© 2021 by the authors, artists, and photographers issn 1183-5214
Portal Vancouver Island University Rm 133, Bldg 345 900 Fifth St., Nanaimo, bc v9r 5s5 email@example.com portalmagazine.ca/ twitter.com/portalmagazine facebook.com/portalmag Portal is printed on 70 lb fsc-silva Enviro by Marquis Imprimeur Inc., 2700 rue Rachel Est, Montreal pq h2h 1s7.
We are privileged and grateful to be allowed to work and study on the traditional territories of the Snuneymuxw First Nation of the Coast Salish Peoples and pay respect to their rich cultural heritage and land each day we live and learn on viu’s Nanaimo campus. Creativity that conveys, carries, and conducts. Explorations that elevate, enchant, and entrance. Prose that provokes. Stories that spellbind. Tales that thrill. Portal offers a gateway to accomplished short fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction, scripts, interviews, art, and photography by emerging writers. What makes Portal so portentous? It is a portrait of literary talent in the making, a portable guide to the view from here. Enter Portal’s literary universe and discover worlds and futures ready to unfold.
Earth Heart Coel Poesiat
LETTER FROM THE EDITORS
This year, Portal celebrates 30 years transporting readers with inspiring fiction, non-fiction, poetry, scripts, and reviews. It has amplified the voices of emerging writers, launched authorial and editorial careers, and seen artists’ and photographers’ work don the halls of galleries and covers of books. The cover for this momentous issue pops like fizzy champagne. For this pearl anniversary, Portal boasts its largest issue yet. Between these covers you’ll read four special-edition features, including profiles of three Portal alumnae—Jessica Key, Sarah Corsie, and Meagan Dyer—at Anvil Press, Caitlin Press, and ubc Press respectively. As we consider the past, the present inevitably comes into view, including unlikely parallels in this pandemic. In the “The First Open Door: Lit Mags Are Publishing's Frontline Workers” we ask Fiddlehead, Prism, and The New Quarterly about the role of these institutions in discovering talents who might go on to cast a long shadow, like this year’s Gustafson Distinguished Poet and Juno Award-winner Lillian Allen. Portal sits down with Allen to discuss dub poetry as social practice. In “Raising the Spirits: Speaking To and For the Dead Across Cultures” we feature Kesu Beaton, Gabriel Villasmil, and Danielle Minnis who right the wrong impressions of their homelands and traditions. The concept of standing together in protest resonates this year more than most. We have grown accustomed to life with masks, isolation, and cancelled events. Despite
this, many Canadians gathered when necessary and in solidarity with activists around the world in support of the Black Lives Matter movement to demand an end to racism. We want to pay tribute to these changing times and manifest more positive shifts—virus to vaccine, prejudice to justice, sorrow to hope. Portal and its staff want to be part of the solution, working toward reconciliation as we stand by the oppressed and marginalized. We’ve updated our mandate and values with an inclusivity statement and committed to an annual Portfolio Spotlight showcasing underrepresented voices. The Portal 2021 team faced the unique challenge of relying on Zoom and email to put together over 100 pages. However, logging on from homes often shared with friends or family, we were particularly aware of the rewards and challenges of our relationships, reflections shared by the authors of the first few pieces of our issue. The pregnant mother in “What to Expect” attests to the adventure of parenthood and life on a cramped houseboat, while water’s bracing chill in “Undercurrent” threatens a maternal bond. “Serpentine” speaks to the primeval appreciation we have of Mother Earth; her sacrifices are recognized in “Dig the Dogs In” as a rookie tree faller learns from a seasoned mentor. In “Someplace Warm,” a mother laments the loss of her loved one even as she knows she must let go, and in “The Devil Will Have No Part” a young girl creates her own truth when abuse forces her to confront reality. From the theft of childhood
Dave Flawse: For as long as I can remember, my mom has proudly displayed an embroidered sign that reads lois’s kitchen beside the fridge. As an over-confident preteen, I was sure the possessive “s” ending on her beloved sign was grammatically incorrect. “Are you sure?” she said. Doubt stirred deep within me and for years I banished these endings from my lexicon, deciding to write around it. Strunk & White say to “Form the possessive singular of nouns by adding ‘s’ even after an ‘s’.” This is the very first rule in The Elements of Style, presumably because others think it’s unnatural too. Throughout history, scholars (no doubt wearing funny hats) have debated how to form the possessive and ruled on other intricacies of the English language. Why have I chosen a life debating the vagaries of grammar? Because every time I step into Lois’s kitchen, I’m reminded there’s something new to learn.
