently drawing a series of psychogeographic neighbourhood maps for a book called Stroll. It is written by Shawn Micallef and will be published in 2010 by Coach House Books.

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EDITORIAL

In the Beginning Was the Form subTerrain FAC T U M GENERAL GUIDELINES Fiction: max. 3,000 words Creative Non-Fiction & Commentary: max. 4,000 words Poetry: no unsolicited poetry submissions Photos and illustrations welcome: please send samples or direct us to your website.

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 Magazines Canada (416) 504-0274 and in the U.S. from International Periodical Distributors (IPD) 1-800-999-1170.

WWW.SUBTERRAIN.CA Sniff the ether

ISSN: 0840-7533 Volume 6 no. 52 • 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. 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, 2009. 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 selfaddressed 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 4-6 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 2009. All correspondence to: subTerrain Magazine, P.O. Box 3008 Main Post Office, Vancouver, B.C. V6B 3X5 CANADA TEL: (604) 8768710 FAX: (604) 879-2667 email: subter@portal.ca. No e-mail submissions—queries only, please.

issue 52

BRIAN K AUFMAN

Form (from the Latin, “forma” – equivalent to the Greek for “idea” or a central critical concept). Ever since the Big Bang the universe has been dealing with form, providing us with a beautiful example of a seemingly never-ending work-in-progress. Though, of course, it will end; like everything, like every draft left unfinished at an author’s “untimely” death (what is the definition of the “timely death”?), the words, sentences, phrases, shall never again to be tweaked, revised, edited, jostled, or recast by the original driving force. Form is everywhere in the natural world, from the architecture of the physical plane, to every structure and utensil devised by the human mind and human hand, to the very vessel that contains the human entity. We can barely imagine a world without form. From subatomic particles to literary conventions, form as both a structure and a style is ubiquitous. How else could our thoughts and ideas become manifest? As humans, we are drawn to forms in our insatiable quest for knowledge, experience, ideas, and meaning. Formlessness interests us less; it mimics what we think of as randomness, chaos, disorder, bedlam. Perhaps it is this “formlessness,” this scatter-void that we spend our lives attempting to corral, control, contain that is the ultimate form, the one that we know (on some primal level) and fear an inevitable return to. (The Black Hole of forms that threatens to swallow all of us—and our sonnets too!) Unless this chaos is the kind that begins to define its own unique “style” (form) … think of the arrival of a Charlie Parker, Jackson Pollock … or Hip-Hop. Then the chaos, the unknown is reeled in, given a container (however fluid) and is empowered with the ability to convey meaning. Or maybe we impose a defining structure on the chaotic so we can categorize it and thus quell its radical power. But what inspires the form? Necessity? Or does the content dictate the form? Or is form “constitutive of content and not just a reflection of it,” as Lit-Crit Terry Eagleton says? Is all this debate just more rubbing of the dual sides of the same coin? Like trying to imagine the dance without the dancer? There is the description of the dance with its prescribed steps and motions; there are the rules and definitions of literary forms (Haiku: seventeen syllables in a 3-line poem of 5, 7, and 5 syllables; Sonnet: a lyric poem consisting of a single stanza of fourteen iambic pentameter lines linked by an intricate rhyme scheme, etcetera; Ghazal, essay, polemic—they all have their specific, structural rules that govern the mechanics of the particular delivery device), but are these forms real and extant unto themselves without the content? And though most forms have very distinct parameters, there are others, like “creative non-fiction,” that spill over on themselves and make murky waters of their own intentions. In this issue we celebrate the “central critical concept” of form and have examples of many: list poem, triolet, villanelle, anecdotal story, flash fiction, “faux confessional,” creative non-fiction, the formal essay, numerous examples of poetic diction and longer prose pieces, a collaborative short fiction, object poem, diminishing poem, illustrated stories, an opinion piece, and a story that explores the shifting “forms” our Gods may take. Oh, and bunch of book reviews (which is yet another form) about books you should know about. Watch for our upcoming theme issues (or submit!): Summer (Self-Image), Fall/Winter (Vancouver’s Literary Geography). And, as we move towards our ultimate defining form, we hope you enjoy the variegated selection of writing in this issue. »

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POETRY

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Page 4

POEM

&

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Wintering The key we’d hidden under a rock in the garden. Our television, laptop, blender, toaster oven. One lamp, two phones, four shoes (not paired). Half our CD collection (A-M, alphabetized). The wood carving of a man in a canary yellow suit. My watch and my wife’s jewellery: the eleven necklaces her grandmother mailed her from Poland, one each Christmas since she turned 13; the bracelet I presented to her in high school, so hideous she wore it only when she knew I was expecting it, and even then only twice; the dull ring she sported before I proposed so the regulars in bars wouldn’t slow as they passed our table. And yes, all the abstract nouns you’re expecting– that flock of migratory starlings with quivering breasts. They’re gone too.

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2 Poems R O B TAYL O R

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SHORT

STORY

Salmo Creston, Creston Salmo J. JILL ROBINSON I L L U S T R AT I O N BY G AV I N D E L I N T

She wanted to have it both ways, feed her head and her cunt, so she hit up her father for money to study drama in Nelson. Every weekend she drove back to Paul, from the West Kootenays to the East, along the Salmo Creston highway in her blue 63 VW beetle, through the reknowned and difficult pass, saw dear asshole Paul, and then drove back on Sunday. She needed tires as well as brakes, which were failing, were going and gone and going as she drove the Salmo Creston, Creston Salmo. Still she went. Couldn’t stop, wouldn’t stop. Up, down, bleed the brakes. Gain an hour, lose an hour. School and Paul; grow and die; up and down, in and out, bend over to check the oil. Wired, and smoking and drinking. Brave girl for driving brakeless through the pass. Hit me, heal me, open me, close me. Brave girl for loving Paul. Now, this Sunday, she also needs her front bumper straightened and her fenders welded: they are still attached to the running boards but not the body of the bug and they are swaying and pulling like wings and oh how she’d fly instead of drive, soar along the valley one end to the other following the cold ribbon of the Kootenay River, start at Golden, head down over Spillamacheen, Edgewater, Radium, Invermere, Fairmont, Skookumchuk. Down to Cranbrook and touch down. And then face the pass. The slow, slow climb up one side, the brief summit, the careen down the other side. To save money for us, he had said, his pig eyes sincere, he would move in with Lynne at her beach house in Invermere. For us, he said, pinching her nipple. She’s just a friend, he said. So okay, she said. Then this weekend Gordine says, He’s fucking her, you know. He’s fucking Lynne, who fucks everybody. Lynne, who doesn’t say

issue 52

no to three men in a row because she doesn’t want to hurt their feelings. Gordine laughs as if it’s no big deal because everyone knows. Then she adds, except you. So she gets drunk and drives and hits the ditch and smashes her head against the windshield on the way back to Lynne’s—where the hell else could she go? Now, on this last drive back to Nelson, her windshield smashed in a star the size of her skull and she can barely see through it and the rain, pissing down rain, and the windshield wipers on the blue bug have crapped out so the arm of her army coat is soaked from her reaching outside to grab the hay rope strung through both windows, tied to the blades to pull the wipers back, then forth, back and forth. Glancing down through the rusted-out floorboards she can see the wet road rush by. And she can hear it, too, since the radio has also called it quits. She sighs. Quits. Her car is smashed up and her head is sore and it takes all fucking this to make her see. The old beetle strains to make the final push toward the summit and slows down to fifteen. She’s caught between first and second gears. Come on. Come on. She lights a smoke. Exhales. The engine labours, climbing. »

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STORY

Getting High with Thomas the Apostle DEREK KÜNSKEN

Hector saw the policeman and snatched the half-inflated bag from Manuel’s hands without taking his eyes off the gray uniform. “Puta!” Manuel said. “What was that for?” Hector squashed the bag so that the drops of glue wouldn’t dry and shoved it in his shorts. “Shut up, it’s a cop.” Hector didn’t expect a reply. Manuel didn’t get much of anything after only two weeks in San Pedro. Hector had to show him everything. They weren’t high yet. A little dizzy, but nothing else. They sat baking against a browned stucco wall on the cracked dirt of an abandoned lot. The sun was so bright and so hot that it bleached the world. Their stained shorts, their dusty skin, even the black of their hair failed. Hector quietly told Manuel to look down and mind his own business. They stared at the shadows under their knees. Hector picked flakes of dried glue from his t-shirt, smelling them before throwing each one into the dust. “Oh, shit,” he said. “What is it?” Hector didn’t answer. The cop with his white belt and holster was about to get into trouble. He looked like an eighteen-year-old sweating through his mandatory service under a gray ballcap that made him feel like a big man. A short wooden baton for hitting the heads of people like Hector dangled from his wrist on the end of a white loop. Two big teenagers sauntered up to him close to Hector and Manuel. Their t-shirts were cut off at the shoulder, showing muscle all the way down. Their hair was slicked up and back, the way Hector wanted his hair.

6

Hector couldn’t hear them, but the big one, Rolando, was the full deal around here. He clapped his hand onto the nervous cop’s shoulder. Rolando said something, probably funny or friendly, but surely menacing. Hector would have given anything to hear it. The cop’s shoulders rode up, despite Rolando’s hand there. Then Rolando pulled something from his tight pocket and slapped it into the cop’s hand, jiggling the baton. Had to be money. How much did it take to buy off a cop? Hector wanted somebody to buy him off. No. He wanted the kind of money you have to have to buy people off. Rolando leaned in, whispering, confidential-like. Cars and swerving little mini-buses hadn’t seemed so loud before, but they did now. Rolando talked. The cop looked down. Rolando got louder, but not enough for the words to carry to Hector. Rolando turned the cop around with just his one hand on his shoulder and kicked him in the ass. The cop walked off without looking back. “Put your head down!” Hector whispered to Manuel. They stared at their stained feet until Rolando and his companion were gone back down the street. Rolando had his own scrap yard just around the corner. “Shit,” Hector said finally. “That was cool.”

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“Gimme the bag,” Manuel said, holding out his little hand. “There’s not enough. Let’s save it for later. Let’s get something to eat.” “I saw a guy throw something in here,” Manuel said, hopping to his feet and heading to a wire mesh garbage can beside the sidewalk. He leaned in, all the way to the shoulder as Hector followed him. “What was it?” Hector asked. Manuel grunted, straining for the bottom. Finally he pulled out a piece of thick tortilla with bits of refried beans and cream on it. “Baleada,” he said triumphantly. He ripped it and gave Hector the half with fatter chunks of bean. It wasn’t enough, but one bite was better than none. He chewed and surveyed the area. Everything seemed slower after Rolando had kicked the cop. Three guys pushed a cart filled with garbage. Two guys stood in the middle of the road with shovels and a wheelbarrow full of asphalt beside a deep pothole. They held their hands out to every passing car and bus and everybody gave them change for fixing the road. Hector had seen them digging up their own patches after dark and fixing the same holes the next day. They were geniuses. The yellow El Progreso - San Pedro Sula bus blew black smoke into the trees and rolled to a stop beside the lady who pushed the coffee cart. A line of adults and well-dressed children got off, walking like they had somewhere to go. Hector squinted, watching if any of them dropped leftovers in the garbage. Then out of the bus came a boy dressed like them: stained shorts, ripped t-shirt, bare feet. “Hey, it’s Thomas,” he said. “Who’s Thomas?” Manuel asked. “How would Thomas pay the bus fare?” Hector asked. Sometimes people didn’t have to pay if they were selling something. Tonics. Lotions. Vitamins. Then get off. But Thomas was too young to sell anything. At eleven, he was a year younger than Hector and a year older than Manuel. He might have begged for a ride, but bus drivers couldn’t buy gas by loading freebies. Hector would kick him in the ass if Thomas had actually spent good money on bus fare, even if he’d been in El Progreso. Bus fare would buy a lot of glue. Hector called him. Thomas saw Hector and waved. As Thomas got closer, Hector saw that what he’d thought were patches of dirt were actually bruises. Big, dark ones. Cheeks. Forehead. Neck. Arms and legs. Somebody had got him pretty good. Hector and Thomas worked a complicated series of hand slaps and knuckle knocks that ended with crossed pinkies and an old laugh. Manuel and Thomas acknowledged each other with jerks of their chins. “You’re a mess,” Hector said. “How’d you get a ride on the bus? Pity?” “No, I found God. I got on in El Progreso and started preaching. Didn’t stop and they took me the whole way. “Shit! Awesome scam! I never think of any good ones.” “No, no scam. I found God. I’m going to save souls.” “Shut up,” Hector said. “For real.” “Yeah right. Want to get high?” Hector asked. Manuel’s little black eyebrows jumped. “Yeah.” “I thought so.” They walked back to the stucco wall and sat in a row, cooking in

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STORY

the sun. Hector inflated the bag and inhaled deeply a couple of times. Manuel’s dirty hand hovered on Hector’s arm to take it. Hector shrugged his hand away. “Take it easy, shithead. Guests first. Don’t they teach you any manners in the jungle?” He handed the bag to Thomas. Manuel huffed, but only withdrew his hand a bit. Thomas took some impressive puffs and handed the bag across Hector to Manuel. “All God’s children,” he said. Hector shook his head. “Kick-ass scam.” “No scam.” “You’re doing glue.” “I can’t obey God and get high?” “Of course not.” “Glue has nothing to do with your soul,” Thomas said. “What are you talking about?” “God made your soul. Do you think you can hurt it with glue?” Manuel huffed and sucked loudly on the bag, eyes big on the conversation. Hector seized the bag and took a few deep breaths while he thought. The glue was getting old. The tang was almost gone, replaced by the taste of Manuel’s breath. “You’re telling me,” he said between increasingly dizzy breaths, “that you’ve found God, but that you’re going to keep doing glue.” Thomas gently took the bag from Hector and put the scrunched opening to his lips. The translucent brown drops were drying, trapping the wrinkles of the bag in the yellow flakes. The bag shriveled and distended against Thomas’s other palm. He gave a heavy sigh and handed the bag to Manuel. “I’ve found God,” he said, turning his bruised face towards Hector “and I’m going to save as many souls as I can. Glue I can do on the side.” Hector shook his head. Manuel was hyperventilating into the bag, trying to get the last of the fumes. “What brought this on? You hit your head?” “Nope. Step-dad did my head. Came home drunk out of his mind and beat my mother. I tried to get out, but he got me pretty bad too. Fists. Not belt.” Hector and Manuel nodded knowingly. “Knocked me out. Picked me up and threw me against the wall.” Thomas mimed the last part, as if throwing a big basketball. “I don’t know how long I was out, but I think I was pretty close to dying. I didn’t wake up until the lights were out. When I sat up, there was John.” “John who?” “The baptist. The full deal,” he said, leaning his head back and resting his forearms on his knees. The sun was bright enough to bleach away even bruises with its blunt, overpowering whiteness, but Thomas didn’t close his eyes. He only narrowed them. “He told me that I hadn’t been doing the Lord’s work. He said that this was the last time I’d be told. He laid his hands on me.” “What?” Manuel said. “He touched you?” “He healed me.” “He missed some spots,” Hector said. “I was a lot worse before. I had broken bones and everything,” he said, then leaned in. “But he didn’t just heal my body. He healed my soul.” “Shit!” Manuel said. “That’s what I said. It freaked me out. I went outside. I was going to get out of there, but...” He lifted his hands helplessly. “You don’t mess with John. So I went back inside and woke up my step-father.”

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“Why?” Hector asked. “What did he do? Was he mad?” Manuel asked. Hector shushed him with a hand and frown. “He’s always mad,” Thomas said. “What did you do?” Hector asked. “I told him that I’d been visited by John the Baptist and that I’d been filled with the Holy Spirit. The rest just came to me. I really felt the Lord speaking through me. I told him that I forgave him and that the Lord was keeping a place in Heaven for him, but that he had to accept Christ into his heart.” “What did he do?” Hector asked. “Nothing. I don’t think he knew what to say. I didn’t know what to say.” “You didn’t fill him with the Holy Spirit?” Hector said. Manuel backhanded his arm. “Only the Lord can fill him with the Holy Spirit.” Hector leaned away from Thomas. “Cut that out. You’re giving me the willies.” “Sorry,” Thomas said. He turned away and tilted his head back against the stucco and stared at the sun. He sighed. “I’m just doing what I’ve been told.” “Saving souls?” “As many as I can.” “There’s lots around here.” “I was going to start with you guys.” “Me?” Hector said. “It’s a sign. Why else would I meet you guys first thing when I come off the bus?” “Start with the whores on the corner,” Hector said, pointing to three older women in threadbare dresses. “One of them is probably Manuel’s mother.” Thomas laughed and high-fived Hector. “Good one,” he said while Manuel turned away. “I’m not just here for you or the whores though, Hector,” Thomas said. “You and Manuel need help. Your souls are in trouble right now, but it’s everyone else too. People walk by you all day long. They ignore you. They spit on you. They beat you up, right? That’s not Christ on Earth. They pray. They go to church. They think they’re on the right road, but they’re as lost as you.” “This is freaking me out,” Manuel said, dropping the spent bag on the dirt. “Look, man,” Hector said. “Scam or not, you’ll have to pick some good place to do your stuff.” “Right here,” Thomas said. “In the sand?” “No. I wasn’t thinking ahead on the bus about what I’d do, but it’s like God is guiding me. He brought me to you in the worst part of San Pedro. This is where they need me the most.” “No, this is the place where you survive by keeping your head down. Preaching is not keeping your head down. Go preach down by the park or by some banks or something. This is MS-thirteen territory. They’ll skin you if you piss them off. I saw them stone a kid to death last week. Stoned to death.” He punctuated the last three words with three jagged hand chops. “I’ll talk to them first. Where are they?” “No! Save rich people first. They’ll give you enough money to buy some glue.” “I’ve been around almost as long as you, Hector. Where are the

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bosses now? Come talk to them with me.” “No. You’re fuckin’ cracked.” “We can tell them we saw Thomas perform a miracle,” Manuel said. “No, we can’t! Are you out of your mind?” “He’s right, Manuel,” Thomas said. “We can’t lie. The Lord will give us the words we need when we need them.” “We won’t need any words if we don’t go,” Hector said. He slapped Manuel’s arm. “Let’s go beg at Pizza Hut. We’ll get eats and maybe enough change to get some glue for tonight. Come on, Thomas.” Thomas stood, but didn’t say anything. He swayed a bit. Or Hector’s eyes were swaying. Hector and Manuel rose from the hard dirt. Hector grabbed Thomas’s arm. “Just let it go.” “I can’t, Hector. Running into you here was a sign. I don’t want to do this here, but would you ignore a sign from God?” Hector sputtered and waved his arms, but nothing came out of his mouth. Manuel stood beside him, but couldn’t say anything either. “I’m not just Thomas anymore. I’m not just someone who gets beat up. God picked me.” “Why would He pick you to go piss off the MS-thirteen? Don’t you care if you die?” “I can do this. God picked me.” “You can’t find them alone,” Hector said. “I’ll walk around until I find them,” Thomas said, but he didn’t sound like he believed it. He looked like he was deflating, but then looked at Manuel. “Manuel, come with me. Just show me where they are and watch.” “I can’t.” Thomas stepped closer and put his hand on Manuel’s little shoulder. “You’ve been called by God,” he said. “We both have. He just wants us to be brave.” Manuel stared at the dirt. So did Thomas. Hector stared at them both. “Okay,” Manuel said. “What?” Hector said, rounding on him and pushing his chest. “You’re not going anywhere, shithead. You think I’ve been keeping you alive, sharing my food and my glue with you, so that the MSthirteen can pound your skull? You owe me. Let’s go.” “I’ll show you, Thomas,” Manuel said. “Then we can go beg, Hector.” “You idiots can go on your own then,” Hector said. Thomas and Manuel made stuttering starts. He wanted to tell them he would get some glue and share with both of them. But then Manuel started walking and Thomas walked beside him. They were both smaller than Hector and he felt like he was watching children walk away. He sighed, trying to keep the world dizzy. Talk of missions and baptists and gangs was killing his buzz. “Puta,” he said finally. He kicked the dirt and followed them.

“I don’t like people coming around here and talking shit,” Rolando said. He was sitting on the powdered concrete steps to a windowless cinderblock house in the scrap yard. Inside the dark house, Hector saw only empty space. Rolando’s companion from earlier stood nearby, a short mestizo teen with smooth skin and short

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black hair. A pretty girl sat behind Rolando on the steps, resting her chin on his shoulder, watching Thomas. “No shit,” Thomas said. Hector and Manuel stood behind him. “Why are you here pissing me off?” Rolando said, leaning forward ominously. Manuel backed up a very slow half-step, pulling Hector with him. Thomas looked like he wanted to back out and his chin dipped. He spoke so quietly that Hector wondered if Rolando could hear him. “John the Baptist came to me and told me to do the Lord’s work.” Rolando smiled at his companions. “Shit. He thinks he’s a saint.” Thomas exhaled quietly, deflating like a bag of glue. His left heel trembled, ready to lead the retreat. “John the Baptist came to me and told me to do the Lord’s work,” he said a little louder. “I will spread the word of Christ.” Distaste wrote itself on Rolando’s face. The mestizo’s head pulled up a centimeter. The girlfriend frowned and took her chin from Rolando’s shoulder. “Shit, man,” Rolando said. “You’re creepy.” “I’ve come to tell you that the Lord is saving a spot for your soul in Heaven. You just need to offer yourself to Christ,” Thomas said. Rolando rose, laughing. “My soul?” He descended the three steps, growing as he did. “My soul?” He feigned a blurry-fast punch at Thomas. Thomas flinched. Hector stumbled backwards and Manuel fell down with a gasp. Everyone except Rolando and his companion were breathing like there wasn’t enough air under the sun. Thomas’s hands shook and he stared at Rolando. Then he knelt on the cracked ground. He put his hands together, his head down and started praying. “Malparido,” Rolando said. He kicked Thomas hard in the stomach. A dog’s yelp swallowed Thomas’s prayer. He fell on his hands and knees and spit. He may have puked. Hector couldn’t tell. Thomas pushed himself upright again. He put his hands together and began praying again. Rolando pulled a rusted pipe from a pile. It was as long as Rolando’s arm and although it looked heavy, Rolando moved it with one hand like it was made of cardboard. Rolando’s muscles slid hypnotically under his skin. “No,” his girlfriend pleaded, standing. Rolando ignored her and advanced on Thomas. “Tell you what, Jesus. I’m going to count to three. If you’re still here, I’m going to bury this in your head. After that, you can preach where you want.” Rolando smiled. “Of course, no one has ever lived after I touched them with this. I’m like the avenging angel.” He and his mestizo companion laughed. “One,” he said. Thomas stopped praying and looked up at Rolando. “Two.” Rolando cranked the pipe up in the air behind him with two hands. He looked huge. “I forgive you,” Thomas said. “Even after this, the Lord has a place for you. Never forget that.” “Three.” Hector screamed and stumbled backwards, tangling himself and Manuel onto the dirt. The pipe whistled and cracked Thomas flat above the ear. Hector heard a loud snap and Thomas’s head jerked sideways. His whole body flopped onto the hard dirt like wet laundry. Blood spilled out of his head. Fast. Rolando pointed the pipe at Hector and Manuel from the end of his straight arm. “Did Jesus send either of you?”

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Hector and Manuel shook their heads emphatically. “Then pick up the trash and get out of here.” Hector pushed Manuel forward and they picked up Thomas and hurried out of the yard.

Four weeks later, Manuel and Hector sat against the stucco wall. Manuel had just finished pissing over a garbage can and wouldn’t stop bragging. He also wouldn’t stop grabbing for the bag of glue. “Come on,” Manuel said. “If we use it all now, we won’t have any for later,” Hector said. “Holy shit,” Manuel said, pointing. “It’s Thomas.” Hector followed Manuel’s finger. Thomas was walking very slowly towards them. Most of his head was bandaged. Hector waved and called him. He didn’t react and they met him on the sidewalk. “Holy shit, man!” Hector said. Thomas’ face was still purple with bruises and his left eye only looked down. He was wearing newer clothes. A clean t-shirt, a new pair of basketball shorts and a pair of white shoes with socks. But his hands trembled and he was sweating even though the sun was already ducking behind the low buildings. “You’re a mess. They let you out?” “They were supposed to keep me six weeks,” Thomas said, “but no one was paying the bills, so they said I could go. They called my mother, but she said the hospital should pay my way to El Progreso. They didn’t, but they gave me this though.” He pulled a piece of paper from his shorts, slowly unfolded it and held it out. “What is it?” Manuel asked, craning his head to see. Hector frowned and took the paper. “It’s a prescription, idiot. Fat lot of good it’ll do with no money.” Hector put his hand on Thomas’ shoulder. “Hey man, you want some glue?” “Hey!” Manuel said. Hector backhanded Manuel in the chest. “Shut up,” Hector said. “He just got out of the hospital. We can cut him some slack. You want some glue, Thomas?” Thomas smiled. Three upper teeth were missing from the left side of his smile. “Yeah, let’s do it.” Hector smiled and they walked Thomas slowly to the wall and sat him down. He handed him the bag. Thomas inflated the bag with timid breathing. “I can’t believe he survived,” Hector whispered. “Do you think Jesus saved him?” Manuel whispered back. “You’re really country dumb, aren’t you? I’ll give you another turn at the glue if you don’t ever say anything so stupid again.” Manuel looked dubious, but didn’t say anything. “You know what we can do now, don’t you?” Hector whispered, watching Thomas take the bag away from his lips and hold his forehead gingerly. Manuel took the bag from him and then inhaled. “What?” he said. “With that bandage on his head and this prescription and us taking care of him,” Hector whispered, holding up the paper, “we can take Thomas to the park and everybody will give us food and money.” “What about John the Baptist?” Manuel whispered. “John got him into this. He can use him after we’re done.” »

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RUNNER-UP 2008 LUSH TR I U M PHA NT LITE RARY AWAR DS « C R E AT I V E N O N - F I C T I O N C AT E G O R Y »

Melhos Place AMBER DAWN I L L U S T R A T I O N B Y E A M O N N D O N N E L LY

Melhos is a pink stucco building next to a highway on-ramp. All day, diesel trucks and work vans roll past to the neighbouring auto shops and factories. In summer, the air around Melhos smells of fish rotting in cannery dumpsters. The winter rains sound like a ceaseless drum roll against the corrugated steel warehouses. And year round, girls dot the corners, their pleathers and satins looking misplaced against the industrial backdrop. Melhos was originally named Oceanview Manor because the Pacific lay beyond the shipyards and rusted barges moored along Commissioner Street. By the time I moved in, the original name had been weathered completely off the pink awning and the tenants had renamed the building after the Aaron Spelling favourite. There’s no swimming pool, no blue-jean-wearing repairmen to have gusty affairs with. What Melhos has is hos. On the front stoop girls in lingerie smoke cigarettes. Red lanterns hang in apartment windows. Some girls are shacked up with their men. Some keep overweight cats or cross-eyed toy dogs as pets. My best friend, Maria, has suite two-oh-four all to herself. Maria keeps a better place than anyone I know. She’s got monster stereo speakers that can stand up to the traffic outside. Her bedding is from the ikea catalogue, and her toilet flushes properly every single time. I’m a bit envious of Maria. Her regulars bring her perfume and Chinese take out. She has a sophisticated hustle, a blend of ho innuendo and corresponding business rates: “When a trick picks you up, read them the menu like this: fifty for a soda pop, eighty for a burger, and one-twenty for the full meal deal. See, technically you’re not soliciting. No laws broken.” Before Maria, I only had my mistakes to learn from. The first time my face was spray-painted black, I learned not to lean inside an open car window. I only had my head wedged under a steering wheel once to learn not to give blowjobs to a man in the driver’s seat. I used to live in the skids—the poorest eight-block radius in all of Canada. There was no official stroll there, but if you were a woman in the neighbourhood you were for sale. I’d simply step out my door (and over the people sleeping in my doorway) and there’d be a trick shouldered up to me, whispering, “twenty bucks, twenty bucks.” These tricks made the trip to the skids for the cheapest dates possible. They preferred to be turned in their cars, as if the assumed filth of my place would give them some disease

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that the bareback blowjobs they requested would not. Moving to Melhos was Maria’s idea. There’s a vacant bachelor apartment on the third floor, already painted pink from the last girl. I barely fill it with what little furniture I have. But Maria helps me set myself up like a pro. I buy the things pros should have: boxes of tissue that match my wall colour, scented candles, lots of anti-bacterial spray. I put Madonna’s Erotic in my ghetto blaster, lay a leopard print drop-sheet over my bed. “You’ll make money,” Maria assures me. “You can set yourself up real nice in no time.” I warm up with nooners—lunch-hour tricks who gingerly curb their cars and say “please” when ordering blowjobs. These men are quick dates. They have forklifts and assembly lines to get back to. Nighttime brings traffic from other neighbourhoods: the West End, the suburbs. And the stroll turns into a stereo-pumping, drinkin’-n-drivin’, cat-calling trick parade. Cars circle and circle, as if maybe the hos might get a little prettier after one more loop around the block. I won’t go night-shifting without Maria. “I got my eye on you,” she tells the men who pick me up, pointing a commanding press-on-nail at them. Unlike me, Maria is tall and meaty and loud. Tricks only insult her as they are driving away or else Maria buries them in comebacks—mostly about eating for some reason: “Eat a shit sandwich” or “Go eat your own scrotum cheese.” I am with Maria when Paul’s Dodge Ram, with tinted windows and custom headlights, stops at our corner. She has to give me a boost up the chrome running board into his passenger seat. Canuck bobble-heads line Paul’s dashboard. Photo-booth pictures of him kissing a pretty teenage girl are stuck to his rearview mirror. He’s three years younger than me, but he lives with his parents. A hundred for the hour is “no problem” says Paul as he paces my bachelor apartment like a trapped fly looking for a window. He eyes my rabbit fur coat and my cds, he opens my fridge. I wonder

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if he’s casing my place. “No beer in here?” he asks. “No boyfriend?” Then his inspection makes sense. No men’s jackets on the coat rack. A collection of “chick” music. A beer-less fridge. These are all signs that I live alone. “No boyfriend,” I confirm. These two words are all he needs to stop pacing and drop his drawers. He comes at me with his arms and his erection, reaching for a hug. I twist sideways to prevent his penis from ramming my stomach. Pre-cum smears against my left side. I am prepared to butt heads about condom use. I’m prepared to tell him I won’t lick his balls or let him ejaculate on my face— these are the things I am used to arguing over. I am not prepared when Paul kisses me. No trick has ever kissed me. Many don’t even look at my face. After my initial reluctance subsides, kissing becomes surprisingly easy. Paul doesn’t hack back phlegm like the factory men do. He has chewing-gum breath and glossy lips. He latches on to me with non-calloused fingers. We make out as if I am that pretty teenage girl in the photo-booth pictures. Afterwards, he asks for my phone number. I scribble it on scrap paper. He calls me from his cell before leaving. The two of us stand awkwardly at my door listening to the tinny ring of my home phone. “Just making sure you aren’t shakin’ me off,” he says, giving my arm a punch as if we are buddies. When Paul calls again it’s from a bar. “Whatcha up to?” he asks. I barely hear him through the muffled music and shouting in the background. I tell him I’m already in bed. “Ah, all alone?” His puppy-dog voice is syrupy and beer-buzzed. He arrives so drunk his young face has gone limp and liquidy. The corners of his mouth seem to be treading water just to smile at me. When he hands me two hundred dollars I figure it’s a blunder on his part. “There’s extra,” he tells me, “so you could shop for some new clothes or something.” Suddenly the thrift-store slip I’m wearing feels even more threadbare. It lays on the floor in a sad huddle of frayed lace as we climb onto my bed.

“He says he wants to be my regular,” I tell Maria while we’re at the mall; my cash spent hastily on a single pair of good-butt jeans. “A sugar daddy.” “No, sweetie. Sugar daddies are old dejected men with marriage or erection problems, or both,” says Maria. “Young tricks just wanna dip their dicks in the underworld. Then they return to the ‘burbs.” Maria’s statement makes me all too grateful when Paul calls again, same late hour, same loud background. I imagine him at some pseudo-Irish pub, surrounded by ball-cap-wearing boys like himself. “I got something for you,” he says. He stumbles through my door with a tv too big for him to carry. He grunts me away as I try to help, pushes the row of paperback novels off my dresser to make space for it. “It was sitting in our garage,” Paul huffs. “There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s only like two years old.” He grabs the remote control from his coat pocket and turns the tv on. Blue light washes over my entire apartment. This is how Paul

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becomes my regular. He simply plants himself in front of the tv. My apartment becomes a receptacle for his family’s unwanteds. Wine glasses or terrycloth bath towels. Nice things—rejected only because they clash with their decorating schemes. Paul brings so much that I start re-gifting: a chenille throw goes to Maria, unopened bath salts and body lotions are disseminated throughout Melhos. Every girl in the building soon smells of perfumey lavender and vanilla. The more gifts he brings, the longer his visits stretch out. We watch late-night talk shows, fix ourselves drinks in my new stemmed glasses. Paul starts putting my pay in Hallmark cards with doves flying across pastel brush strokes, the kind couples give each other. “Don’t open it until I’m gone,” he says, suddenly faux-shy, as if he has written me a love poem. But the cards aren’t even signed. Paul writes “Your friend,” his name absent altogether. Sometimes there’s three hundred in the card and I race over to Maria’s to brag. “Get it while you can, girl,” she says, jealously screwing up her frosted-pink lips. Other times, Paul slips a meager eighty bucks in the card and I find myself grudgingly on the stroll to earn the money I was expecting. I drift around the factory parking lots as the workers eat their bagged lunches, my eyes vigilant and desperate to catch theirs. When one does pick me up, I hate him for his labour-nicked hands. I find myself holding my breath and staring at the wall until he’s finished. I take his hard-earned money without a thank-you and usher him out my door. I use up all my “thank you”s on Paul. My “yeah baby”s, my “fuck me”s, my “you like that”s, all exhausted on Paul. When he asks to stay the night I am too exhausted to say no. We’ve downed most of a fifth of rye whisky that didn’t make the cut in his father’s liquor cabinet. Paul can’t hold himself steady enough to put his pants back on. He collapses into my bed, reaching an absentminded arm out for me. “Don’t go there, girl,” Maria would say. “No kissing, no real names, no sleep-overs, no playing house.” I hear her warning voice buzz in my ear until everything blurs and darkens. When I wake, Paul’s body is splayed out, snoring. I am at the very edge of my bed. My mouth is parched from too much drinking and kissing. My stomach flips in a way that tells me “no sudden movements.” All the sheets are twisted around me like a cocoon. The only part of me I can really move is my eyes. There is no place I can look without seeing something Paul has given me. His gifts overwhelm my bachelor Melhos apartment, turning it into a middle-class façade, a comfortable getaway. Is it easier for him, I wonder, to fuck a whore with a big-screen tv and four-hundredthread-count sheets than to fuck a whore in an apartment sparsely furnished with alley-found chairs? I imagine the tv set tipping off my old wobbly dresser. I hear my expensive new clothes twitch on their hangers. Beside me, Paul has kicked off the blankets. His too-perfect body clashes with my stripped, yellow-stained mattress. I wriggle an arm free of the tangled sheets to nudge him. “Wake up,” I say. “You have to go home now.” »

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RUNNER-UP 2008 LUSH TR I U M PHA NT LITE RARY AWARDS « P O E T R Y C AT E G O R Y »

Talking, Talking K AT H M A C L E A N

i. To swallow the sun’s breath, to singe its corners The room sighs, curls up around the edges, a folded ear, listening The clock tickles the back of the throat, its curving tongue tock, tock. A cuckoo cries when the piano misses a note, start from the beginning, again. Afternoon robins stand on branches of lilac balancing their knowledge of flight, cancan & claw, for the memory of spring rain, for footprints in the garden, a trail of peonies, a broken spine. Watching the light, Venus burns past the open gate, her mouth glistening, spits shards of stars pins, needles, razor sharp, how the tulips wilt, the lilies grow pale, the gloveless hand reaches for the rake.

ii. If evolution were simple we’d still be frogs clearing our throats. A cough declares love. A lily pad. Oh, you talk too much. The air conditioner buzzes by the bed. A bee, searching the room for the exit. A prisoner’s hum, dreams of months, weeks, days of uninterrupted sleep. It is too much to ask for a cup, a Kleenex, for someone to call you by name? A razor by the bed, a bowl of hot water, my hands, shaking. Before knowing the question, before. Fall’s memory failing, a blessing. A curse to promise forever & ever. & stumbling, & stumbling, You pick at the chicken on your lap. Scraps of skin, a wishbone, cherry pits. Ice-cream leaks from the bag, spots on the floor, pink daisies, daisies, the squinting sun. It’s Wednesday. Who says you can’t remember how to eat or drink the dark? A curtain opens, Venus in her silk pajamas, streams of light in your throat. This labyrinth of bones, this garden of angels, this tall winged woman. Who bends towards you, talking, talking, hush. This riddle you can’t answer.

iii. This is not the dog you promised. Fool’s gold glitters in the right light, diamonds. & here, & here, along the jaw, the cheeks flat, the lips pale, the hand shaking. I’ve seen you twist flowers upside down, baby breath blue, daisies, daisies. The arm breaks above the elbow. The ankle turns, the rib-edged road travels a labyrinth of bone.