Kiara Strijack: A few months into Kindergarten, I complained to my mum that I was getting nothing from my education. I was going to school to learn how to read—that was the whole point—but we’d barely finished colouring letter As and apples (and I still spelled my name “Akippa”). I wanted more. In Grade 1, my mum pulled me out of public school to teach me to read herself, and I’m forever grateful. As I’m sure many other writers can appreciate, books became my world. That is no less true now, no matter how much time has passed since I’ve last read one. My love of literature has adapted over the years. I’ve always identified as a reader and a writer, but now I am equally proud to call myself an editor, interacting with words in a whole new way—and finally getting something out of my education.
to the theft of a child in “How I Met My Mother,” trust is in short supply. “Fools Rush In” reunites estranged siblings battling their troubled mother even at her grave. Likewise, a young girl struggles with her mother’s choices in “Nine Symphonies” until defiance crescendos into regret. The middle of the issue transitions into genre territory, with darker themes and anxieties on the horizon. A damaged soul must choose life with a new love or freeze with the old in “Born Cold.” This snowy landscape sets the stage for the impressive majesty of “The Weight of Winter.” Over Christmas, an increasingly unsettled woman sings her last song in “Birds of a Feather,” while feathered friends clash with their human neighbours in a poem that reminds us not to get “Carried Away.” Monsters lurk in “Better in the Bahamas,” where teens confront Obeah’s spirits at a local funeral. Across the Caribbean in Costa Rica, “The Howlers”—simian and human—remind us we’re alive. A young boy must find an imaginary friend to defend his sister in “Malik Incarnate,” and we are vigilant in Africa bracing for baboons and biases in a “Kingdom of Thorns.” From the international to the domestic, the final third of the magazine returns to Vancouver Island with a nod to Ferlinghetti as a woman charts her vagabond life from a table at The Vault Cafe in “Auto/Graphic.” A young autistic man reflects on what it is to be “Normal Again” after a life-changing camp experience, and a grandson with ocd finally feels seen in “Apples and Oranges.” Mental health strains are exacerbated in a pandemic or after The Blink, but “Given the Circumstances,” some of us might be considered the “The Lucky Ones.” A dying star in a colonized galaxy floats above history in “Indians in Space,” and grief is bittersweet in “Such Sweet Thunder.” The dead speak to a father and grandson in dream and memory, calling in the Wet’suwet'en language in “Nenyust’en.” The issue closes with a powerful poem about trespassing feet in the Portent-winning “They Are Waiting.” We hear from Indigenous writers in reviews of Trickster, a cbc tv series based on Eden Robinson’s acclaimed novel, and a voyage across Turtle Island in Blanket Toss Under Midnight Sun. Magic abounds from a naturalist’s journal
Dreamland Jon Bethell
to mysticism in the poetry collections The Bones Are There and Hammer of Witches, and the novels When We Were Vikings and Universal Disorder explore the trials and victories of fasd, ocd, and Autism. You can check out more book reviews on our newlyrelaunched website designed by Christine Walker, or dig into 30 years of free back issues, buy a subscription, pick up some brand new Portal merch, or watch our Portfolio reading series on Portal ’s YouTube channel. Since its inception in 2019, the Portfolio reading series has featured exceptional writers like Bill Gaston, Kathy Page, Amanda Hale, Adriana Dagnino, Julie Burtinshaw, Rhonda Ganz, Julie Chadwick and others at The White Room and White Rabbit Coffee Co. That year we also created the Portent Contest, rotating genres each year and open to writers across the country. As 2021 is a call for scripts, writers for screen and stage should take note. Finally, we’d like to offer our heartfelt thanks to local businesses, advertisers, donors, and viu’s students and professors who have made 30 years of Portal possible. We want to especially recognize Chantelle Calitz, who has had a three-year tenure as Portal ’s designer, and Ashley Smith, who has been invaluable as Acquisitions Editor taking on management and organizational tasks. We also owe a special debt of gratitude to beloved instructor Frank Moher, who is retiring this spring after 30 years sharing his passion for journalism, drama, and all things on and off the public stage. We will miss him, but are reminded of his remarkable commitment and legacy each day we use the skills he taught us. The legacy of Rhonda Bailey, Portal ’s publisher for 16 years, also lives on in these pages. We hope you enjoy this special 30th anniversary issue— let Portal transport you from childhood to parenthood, across the world and into universes past, present, and future. We’re certain you will be as enthralled reading this portentous issue as we were assembling it. Dave Flawse and Kiara Strijack Managing Editors Portal 2021