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Draw the curtain in case someone is looking, morning refuses noon’s advances; it is rude to presume. All day the sun buries her head. Humidity refuses to rise, the crow’s black wings shield our red eyes. Five years, five summers, still my knees shift from squat to prayer, to squat. On the couch, hollows of dream, the clock sings of mourning, a daffodil dancing in the breeze.

iv. Opening its mouth a lily swallows a thin line of promises, the long-winded morning sighs shifting its gaze from dreamer to dream the open gate. A baby cries, no one hushes the lawn mower, a cell phone sings Hallelujah & clearing its throat, begins again. Someone empties a rain barrel by the side of the house, July’s tongue lapping at light sticks to the screen. In the morning the Hermit squats by his fire, shakes the hand of the shadow, tickles the cuckoo’s chin. Heat swivels its hips, kicking cancan with one foot; the other balancing on the tip of a cicada’s broken wing. These calendar days, & the daffodils daring to turn summer on its head, spin Cupid’s arrow off course. Love’s hit or miss, in the morning this bed of stone, this heavy heart beats in your hand. The clock ticking the world, closing its eye, speaking to no one unless spoken to. The room curls around the edges, a dark circle of hope, a murder of crows folds into morning’s prayer caw caw— An open curtain, petals of daisies on the floor, the woman rising beside the bed, the light splitting in two: before, after.

v. The sun’s scarred throat: five crows on the curb, the road, cracking its knuckles, breaks its stone skin. Venus clutching a match too long in one place wakes to find a robin holding breath in its beak, summer in a bruised eye. In the garden leaves the size of hands, searching for seeding stars dandelions turn the season sideways; Summer forgetting his name, searches for the curve of steam in a kettle, the chimney’s iambic sputter spits at the poem curling around its edges. Dawn’s darkest hour, the morning hallow would be his name, the clock’s toothless chatter, where do I find the exit? The type of light that floats by the window, my hand on his chest, tock tock, reaching to close the curtain.

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E S S AY

Fictional Economies PAT R I C K M A C K E N Z I E

All the world’s a stage. —S h a k e s pe a re Never again shall a single story be told as though it were the only one. —Jo h n B e r g e r

Ask any adult what “Boom and Bust” means and they’ll probably come up with an approximate answer. Perhaps this is because of the linearity boom and bust seems to imply—evidently containing beginning and end, indeed a narrative structure expressing the simplest of stories: what goes up must come down, a classic reversal of fortune. Is it unreasonable, then, to think about the economy as a fiction, and not just as a metaphor for financial and social madness, but in the sense of a likely story, something made up, something that constantly shifts in plot and meaning, adorned with rhetorical and literary figures of speech? Contemplate that our current economic crisis plays out nightly on tv: Presidential press conferences; dismissed employees of failed banks exiting glass towers carrying their possessions of office in cardboard boxes; auto plant assembly lines shudder to a halt. The drama is palpable, almost, um, theatric—which isn’t to say that people’s insecurities and anxieties aren’t real. But drama— how many times has it been used to describe the financial meltdown (and not just because we are living in startling times)— is probably the best word to describe what’s going on, because it is in crisis that the fictitious nature of our economy is revealed. The subprime mortgage crisis has shown that vast areas of the economy have been propped up by nothing more than speculative greed, financial manipulation and shady lending practices entirely dependent upon fiction; that is, the ability to sell a flawed bill of goods—namely, a dream of ownership obscuring a very real nightmare of debt. We need look no further than the current economic crisis to see that the narrative, in a breath, has been conveniently changed: we have gone from the ardent support of

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laissez-faire economics to an interventionist model literally over night. Yes, the storyline has been switched right before our very eyes ladies and gentlemen; and maybe we should be worried, for such a cavalier bi-polar adjustment might indicate that the show is only a show—but none of us really know it. In North America it’s nothing new to point out that among the most strident supporters of market economics can be found fundamentalist “Christians.” Perhaps this is the outcome of the apparent compatability between Protestantism—with its emphasis on individual revelation—and capitalism. The contradiction is obvious and has been identified before: a religion that calls for charity, tolerance and collective action, often attracts the greedy, intolerant and those hostile to anything remotely resembling communal effort—behaviour that Jesus, as documented in the Gospels, vehemently resisted. So why is it that many Christian fundamentalists are drawn and continue to hold to the creed of laissez-faire economics, especially now when the results of the neoconservative fetish for deregulation and privatization are crumbling all around us? Calling attention to the contradictions doesn’t help; people, it seems, will cling to their ideology as if it were a dinghy with a view of the sinking Titanic. But this is not a matter of contradiction or hypocrisy, religion or economics: it is a matter of believing in the truth of our fiction.

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North American evangelism and capitalism, despite the fact that Jesus booted the money changers out of the temple, are not mutually exclusive at all: they are just different forms of faith, different genres repackaged as it were—both with their authoritative texts and their acolytes. With a predisposition to believe the literal truth of the Bible, a highly edited document that contains more metaphor and myth than truth, maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that Christian fundamentalists should be true believers in market economics, brandishing as it does its god-like invisible hand. Easy as it is to sneer, however, this says more about our society in general than it does about a specific group within it. The fact that those so willing to believe in the literal truth of the Bible are committed to mainstream market capitalism suggests that that economic system is a fiction also. In this case, fundamentalist Christians are the canaries in the coal mine of our present economic system, the first to be deceived and overcome by the most incongruous and absurd fictions, with the rest of us willingly and close behind. Presenting the economy as fiction might be easily dismissed, but it is worth bearing in mind how easily paradigms have shifted—like a director asking her players to rework a scene—in the recent past. Perhaps the best example of this alteration is best captured by the CEOs of the Big Three auto manufacturers, GM, Ford and Chrysler—companies who have collectively, for at least two decades, actively lobbied against government intervention (in the form of increased fuel efficiency and emissions standards etc.)— prostrating themselves before the U.S. Congress begging for government intervention, with a vague mea culpa on their lips, in the form of a cash bailout. And all this coming after several years of incremental, yet obvious and noted, rising gas prices and the Big Three’s continual production of over-powered, over-sized and totally fuel-inefficient vehicles. If this isn’t the height of hypocrisy, then it sure makes for good drama. Under the weight of these circumstances, the CEOs, and everyone else necessarily, have been forced to change the narrative to which they adhere. Like a novelist altering his story to fit the shifting contingencies of character and situation,

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we have shifted the underlying narrative supporting our economy in order to address the contingency of crisis—in essence we have moved from a free market economic model, eschewing as it does government interference, to a quasisocialist one. The reaction of the CEOs of the Big Three auto manufacturers to the economic meltdown, the ease with which they switched from being free market capitalists to embracing government intervention can easily be dismissed as pure cynicism, which it is, but their willingness to change from the active resentment of government intervention to its open support seems to prove that economic systems are not absolute; that they are in fact as changeable as the minds of an anxious population, or as dispensable as a weak plot. The about-face on behalf of the Big Three is at heart an example of human nature: while vaguely admitting to pursuing bad business practices the CEOs of the Big Three are really only trying to save their own asses. But one of the ways they have done it is by following or making up a new story suited to a busted economy. It seems then, that besides involving capital, labour, investment, credit etc, the economy itself is made up of a variety of ever-changing genres—socialism, capitalism, mixed market, free market etc—all of them as unstable in their purposes, intentions, and meanings as any novel or article of faith.

At the same time we believe the economy to be “real”—real in the sense that it is stable, knowable, predictable, that it can be approached scientifically—it is surprising how out of the realm of reality much of the language used to describe the economy is. In The Myth of the Market, Jeremy Seabrook writes, “it is clear that in the West the economy has become a form of salvation; the realm of the economic is the only one in which miracles are now believed to occur by a cynical people; it performs, it delivers goods, it is a goose that lays golden eggs; religion, fable and fairy story are intertwined.” Rather than being representative of some kind of unadulterated truth, the economy seems to connote irrational belief; and to speak of the market in terms of religion or narrative is an absurdity considering the absolute and mostly secular authority with which it is endowed. At the

same time, consider the way we routinely speak about the economy: we have “faith” in the market; we “believe” in the market; we “hope” the current economic downturn is merely a “correction” rather than a “recession.” Against the apparently impenetrable edifice of the market the vocabulary most often used to describe it and our reactions to it is simultaneously emotional, euphemistic and vague—kind of like the language of a poorly written novel, or a fairy tale told to an exciteable child, or a sermon preached to anxious parishioners. The irony is immediate, but we continue to be mostly unaware of it—which is odd if we recognize that our economy, in fact all economies throughout history, are fraught with ironies. And this seems to be where our troubles start. In North America we still think of irony erroneously in terms of bad luck (thank you Alanis Morissette) or simply in terms of base sarcasm. We even tried to have it banished post 9-11—remember the cover of Newsweek posing the question, “The End of Irony?” in front of an image of the smoking wreck of the World Trade Center? In the days that followed, Time columnist Roger Rosenblatt, in a tizzy of self-righteous indignation, gave voice to a seemingly latent cultural antipathy towards irony: “The ironists, seeing through everything, made it difficult for anyone to see anything. The consequence of thinking that nothing is real—apart from prancing around in an air of vain stupidity—is that one will not know the difference between a joke and a menace.” Rosenblatt’s resentment is misplaced and somewhat laughable. He essentially blames those “in charge of America’s intellectual life” for creating conditions where nothing is “to believed or taken seriously,” as if irony indirectly contributed to the tragedy of 9-11. Without recourse to pointing out the absurdity/irony inherent in the attempt to banish a freely available literary and rhetorical trope, Rosenblatt’s anger, while certainly showing a lack of appreciation on his behalf, seems to be giving voice to that much ballyhooed and mythic mass of North America known as the silent majority. More than highlighting his own outrage, Rosenblatt’s editorial rant seems to point to a greater lack of understanding and hostility towards irony in the

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surrounding culture. Hence our surprise and horror when the economy tanks, at the ease with which we become economic dupes. Maybe if we had a greater sense of the ironic, at the very least we wouldn’t be so stunned when our business and political leaders perform an ideological one-eighty or when our rrsps lose half their value. Rather than accuse the ironists for creating a situation where the distinction between reality and artifice is indistinct, Rosenblatt would be better directed in pointing at least one of his fingers at the very financial underpinnings of the economy. In our culture, perhaps a no better example of irony can be found than in our often dysfunctional relationship with that ubiquitous concern in our lives: money. In the timely and popular The Ascent of Money, historian Niall Ferguson writes, “We remain more or less content with paper money—not to mention coins that are literally made from junk. Stores of value these are not. Even more amazingly, we are happy with money we cannot even see … The intangible character of most money today is perhaps the best evidence of its true nature … Money is a matter of belief, even faith … Money is not metal. It is trust inscribed. And it does not seem to matter much where it is inscribed: on silver, on clay, on paper, on a liquid crystal display.” Everybody needs money; many obsess over it, success or failure in life or in business very often is the result of money—or its lack. And as the above passage shows, the value of money seems to lie in what it is not rather than what it is. We have forgotten that money is a representation merely, pointing to something else—gdp, gold, silver, oil, labour, air, lies. More than being a pointed irony, money is a downright metaphor. Other than the big dramatic moments, the convenient switching of the narrative from hostility to government intervention to its encouragement, the chastening of the powerful, money is perhaps the greatest example of the fictitious nature of our economy. Consider the recent example of the subprime mortgage crisis (many would call it a scandal), which precipitated the mess we’re in. In giving loans to people who could ultimately never afford to repay them, money was, in a very real way, made out of nothing. The

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collective debt represented by these subprime mortgages, held by people who should never have been given them in the first place (that is, only if their interest rates were to be “re-set” to thirteen percent and higher after a few years— which is exactly what happened), were then renamed and resold as “collateralized debt obligations” to other banks around the world. The paths leading back to the original subprime mortgage holders were so convoluted that, as Ferguson continues in Ascent, “it was possible to claim that a tier of the interest payments from the original borrowers was as dependable a stream of income as the interest on a tenyear U.S. Treasury Bond …. This took financial alchemy to a new level of sophistication, apparently turning lead into gold.” With unsustainable interest rates borne by those who could least afford them, people began to default on their mortgage payments, the outcome of which negatively registered up and down the financial food chain. And so the bubble burst. Greed and deregulation of the U.S. financial industry were identified as the main causes of the U.S. housing market meltdown; but fictions, the ability to sell them as well as believe them, are equal if not greater culprits in humanity’s latest economic fiasco. Writing in the May 2006 issue of Harper’s, two years before the full brunt of the U.S. housing market collapse was felt, Michael Hudson wrote, “With the real estate boom, the great mass of Americans can take on colossal debt today and realize colossal capital gains … tomorrow. If you have the wherewithal to fill out a mortgage application, then you need never work again … That’s the pitch anyway.” And in a way it sounds reasonable, imbedded as it is with the language of finance, but the story only holds up in a housing market that is continually rising. For working and low income Americans, to take on such “colossal debt” in the form of a mortgage, the very idea of debt, as Hudson points out, had to be psychologically repositioned and renamed an “investment.” Certainly the promise of easy money and the chance to become a member of the “owner class” was a factor in so many people taking on so much debt, but clearly only with the backing story of a housing market happily rising in perpetuity could such a fiction be sold.

Looking back from our unhappy juncture, the subprime lending spree seems little more than a repackaged and rebranded get-rich-quick pyramid scheme pedaled by Mamet-esque characters chasing after dirty money in dark offices.

Containing the most basic linear story line, beginning, middle and end, “boom and bust” it seems has been the central narrative for the economy. As much as we prefer the boom part of the business cycle, it seems we are always rushing towards its end. According to literary critic Frank Kermode writing in The Sense of an Ending, ours is a culture obsessed with endings: “we can see that the older, sharply predicative apocalypse, with its precise identifications, has been blurred; eschatology [the branch of theology dealing with the end of the world] is stretched out over the whole of history, the End is present at every moment, the types always relevant.”Keromde seems to be saying that the secular world—with its greatest expression found perhaps in the economy—has apparently internalized apocalypse, that great narrative of the end of all things: we see apocalypse now playing out as economic collapse. Maybe this is because there is something in humans, some need for drama in order to give meaning to our otherwise dull and predictable lives, that has us stumbling from crisis to crisis. So, is it inevitable that our economy will always manically swing between two extremes, boom and bust repeating themselves like an endless film reel? Surely we can see that holding to such a narrative is dysfunctional: we have followed certain fictions—the belief in the superiority of one race over another or one economic system over another for example—to their endings and they lie discredited in the wreckage of history. In the end, it is not so much the fictitious nature of economies or other human constructs that cause us problems; it is rather that we believe our fictions to be true, to the exclusion of all others. If we are to move away from a world ruled by crisis, indeed a world always at the point of apocalypse, we need to start by setting aside the perilous delusion that a single story, to quote John Berger, can be the only one. »

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POETRY

3 Poems JOHN CREARY I L LU S T R AT I O N S BY A R LO V O L E R A

Nitpicking and Cantankerous Quarreling You’re unromantic. I feel alive when I’m alone. Why do you fold the pages? Split the spine? Hush before I break a wine glass. Pretend to be a gentleman. Adolescent. Spell divorce. You’re so blind and all brightly vacant. Trim your eyebrows. I can’t see the tv. Remember when you got fired? Thanks for the dead daisies, Dick. I love you, November.

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You’re like a revolver. Let’s do the waltz of the lonely motel. Why do you trash talk, face a dented anvil? I need a zealous blonde, a spelunker. Innocence, a liar’s walking stick. Mannequin. O-n-e-s-t-e-p-a-h-e-a-d. And this soup has large onions. Can we watch the saddest music in the world? For necking with the secretary? My pleasure, wizened hag. You’re the parts, I’m the labour.

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POETRY

The Boy and the Bottomless Lake This is a tale about a boy and his bottomless lake. The boy lived in a tattered wood cabin near a dense grove of cedars with his mother and her lonely midlife. Beneath somber skylines on the outskirts of marriage and divorce, she tortured herself in roughly textured relationships with bent men. The boy sat quietly on the backburner, fixing the broken transistor radio, juggling knives and making long movies in his mind. Together, the boy and his remote mother paused on the shore of a deeper misunderstanding. Often, the boy would meander alone through the cedar grove, running his soft fingers across the trunks of green giants, thinking of a new motion picture. He was in love with weaving strange, beautiful epics. The hours would blur and the sun would slice the day in half. Sometimes, he would fall asleep beneath his favorite towering cedar for days, the one with arms like a tired grandfather. His head drifting in and out of another lucid dream reel, grand worlds he produced bound only by the depth of his imagination. One day, the boy shot and killed his mother with a glance. He then crawled into the bathtub and drowned himself with tears. The market of his imagination swarmed through his body searching for an exit. Outside, above the whispering cedars, the moon littered the face of the bottomless lake with applause.

Figure I see my girlfriend squinting on black eyeliner like a living ghost. She steers her thin frame towards starvation, dancing with death in dazzling high heels and a sparkling slim dress. Her fork mazes through meals, scatters four food groups, rarely touching her plate. I feel like offering help but don’t. She barks at concern with silence and no sex. The closer I get to worried the farther she lies from the empty fridge, the deeper she backstrokes through red wine, the longer she warms the rim of white porcelain. So, I remain quiet, a mime mid-pose, a vacant church on a dusty plateau, hoping her mouth trap fades. But the truth is, she’s not anorexic, she simply doesn’t like to eat and I kind of like her figure.

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FLASH

FICTION

Soon I Will Find You S A L D I FA LC O

am close to you now. My watch has stopped—what time is it? I must stop by the road to pee. It flows. The scrub grass drinks up the bitter juice, unquenchable. My heart aches in a literal sense, like a punch every time it thumps in its cage, like a mad bird, a parrot, blood-red. I make progress. Look how fast I move. My feet barely touch the chocolate earth and the minty verdure. I trample a black snake by a toadstool but the snake feigns a literal death until I move on. The snake moves on, rippling through black muck. Twigs snap, an owl makes a silent sweep of the forest for rodents and smaller lizards and whatnot. Not a sound, the bastard. They say that death begins with silence. Who they? Dunno. The very idea of being with you is moving and keeps me moving through this density. My legs, even my arms strain. Walking involves the arms as much as the legs, make no mistake. Some would say I exaggerate it a bit on this count. I mean, the arms. Swinging them like that. But it gets me places. I go like Jack the Bear when I get rolling. And then the clearing, unseasonably green, or is it just optics. The grass beneath my feet crackles like cellophane. And it feels, I dunno. Odd. You live nearby, I bet. I know you’d like a visit. I know. A thousand black birds flow through the snow-white sky. Of what do they portend? I cannot move any faster. I am uncomfortable, my swollen feet, chafed thighs, parched lips. I rest amid moss and rocks and a dead black beaver. The day is so pretty I want to kiss it.

I

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IMAGE: KAREN GREEN

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CONFESSIONAL

The Deathbed Confession of Christopher Walken PAU L C O R M A N - R O B E R T S I L L U S T R AT I O N S BY A R L E A A S H C R O F T

Lenny, lean over close so you can hear everything it is that I need to tell you right now. Listen; it’s imperative you get every word of this clearly, do you understand? I’m not saying I was always a good man, Len. Not always…but I was not of the character…I wasn’t…what I mean to say is, there were limits in my life I observed. There are limits in all people’s lives, but where they’re drawn…where they’re drawn determines what kind of people we are. And R.J…where R.J.’s line was drawn…R.J. might have been the last one to see her, but I was the last one to hear her, see? Even now…goddamn. I don’t…I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. The truth is not as sordid as you might think it is. But perhaps it is more sordid than it should be. Len, the first thing you need to understand is that cunt of a captain was a fiend whose mother assuredly conceived and birthed his squalid ass on the banks of the River Styx, all right? He was one of these fucking guys who would break out a Himalayan mountain’s worth of snow on a lounge table on a Thursday night and somehow would make his way through your stash like a Hoover vacuum before sunrise Sunday. No wait, I’m saying this all wrong now, that’s…that’s not really where I should begin. The look on your face says “Chris, you poor sad prick, just get it off your chest, brother.” Forgive me; this is dif-

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ficult. You want to know if…if she and I…if she and I… No. It never happened, though Christ knows I wanted it to. There were a couple of times where it almost went down on the Brainstorm shoot. Hot kissing, heavy petting; and then she pulls up saying she wants to wait for a special night, ‘cause y’know, I’m a special guy. You know the drill. What guy doesn’t know that drill? Except for me; shit I hadn’t played that game in damn near twenty years Len. You’d really think a man my age would know better, yet still I was transformed into this…this drooling puppy, this completely, hopelessly star-struck kid, even though I was pushing forty. She was a living legend where I had just got my break. It was sheer manna to simply run my hands all over the body of a woman all my friends and I had ached for in school; that way you ache for things you’re sure you’ll never have. That’s as far as it ever went Len. And let me tell you, there was not one other set of gams in all Hollywood, not one, that any other straight, red-blooded actor in

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the biz would want to be with. She was in her prime THEN I tell you. I wasn’t going to demand it Len. No, uh-uh, not when it was being put on layaway. And a young man in the prime of life…and not the prime of sexual longevity Lenny, but the prime of confidence and success of…of knowing who one is finally and just how to be with an older woman…when you’re a man like that, and a woman like that puts it on layaway…I don’t care who you are, you book the date. It was supposed to have been that weekend. She kept saying R.J. wouldn’t mind if we got together, that he was just going to go out to another party scene on another yacht or some such thing and do his own thing. She told me he was a swinger and that was his thing; he was a good man who respected their thing and that they were very hip you know. She liked to use that word “hip,” like they were these high-class beatniks. She said he was into pretty men, and that’s why he liked being with her, because she reminded him of a pretty man. But I couldn’t…no, wouldn’t see something like that at that time Len…I always wonder if I could now. By Thanksgiving night though I resolved, in my own heart, that nothing would happen between us. Ever. We could have been together that night, with her old man out on the boat. Just him being out there…and maybe I’m less of a man for admitting this to you Len, but whenever I was alone with her that weekend…it wasn’t there you know? Not like other times we had been alone. It was like we were just friends again, like when we first met on the shoot, but then…when we were out in public…it was on again. And I’d start to think, oh yeah, we’re back on again…but then she’d start talking about R.J. all over again, because that’s part of what was getting her off. For the first, and really only time in my life I was experiencing sexual schizophrenia. I’d change my mind and say to myself “no Chris, you are going to jump over this cliff, just a little more champagne and we’ll be there any minute.” And the next minute I was back trying to swear off all over again, because so what if her old man is a little fruity and she’s a little saucy, and you just don’t make a guy’s wife in front of him. I know he was square with the younger crowd, old-fashioned nice guy, you know, but man this was still Bobby fucking Wagner. This man was a strong survivor and wasn’t he worthy of respect? Wasn’t he worthy of dignity? That’s the question I wanted to ask her at the Harbor Reef restaurant and I couldn’t…I couldn’t quite… …I was just this horny lottery winner. And the more she smack talked R.J. the hornier she got. The longer dinner went on, the more forward she got. Then he showed up with Davern and all bets were off. I tell you he didn’t appear to me as a man who didn’t care about who his wife was humping. Oh no, he was making jokes about the rumours, and underneath his easy laughter I could see his fury; for the first time in my life I saw the cuckold’s fury, though oddly not for the last.

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So, what does she do but takes her right hand down to my lower thigh and begins this slow buildup with the most supple stroking motion, and I mean…you know as well as anyone Len that men, simple men like us can’t hide anything in that position. Not with a woman like that. No. And with the captain running his mouth about all the booze and drugs we had available. He was the reason we were asked to fucking leave the place. When…when we got back to The Splendour…(sigh)…the blow was stupid, it was just stupid of us to be doing so much, but I got into a “match you line for line” contest with that prick-faced captain, who quite honestly was…I mean he even had straight-laced Bobby hooking down lines, just to give the whole sordid situation a spin of its own; like a high noon bacchanal. You heard the phrase Lenny? Going to eleven? You know that phrase? Let me tell you all of us, on that yacht that night…all of us…people like Natalie and R.J. should not be allowed to go to eleven. Not after what they go through to get where they are…not after what they become. She kept goading him to go to the other party. And then he’d say “oh sure Natasha, so you can take your latest thoroughbred for a test ride?” So then she says she’s going to take the dinghy to the party…and then, in front of her husband, puts her hand on my package, asks me if I would like to go to the party with her, and then licked my ear, in that exact order. I can still feel how warm her saliva made my ear out in the ocean air and the utterly, absolutely homicidal look on Bobby’s face. The feeling I had, looking at this beautiful woman’s husband, while my ear felt so wet, cool and comfortable…that’s the memory that never leaves me Lenny. It never leaves me. R.J. might very well be into making the hairy man back all night long, but he did not come from a generation that tolerated being made to look foolish. I couldn’t take it anymore. I was beaten down, from the whole weekend of partying and psychic fucking head games. I’d had enough of all the bad karma and they obviously had not, so I made my way down to the bedrooms. Davern at least showed me a little mercy. He could tell I needed to take the edge off and the whole time we’re down there smoking a joint we can hear them fighting and he’s telling me this is all perfectly normal, they act like this all the time and then…then we hear the hitting, you know; slapping, punching. So Davern casually announces he should go shut the boat down. Like, maybe he’s used to this cue. I knew then that my dream, my dream of hearing the serenade of our lovemaking…the sound of her being made love to by me…that was something I was never going to hear Lenny. Not while R.J. had to be part of the equation. It was never going to be the way I pictured it for us. It was never just going to be the two of us, but always the three of us. Every night with her was going to be a night on the yacht. I swear I just stayed there in my room, and heard a little more yelling, but for the most part, it seemed to die down. I didn’t want to

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know. More than anything, I wanted to get off the boat, get out of the fucking ocean as soon as I could the next day. The coke had worn off, the booze had caught up to me, and the weed was starting to settle in real good and like any other night of partying winding down I just drifted off. But you know how sometimes, in that instant just before the sandman comes, in that one instant a sudden burst of adrenalin hits you like a tractor-trailer and jolts you awake? You know I’ve heard all the stories Len. I know they say two of the lifeboats left the yacht that night and only one came back. But what happened? Brother, that’s between R.J. and God. We spoke later, after the funeral, and it was very strange because…I apologized to him for my behavior…and he accepted. Then he apologized to me…but he wouldn’t say for what. I won’t lie my friend, I was afraid. I felt myself in danger that evening on the yacht. I felt that R.J. intended me harm. Even now, when I see these re-runs of celebrity poker matches on the fucking Game Show Network, and there he is: old man Wagner, in his seventies, looking like he can’t be fucked with by anyone…and everyone at the table knows it. He still gets the girls. Nothing happens to guys like R.J. Not in this world. They get away with everything, because nobody wants to go down that road of darkness with them. On the television, the look in his eyes still makes me want to crap my pants…even before I got into this fucking mess I’m in now. Now that he’s gone…he still looks like he’s going to find me, even now that it doesn’t matter. Just because I’m telling you all this. But Len, I do know I woke up at one point…on the yacht, just as I

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was falling off to sleep, and you know how you get pulled back awake with a start, because you think you saw or heard something? On the yacht, I thought I heard a splash in the water, somewhere not so far away. And it was the damndest thing Lenny. As I fell back asleep, I heard a woman singing. I…I heard her, drunk and singing away. There is no doubt in my mind it was her, because I’ve never, never forgotten that face and the things that voice said to me. There were times when I was with her and heard her sing, but I never really appreciated it until just that moment, because of course, it was a different kind of singing I dreamt about…you know. There’s a place for us, a time a place for us. Hold my hand and we’re halfway there. Hold my hand and I’ll take you there. Somehow, someday, somewhere! She would have been out in the water, well into the Reaper’s clutches and her voice was coming back to me from that abyss, like the radio signals of a single, sleek spaceship on the verge of plunging into a black hole. But at the time, it was the sound of her voice, crossing the distance between what I thought was our cabins that was the sweetest lullaby I could ever have to lull me to sleep. At that moment it didn’t seem as if things could become as terrible as they did, as if she were just fine singing her heart out to me on the water. At that moment it was all-good. And the fuck of it is Lenny, to this very moment, it still is. I got my serenade after all didn’t I? Take a walk now friend, I need to get rest now. And please…lock the door behind you on the way out. »

Wendigo SANDY POOL The night sky mutates into snow; slams against our insides. We will starve here, hands splayed across our hearts. Insatiable beasts of burden. Why is it that we are so alone? We have done nothing. Ghosts of fossils eating at our bones. The night sky mutates; we fall silent. We fail daily in our desire to be whole. Eyes desiccated, behooved in rapture. Carcass beating like a drum, insatiable. This backwards dance dismantles itself; motion reverses into being, food without sustenance. The horizon mutates into snow. Love, it is not safe. The animal of your body cannot sleep. Wild dogs will devour our eyes— the deep sockets of our hearts. It is always like this; skin pulled taught over bone, the emptiness of being: the night sky, our wretched hearts.

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Libby AARON HELLEM I L L U S T R AT I O N S BY J U S T I N C H E N

Billy glows in the dark. Not as green as money or Jello, but a softer incandescence. Elizabeth reaches out and lays her palm flat against his stomach. Billy leans over her, kisses her forehead and down her nose. Finds her lips in the dark. Finds her buttons with his eyes closed. She wraps her lips around his whole body as if to swallow him and burn on the inside from whatever makes him glow in the dark. The water boils when it rushes from the tap. Glaciers are melting quickly somewhere in the world, but that’s not what makes the water boil when it rushes from the tap. Billy’s father, at the table, looks like he’s melting into his coffee and buttered toast. His skin sags like a turkey’s neck. Dark circles around his eyes. Sores on the end of his nose. He doesn’t look good. Dad, Billy says, you look awful. Thanks, son, his father says. Now, will you please pass me the goddamn shitting son of a bitching salt? He doesn’t look up from his toast. Outside a tanker truck shifts gears and screams down their street. Children aren’t supposed to play outside for stretches of time longer than forty-five minutes. What do you do there at the plant, Dad? Billy says. Put food on the table, his father says. Son of a bitching bacon on this goddamn shitting table. How do you like that? He looks up at Billy. His eyes are entirely black. Sheen, like a fish’s. How do you like that? he says again. Your sister’s shitty ass shoes and your son of a bitching college fund. His left eye twitches in manic spasms. All right, dad, Billy says. The whole side of his face looks ready to burst, his eyeball ready to pop out and roll across the table. It’s all right, dad, Billy says. I know it’s all right, his father says. You don’t have to tell me it’s all right. I’m the one who son of a bitching slaves away all shitting day in that worthless asshole shitbox. You don’t have to tell me. Billy nods. He’s too young for this, he thinks. Too young to have a melting father. Too young to glow green in the dark.

Elizabeth is late, and the ultrasound shows them their baby, as big as a fish. With flippers. The doctor doesn’t say anything. Quiet, like he has to tell somebody a loved one is dead. They’ll go away, Billy

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says to Elizabeth. They all look like that initially. Right, doctor? The doctor points at the screen and shakes his head. The baby glows green just like its daddy. Elizabeth cries. Billy holds her hand. Just tell us straight, doctor, he says. The doctor cries. His finger on the screen. It’s a fish, the doctor says. He traces the gills and the bottom of the baby where a tail protrudes. Elizabeth squeezes Billy’s hand as though she’s falling from the top of a building. Off the edge of a cliff. Dangling only by metacarpals. Gills? Billy says. Oh god, Elizabeth sobs, I see the tail. Where? Billy says. He squints at the screen. I see it! Elizabeth cries. Where? Where is it? The doctor’s shoulders shake. His hand trembles. He points at it. As long as the tip of his finger. There, he says. I see it! Elizabeth cries. She closes her eyes and turns her head away. The bones in Billy’s hand are crushed to chalk dust; he doesn’t feel a thing. Oh god, Billy says. I don’t want it, Elizabeth says. Are you sure you don’t? the doctor says. I’m sure, she says. And you? the doctor asks Billy. He already has gloves out. Already has a rod and a hook ready. Bait all ready to go. The baby shifts on the screen. On the screen, glowing green, flipping and flopping. The doctor hooks the worm. Billy? Elizabeth says. We need to do this now, Billy, the doctor says. Billy nods, but doesn’t watch. He holds on to Elizabeth like he’s the one falling now. From a mountain. Off a bridge.

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It’s all right, Elizabeth whispers into the sides of his head. She holds onto him as the doctor dangles the lure in between her legs. It’s all right, she says again. Billy feels the green bursting inside him, squeezing into the backs of his eyes and from the inside of his ribs, thrashing to get out. He feels the glow burn on the tips of his fingers and the ends of his hairs. Can feel his teeth from whitewash to Chernobyl green. Ghoulie green. Gangrene.

Billy works the night shift because his green glow allows management to cut out the lights at night. He walks so he won’t wallow. Elizabeth won’t answer his calls. Her mother threatens to call the police. The police know Billy, and are afraid to touch his skin, to handcuff him. Billy makes his rounds, sings so he doesn’t sob. Other night-watch men have mentioned hearing voices at night, sneezes and screams from down the hallways. It used to be a hospital for those too sick for reality and those not sick enough for a real hospital. Some physically defected from the contaminated water they drank and poisonous soil they played in as children. Those who ate vegetables grown in their own backyards and those who ate fish from the river. They were sent there when the tumours were too big to carry. It’s where his father will go when he finally melts into a hole in the ground; his voice will boom in the dark at Billy: Get your son of a bitching ass back to motherfucking work! His ghost will haunt in a puddle, oozing underneath the doorcracks and mail slots. Billy doesn’t have a flashlight. He has a belt of keys instead. One for every door in the building. There are, at least, a hundred doors. One key for each of them. Sometimes two. Billy doesn’t open them. Down the dark hall, he hears the ghosts flopping towards him. With tails rather than chains. With fins stretched out. You’ll know your father, Billy thinks, by his green glow. By how he goes in between the worlds of light and dark.

His father melts into his slippers. A puddle of skin pooled in the bottoms of his worn slippers. Does this mean you’re not going to work? Billy asks him. I can’t take the day off, his father says, his voice as quiet as though on the other end of a telephone. No goddamn son of a bitching vacation time for this sorry old bastard son of a bitch. His father sighs. Crap, he says. Is it time for me to feed you now? Billy says. He envisions breakfast in a blender, down a straw into his father’s deflated mouth and down his deflated throat, leaching into his deflated intestines. I don’t need nothing from you, pissant, his father says. I’ll melt

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right into my goddamn grave before I take a son of a bitching helping hand from you. The horoscopes are printed right next to the air and water quality reports. The air is better today because of a front blowing through. The water still needs boiling before using. Billy’s horoscope tells him not to expect anything extraordinary from loved ones. He hears two tiny voices: one tells him to turn down that son of a bitching green glow and the other tells him to run. He leaves the dishes where they are, leaves the newspaper scattered on the table, and leaves his father in a skin puddle rippling with each miniature expletive. His legs carry him down the street like wheels.

The light in Elizabeth seems extinguished. I’m sorry, she says. Her hands shake. Her bottom lip, too. Splotches of red in her pallid eyes. A ping in her palliation. It was nobody’s fault, Billy says. Rocky Mountain creases across her forehead. He takes her hand to infuse her with his green glow heat. It radiates into her palm and up her forearm. Her eyes widen, and it spreads into her chest and her clothes combust and fall off her in sparks. I’m sorry, she says, and the words fly out in flames, bursting brightly in the air like popping fireworks. I am, she says. I am, I am, I am, I am. Each one a flowering flare as though spit from a roman candle. We are, Billy says. Outside of town, they lie down in the middle of a field. They stare up at the other small suns scattered across the Big Sky Country night. That one, she says, and points at one that glitters. It looks tropical there, he says. Clear blue water, she says. She finds her way around him in the dark. He delights in the way his skin lights up hers. The way they see perfectly when they should be blind. The heat of her skin smolders new lines into his fingerprints. They burn a circle around them where they fall asleep in the grass.

Again: Elizabeth is late, and this time the doctor smiles and points out the carpometacarpus in the ultrasound. You know what this means, the doctor says. They don’t. Elizabeth squeezes Billy’s hand tight because ultrasound news pushes her from high heights. The doctor traces the outlines of a beak. The webbed feet.

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I don’t understand, Billy says. Not again, Elizabeth says. I don’t think I can take it again. She closes her eyes and cries. No, the doctor says. You’ll see for yourself. The doctor calls in a nurse. I’m not ready, Elizabeth says. I’m afraid that doesn’t matter, the doctor says. He snaps gloves onto his white hands. Do you wish to stay? he says to Billy. I’m not going anywhere, Billy says. He offers Elizabeth his other hand. She holds onto both of them as though the world might reveal a drain and wash her down it. I’m not ready, she says again. Billy wonders what haggard creature his defective genes will wreck into the world. He imagines the worst: a scaly dragon breathing fire into all the dark corners. Crushing the tops of houses with incredible talons. Scorching those trying to run. A pitiful and painful end to Libby at the fire and talons of his progeny. I’m not ready, she says again. I’m not ready, Billy says. A nurse enters with a syringe, a press, a mop. Her clothes swish and crinkle as she turns on machines and readies the room. Right here? she says to the doctor. There’s no time to move her, the doctor says. Don’t leave me, Elizabeth says. Never, Billy says. He can’t help the images flashing through his

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head, strobe-like ultrasounds glowing green. The nurse places Elizabeth’s feet in stirrups. Oh god, Elizabeth says. She closes her eyes and bites down on Billy’s arm. Billy doesn’t feel a thing. Here we go, the doctor says. The sound of an earthquake, of continents scraping together until one acquiesces, rips and rifts and tears. The screams and the song. Their son bursts out of his mother like canon fire, unfurls wings and flies, twice around the room then through the window. Wind rushes in as their son soars out, slow and powerful as airplane propellers. Ascends into an existence of its own that owes nothing to Billy. He watches out the window as his son fades into the horizon. The nurse dabs at Elizabeth’s head with the hot water press. Sticks the syringe in the fat part of her arm. I felt him love me inside, Elizabeth says. Billy watches from the window. Billy, Elizabeth says. He’s sure his son’s wings will help him accept the malaise and keep him above the film of scum on top of every water body. Will help him rise high enough to see for himself the only kingdom up there is an illusory one, a thinned vaporous one erected out of rarified air. He can’t blame me, Billy thinks, I’m the one who gave him wings. It’s true I gave him life, but the wings and the songs will save him from that. Billy has only his glow, and he glows as the sun sets. »

You’ve Lost Your Marbles TA R Y N H U B B A R D

When Miss Nepotism flashed that coy smile of hers at me I had the desire to reach into her mouth with my pliers and pull out each one of her immaculately straight teeth and let them drop at the toe of her perfectly pointed stiletto heel. Her dad would inevitably fire me but my wife would only be mad at me for a second because she says I can’t keep acting on my every whim. She’d get over it though. I think if the guys realize what’s going on they’ll stop their machines and the teeth would hit the shop floor and sound like glass marbles. Miss N would lick her lips and yelp daddy but it wouldn’t sound like anything except a garbage disposal. I wouldn’t have had to resort to this but when she

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smiles at me she smiles at everyone in the shop. Her smile makes my body scream things a father of four shouldn’t even know how to think. Last time someone looked at me like that I signed a mortgage and said I do. I‘m tired of seeing seductive smirks everywhere I look. They try to sell me toothpaste, they try to get me to sign up for credit cards, or take out leases on fancy hunks of metal. I think people should keep their teeth to themselves, thank you very much. Here she is walking past us again without knowing how close she was to being modest. “Hello, Kevin,” she says with a slight wave of her hand. »

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Grandpa MICHAEL SASI I L LU S T R AT I O N BY D AV E B A R N E S

My grandpa and I were eating chowder at the Go Fish on the docks, the only place to get the real fresh fishes, he told me. They brought in the calamari. I pointed, and said, “Cawimawy.” That’s how I said it, with an accent. He looked at me, I was four, a real fresh fish he told me I was, and I was. “There’s a million squid born every second,” he said. He stood on the table. “Some of them become giant squid and grow their own suction cups. suckas!” He sat down again. He dipped the leggy piece in the cream sauce. He dipped it well and he dipped it good. “Most of them get eaten,” he said with oily fingers, gob of tarter on his chin. “And in the end, all of them die, so you tell me what the fucking point is?” “Seagulls aw weirwd.” “Shut up and eat your share you little shrimp. You don’t know what I seen.”