MASTHEAD Managing Editors––Kiara Strijack, Dave Flawse
Art Director––Kashmir Lesnick-Petrovicz
Acquisitions Editor––Ashley Smith
Print Designer––Chantelle Calitz
Fiction Editors––Ashley Smith, Ben Weick, Isaac Maschek, Kristen Bounds
Web Designer––Christine Walker Portfolio Series & A/V Editors––Danielle Minnis, Lauryn Mackenzie, Chris Beaton
Non-Fiction Editors––Elijah Robinson, Joe Enns, Kristen Bounds
Social Media Marketing––Lauryn Mackenzie, Aaron Koch, Isaac Maschek
Poetry Editors––Brennan O’Toole, Kaleigh Studer, Aaron Koch
Merchandise Sales & Subscriptions––Ben Weick, Darian Wagner, Kaleigh Studer, Kristen Bounds
Script Editors––Miles Hayes, Chris Beaton
Ads––Joe Enns, Kristen Bounds, Brennan O’Toole
Feature Writers––Elijah Robinson, Ashley Smith, Patrick Wilson, Kaleigh Studer, Lauryn Mackenzie
Book Review Editor––Miles Hayes Copy Editors––Kiara Strijack, Ashley Smith
FRIENDS OF PORTAL ArC
viusu viufa viu English viu Theatre View Gallery viu Bookstore viu Foundation viu Media Studies viu Creative Writing & Journalism viu Arts & Humanities Colloquium Gustafson Distinguished Poets Lecture Series
Dusk at Nanaimo Harbour Kristen Bounds
Room Geist Event Freefall subTerrain WordWorks Broken Pencil The Navigator The Fiddlehead The New Quarterly Prism International The Malahat Review
Kesu Beaton Gabriel Villasmil Giovanni Ralaisa Windowseat Books Longwood Brewery Elliot Grace-Wilson Touchwood Editions Western Edge Theatre Nanaimo Arts Council ubc Masters of Fine Arts sfu Masters of Publishing
TABLE 12 16 23 31 38 42 54 64 70 74
Fiction Undercurrent Nic Ismirnioglou Someplace Warm Emily Gain How I Met My Mother Sarah Lewis Nine Symphonies Margot Fedoruk Born Cold Dave Flawse Birds of a Feather Rose McQuirter Malik Incarnate Evan Shumka Apples and Oranges Ashley Smith The Lucky Ones Lee Groen Such Sweet Thunder Noemi Haynes
Script 26 Fools Rush In Patrick Coles Owen 46 Better in the Bahamas Danielle Minnis
14 15 41 45 53 60 76 80 81
Poetry Serpentine Ashley Wood Dig the Dogs In Claire Gordon The Weight of Winter Joe Enns Carried Away Emily Gain The Howlers Robert Bowerman Auto/Graphic Shawnda Wilson Indians in Space Juanessa Prince Nenyust’en Patrick Wilson They Are Waiting Sabrina Mudr yk
8 20 56 62 67
Non-Fiction What to Expect Margot Fedoruk The Devil Will Have No Part Lisa Kremer Kingdom of Thorns Joe Enns Normal Again Elliot Grace-Wilson Given the Circumstances Kristen Bounds
50 72 77
Features The Game Changer: Three Portal Alumnae Revisit the Role that Set Them on the Publishing Path Elijah Robinson Raising the Spirits: Speaking To and For the Dead Across Cultures Patrick Wilson The First Open Door: Lit Mags Are Publishing's Frontline Workers Ashley Smith They’re Going to Jump Up: Lillian Allen on Poetry’s Power to Touch What’s Hidden Kaleigh Studer and Laur yn Mackenzie
Book Reviews 82 Trickster by Eden Robinson directed by Michelle Latimer Reviewed by Elijah Robinson 83 Blanket Toss Under Midnight Sun by Paul Seesequasis Reviewed by Kesu Beaton 84 The Hammer of Witches by Kelly Rose Pflug-Back Reviewed by Aaron Koch 85 The Bones Are There by Kate Sutherland Reviewed by Brennan O’Toole 86 When We Were Vikings by Andrew David MacDonald Reviewed by Kiara Strijack 87 Universal Disorder by Bernice Friesen Reviewed by Dave Flawse August Noemi Haynes
the blue bucket used as a toilet at the stern of The Buckaroo. Across the water, an eagle dove and caught the twisting silver body of a fish, but it was difficult to appreciate the scenery. The plastic ridges dug into my flesh as I fanned my faded dress around my thighs so the divers wouldn’t get an eyeful. My nose was running and my feet were cold. There was no hot running water onboard. It was the winter of 1995, and the rain was relentless. I was 29 years old, and I was in the third term of my pregnancy.
ADJUSTED MY BACKSIDE ON
I had left Victoria to fly to the wilds of northern bc and share the excitement of our first child with Rick. I would live aboard a 40-foot houseboat bought with money he inherited from his mother. Rick was working as a commercial diver anchored in an inlet somewhere south of Prince Rupert, a slow five-hour boat ride from town to “the middle of nowhere” fishing grounds that spanned from the Juan de Fuca Strait to the Alaskan border.