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Nice werk if you can get it (sic) D A V I S S C H N E I D E R M A N & N I C K M A M ATA S

ASSIGNMENT 1: JUST ANOTHER DAY

The student just emailed me this, I told her that it is up to the writer whether or not he (you) includes this because it was sent to me (your handler) at the last minute. So if you can take a look at this, that is fine, if not I understand. Hi. There is a section of the Tai Chi report that is called BODY OF PAPER, where you Review and interpret current literature. Analyze and synthesize findings. ASSIGNMENT 2: THE COLOURS, THE COLOURS The paper is only three pages and can be on any artist at all. That’s right: any artist at all. You could pick that guy with the melting clocks or the sick-ass trains that come out of the fireplace or the tree or whatever or some of that older shit like fat chicks getting their hair curled by cherubs, or, those tiny Jesus guys who look like midgets. I’ll give you like $20 and pack a huge bowl of this primo kind bud I got that will make you see all sorts of colours and shapes so it’s like I’m writing part of the paper for you, I mean for me, by giving you this inspiration.

ASSIGNMENT 3: TELL ME ABOUT YOUR MOTHER. I need a 8 page SELF-ANALYSIS written report based on 1or 2 THEORIES of PSYCHOLOGY. If this is possible please give me a call back and I can email you the guidelines but here’s some stuff about me to get you tickled pink.

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I am 48 yrs. old, I was born in Gary Indiana. I have three sisters and two brothers. My mother was a single parent that struggled to take care of us. There was never enough food or clothes and our mother was abusive and an alcoholic. My mother died at the age of thirty three and I was only thirteen. My sibblings and I were split up. I went to live with my father who was in the military, life was different we had food and clothes but little love. I grew up not trusting and even though I married a good man who takes good care of me I always made a point of having my own and not depending on any body. I buy to much food and I over spend on clothes. My children are showered with love until they take advantage of me. And they always do. I never achieved self actualization. As a child I was dumb in school I couldn’t learn without proper nutrition learning is impossible and I only ate sugar smacks really which turn the milk into a sugary paste. I still have problems learning which is why I need your help so desperate for your help.

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ASSIGNMENT 4: MAKE IT UP GOOD, PLEASE This paper is only like 6 pages and I know that’s a stretch for the hour you spend on these things and no it’s not on high art like last time, but it’s even cooler now ‘cause it’s something you know jackshit about: labor and industrial relations. Like what the fuck is that you ask, my brother? Well, take a hit off this big-ass bong with the green flames down the side and let me edu-tain you for a smoky second. Shit, turn that Phish down. Ok, so, it’s about the way middle managers interface with the work force. Interface, you know! Like these fucks on the secondshift wipe their asses with one-ply toilet paper cause their corrugated roof shacks can’t support the double stuff…what with the barely flushable toilets and these guys are getting cranky at the plant where we make cheap electron guns or whatever and so you’re the manager and they don’t really trust you cause you went where we all go, the state university, where we basically take ‘shrooms and the history of rock and roll all day just waiting for a cushy middle-manager job back at the plant and so it’s our job— yeah, me and you—to get these oily fucks back on their shit cause it ain’t our fault that they all took Vocational Tech in high school and stood around the parking lot in jean jackets listening to bad hair metal look what the cat dragged in. You can’t really suggest strikebreakers and blackjacks or shanks and shivs and shit cause the prof just frowns like he’s got an itch in his underpants. Best to use the following words: “comparable worth,” “cafeteria-style benefits,” and “quality-of-work-life programs.”

ASSIGNMENT 5: PERSONAL STATEMENT: Can you help our boy get into USC. He needs a personal statement. He is actually a interested in pre-med, but is going to apply as Women’s Studies. we were told the chances of him getting into USC under less desirable subjects (as opposed to Business) was better. Jeremy is a very kind hearted young man—he once put a dog out of his misery after a bike accident by covering his face with soft foam—one who will make a difference in whatever he does. Barely can go unnoticed he because of his vivacious character, happiness, and joy in life. At Christmas he buries his nose in our bosom. He is very much in tune with his fortune and often helps the less fortunate. Also, USC is an environment most suited to his background and upbringing. As an only child, we believe he will perform better in a private school where he will have the opportunity to be at his best. Since our family places great emphasis on education, as evidenced by our outreach to your fine organization, Jeremy fully accepts that the only guarantee for a good and stable future can be only achieved through outstanding education.

ASSIGNMENT 6: GET CASH-MONEY: It’s a lifestyle piece where you hang out at the phat $1.2 million mansion on the north shore and check out the flotation devices in the heated—78 degrees—kidney-shaped pool and it’s like real sick: we got a volleyball net, stretched skeletal white under the full moon, heated also by some tidal transference so it’s still a big white ball but it’s like giving off it own heat or sure as hell feels like

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it on this early October evening. We got a water-basketball hoop hanging with a cold gleam over the entire tableaux. We got changing rooms and lockers in the basement and a gaggle of friendly chicks playing Rock Band—first “Mississippi Queen,” then some Bad Company shit—like they a hot little witches coven. The endless wooden deck is flush with a full bar and all sorts of big screen tvs hang like Klimt’s through the giant arched windows. We want you to write up 5-pager on this shit. Play up the white privilege angle only as much as you need to in order to throw down some “service learning,” “future leader,” “compassionate wealth management” crapola that’ll make it all go down Moses real tasty. Splash, motherfucker. Splash.

ASSIGNMENT 7: REWRITE BASED ON INSTRUCTOR COMMENTS: Client by way of Handler: Thank you ever so kindly for having the final re-drafted paper back out at me before Friday. I had high, high hopes to edit this paper, get any changes done and send the paper in before the end of the month. We are cutting this close, of course! Attached is the reviewed paper. I did some opening comments and some comments off to the side. Please have the writer review and make the necessary changes. As usual, if you have any trouble opening the document or reading the comments, please advise. Please have writer track the changes as well. Handler: I need this soon client is giving me a hard time Paper slave: I know that John the paper-writing service owner charges $30 a page and that I get $10. That means that the 25 pager alone got him the money. Plus, as you said, he is in Italy. He had plenty of money for that. Look, nothing is happening until the check comes and that’s final. I am already late with my first month’s rent and will have to pay 10% more now because of its lateness. I care as much about the client as John does about my rent which is to say not at all. There will be no more assignments accepted until I have cash in my hand. Handler: fuck you eat shit and drop dead that’s what you deserve you piece of shit of a writer now i can tell john he has 800 more to spend in italy Paper slave: You can’t even write an English sentence. Good luck doing this paper yourself. Handler: Fuck you! Your a Bastard! You no good piece of shit! You think who the fuck you are, you are nobody. Your a lazy ass fuck!

ASSIGNMENT 8: EXPOSE THE INDUSTRY: Ok, so this the big one, the one you’ve been waiting for, the one you’ve hoped would come in here one day like a fucking tsunami and wipe away all the crap the late bills the calls from credit card companies the bullshit with the identity theft scam gone all kinds of wrong when it turns out the kid had only like $50 bucks in her drunken ATM account and the cameras caught you using his card cause like everybody at two different parties saw you in that ridiculous Jar Jar Binks mask and you were like the only person on the entire campus to wear that stupid shit so its not like the cops had a hard time fingering you, meester, cause let’s face it—most

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Hair Dryer MARGUERITE PIGEON

Don’t be hyperdramatic. This is no hot gun to the head, not a quick oven’s steady gust turned hand-held for baking hair confections. Tonight it is a wind god, blowing into the present the beauty salon bubblegum sing-song of a bygone era, and I will not be alone, but surrounded by the spirit of women whose heads have also disappeared up into a static-y twister while we all cross our silky legs flip the pages of mags—synchronized. It is my tool, my ally. As I lay it to cool, its red-sprung heart dims, I throw my head back. The tip of each millionth strand could be a hissing snake’s tongue, or the scintillations of a lurid sun. from: Inventory (Anvil Press, 2009) | illustration: Derek von Essen

people think you’re a fucking douche bag so the question isn’t who ratted you out, but rather who didn’t? Anyway, this is a chance for you to stick it back in their craw—big time—like one of them disgusting pornos where the girl rams the strap-on into some guy in an erotic furry costume. Remember the one with the raccoon people? That shit was off the hiz-ook. Here’s the job: break this shit wide open like a Texas cooter. 12-15 pps., MLA style. Prompts: Explore the world of online paper-writing services, and the profile of students who use these services. Are these acts of desperation? Laziness? Biblical Sloth? What’s the view of these students toward issues of genius, authenticity, collaboration? As for the paper writers—what would lead self-respecting educated people to pimp themselves out for the anonymous drudgery of this bizness?

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ASSIGNMENT 9: LET ME REPHRASE: And now for the revision of your written assignment, since many of you seemed to have problems with the way it was phrased. Put simply, this is the question: “Is the nation-state in peril? What are the challenges it encounters? Will it survive, and if so, what will help it survive? And in what form will it survive?” I AM LOOKING FOR THOUGHTFUL DISCUSSION, AND THIS ASSIGNMENT FORCES YOU TO THINK ABOUT THE NATION-STATE IN LIGHT OF ALL WE HAVE READ IN THE SEMINAR. SO DON’T BE AFRAID TO TAKE RISKS IN VENTURING YOUR OWN OPINION. I AM ALSO EXPECTING YOU TO ROAM THE GLOBE AS I USUALLY DO!!!!!!!!!!!

ASSIGNMENT 10: ROAM THE GLOBE: We start out in Manchukuo, the puppet state run by the Japanese on the Asian mainland during WWII. After we drop

some serious tabs with Pu-Yi, the last crazy badass Qing Emperor, it’s off to North Africa—the hinterland of Morroco. The Master Musicians of Jajouka. Watch how we do this shit. We caravan in old jeeps through the blue Djebala foothills of the Rif mountains to watch the Boujeloud festival. The boy, sewn in goat skins, enters a trance as he moves with his wooden sticks to the ancient music. The throbbing beat keeps him at bay, and together we swirl in a wave of heat and light, dizzy from the smoky pyres blazing back to the beginning of time. We move, taking notes, to the Canadian tundra—vast and open with the permafrost burning like an icy sun below us and the howl of sharp winds reaching up through our insulated clothing to push against our belly buttons with the insistence of a long finger stretching across the centuries. Finally, we awake in our dorm room. Our throats are dry.

The long night has ended and there is evidence of our travels—broken pencils, empty bottles, plastic baggies, a papertowel tube stuffed with dryer sheets, a bed stripped of linens, black splotches on the floor—crisp with a caramelized nougat— an old cd scratching and clicking through the late morning air. We shuffle slowly up from the ground and reach for the coffee pot, still wet with yesterday’s grounds. 11:45. Still time before class. We check our email. Again, then again. Waiting for the paper to arrive.

Note : This is a collaborative short story. The authors produced it by sending work back and forth over email, based upon the authors’ experiences with plagiarism, cheating, composition for cash, etc. Excerpts include actual pleas from customers to an online paper–writing service. This story will be incorporated into a larger text called The Book of Methods, featuring a series of collaborations between Schneiderman and other writers, all powered by “machines” particular to the collaboration. »

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15 Diminishing Sentences for a Red Fox A L L I S O N B LY T H E I L L U S T R AT I O N BY A M A N D A C H U R C H

I stole this one for you: “The fox never found a better messenger than himself.” But here I am, watching you like a campfire, wanting to pin you down. Let me be your woman—your tail along my thigh, that exquisite nose. And let me be your little boy, I want to tame you. Yes, those gold eyes, gliding for prey, have gotten to me. Sundown, beyond the low stone fence, you glow a moment. Come here, I’ll comb the burs from your coat. I’ll make a dish of crayfish and rabbit. We’ll play foxes and hounds, you choose. You have stolen all my hunger. It’s nightfall, please don’t go. You are Vulpes vulpes. Warm egg thief. Hocus-pocus. Heat.

NB: The Diminshing Poem: a form in which each successive line contains one less word.

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Fear of Fighting S TA C E Y M AY FO WL E S I L L U S T R AT I O N BY M A R L E N A Z U B E R

Breakups always begin with a vague feeling of irritation. This little itch you feel the need to scratch with snarky comments and eye-rolling. I’m irritated you forgot to pick up cream for the coffee. I’m irritated that you broke my favourite mug. I’m irritated that you forgot to tell me we were having dinner with your parents on Sunday. You used to hold hands. You used to have sex four and a half times a week. You used to call each other for no reason. Now you’re irritated because he looked at you wrong. “What?” you say. Before you know it, you go out for Chinese food and he’s ordering jelly fish salad and preserved pork just to piss you off. He asks you if you want green beans even though he knows you don’t like green beans, and when you remind him he says, “What kind of fucking person doesn’t like green beans?”

“How is that even possible?” “What, I’m not allowed to change my mind?” “For fuck’s sake, Ben. Why don’t you just have yet another drink and shut up?” “Oh yes, another drink. Better to tolerate you with, my dear.” (Raises glass in a mock toast.) When the bill comes he no longer reaches for the cheque, which is particularly irritating given how much you both now drink at dinner in order to tolerate each other.

Conversation highlights include: “You look weird in that dress.” “You used to love this dress.” “I’m evolving. Now I hate it.”

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From: Fear of Fighting by Stacey May Fowles & Marlena Zuber (Invisible Publishing, 2008)

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FUTURE FEATURE FOLIOS INCLUDE: 53 4VNNFS 

SELF-IMAGE 54 'BMM8JOUFS 

VANCOUVER’S LITERARY GEOGRAPHY 55 4QSJOH 

SIGNS NPSF EFUBJMT BU PVS XFCTJUF

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RUNNER-UP 2008 LUSH TR I U M PHA NT LITE RARY AWARDS « F I C T I O N C AT E G O R Y »

Adelaide’s Initial Interest in Taxidermy E M I LY K E N D Y I L L U S T R AT I O N S BY PAT R I C K M C Q U A D E

The second eagle, the one he had been dreaming of for nearly two decades, graced Walter’s life like a bookend by falling from the sky and landing in his backyard, several feet away from where he was cutting wood. It was a Sunday morning, late in September. When he cautiously approached the bird, he saw the valentineshaped stain from a bullet in the chest, just below a thick and regally ruffled neck, which was slightly crooked and unmoving. “I’ll be damned,” said Walter, poking at the bird cautiously with a piece of wood to double-check that it was dead.

John couldn’t remember ordering but when the waitress raised her eyebrow at his hand cupping her elbow, and told him he’d already asked for his breakfast, he wasn’t really surprised. “Right, sorry,” he mumbled gruffly out of the corner of his mouth. “It’s okay,” she told him with a kind smile, “some mornings are rougher than others.” Her name tag read Krystal with a “K” and was spelled out in wonky, off-kilter black lettering. When she pulled her elbow from his grasp, in a gentle but firm manner, he eyed her hips in the reflection of the cafe window as she sashayed away. He rubbed his fingers together to trace the feel of her soft forearm. She would be his last tactile human connection. The next moment that he glanced up through the window, John saw a moose stumble up out of a gulley below the highway and trot out onto the highway. At the same time, a red station wagon, owned by the Fort St. Francis High School Guidance Counselor, Mrs. McMillan, zoomed into view. In the seconds before the crash, John had time to recall the myth about Mrs. McMillan’s jalopy,

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which was that it had received so many paint jobs the actual car had long since rusted out and simply been fused together by the adhesive from endless coats of fire engine red. As soon as he recognized the vehicle, in the moment before the collision, John remembered writing “suck it” in black spray paint on the roof, during a Grad ’84 initiation. The tiny car hit the moose at its torso, ripping the great lumbering body from its legs in a clean sweep, like matches yanked from a matchbook. Blood and flesh burst from the moose’s body like confetti as the torso of the animal dropped onto the car’s windshield. “Jesus H. Christ. Harry!” Krystal called over John’s shoulder, as she dropped the plate of bacon and eggs–extra crispy, sunny side up–onto the linoleum table in front of John. The yolks broke in the force of the landing and pooled unnoticed, next to his steaming hash browns. John half-stood, before sitting down again in front of his meal, unsure what to do and unable to take his eyes off the animal that lay twitching on Mrs. McMillan’s hood. Bleeding. God, the blood.Would he bleed like that? The hysterical guidance counselor was pried from her car by two burly men who’d ran from the café to help. It was a miracle her window had remained intact and not shattered under the force of the animal. The activity of the café drowned out the sound of John’s own blood rushing to his ears.

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Krystal clutched her menthol cigarette like it was an oxygen mask, shaking to stay warm. Despite a lifetime in a small northern town she was perpetually annoyed by the cold and watched impatiently for the headlights of her boyfriend’s pick-up. Memories of the park ranger shooting the legless moose made her gag and she spit onto the gravel at her feet, tossing the butt recklessly to the ground. “Get a move on, Chuck, you lazy bastard,” she grumbled, to no one. Krystal had long since lost the dreamy expectation that surrounded new love. She hadn’t cared much for her boyfriend for quite some time. Over the last three years, she had been saving money to move to Mexico. She’d never been to the country but had become obsessed with the place after watching Romeo and Juliet, the one with Leonardo DiCaprio. To her, Mexico City stood for passion and loosing oneself in life and so she’d saved every penny from the last thirty-six months for a one-way plane ticket to Utopia. So far, she’d managed to save $3,623.22 and when she hit $4,000 she was leaving Chuck behind. As her nest egg grew, so did Krystal’s desire to leave Fort St. Francis, before it was too late and she was trapped forever, pregnant with kids. She longed to feel the silky sand of the beaches, the heat of the sun and the warm salty ocean. To taste Corona in its original setting and not as she’d come to know it under the glow of flames from a burning pallet at the sand bar, surrounded by rednecks and their trucks.