Two years earlier, when we had first started dating, Rick and I had driven to Fort McMurray to meet his mom. She knew I was a vegetarian and made us spaghetti squash marinara. We played Scrabble around the dining table and when she wouldn’t let me play the word “caveman” we had a surprising conversation about the “story” of evolution. To be polite, Rick and I slept in separate rooms. Rick’s mother was later diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and we only learned of my pregnancy a week after his mother’s funeral. It was a bittersweet moment for both of us, as neither of us had a mother left to call. In addition to the houseboat, the inheritance had also purchased a small condominium in Victoria, a tiny two bedroom with a small deck off the third floor where we peered into the townhomes across from us. During the day I would waddle, stomach first, down the streets of Victoria as strangers asked to touch my protruding belly. I was desperate to share my pregnancy with Rick, so when
he called on his satellite phone I cried and gratefully agreed to join him and the four other divers who lived and worked on the boat. I booked a flight as soon as I got off the phone and a few days later Rick met me at the airport in Prince Rupert. Before we headed out to sea, we stayed at the Moby Dick Motel. When I stepped out of the shower in the motel room, I got a full view of my naked body in the mirror. At home, I could only see myself from the neck up. I was not prepared for the shock. “I’m a troll,” I said. “A giant troll!” Rick said he still found me attractive—so I made him prove it. “I won’t hurt the baby, will I?” he asked. “It says on page 221 of What to Expect When You’re Expecting this is perfectly safe and, in fact, we should do it more often as the due date gets closer.” It is odd to want to perform an act of reproduction when nature has already taken care of that. I couldn’t get enough—hormones were running rampant through my body. This, too, was explained in detail in the book. What to Expect When You’re Expecting was my constant companion. I had read it on the flight and would read it on the long and excruciating bus trip back to Victoria. I flipped through it in bed, read it on the toilet, and out loud at breakfast. Each chapter contained practical and scientific information, but I attributed a kind of divine wisdom to it—I found answers to questions I didn’t know to ask. This was the 90s, before Google became a verb, a world of screeching dial-up and landlines. The only way to get information was from books, friends, or family. I was terrified; my own mother had died of ovarian cancer at 46. When Rick bought The Buckaroo, he converted the bathroom into a bunk to cram in two more divers. He charged a crew of four divers a nominal fee to live on
Home Savanah Campbell
What to Expect
the boat to help pay for fuel. Normally, no matter the weather, the blue bathroom bucket was forbidden inside, but I had to pee numerous times each night, so Rick made an exception. He couldn’t have the mother of his first-born fall overboard in the dark of night. We slept on the converted dining table. Every night I wiped crumbs from the tabletop and transformed it into a double bed.
( In the dark, under a mass of sleeping bags, I whispered bits of newfound magic to the back of his neck: “Our baby now has eyelashes.” ) Each day it got harder to get up off the blue bucket. I had to grab the slippery metal railing to get my balance before heaving the contents overboard with a splash. I had imagined my days on the boat would involve listening to cbc while reading in the sun, that I would cook elaborate meals for Rick and the other divers who would in turn compliment my culinary skills. Of course, nothing ever happens the way you expect. Rick left each morning on a six-metre skiff called The Oak 18. He picked red urchins with a simple hand-held metal rake custom fit for his arm. The gap between the rake’s two fork-like tines was set at 10 centimetres, an adult urchin’s circumference, so divers would harvest adults and leave the undersized. Rick would clutch a large mesh bag with one arm while swimming along the seabed, sometimes eight hours a day. A full bag would be over a metre long and hold over 90 kilograms of urchins. In the evenings, I hounded Rick to describe his underwater world. He revealed snippets from his workday: swimming
Tranquility Ashley Smith
scallops, their shells flapping comically like false teeth, or the pesky fish that follow behind him, snacking on broken urchins. He told me the fish swam into his net and he had to stop to untangle them. Once a sea lion playfully dragged him along the bottom by his black rubber fin. He told me how baby urchins, the size of a button, are flung away in the current when he harvests the larger ones hiding beneath them. While the men splashed around in the surf all day, I walked up and down the three steps to the wheelhouse. For exercise, I would flick on the radio and break a sweat stair-stepping in my thick grey socks and purple sandals. When I got tired of Anne Murray songs on the Prince Rupert stations, I pulled out my yellow Sony Walkman to listen to The Ramones: “Beat on the brat with a baseball bat….” Perhaps these were not the best music lyrics for a mom-to-be. In addition to my pregnancy manual, I brought the Moosewood Cookbook filled with vegetarian recipes. This was my favourite cookbook and I referred to its splattered pages on a weekly basis. The first night on board, I proudly plunked down a steaming pot of curried chickpeas and rice. Rick scooped up a heaping bowlful and made an appreciative “Mmm,” but the other ravenous divers just looked at the pot and said, “Ah, where is the meat?” They found a pack of hotdogs and boiled them up, ate them plain. The next day, as I was opening a tin of tomatoes, Rick, who rarely raised his voice to me said, “No! Stop. It’s bad luck to open a can upside down on a boat,” but it was too late. I had already opened the can label side down. Men on boats take their superstitions seriously.
A few weeks later, the weather shifted. It felt like a fun house to walk across the galley. Rick forced me to the back of the boat so I wouldn’t witness the raging waves that battered the wheelhouse windows. Born and raised in Winnipeg, I wasn’t prepared for a violent storm at sea. Hands slick with sweat, I grasped the metal railings to go below deck and teetered over to the table. Rocking on the choppy waters of the Pacific Ocean, I was conscious of the fact that the only thing protecting my unborn baby was a bit of amniotic fluid and the thin, stretched outer skin of my enormous belly. The weather report predicted a week of storms, so Rick decided it was time for a break. When we got back to Prince Rupert, Rick begged me to get on a plane back to Victoria. I stubbornly refused because I read in What to Expect that it was not advisable in your last trimester. The bus trip was over 30 hours with many rest stops at seedy-looking depots. I subsisted on egg salad sandwiches on soggy whole wheat. Rick came home shortly after, but couldn’t stay long; he needed to get back up north. He promised to make it in time for the birth in May. A couple of weeks before I was due, he travelled from the Queen Charlotte Islands, over 80 kilometres of open sea, on a listing fish packing boat called The Sea Rake. It was very stormy and he was seasick, but he wanted to make it home in time for the birth of our first child. In our delivery room at the Victoria General, I stood in the shower in a long, arduous fog of contractions too far apart to be taken seriously while Rick flipped through pages of What to Expect. Around midnight, a nurse
popped her head in the humid room to ask how things were going. “I’m pretty tired,” he said. “I meant your wife,” she said. A few hours later when Rick first held Hailey’s tiny, swaddled form, he did so awkwardly, like he was afraid she would break. Rick went home for the night and I sent her to the nursery so I could get some rest, but minutes later I hobbled down the corridor in bare feet because I couldn’t bear to be parted from her. With weak arms, I pushed the enormous plastic trolley where she slept next to my bed.
( I checked 100 times to see if she was still breathing. ) A few months later, I still had not purchased a baby stroller; instead, I carried Hailey in a pink cloth baby sling. Before going outside, I would lay the soft fabric out on the sofa and place her squiggling form diagonally across it. Then I would carefully arrange the sling across my shoulders and walk, baby first, through the streets of Victoria. It was a clear summer morning when I stepped outside, my arms encasing her like the spines of an adult sea urchin sheltering its young. I checked in on her obsessively to make sure she was comfortable and quickened my pace, which lulled her to sleep. I was on my way to Bolen Books to hunt down a copy of What to Expect the First Year. (30)
UNDERCURRENT Nic Ismirnioglou
T’S COLD IN THE SHADE,”
I said, hoping to sound
“Don’t be a wimp. You’ll warm up once you’re in the water,” Blake said.
The sun was warm on my skin as Blake and I walked down the concrete stairs at the end of my street to the beach. Beneath the late September sky, two massive waterfront homes cast shadows on the sand. We stripped down to our shorts. I looked at Blake’s fleshy stomach. He wasn’t fat, but he had more meat on his bones than I did. We sprinted into the ocean. The seaweed slid along my calves and foam hit my back as I submerged in the surf. He ran after me and dunked my head with his hand on my Kurt Cobain undercut. I gasped, coming up for air. “Bet you’re not cold now,” Blake said. He dunked me again, so I slammed my shoulder into his waist and tackled him. He grabbed a length of bull kelp and swung it like a whip. I floated there for a while, feeling almost nothing. The sea lapped against my neck as I swam farther out. The water was a vague presence then absence against my skin. The undercurrent tugged me. Seagulls glided on the breeze, and the salty ocean spray lashed at my lips. I gave myself over to it. Detritus bobbed in the waves.
That morning, Blake had skidded his chrome bmx into my gravel driveway. The sun cast a fuzzy halo above his shaved dome. “How’d you get that scar on your eyebrow?” I asked as he came in and flopped onto the loveseat. “My brother whacked my head on the kitchen countertop. Why don’t you shave your head?” “My mom wouldn’t let me.”
Blake scoffed. “Why do you have to be such a mama’s boy? I’ll shave your head with my dad’s electric razor.” “Not today.” I’d been rocking the Kurt Cobain bowl undercut since Grade 6 and wasn’t ready to let it go. “Tomorrow then?” He looked at me with a raised eyebrow. “I’m just kidding. You can do whatever you want, but shaved heads look badass.” We played Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage for a while, but Blake got frustrated and threw his controller on the carpet. It bounced and clunked against the entertainment centre. “What the hell man?” I shouted. “What the hell man?” he mocked and punched my arm. I didn’t want him to get bored and want to go to his house where his brother would beat on us. Sometimes he’d even turn Blake on me. “Want to go swimming?” “It’s almost October,” I said. “So what? It’s a sunny day. Besides, haven’t you heard of the polar bear swim? It’s New Year’s Day. My grandpa did it, so I’m sure you’ll survive.” I looked outside. Not really T-shirt weather, let alone bathing suit. “Alright,” I said. I went into my room and grabbed two pairs of swim trunks from my drawer, one orange and one blue. “Which ones do you want to wear?” I asked when I brought them to Blake in the living room. “The blue ones, you weirdo,” he said as he grabbed them. “I can barely get into these,” Blake said. He left the drawstring untied and the elastic hugged his waist. “You should get some board shorts.”