Walter Whitaker was in his study busy at work on the second eagle. The first eagle he’d mounted atop a custom made platform, after finding it that fateful summer during a hunting trip. That had been the summer his wife passed and Walter was forced to find some sort of strength he did not know he possessed, just to make it through the day alone, with Adelaide. That bird had been a sign from God, a nod to his calling and a push he deeply needed to keep on working through the lonely pangs of grief. Bloated but whole and altogether perfect, he’d stepped around it several times in awe before working off the plastic beer can holder that was twisted up into a knot around its neck. “How the heck?” he’d thought, wondering at this useless and unreasonable end for such a formidable predator. Walter stuffed the plastic in his pocket and righted the bird’s head, as it lay in his hand, cold and wet but remarkably soft, like seal hide. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to resurrect the magnificent creature but his desire to try overwhelmed him and he carefully transported it into his arms and carried it, like a new bride, back to his old Ford. In his study he stared down with glazed, obsessive desire at the second eagle that splayed between his palms like another offering. Walter prepared the awakening with precise movements so at ease with habit over time it looked from far away as if he was simply conducting the lifeless body at his will. He relished the familiar sense of déjà vu while “Moonlight Sonata” trickled like an epic lullaby from the grimy stereo beside the Guppies’ tank. Sharpening his scalpel blade with confident strokes he gazed out through the blinds, which were turned upwards to afford him a minimal view of the backyard. A river gurgled below a low sloping bank beyond the barren yard, where the only surviving colour came from the wild Indian paint brushes that swept the bank. Before the initial incision, Walter glanced over his shoulder at Beatrice and her green eyes, which so mirrored Adelaide’s and sparked within him much

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needed warmth. Soon she would have her matching bodyguard. Walter turned back to the work in front of him. With a surgeon’s stroke he cut open the stomach of that beast–breathing through his mouth to avoid the stench. The quiet of his work was broken only by the bird’s insides slapping against the sides of the bucket at his feet, as he scooped and chucked. Scooped and chucked. He reveled in this emptying process, became nearly giddy at the end of it. “Adelaide!” he yelled, bucket full and no time now to waste. “Adelaide!” “Yes!” Walter’s daughter appeared over his shoulder, standing in the doorframe of his cluttered studio. At 36, Adelaide’s head hung down near her shoulders and swung like a pendulum, to and fro, above an invisible neck. She was round and clumsy in her retardation, clothes a monotone brown from turtleneck to pigeon-toed loafers. “Take the bucket to the river.” “I know!” she said, shaking her head. She wanted him to know she had a very good memory and banged the pail against the door to resonate that fact. Adelaide had been taking her father’s buckets to the river’s edge nearly every night since she was old enough to venture outside. She swung the slop with disregard, as she loped through the yard, while Walter untied the garbage bag of sawdust at his feet and reached in with both hands.

Krystal changed out of the Pine Place uniform shirt in Chuck’s truck after he’d screeched back onto the highway. “Honestly, how cool would you feel, Chuck, if the car, like, flipped over or something and we were crushed but I died and you lived?” “Holy shit, babe. Relax.” Krystal told him about the moose. When he barely grimaced, she went into greater detail, shivering at the recollection of the defeated animal. “It was disgusting! Just lying there, all mangled and quivering. It kept letting out these horrible moans. It sounded like despair, honestly Chuck, it sounded like it was crying.” “Um, Kris, animals don’t cry.” “I felt so sorry for it I wanted to run out and whack it over the head with a frying pan you know? Just smash it in the head until it died and put the poor thing out of its misery.” She applied lipstick in his rear view mirror, smudging it when her boyfriend switched into fifth. “But the park ranger showed up right away, I guess he was on the road anyway–Jesus, Chuck! You don’t have to drive so god damn fast.” “The sooner I get there the sooner I can start drinking,” he grumbled, gunning the truck up the hill past the town dump. “So right now you’re just wasting time,” she said, sarcastically, giving him a cold look. He smiled at her for the first time, as though proud of her for finally clueing in. “Exactly,” he said. She made a noise of disgust and reached out wearily for a drag of his cigarette. She didn’t think her boyfriend understood the serious difference between life and death. He didn’t care if he smashed them into a million pieces by accident. Krystal stared out the window, thinking about her escape. “You want to go catch a train?” Chuck asked, suddenly, glancing across at her and slowing down into fourth gear. It was as though he’d caught a drift of her thoughts and knew he had to back peddle to keep her in the bucket seat. The question was a

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sly one, knowing how much Krystal enjoyed standing on the narrow bridge outside of town, when a train went by. They could stand so close to the enormous speed of steel it would whip their hair as it passed. She’d giggle and cower next to him, hang off his protective arms like they were at the movies and he’d feel like he had her for keeps.

John had originally planned to jump in front of a train on the bridge just outside of town but since the moose incident, during his last breakfast, he could not stomach the possibility of surviving. He couldn’t stop envisioning his limbs getting ripped off to leave him bleeding on the tracks. So, driving around after breakfast he tried to assign himself a Plan B. John had been an accountant, fired five months previously for embezzlement. After the incident, he felt equal parts guilt for doing it in the first place, and frustration that he’d gotten caught. “If only…” passed through his mind like wishful thinking every night before he drifted into an anxious sleep. Since that unfortunate afternoon, in which he’d been confronted by his clients, towing the local newspaper reporter behind them, he’d forsaken every single thing he owned to pay it all back. Actually, he hadn’t even been able to drum up the entire sum plus residuals, and legal fees–so he’d applied for three credit cards; and once he’d received them in the mail subsequently withdrew the maximum amount of cash on each and paid everyone back, plus interest. He was so broke he hadn’t paid rent in three months and had been evicted. Afraid of having nowhere to go, he was currently refusing to move. On top of that, he was not allowed to leave town thanks to an upcoming court date; and his girlfriend, who was a local hairdresser, had stopped returning his calls and was now flirting around town with a plumber she’d known since grade school. Then, determined to buy groceries and quit ordering stale pizza from the one overpriced pizzeria in town, he accidentally ran over his own cat. His fucking cat. As far as John was concerned, there was no end to his misery. On the railway bridge, John stared through the mesh of metal under his feet and watched the river scrape its wet desires for his body into the granite edges of the bank. Frost clutched the edges of the darkness but unaware of the weather John popped another prescription pill into his mouth, tossing the empty bottle that had been full that morning, out into the river. He watched it drop and plunge into the whirling water below and it was clear to him that an empty bottle meant he was finally in control of his destiny. At the sound of approaching vehicles he gazed over his shoulder in the direction of the road and saw three cars pulling up beside the train tracks. The coma-like pace of his mental torpor made it difficult for him to remember what he was doing, and he clung to a metal beam trying to gather his thoughts. His eyelids felt like clamps and his body an anchor; unraveling chain link by link, he purposefully climbed higher.

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It didn’t take long for the thrill of the passing train to wear off and leave Krystal feeling frozen to the bone again. She was ready to leave but it took several minutes for her to pry the truck’s keys from Chuck, who’d managed to down a good quarter of whisky with his friend Bubba in the half hour they’d been standing at the train bridge. While the few sips she’d taken had warmed her, she was dog-tired from her work shift and standing was proving to be more difficult with each new star that became visible in the night sky. “I’m fine, don’t be annoying.” “Just let me drive!” He held them in the air, above her reach, laughing his ass off. While she struggled to grab them she saw the falling figure out of the corner of her eye. At first she thought it had been a bird, but the hollow splash that followed left little to the imagination. There was no such thing as bridge jumpers, this time of year. Krystal didn’t remember screaming, she just recalled a nearly suffocating sense of powerlessness against the prevalence of death that day. Soon after providing her witness report to the police, she boarded a plane South with one bag of clothes and nothing else.

Adelaide knew that when animal intestines floated in the river they took on the rhythm of the existing current and as she waded in the eddy at her feet she listened to the music, piecing together another song of mute euphony. The ice-cold water slithered in through the air vents of her footwear, the slick pale eagle’s insides dancing around her ankles as she watched with unabashed fascination, waiting for the moment the guts would slip out from under her into the vortex of the swirling river like the chaotic antithesis of her papa’s beloved Beethoven. Her orchestra was interrupted by the distant wail of a police siren. Adelaide covered her ears and whimpered when the bucket bobbed away from her. “The bucket, the bucket,” she called out, spellbound by fear. Her gaze met the frozen, wide-eyed stare of a man in a wilted grey suit, beneath the surface of the river. Without thinking, she reached out and grabbed hold of his shoulder, stopping him in his ghostly journey downstream. Soon, with a fair bit of grunting, Adelaide managed to pull him to shore where she stood staring down at the bloated face. His lips were blue, his eyes a glassy shade of dead. Adelaide wrung her hands and glanced towards the house, wondering how to make her father proud. After a minute of intense scrutiny of the situation, she gripped the body beneath his shoulders, fingers clamping into his armpits. With great effort, she dragged the body to the work-shed at the end of the yard, disappearing through the dark door. Inside, Walter carefully stitched the remaining slice of the eagle’s belly with invisible thread, knotting it quickly and cutting the needle free. He closed his eyes to the allegro molto of “Adelaide,” wondering what was taking his daughter so long. »

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Laud We the Gods D A M I A N TA R N O P O L S K Y

I am a man with a secret. It fires up under my ribs as I push my cart along. I am a man with a knife under his coat; I smile like a bachelor tripping down his latest conquest’s steps. If the boys of the neighbourhood (the rough shells, the scamps) do not trouble me now—frying bigger fish—it is because they do not know me; not as a man with a secret. Sometimes it snows and my wheels gum up; then the metal of my cart’s handle is colder to the touch than a nun forgotten in a snowdrift. I push my way along as best I can, my worldly possessions always in sight. My blue blanket and my bowl. Pushing this cart up and over small mountains of rubble, broken down wooden fencing that once upon a time were trees. The boy said he’d found something I had better see. The others have jowly, sulphurous skin; but my boy is dainty amongst the banana peels and bomb craters. A slim hard face, and he fingered his knife as he spoke; the grip was decorated with ivory pictures of fox skulls. And yet he is a boy; they used to fall over their Latin pronunciation, their -ibus and -imus. He led me onwards; I wondered if there were more boys, more boys watching us from the broken windows across the way, pointing rifles. When I was a priest, a million years ago, I was respected. The Gods are all in hiding now but I remember their faces. I remember the God with the drooping moustache, and the God of staying in bed. I am the one man in the world who knows them. Times have moved on, as our editorialists are fond of saying. I push my cart along and I keep the Gods with me: the sad-faced God and the God of building canoes. I stop to pick up pieces of postering; I pull chewing gum from my beard, when the mood strikes me. The boys in the neighbourhood throw boulders and pebbles and curse me, and I pray reverently to the God of knowing my own mind. First there was a bank. I wasn’t happy leaving my cart outside, and I left it and walked back to it and left it and walked back to it; but he locked it up with the chain he kept around his waist. If anyone wanted to take it they would have to carry it. Good enough, he said. The bank was a dusty wooden vault with green shades over tellers’ lamps. Every teller’s window was shattered but they had left the shades, I don’t know why. Smoke darkened the blinds long ago, it was terribly cold. I could imagine sportswriters working there; I

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mumbled something to the God of hair. I saw the body of a rat; are we supposed to hate baby rats also? I wondered where the bankers used to take their lunches, naturally. Not the proles with their brown bread sandwiches, but the executives, the captains of industry. They built a tower over the branch; but the boy said he wanted to show me something different. If you were my charge, I said, I would have kept you far hence; this is a treacherous place. His eyelashes were wet little ballerinas. I had a secret hope, of course. We all have our secret hopes, to keep us insane, just when we think we are starting to turn blue they pull us back into the magenta once more. He pointed to a gold ring in the floor. He asked me what I thought. I shrugged. He bent, all bones like an ortolan, and pulled on it: trapdoor. He got a board from a smouldering pile in the corner and rubbed a rag onto it to make it hot. He led me on. When I was a waiter I likely served their parents. Perhaps I suggested, while knowing my place, the wine that served as the aphrodisiac spark of their getting. I was a waiter in some fine establishments, you see, in some of the finest establishments, and just today when I stopped to pick up a good long rectangle of corrugated cardboard for bedding I thought of myself, in black bow tie, waltzing through the dining room with a bowl of walnut scented gnocchi, peerless. My clients, my clients would ask the maitre d’ for me, especially. They took the same table each Friday evening. The wallpaper was embossed cream. Now their children beat me with broomhandles. Though we believed in the same Gods. We were dying out then, we were all dying out; but I remember a whitefaced Duchess pulling me down towards her, gripping my forearm, for dear life, to whisper: Charles! And she would ask me: what do you know of the God with the butler? Such might be her concerns. The God they put on trial, have you heard anything? My clients, my clients knew that I had been a priest, hundreds of thousands of years before, and though it might seem socially awk-

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ward—or politically awkward, given the times—to ask, such was their devotion that they did ask. People with true manners can break the rules, from time to time, because they do so with grace. The boys live in tents in the vacant lots. They shit in rubble and eat cats. Memory is the gouger and memory is the salve. I sing to the God of foolishness as I walk, I joke with the God who murdered the old washerwoman. The boys wear bandanas and carry knives. They scream out scurrilous threats to my manhood, such as it is. I look for cans of food, and there are places where you will be given fetid soup. And there are people trying to be good, who wish to share, who will not send you away, at least until they tire of you. Sometimes I sit in my cart, when it is raining. I push myself under an awning and lick the washy rills off my cheeks, they taste of arse. Sometimes I collect enough bottles to trade in for a delicious hot dog. Bubbles of grease collecting into lines. As I walk I keep my eye on the building pediments and I see the Gods perched on the roofs like hawks. We were in one of the oldest temples. A place that was ancient before ancient things were conceived of. Murky air, the Egyptian smell, and sneaker and bootprints in the thick white dust. And we could feel the stone jut so slightly out where once there had been wood panels; my hopes welled again. How cold it was! Something moved against a wall to terrify me. My boy waved his torch at it. The God of eels. I was full of the past: I could see acolytes kneeling in a row, I could think our rites were performed here, and here, and here, a million years ago. Tears welling? I wanted to thank him: me, thank a boy, for bringing me to this place. The priest thanks the ephebe: all that is solid melts into air. He went away to the right; I regretted us making any noise at all, here, I breathed in our scent. His thin shoulders, the two of us in the crypt: Sandro and I in the wine cellars, the night I was fired. Then in the dark, in the burning shadows, he showed me a golden bird—and I lost my breath. We were silent. It is a great and powerful God, I murmured, unsure of myself, unsure of my judgment. Can it do anything, he asked me. His yellow and black smiling mouth. He said: I knew you’d tell us if it was worth anything. My position had become if not unsafe then at least unsavoury. There was a sense of the best of times having passed. The Gods had sanctified my clients; the Gods had layered the world into sponge and icing. What mulch would follow their departure? My clients were anxious. I leaned in closer. Whispering, quickly, so as not to be seen: The Gods cannot be harmed, I told the wealthy. Do you think the God of the twenty four hours is mortal? The God of cunning tribes persists, I told them. Full of hope they would watch me roll out the desserts. When I was a priest I caressed these heads. I trained them. I was a man in charge of boys. I took my work seriously because I knew that I was one of a long line, and I knew that these boys would one day become men, and would need a code and an order tucked inside them, a map gradually unfurling in the esophagus. I led them in rites and songs, their parents trusted me. Parents brought me their most prized possessions, their boys. They came to my temple and left them with me with a solitary instruction: Mould this wet lump into a man. One of the boys has curly hair. Another’s locks are lank and soft as an otter blanket. One of the boys has studs in his eyelid, this is something I do not condone. Mine is a soft one, he is less of a criminal. When the five of them chase me down the alley and kick

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my cart over and stamp my bedding into icy puddles and try to set fire to my cart and leave me bashed and bleeding I sometimes feel he is acting more half-heartedly than the rest, or at least thinking of hanging back. I focus on him, his gritted teeth. If you had come into the Doré I’d have brought you a strawberry nectar. Not from the menu; something special from André, especially for the young master. Say this to yourself as you count your teeth with your cut tongue and scream. On the journey home, after dropping him back at school, the mother would say to the father: what a good, kind man Charles is. We must remember him at Christmas. And the father, sitting behind the driver, nods. The same quick nod as his boy. Reading the editorial page. With half a sirloin for the young master. Half a steak for the God of half steaks. I tell him about the God of flight. I sit in the sun and sing and fart: the Gods pray to Me.

When the policemen last brought me in, they fed me gruel; my cellmates beat me with the plastic tray. So the policemen kept me apart. They had their orderlies wash me and so I saw my privates. They gave me a new pair of pyjamas. The inspector was a woman. I came about, I came to, they sat me in a chair. She told me that the problem was not that they could not find the perpetrators; what I was describing was not considered a crime at all. So she had no choice but to let me go. Three times until it came he wrenched at the bird and then lifted it off the wall. He brought it to the dusty table we’d pulled into the middle of the room. The boy stepped back, and so I began, knowing that I was full with the God from returning to my place in the temple. And if I did not remember the precise detail in its precise configuration, still I was in the place with the altar and the wafer and the helping hand. I moved my hands across the bird. I spoke to the winking God of Deathbed Renunciation. I broke off. I told the boy: we perform the rite to step into the God’s world, away from our own. We must needs be calm, if we are to succeed. It is best done at nightfall, I told him, but here we can forget both the sun and the moon. He spat on the floor. What’s a rite, he asked me. I began again; I moved my hands over the bird and said what words I could. Here was sweat on my forehead, sweat in this cold place. I thought I saw the bird spread its wings but it stayed where it was. The boy was playing: he rested his knife blade on the ripped fabric over his thigh, I could see the naked skin in the torchlight. I said to the boy: come closer, I need you, I need you to help me. Mice whistle at me in the night-time, they bite my scalp. But how can I send them away? They smirk at me from restaurant windows. It is hard to maintain the rituals. The boys have their own Gods now. But why must it be so hard to think, to recall? Especially if I am a cupbearer, as I think I am. What is lacking in me now is clarity of spirit. One must be able to think, if one is to pray. The Gods require attention, when things things things of the world bustle in. I mean crows perched on rotting telegraph poles, I mean an empty chariot, I mean that I can hardly recall the duties I owe to the God of guides or the God of form. Hail scatters down on glass, though there are no clouds. Do you remember I found this cart a block from a supermarket? It is mine. I wiped myself on your newspaper. Help me to persist. Know what I think, he asked me. I had my hands at my sides. How can I plant where there is no soil? You want to know what I

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think. I was watching the bird. He said: You’re a dirty filthy old man, aren’t you. You’re a dirty filthy horrible old man, that’s what I think. I was looking at the bird. You brought me down here to have your wicked way with me, didn’t you. Brought me down to your hole because you like to finger little boys, don’t you. You like to poke your finger in. I heard steps, I saw figures approaching, but I knew that the God of tight corners would protect me. I mumbled the words. I tried to tell them what a God is. I told them about the wind and the rain. They wanted drugs. They encircled me, smelling of warfare, twiddling their knives. I thought they might like the God of travelling across the country with only one shirt. Their faces perked up and they made jokes about rape and pushed at me. I started to falter: did the God carry his own spear or was it his dear friend’s? I was lost: walking through an abandoned house, your foot crashes through the floorboards. They could see it. This is a God, I said to them, with my hands far apart; but it used to be our God. I was thinking of the God of hermaphroditism. I said: Now it is my God. We have the treatment, my boy said. A God is made by rite and prayer, I said, Do you know what rite and prayer means? The Gods used to come to men at nightfall, I said, by the evening lamp, I said again. We have the treatment for dirty old men, he said. They used to whisper. Threatening murmurs, gobs of snot spitting at my feet. I waited for the God of steaming or the God of money to come and tell me. We have the treatment for dirty filthy old men. We do. Five of them now, faces sweaty, smirking, they were coming closer. We have the treatment. They set about me with brass on their hands. With the first blow I tottered; the pain in my jaw and my neck and shoulder, it made me think of the God who withstood everything. The first kick in my groin clenched me double. Going down I saw the bird, would they use it on me as a weapon, I thought; but they had weapons of their own. Dirty, filthy, they were chanting. I was lying on the floor, they kicked me on to my side and onto my back and onto my front, my organs protested, the vomit filled my bloody mouth. My eye disappeared into its own jelly. I made no effort to protect myself: the God of the soul clenched between your teeth. 

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The Banff Centre Bliss Carman Poetry Award* (1, 2 or 3 poems per entry, maximum 150 lines)

$

Judge: DON DOMANSKI

in cash prizes!

Short Fiction (one story per entry, maximum 10,000 words)

6,000 1st prize

$

1,250

Judge: PAUL QUARRINGTON

Creative Non-Fiction (one article per entry, maximum 5,000 words) Judge: CHARLES WILKINS * The Poetry first prize is donated in part by The Banff Centre, who will also award a jeweller-cast replica of poet Bliss Carman’s silver and turquoise ring to the first-prize winner.

2nd prize

$

500 3rd prize

$

250

FOR COMPLETE CONTEST RULES GO TO: www.pairiefire.ca

DEADLINE FOR ALL CONTEST ENTRIES: NOVEMBER 30, 2009

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Reviews Falsework by Gary Geddes Goose Lane Editions, 2007; 132 pp; $19.95 When I heard that this issue would focus on form, the first book that came to mind for review was Falsework by Gary Geddes. If there was ever a matter of form indelibly linked to the city of Vancouver, it was the collapse of what was then known as the Second Narrows Crossing. The word “falsework” refers to the “… temporary structures that take the weight of the advancing spans during construction and are removed when the two sections have been joined.” It might be thought of as the underpinning that gives the bridge-in-progress its structural integrity. As it turned out, in the case of this bridge, the falsework was faulty; on June 17, 1958 the partial bridge tumbled into Burrard Inlet, carrying eighteen men to their deaths and injuring many others. What Geddes has done with this book is create another kind of falsework, only this one is sound. He’s constructed a poetic fiction that retells the story of the bridge’s collapse and its aftermath. Having grown up in North Burnaby, Geddes knows the area and was familiar with some of the people. His own father had worked as a diver and may have been one of those who worked to recover bodies. This perspective serves Geddes well in presenting the builders’ stories. The book is clearly not a case of arm’s-length research. In Falsework, Geddes writes from many points of view—in the words of engineers and various workers, through the eyes of someone’s widow, or in the voice of someone whose son had gone down with the bridge. And then there are the other, sometimes surprising, birds’ eye visions. This from two men taking their lunch break high in the girders in a piece called “Grace Notes”: We had a net underneath a section of the south span/ to protect lines of traffic still using the old bridge. Below that, there was sheet metal. Around noon/ a blue convertible crossed the viewing area/ in slow motion and we

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saw bare legs, plaid skirt/ crotch-high panties draped over the gearshift lever. In amongst all the diverse visions he employs in his retelling are black and white images of the bridge and crews, both before and after the disaster. He cites (or else makes up, it’s hard to tell) an interview where he’s told, “‘It’s all falsework, temporary support, what you do as a writer, what I do as a lawyer. It will disappear as surely as we will.’” The mix of prose and narrative poems makes for an odd mix and makes the book seem more like a documentary than a collection of poems. But the assorted bits stirred together make a kind of recipe for a work that feels honest and important in a city where history seems too easily forgotten. —HEIDI GRECO

The Butcher of Penetang by Betsy Trumpener Caitlin Press, 2008; 152 pp; $17.95 In the spirit of this book, I will try to be brief. I will try not to waste a word nor evoke a clichéd image. Because in Betsy Trumpener’s debut collection of very short fiction, like the butcher in the title tale, not a bit of excess meat is left clinging to the story bones. The vast majority have the reader in and out of the tale in two pages or less. The economy of the storytelling means that the reader must work as well. Stories start in the middle of the action or drop off like songs that end suddenly, leaving us to fill in the blanks. What led to the situation the character finds herself (or sometimes himself ) in? Why is the narrator travelling to the Yukon in “The Way Muskox Bend to Gentle Herding”? What happens next? Were the children harmed by Indian warriors in “All the Child I Ever Had Sleeps Yonder”? Some stories require trying to understand the joke—as in “The Coffin Maker,” which leaves clues of sapdripping trees, nails, waits in line, and chases and escapes to make a sly riddle about drug addiction.

Normally, writers who make me work for it irritate me. But Trumpener’s writing is precise and concise, not deliberately vague for the sake of artiness. This is likely the result of her reporter’s training in digging out the pertinent details, which is hinted at in the autobiographical-sounding “Elk Canyon Bugler Seeks Junior Reporter.” (Trumpener is a reporter for CBC Radio in Prince George, BC.) In other words, she gives you what you need to know, and lets you decide what to think. She knows how to hook a reader, too, with opening lines such as “The bad kids in McBride lean out of their truck and shout, ‘Mount Robson’s on the rag!’ at the bloodred trees that skirt the park” (“Red Tide”) or “Once I looked out the streetcar window and saw a man flying through the air” (“Where It Hurts”). Each of the forty-odd pieces in this collection is like a small deep pool of story. It’s a book you can dip into randomly, briefly if you want to, and come up with a glimpse into a life. At first it was not clear how the collection, divided into four parts, was connected. The stories span time and place—from pioneer days to the present, from small towns to big cities, and from Northern BC to Mexico. As I read, themes emerged: sickness, addiction, violence, loneliness, and hidden wounds. The narrator of “Emergencies” seems to sum up the unifying principle of the book when she says of trauma: In a strange, small way, it gave me hope: all that we can suffer and still survive.” The Butcher of Penetang isn’t all doom and gloom, however. Moments of love and humour and humanity are very much present throughout: a government secretary taking time to help the exasperated narrator of “Pop Goes the Weasel” set weasel traps in her besieged house, or the furtive teenage sex in the snow in “Snowball.” Perhaps the brevity makes the stories more emotionally manageable, or maybe it’s that Trumpener’s special brand of northern, rural, no-nonsense point of view shines through—dark humour balancing the darkness. No, these stories aren’t always pretty, and certainly never prettified. But the characters she writes about seem genuine and real. I’m glad to have met them for a few moments at least. —CHRISTINE ROWLANDS

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That Tune Clutches My Heart by Paul Headrick Gaspereau Press, 2008; 152 pages; $24.95 Novels written in the form of diaries have an intriguing history that goes back four hundred years. Known for pushing the genre’s boundaries, diary novels are celebrated for their “realism.” Unlike journals, which are introspective and lyrical, a diary is where—before the age of microwriting your life on Facebook and Twitter—a writer writes daily updates on what happened. Dickens’ Great Expectations, Ellison’s Invisible Man, Bridget Jones’ Diary—a diarist relates personal news, accented with contextual description, history, and gossip, and it seems authentic because we’re not supposed to be reading it. Like sixteen-year-old May Sutherland, the narrator ofVancouver writer Paul Headrick’s first novel, That Tune Clutches My Heart, nominated for the EthelWilson Fiction Prize. The novel consists of May’s diary from September 1948 to May 1949, and in her entries we get more than you’d expect from a sixteen-year-old high school girl. Here’s her first entry: Dear Diary, It is the evening before my first day of Senior High. To mark the occasion Mother has given me this diary, to encourage me in the habit of observation and reflection and so develop my gift. The plot generated by her subsequent “gifted” writing involves the details of her year at Vancouver’s Magee Secondary (homework, parents, cliques, romance), but it centres on a rift that’s divided students into two camps: those who like Frank Sinatra, and those who like Bing Crosby. May’s two best friends have joined different groups, and this has left her isolated until she makes new friends with other “neutrals.” Her father, a University of British Columbia professor, gives her the Sinatra and Crosby versions of “Begin the Beguine” so she can compare and decide. And she does compare them, but decides that Bach is superior to both. The Sinatra-Crosby conflict is a fascinating plot device. I have no idea whether it happened in Vancouver, although Crosby’s September 1948 concert at the Forum sold out and he performed the groundbreaking at the Sunset Community Centre in East Vancouver the same year. So he and young

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Blue Eyes were probably as popular then as the Jonas Brothers and Kelly Clarkson are among teenagers today. One of the selling points in any local writing is that it’s familiar to local readers, who like it when places they know are immortalized in stories. May travels to the Carnegie Library at Main and Hastings, she and her boyfriend walk the seawall and skate at Britannia, she visits Mount Seymour, her mother shops in Richmond. These are endearing references, although there aren’t many of them, probably because sixteenyear-olds can be self-absorbed and oblivious to the outside world. The strength in this novel is that the author, a middle-aged male English professor, has doggedly inhabited the mind of an alien life form. I don’t remember what it’s like being a sixteen-year-old girl, but I commend Headrick for his tenacity in inventing May Sutherland. There’s one thing I can’t get past with this sweet novel. May’s writing is too stiff for a diary. Here’s an entry where she writes about asking her father who he likes better, Sinatra or Crosby. “He put down his knife and fork, looked up, and addressed the ceiling. ‘My darling daughter May wants to know whom I like better, Crosby or Sinatra, a question of aesthetics.’ Then mother interceded. ‘Really, May, where did that come from? What a peculiar thing to ask.’ ‘It’s the burning question among those who know what’s worth knowing at Magee,’ said I. ‘Don’t be supercilious, Dear,’ said Mother, and I never got an answer, though I learned a new word later when I looked up ‘aesthetics’ in my Oxford, Daddy having supplied the spelling.” I can live with the nagging “Daddy,” even the “said I,” but I don’t get why a teenager would write like this, least of all in a private diary. The family’s erudite dinner-table conversation is an irritant, but maybe that’s because in my East Vancouver home we butchered the language. “Supercilious”? Ok, but does any mother talk to her kid like this? What’s so “peculiar” about May’s question? And would a sixteen-year-old bother diarying that she learned a word with “Daddy’s” help? Maybe. But as a diary Headrick’s novel isn’t as convincing as it could be. May’s entries are insanely polished sentences without even a trace of colloquial teenspeak, not even grammatical mistakes (except when she ends sentences with

prepositions, which she always corrects!). At times she sounds less a teenage girl than, well, a middle-aged English professor. Like in this entry, where she’s explaining that in Sinatra’s version of “Beguine,” “The kind of thrills he speaks of is clear. It’s about sex.” Interesting insight, and I’d like to read more, but then right away May goes on about wanting to “test my theory on Daddy, but he is tired and so busy that I am reluctant to do so.” What kind of sixteen-year-old thinks more about interpreting lyrics than sex? I admire Headrick for writing the diary of an anally retentive high school grammar princess. But his May makes me think of Tallulah Bankhead’s quip: “It’s the good girls who keep diaries; the bad girls never have time.” —RAMONA BEA GRANDBOIS

Accelerated Paces: Travels Across Borders and Other Imaginary Boundaries by Jim Oaten Anvil Press, 2008; 168 pp; $18 The “jet set” was an elite just a generation or two ago. Now its membership numbers in the billions. Cheap air travel means unprecedented global mobility, and is perhaps the most important historical development of our era. Passenger jets and porous borders have, certainly, shaped the life of the fifty-ish Vancouver essayist Jim Oaten. In his slim debut paperback, the well-built nonfiction hodgepodge Accelerated Paces, Oaten recollects a very modern autobiography, one of endless departure and non-stop arrival. He does so with a satisfying unity of style, across a surprising range of non-fiction modes. Some of the fourteen pieces collected here are anecdotes. Others are straight-up essays. Some of Paces is confessional or memoiristic in nature, like the poignant opener, “Stardust.” Then, too, much of Oaten’s writing qualifies, simply, as journalism. (Stylish journalism—much of Paces first appeared in this magazine’s very pages, after all.) Given the diffuse nature of his material, Oaten’s promiscuity of method in approaching it seems, initially, an odd strategy. In lesser hands, it might make for a disjointed book, a choppy read. But the writer’s dry, conscientious authorial voice

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helps us connect, for example, a mutilated Beirut suburb with a Lower Mainland puzzle factory. Oaten sews his disparate fabrics together well. It doesn’t hurt that all these pieces are readable on their own, and a couple are terrific. The core of the book is Oaten’s recounting of his many journeys through New York, Africa, the Middle East and beyond. He has collected wacky and/or unnerving incidents, as travellers do, and travel writers must. The writing in these sections is insightful on occasion—Oaten locates a fatalism at the core of Islamic culture, for example, which perhaps inures drivers in cities like Mombasa to the gory and inevitable consequences of driving like a maniac. Accelerated Paces is also seriously funny when it needs to be. In “We Will Be Landing,” a typically hybrid section—half meditation on airborne culture, half comic story about a drunken Scots flight mate— Oaten writes of landing in the Third World “with a roiling stomach and a desperate head” only to be told at Customs, “You must pee first”: “Umm... but I went on the plane... a bunch of times.” “What?” “On the plane. I peed. Lots of times.” “No, pee here, not on plane. Pee first to get stamp.” “Oh, pay! Pay for the visa stamp! Ha! Do I pay you?” “No. Pee other line.” In this book, even the stories set in Canada can seem like helter-skelter journeys into the exotic unknown. The booze-fuelled Marxian antics of “A Day at the Races,” a recollection of roaring chaos set in and around a downtown Molson Indy event, are made funnier and more depressing by the author’s slangy, I’mgame-for-this tone, for example. The narrator—raconteur, really—has been tagging along with his coke-fiend auto-sport pal out of curiosity mostly. When he ends his tale with “Well, fuck did we laugh,” it reads like the statement of a sardonic anthropologist. The prototypical modern jet setter, (perhaps?), who has departed his or her home zone, and arrived in a foreign experience, who cannot, afterwards, find ease There, or Here, or anywhere. — LY L E N E F F

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The Last Time I Saw You by Rebecca Brown City Lights, 2006; 136 pp; $15.50 What Keeps Me Here by Rebecca Brown Harper Collins, 1996; 136 pp Annie Oakley’s Girl by Rebecca Brown City Lights, 1993; 160 pp; $12.00 The Terrible Girls by Rebecca Brown City Lights, 1992; 136 pp; $14.50 In these four collections of short fiction, Seattle writer Rebecca Brown (also the author of several novels and books of nonfiction) has created stories that refuse to work within the conventional structures of character development and plot, instead using the powerful pull of ambiguous, broken voices and a focus on finely-honed phrases normally practised by poets. The unusual shapes of her short stories— many of which read as dark interior monologues—combined with the halting, compulsive habits of her syntax have caused comparisons to Gertrude Stein and Samuel Beckett, whom she has identified in interviews as her predecessors. Brown, however, has made her own small legacy by making her intricate, idiosyncratic style serve the lives of her contemporary lesbian characters. Some of her most powerful stories revolve around the loss of friends to AIDS during the 1980s and 1990s, but most speak out of the lives of unnamed women falling in love or pulling away from each other, exchanging words as vital to them as body parts. In “Forgiveness” from The Terrible Girls, the exchange of body parts is made literal. A woman cuts off her right arm for her lover, saying, “I believed you wouldn’t have asked me for it unless you really wanted it, and needed it.” The lover bronzes and mounts the arm above their fireplace. The onearmed woman first adjusts, then achieves pride in nonchalance about her visible loss, then is drawn into the irreversibility of her sacrifice for a person who no longer loves her, a spiral of disillusionment: I couldn’t tell you that it wasn’t just the fact that you had ripped it out of me and taken it and mounted it, then left with it then lost it, how it wasn’t only that, but it was

more. … I believed you and I told you yes. In Annie Oakley’s Girl, the narrator of “Love Poem” helps her former lover destroy her high-profile art exhibit at the Tate Gallery “for old times’ sake” overnight. The narrator wields whips and a chainsaw, while the artist destroys her work with only her hands and a flashlight. The rampage reads like the violent flipside of a lovemaking; the story balances on the unexplained fact of their past relationship. The morning after, the narrator reads about the vandalism in the newspaper and her heartbreak over the loss of their intimacy is subtly filled in: I thought how I was the only person in the world who knew the real story. I knew that you knew it too, but I also knew that you would never think about it, that you would forget it. I will not forget it. I will tell it to myself again and again and again. The story ends on the note that relationships that happen in the dark, the outside world’s news read in daylight, do the most damage. Annie Oakley’s Girl also contains a rare realist story from Brown, “A Good Man,” a note-perfect account of a lesbian’s wry, loving friendship with a man dying of AIDS. The story’s poignancy is in the woman’s struggle to balance the onset of deep grief with her need to persevere as his only like-minded caretaker, becoming a surrogate partner in his last days. The Last Time I Saw You and What Keeps Me Here are collections of shorter, lyrical, more cryptic stories. The Last Time I Saw You is made up entirely of monologues. In “A Ventriloquist,” a woman is followed by a ventriloquist no one else can see—an irretrievable former lover, an ideal double, a former self, or “maybe she is the voice of God, of Him on high, of Her inside, of Everything I long for. Want. Maybe the terrible way she is is it.” In the title story, “The Last Time I Saw You,” a woman recounts versions of the final meeting with her former lover, each version conveying a different tone of guilt, grief, nostalgia and love. The final time, she says, “maybe I finally stopped pretending.” Brown’s typical black humour is stripped away for the last confession about their last meeting: Maybe I cannot bear for you to know what you know about me. I cannot bear to know that you loved me once and look what I did to you. The ending is both regretful and purging, a rock-bottom apology that hits with sur-

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prising directness after pages of circular, evasive anecdote. “The Aqua Series” from What Keeps Me Here could be read as a veiled artistic manifesto. After agonizing and over-analysing her work, an artist strips all of her paintings, and then clears her studio of her worktables, shelves, knives, cans of peeledoff paint, “everything that could be hiding something.” At the end of the story, “she sat on the floor and looked around. She felt like she was finished. There was nothing left to take away.” In her short fiction (which continues to be published regularly in journals and magazines) Brown strips the form down to her own bare essentials—language, clarity, and pain—and repurposes them to create stories that are singular in contemporary queer fiction. In her lyrical precision she is close to Jim Grimsley (Dream Boy, Winter Birds), and in her fearlessness toward dark material combined with experimentalism she is close to Thomas Glave (Whose Song and Other Stories). But the broken, often aphoristic voices of her monologues are entirely alone. —ALEX LESLIE