Wave Ashley Smith
Muffled shouts came from the shore. “Dylan! Dylan!” Blake stood close to the surf. “Some lady’s calling you man!” I was pretty far out. The sky had gone from sunshine to a white grey with streaks of light. I squinted and saw my Aunt Barb wave frantically. “Dylan! Dylan!” she chanted in a worried singsong. I swam toward shore. I couldn’t register if my skin touched water or air. Aunt Barb shouted something as I got closer, but her words were soft and muted to my ears. Her mouth was wide and round, but what was she saying? She lunged toward me, took off her baggy red jacket, and threw it around my shoulders as I stood shaking on the sand. “Dylan, you’re almost blue! Let’s get you home and in the bath before you freeze to death.” My hands fumbled with the jacket sleeves. Why was she so worried? We piled into her Ford Explorer. “You need to warm up as soon as we get there, Dylan. What were you thinking? And you,” she said looking in the rearview mirror at Blake. “Do you need me to call your parents?” Blake said something I couldn’t register and then we were in the driveway. Inside I sat drowsily on the loveseat, vaguely aware that Blake had left and water was running. When I stepped into the bathroom, steam rose and filled my lungs as I stripped off my shorts and folded into the tub, immersed except for my bent knees. “Are you okay in there?” my aunt asked. I pulled the curtain aside so just my head was visible. My fingers shook and my whole body trembled.
Aunt Barb would have made a good mom, and she had the perfect husband. Uncle Robbie was an engineer and the assistant coach for my soccer team until Grade 6. Too bad they couldn’t have kids. Something about her eggs being too old? My mom made me promise never to mention it. My dad ran off when I was two. “Isn’t that typical?” Mom said. “The good ones can’t have kids, the bad ones leave them.” When I was four, I’d asked her if Dad had left because of me. She reassured me it wasn’t like that and a few years later she told me it was because he’d cheated on her and run off with another woman.
( Still, why hadn’t he stayed? I knew my mom loved me, but why didn’t he? ) I thought about all of this as I lay there shaking in the tub. “Put your whole body under, Dear,” Aunt Barb said. Her words seemed muffled, as if under her breath. My skin still wasn’t registering the heat, even though I could see steam rising around my body. I was still in the ocean, bull kelp wound around my ankles. I shimmied my skinny shoulders down the slippery back of the tub and submerged. I don’t remember how I got to bed, but when I woke up, I was under a pile of blankets and the curtains were drawn. My mom and aunt were talking in the hall outside my room. “His lips were blue,” my aunt whispered. “That boy Blake is bad news.” The door creaked open. I pretended to be asleep, but opened my eyes just as she turned toward the light. She looked weary, on the brink of capsizing, the tears that streaked her cheeks threatening to pull her under. (30)
SERPENTINE Ashley Wood
A liquid larimar knife, a mist-veiled edge. Slip. Slide. Slice. Turbulence yields a cavernous maw. A roar spills forth, sheds foam, brings rebirth and renewal for Sitka and salal. An eloquent serpent—Mother Nature’s tongue— consumes soil and stone, slithers to pools, gravity pulls and w a t e r f a l l s
Spilling Forth Ashley Wood
Salt-soured sweat drips down bent spines— a sticky pitch that trickles then chills under loose layers of wet wool. Hey Greenhorn! he says with a wave, then laughs, and sips milky black tea from a battered thermos. He shows me the ropes, the old fella with Pacific blue eyes, teases the rookie— No Flunkies in falling! I spent years at the landing earning my keep, peering over timber, tightening chokers around necks of hemlock and fir, limbing to buck up profit.
Summer Nights Jon Bethell
Now I’m on the ground looking up at this sweet cedar selflessly offering fragrant pulpy flesh. Easy Slacky! Read the wood. Here’s the trick— use wedges to get that tree where you want ’er to go. He’d eye up his claim —a colossal old growth— crank the saw in one swift pull, a burst of bicep and open chest. He’d stoop the bar level at her trunk and dig the dogs in firm, blade to throat, She’d snap, creak and groan as she fell, empty thud on the soft earth below.
I says you’re shakin’ worse than that tree you dropped there, Greenhorn! The whirring teeth cut deep in the wood, in my bones— rakers gnashed into motion. His bucking pants, threadbare and torn, hang heavy on stretched shoulder straps. Bumper spikes brace old bones for kickbacks until the last tree falls.
SOMEPLACE WARM Emily Gain
The mouse’s face was buried in the grass, tiny paws covering its eyes. Its grey body curled into a tight ball as if hiding from the January frost. It must have frozen to death, Celia thought. What a horrible way to die.
S IT SLEEPING OR DEAD?
Celia crouched for a better look. Its fur was damp and ears rosy pink. A chilly wind caused her to blink and wipe her eyes and then she saw the mouse’s head twitch ever so slightly. Or had she? She blinked again and willed the little grey body to unfold, shiver, or give some sign of life.
gotten a proper night’s sleep. Behind her, Celia heard the patio door sliding open. “What are you looking at?” Michael asked. “A mouse. I think it’s dead, but I’m not sure.” “Well don’t touch it. Those things carry diseases.” Celia straightened her legs and turned toward her husband. He leaned on the door, looking small and tired. His brown slippers were separating at the seams and his white socks poked through.