The Globalisation of Addiction: A Study in Poverty of the Spirit by Bruce K. Alexander Oxford University Press, 2008; 396 pp; $70 I think the seesaw title of this remarkable book would be truer to its intentions if the phrases were reversed around the colon— it is a reasoned, erudite study of the severe dislocation of globalized humanity, our incommon and personal experiences with exclusion, aimlessness, despair, boredom, anguish, and emotional bewilderment— the profound “poverty of the spirit” that prods people to addictions. Human beings are not self-sufficient according to Bruce K. Alexander, and… Psychosocial integration is a necessity. Psychosocial integration is a profound interdependence between individuals and society that normally grows and develops throughout each person’s lifespan. Psychosocial integration reconciles people’s vital needs for social belonging with their equally vital needs for individual autonomy and achievement. Psychosocial integration is as much an inward experience of identity and meaning as a set of outward social

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relationships. … Psychosocial integration makes human life bearable and even joyful at its peaks. But the communities that are the soil for the gardens of psychosocial integration are declining as rapidly as globalization advances and Alexander observes… At the logical limit. In a complete free market society everybody would be severely dislocated. Addiction would be close to a universal life experience. This book is an important addition to that perennially blossoming literary genre of the Vancouver ethnographic narrative. Bruce Alexander writes about the globalization of addiction, but uses Vancouver as a prototype and case study as our civic dislocation is extreme, and has been since Vancouver’s late nineteenth century beginnings as the Terminal City of the transcontinental railway, the end of the line for the transient labour pool of immigrants that had already crossed all of North America without finding a place for themselves in the New World. Vancouver and British Columbia have always been Canada’s most drug and alcohol addicted city and province, because they contain the most dislocated people. The appearance on the scene of this Vancouver-centred study of global addiction is timely as that wobbly four-pillar harmreduction plan called The Vancouver Agreement is nearing the end of its ten-year terms of reference and the Harper government is unlikely to recommit. In fact they are actively appealing the BC Supreme Court ruling of last spring, which stated the federal government does not have the authority to close “Insite,” Vancouver and Canada’s only legal safe injection site. Recently retired, SFU Professor of Psychology, Bruce K. Alexander, is previously most famous for being the creator of the “Rat Park” experiments in the 1970s, which hypothesized that drugs do not cause morphine addiction in laboratory rats; living conditions do. His new book is apparently his Opus Magnus, the culminated wisdom trove of a thoughtful man’s well-rendered observations about addiction in his community. Alexander’s illuminating ideas are vast and various, but his language is always simple, and his examples sometimes profound and very personal, which is quite unusual considering this book is meant to be a psycho-sociological textbook about addiction.

Alexander inserts fascinating personal side trips, like telling us he personally has used hard drugs on at least three occasions, and while carefully describing the effects of once taking the hillbilly heroin called Oxycontin he says: I have not tried opioids since that experience several years ago, although I probably will if there is a good opportunity to try a new one in a suitable environment … Bruce K. Alexander is an intrepid and evercurious social researcher. Consequently, he navigates through the most unexpected scenery, such as with some sublime little biographies of the addictive complexes of historical notables like Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder,William “BillW.” GriffethWilson, and Peter Pan author, James M. Barrie, and with scholarly discussions that range from Augustine to Kropotkin to Polanyi, Aboriginal Peoples to Orkneymen, Adolph Eichmann, America’sWar on Drugs, the Tobin Tax, addiction mythologies, and all the treatment ideologies from the 12Steps toVipassana meditation. But always, Alexander’s detours drain finally into his main veins: dislocation and addiction. The best parts of this fascinating book are in the frequent sweet and vital little essays about local (Vancouver) things, like the Community-wide healing effects of art therapy such as occurs within Vancouver’s annual Moving Theatre projects, or in Alexander’s understanding of the profound psychosocial sense of belonging felt by members of the close knit heroin addicts of the Downtown Eastside who he has worked with for decades. Alexander cites recent research that suggests that addictions that do not involve drugs have the same underlying neurochemistry as drug addictions and he defines addiction as any overwhelming involvement with anything. Gambling, love, power-seeking, religious or political zeal, work, food, video game playing, Internet surfing, pornography viewing, and so forth can take up every aspect of a severely addicted person’s life—conscious, unconscious, intellectual, emotional, behavioural, social, and spiritual—just as severe drug and alcohol addiction can. Such overwhelming involvements often entail a startling blindness to the harm that the addiction is doing, which is aptly called ‘denial’. Many instances of addiction do not involve a single habit, but rather an ‘addictive com-

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plex’ of several habits that constitute a single addictive lifestyle. Alexander thoroughly relates the many ways that sustained dislocation provokes desperate self-destructive responses from humans, and how addictions are natural ways for adapting to deep personal loneliness. Alexander also observes that most people don’t seem to be visibly addicted. He suggests seven common ways people cope with their sustained dislocation “less than brilliantly”: 1. “Resolute Conventionality,” about which Alexander observes, “They survive the tumult of modernity by sheer grit and by keeping their priorities straight.” 2. “Resolute Unconventionality,” meaning those who numb themselves with mild antidepressants or marijuana and “get through by dint of determination, intelligence, and some astute compromising.” 3. “Participating in a Concocted Community,” as occurs in suburbs, of which Alexander says, “Neighbours have little in common except the size of their mortgages…” 4. “Political Activism,” where there is always noise and company and welcoming people just as frustrated as you are. 5. “The Tragically Cool,” as in the high technology lifestyles of the current crop of extremely individualistic and dislocated young adults who absolutely accept that nothing is ever going to be permanent in their lives and cope with their extreme loneliness by trying to float above all close meaningful human attachments with high tech communicators, and achieve something like a collective hyper-state of identity flux and diffusion. 6. “The Spiritually Sufficient,”meaning those who attempt to deal with the inevitable suffering that is the cost of love and attachments through prayer and mediation. 7. “The Ex-Addict,” which is full-strength involvement with addiction awareness. Addictions or “getting by” in any combination of these seven ways are the only personal choices Alexander sees for a globalized dislocated humanity and Professor Alexander thinks our only hope is with personal social action and the increase of local opportunities for psychosocial integration for everyone. It is, as the old proverb goes, that people help themselves best by helping others. —BART CAMPBELL

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The Possession by Annie Ernaux Seven Stories Press, 2008; 61 pp; $15.50 There aren’t many situations in life outside of romance and sex where you can be, metaphorically, possessed by a thought or idea. Of all our “normal” abnormalities— obsessions, fixations or fetishes, compulsive disorders and neuroses, perhaps demonic possession—none is as overpowering as jealousy, that fiction of the mind that can completely own us. Annie Ernaux’s The Possession is an exploration of what it is to be possessed by—and to possess—jealousy. Like the intense concentration on one thing in a painted “study”, Ernaux’s novella is a vigorous sketch of this widespread but absurd state of mind. Here’s the backstory. The middle-aged female narrator, who remains nameless, has recently ended a six-year relationship with her younger boyfriend, identified only as “W”. The reason? She was suffering from “boredom” and an “inability to give up my freedom,” which she had “reclaimed” after a long marriage to another man whom we learn nothing about. What we do know is that W. has hooked up with another woman, who is also unnamed although her imaginary presence in the narrator’s life is the only reason this narrative exists. And this is where The Possession begins. The book revolves around this new woman. The narrator tells us the anonymous woman “filled my head, my chest, and my gut”—which is an ordinary symptom of romantic jealousy—even as she—and here’s the thing that makes the book worth reading—“gave my life a new intensity … released a kind of energy, powers of imagination I didn’t know I had.” Counter-intuitive statements like this will sedate fragile readers who think the subject of jealousy must go hand-in-hand with Dr. Phil plot structures or be built on gushy character studies. But Ernaux is more interested—thankfully—in ideas than in conventional story, and reading her book requires letting your brain dwell on an intriguing idea: we all think jealousy is a bad mental state, and anybody who’s spent an evening thinking about how much fun a former lover is having with someone else knows that it can be unbearable; yet, we understand that jealousy is

weirdly creative because it can give our otherwise banal lives the meaningful theatricality of a work of art. Throughout The Possession Ernaux’s narrator explains how she tried to figure out the identity of W’s new woman—where she lives, how her voice sounds, what she looks like. The fact that she learns nothing isn’t as important as the observations she makes about herself along the way—like how she comes to see her obsession as a “luxury” that had been “lost from view since adolescence,” how she says it “kept my daily troubles and cares at bay”, “it placed me outside the grip of life’s usual mediocrity.” These candid insights that mark the development and resolution of the narrator’s jealousy are punctuated with some lovely obscenities. On the first page, for example, she moves with breathtaking simplicity from a speculation on how “truth comes only by way of death”, to a more gossipy memory of how “[t]he first thing I did after waking up was grab his cock—stiff with sleep—and hold still, as if hanging onto a branch”—the first of a few references to W’s penis, which becomes sort of a mental touchstone for her. Later, by the time she has almost put a stop to her possession through her writing, she realises, while having some big intellectual thought about “the Other”, “that ass—in this case the ass of the other woman—was the most important thing in the world.” How right she is. There’s no shortage of literature on jealousy. Where would culture—from Greek myth and Genesis to Shakespeare, Proust, Evelyn Lau and Gossip Girl—be without it? But Ernaux’s book is worthwhile, for a few reasons. The first is that “writing” itself is the theme here: in jealousy the “functions of exchange and communication that are generally ascribed to language” recede, a jealous obsession is a “rhetorical fever”, and writing about it is a way to “save that which is no longer my reality … but has become ‘the possession’, a period of time, circumscribed and completed.” The second is that we can never be sure if this is a novella or really good creative nonfiction, which is a nice change from the ridiculous separation of these genres we make compulsory. This is a smart book aimed at people who know it’s good to think about the big mental artifacts in their lives—sex, romance, jealousy— rather than to only live life as a facile set of stimulus-response moments. —PETER BABIAK

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Not to be missed Half Girl by Stephanie Dickinson Spuyten Duyvil, 2008; 337 pp.; $18.95 Chasing after the hint of romance and perhaps a new life with the apparently sophisticated Easton, Angelique, the central character of Stephanie Dickinson’s startling debut novel Half Girl, leaves her sad life behind on the frozen planes of Iowa and pursues the semblance of happiness in North Carolina. But the life she leaves behind—the darkly cloistered and permanently cold home of her mother Lydia and her step father and pragmatic hog farmer Maynard—a life underwritten by neglect, vaguely implied abuse, and loss, is largely reencountered in the world she goes out to embrace. The first three chapters of Half Girl are a tale of final decisions and escape—of tearing down the frozen highways of a forsaken land, of hitching rides from those difficult to trust, evoking Bruce Springsteen’s bleak and haunting Nebraska. Her escape from Maynard and Lydia, with Maynard’s money taped to her beautiful body, is brilliantly rendered in striking detail by Dickinson: “A lone headlight materialized and wandered across the road from ditch to ditch. The muffler backfired. Maynard’s pickup. I crawled between the reeds. I flattened myself. He’d come looking for what was his … I heard the fields on either side: rodents and rabbits scuffling in the brush, a dog barking. The sounds were moving farther away, fading, the pickup’s radio blasted Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Freebird.’” It seems appropriate that Dickinson would use that most tragic and masculine band of the seventies as the soundtrack for Angelique’s escape, for although Half Girl is Angelique’s story, it is in her relationships with men, many of them misogynistic strangers, that the novel unfolds. Included with these abusive men is the diabolical Charlie, Easton’s friend, whose

notable power over Angelique stems from a latent psychopathy as much as a sense of male privilege. A recurring set of imagery—specifically that of moveable property and animals—posits Angelique as Chattel. Like Maynard’s Three FeathersWhiskey, money, and hogs, Angelique must negotiate a world conceptualized along the lines of male ownership and manipulation. Speaking of Maynard’s money as she tapes it to her body, literally becoming Maynards property, Angelique observes, “Now I understood why Maynard thought he had to have all of it, and Mom nothing. Money freed you.” In the aftermath of a violent exchange with Charlie, Angelique describes herself as “a dog dragging myself along, suffocating.” The positioning of women with animals or nature is a common literary and cultural motif, but the fact that the natural world is almost always regarded as property in Half Girl leaves Angelique very little room to define herself. There is no emergent wild woman, freeing herself through the discovery of an essential nature-bound identity, to be found here. Even though she escapes Maynard and Lydia early in the novel, the farm-girl from the planes of Iowa never really leaves, always haunted by Dickinson’s gothic portrayal of Maynard’s hog-farm. The dark rendering of Maynard’s farm, its cold logic of order and death, its positioning of man over nature, of man over woman, is the waking nightmare that haunts Angelique throughout Half Girl. She never seems to play the sexuality card—the one card given her by a male-dominated society—seeking rather genuine love with Easton no matter how unreliable or vaguely stupid he appears. There is a certain moral highground that Angelique occupies, but more than being representative of the minimal goodness to be found in Half Girl, Angelique’s dreamlike observations and experiences of the world show it to be still mired in unconscionably unjust conditions that permit the brutal treatment of at least half its occupants. — PAT M A C K E N Z I E

Reviews issue 52

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HUNKAMOOGA MUSINGS ON THE LITERARY LIFE by Stuart Ross How Jew you do?

When I travel to smaller towns—like New Denver or Invermere in the Kootenays; Lethbridge, Alberta; Wolfville, Nova Scotia; Cobourg, Ontario—to do readings or lead workshops, I am aware there aren’t a lot of Jews around. Maybe I’m the only one. Maybe people in these places have never seen a Jew. Maybe they don’t even realize I’m a Jew when they look at me. Does being a Jew in a place without Jews make me exotic or Other? In fact, I don’t even know what the Jewish population of any of these places is, so maybe I’m just full of shit and making stupid assumptions. Now, I’m practically entirely unreligious, though I identify strongly as a Jew, and I live with the awareness that most of my grandparents’ brothers and sisters died at the hands of the Nazis. It’s tough not to imagine what might have happened if Max and Sarah Razovsky and Sam and Nina Blatt hadn’t come to Canada before the 1930s. I likely wouldn’t exist. Perhaps my parents would have existed, and likely they would have found themselves in concentration camps. I read Cynthia Ozick’s short story “The Shawl” over and over, because it is a nearly perfect piece of writing and because it so effectively and brilliantly evokes the most horrific chapter in Jewish history. So there I am in a bar in Cobourg— which, despite its name, is not a partner in the law firm Goldberg, Rosenberg & Fischbaum—or in Lethbridge, the Sudbury of Alberta, and I’m standing in front of an audience of strangers, faced with two conflicting impulses: read stuff with Jewish content or don’t read stuff with Jewish content. Although in the past decade, perhaps since the death of my mother, Shirley, in 1995 (followed too soon by my brother Owen and my dad, Sydney), Jewish stuff has begun to permeate some of my writing, it’s not a real big part of my work over the past thirty years. My childhood buddy and still-buddy Mark Laba, on the other hand—he’s like the Henny Youngman of contemporary Canadian poetry: his work

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is equal parts Yiddish vaudeville and surrealist/Dadaist. Even his Thursday restaurant column in the Vancouver Province sounds like something you’d hear at a Catskills resort in 1964. Me, I’m no Stanley Elkin, no Bruce Jay Friedman. For sure no Philip Roth. Still, I’m frustrated that I don’t get invited to read at the Toronto Jewish Book Fair and that my books are always ignored by the Canadian Jewish News. Well, okay, Hal Niedzviecki once booked me for the Ashkenaz Festival of Yiddish Culture in Toronto. And the Vancouver Jewish Community Centre brought me to read for a Hebrew day school last year. (When I read at Books & Bagels at the Toronto JCC once, they’d double-booked the room with a talk on Jewish Burial Practices, and by the puzzled look on audience faces, I think they’re corrective signage wasn’t too effective.) And a few years back, I got to read at the Jewish Book Fair in Vancouver, along with my buddy Elyse Friedman and Hal. Chaim Potok kicked off that festival, which I think was his last public appearance. He was ancient and rambling, but passionate and defiant as he was interviewed onstage, giving some very surreal answers to which the mostly older, upscale audience nodded knowingly, maybe figuring that Potok was just being real deep. Potok was there to launch his book, a collection of short stories with a brilliantly evocative title: Old Men at Midnight. When I was a kid, I read some of his classic earlier novels: The Chosen and My Name Is Asher Lev among them. I loved those books about conflicted pimply Jewish youths. They didn’t get to touch forbidden girls’ nipples down in the basement like the kids in Harold Robbins’ novels. Oh, right, so there I am in no-Jew’s-land, shuffling neurotically through my papers and books before a reading. I always go through this ritual, no matter where I am, because how can I know what to read before I’m in the room? Anyway, one part of me wants to declare myself a Jew there, and maybe offer up a new experience for

those in the room who might not have rubbed shoulders with Barbra Streisand, Sammy Davis Jr. or Shylock lately. But such an impulse is countered by a fear of being exhibitionist or being a strident Jew, whatever that is, and providing a target for anti-Semites. So I decide to read my poem “After the Shiva.” Do I tell them what a “shiva” is? If it wasn’t a religious word—for example, if it was the word “spelunk”—would I tell them what it means then? “I’m gonna read this poem called ‘After the Shiva.’ A shiva is this thing where, after someone Jewish dies, the family of the person who died stay in their house or apartment for about a week, and they take the cushions off the sofas and paint the mirrors with white paint, and then people come and visit them and kibbitz—” “Excuse me, is ‘kibbitz’ that farm kinda place where people in Israel go to live collectively?” “No, that’s ‘kibbutz.’ ‘Kibbitz’ is where you give someone the business, you know, you tell jokes, you shoot the shit. So, people come over and they chat and console the mourners, and they have, like, this whole schedule about when people are bringing the mourners meals, because the mourners aren’t supposed to cook….” Oh yeah, there was a poem to read. I skip the explanation. I try to look really Jewish so maybe they get the idea that I’m saying something Jewish-related. I feel like a show-off. I know I’m desperate to declare my identity in a place where my identity isn’t even on the radar. I wish my grandparents hadn’t changed our name from Razovsky to Ross. On my way out after the reading, someone wishes me a Merry Christmas. Stuart Ross is the author of I Cut My Finger and Confessions of a Small Press Racketeer (both from Anvil Press), Dead Cars in Managua (DC Books), and Buying Cigarettes for the Dog (Freehand Books). He thinks shivas are a pretty good tradition. Write him at hunkamooga@ sympatico.ca.

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REANEY DAYS IN THE WEST ROOM

He still hasn’t found what he’s looking for.

the debut novel by

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(!%%% ^c XVh] eg^oZh The winning entries in each category will receive a $750 cash prize (plus payment for publication) and will be published in our Winter ‘09 issue. First runner-up in each category will receive a $250 cash prize and be published in our Spring 2010 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.

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