“Hello Little One,” she whispered. “Are you awake?”
“What if it is alive? Shouldn’t we help it?”
She held her breath, but the mouse remained still. I’m seeing things, Celia thought. It had been weeks since she’d
“It’s just a mouse Celia. Leave it and come inside. You’re gonna catch cold.”
Celia looked at the creature again, then turned away, picking up the bag of groceries she’d left on the garden path. Inside, Celia made turkey sandwiches and tomato soup. Michael took his lunch to his office, leaving Celia at the table alone. She peeled off the crust on the sandwich bit by bit, thinking about the mouse. After lunch, she washed the dishes, wiped down the counters, and swept the floor. She fluffed the pillows on the sofa and sat down, staring at her reflection in the black tv screen. If it’s still alive I need to put it someplace warm. Celia stood up, trying to distract herself. Beside the bookshelf was one of Michael’s paintings. She looked at it closely, followed the lines of each brushstroke—ocean waves met the sand, swirling, crashing, foaming—she could taste the salt on her tongue. Michael had given the painting to her on their first wedding anniversary four years ago. They’d met when Michael was in his last year of art school and she was waiting tables near the college. He had a habit of sketching on the napkins and she had a habit of keeping them. It didn’t take long for him to notice. She took a step back from the painting. I need to get it someplace warm—like a box. Michael’s office door was
closed and she could hear vigorous typing within. This was her chance. Celia paced the house searching for a box, something small but breathable. She pulled a shoebox out of recycling, but it was too big and wet in one corner. She rummaged through the bathroom cupboard—nothing. She stared at the four white doors of the hallway: bedroom, bathroom, office, and…. Celia’s eyes lingered on the last door. Somehow, it seemed larger than the others, older. A deep ache bloomed in her chest and she shook her head.
( No, she couldn’t go in there. ) Finally, Celia spotted a box of lightbulbs on top of the fridge. She lifted the lid, pulled out the two bulbs, and rotated the small box in her hands. It was perfect. She stuffed it with toilet paper to create a warm nest. She pulled on her gardening gloves, jacket, and boots. The sun was setting and the air was getting cooler. Celia shivered as she walked along the garden path. “Hello Little One,” she whispered as she came upon the mouse. “I’m going to pick you up, ok?”
Journey's End Kashmir Lesnick-Petrovicz
She used her thumb and forefinger to lift the tiny body. It was stiff and Celia held her breath, preparing for the underside to be filled with maggots. Instead, as she turned it over, she saw a smooth, soft belly and a delicate pink nose. She placed the mouse in the box and loosely closed the lid. She placed it in the dry gap between the side of the house and the firewood stack. That night Celia lay in bed staring at the dark ceiling. She hugged herself, trying to stop her shoulders from trembling. Michael snored softly and her mind wandered down the hall to the fourth door. Last spring, Michael had painted the walls in there—a vast blue sky, puffy clouds, and butterflies. He painted soaring birds, pointed green trees, and a tiger crouching playfully. They set up an armchair next to a shelf with picture books and wooden blocks. They’d put a white crib in the corner. Celia imagined herself turning the handle and stepping inside, seeing her daughter there as she had been, picking her up when she cried.
( Sometimes she heard the crying still. ) Celia opened her eyes to darkness. That room was empty. There was no crib now, no toys. Michael rolled over and flopped an arm across her chest. “You ok?” he asked. “I’m ok.” “Come here.” He pulled her to his chest. She sank into his warmth and closed her eyes. “I think the mouse is still alive,” she whispered, not sure if Michael was still awake. “What mouse?” he mumbled. “The one from earlier, in the yard. I put it in a box to warm it up.” “I told you to leave it.” “I wore gloves.” Soon Michael’s breathing grew heavy and he began to snore. Celia closed her eyes and tried to relax, but eventually she squirmed out of his hold and sat on the edge of the bed, making a mental list of chores. She wondered if tomorrow she might find the box empty. She stared out the dark window, waiting for the sun to rise.
In the morning, Celia went out to the yard. When she looked inside the box, the mouse hadn’t moved; it was still there with its tiny paws covering its eyes. She moved the box to a sunny patch beside the patio door where she could keep an eye on it. It was Wednesday, laundry day, so Celia stripped the bed and gathered the towels. She prepped lunch, folded the clothes, and remade the bed. At noon she set Michael’s lunch on his desk beside the computer and printer. The calendar on the wall was three months behind and a few dirty mugs were piled on the windowsill. On the far wall was a closet with its white doors firmly folded shut. When Celia was pregnant, Michael had given up painting to work as an online business advisor, something with a steady pay cheque. After he finished the mural in the nursery, he put down his brushes for good. His paints, sketchbooks, and half-completed canvases all piled against one another inside that small closet. Celia used to love to watch him paint. She would sit beside him for hours watching his wrist rise and fall, brush stroke after brush stroke. “Thanks,” he said, without looking up. Celia stood for a moment watching his fingers type mechanically, then she left to check on the mouse. She lifted the cardboard lid gently. Nothing had changed. It’s still too cold, she thought.
“Is that what I think it is?” Michael asked when he saw the box sitting on the coffee table. “Seriously, Celia, I don’t want a mouse running around in here.” Celia put herself between Michael and the box, trying to meet his eyes. “It won’t be running around,” she said. “It’s probably dead.” “Then why the hell is it in the house?” “Because—well, it’s probably dead, but it might be alive. There’s a small chance.” Celia turned and looked down at the box, realizing how ridiculous she sounded. “I’m not sure, really.” “Then I’ll check for you.” Michael stepped toward the coffee table. “No!” Celia shouted. “Don’t touch her.” “Her?” Celia shook her head. “It. Don’t touch it.”
“Why not?” “Because—” Michael stared at her, waiting. Her eyes moved past him to the hallway and settled on the nursery door. She pressed a hand to her chest as the sharp ache returned. “Celia? What’s wrong?” She closed her eyes and sank to the floor. “She’s gone,” Celia whispered. The words hovered in the air above Michael’s collapsing shoulders. He dropped to his knees and wrapped his arms around her. “I know,” he whispered.
In the back corner of their yard, Michael pierced a garden spade into the grass and twisted it to cut through the frozen soil. His laboured breath turned to clouds and rose into the winter air. He dug until the hole was deep and wide enough to cover the small lightbulb box. Celia didn’t need to look inside this time. Michael put his hand on her shoulder as she lowered it into the ground. The soil smelled sweet and earthy as they filled the hole. In just a few short months, tulips and daffodils would be blooming. As they walked the small garden path back to the house, Celia was flooded with memories. She saw the bright pink balloons and bouquets of the baby shower, their bright smiles and laughter, a card that read Welcome To The World. As they reached the back door, Celia felt breathless and reached for Michael’s arm. “You ok?” he asked, holding her up gently. “I’m ok,” she said. Celia looked at Michael and met his caring blue eyes. “Do you think—” she started. “Do you think you could teach me to paint?” Michael was taken aback at first, but after a moment he nodded. “Sure,” he said, “I’d like that.” (30)
What Happened After the Night Out Ta Udomchaisakul
DEVIL WILL HAVE NO PART Lisa Kremer
had the energy to be a pretty, cheerful, precocious 10-year-old the day I stopped eating.
REALIZED I NO LONGER
My stomach hurt and I was exhausted, so my mom let me stay home from school that Monday, curled up with a panda stuffy under my pink blanket. The curtains were drawn and the room was dark. I faced the wall and picked at a blister of old beige paint, revealing a small crack in the drywall. On Friday night, my dad had let us rent Honey, I Shrunk the Kids from the corner store. I wanted to be like the kids in the movie—to make myself small enough to climb inside that crack and hide, maybe even disappear. My mom came in to check on me a few hours later. I told her my stomach still hurt. I said “No” to toast and oatmeal, and at lunchtime “No” to chicken noodle soup. By mid-afternoon I crawled downstairs and reclined on the couch to watch daytime talk shows. Across the room, our tabby cat curled up in a rocking chair. When Honey, our sweet but slow-to-learn dog, had one too many accidents in the house, my parents got rid of her and we got Buddy instead. I missed laying my cheek on Honey’s warm belly, missed stroking her golden fur while she nuzzled my face. She always seemed happy to see me, unlike our boring cat. When my mom went outside for her daily bike ride, I pushed aside the scratchy Hudson’s Bay blanket, rolled off the couch, and snuck into the kitchen. I scooped Neapolitan ice cream from the 4 L bucket into a mug, being careful to scrape away from the sides of the tub, instead of leaving a cavern in the middle. My dad ate ice cream almost daily, usually between his day job and the contracting he did in the evening, and I didn’t want him to notice. I poured milk over the mounds of ice cream, so the strawberry pink and chocolatey brown bled as I stirred it to the colour of mud—a thick, cold mush. The creamy sweetness slid into the hollow of my belly. I greedily
tipped the mug and suddenly felt a cold splotch seeping through the thigh of my thin pajama pants. “No!” I scrubbed the smudge so it wouldn’t leave a stain, but left a large wet patch in its place. I washed the mug and put it back into the cupboard. This was my secret—one of many.
I turned off the tv and got back into bed before my brother came home from school. I didn’t want to talk to him. He might question my sickness, maybe even mock me for staying home when it looked like nothing was wrong with me. I curled up into a ball and pulled the blanket over my head. I would pretend to be asleep. A few minutes later, Jeff bounded up the squeaky stairs two at a time and headed to his room across the hall. His backpack clunked on the hardwood floor and then my door creaked open. I held my breath and was as still as possible. There was silence, then he thudded back downstairs. The air under my blanket was humid and stifling, but I remained hidden. If only I had stayed home the day Jeff had invited me along on a bike ride with Clint, his friend in Grade 8. I should never have played hide-and-seek with them. Finding Clint in the bushes naked, exposing himself to me, was one of the most horrifying and embarrassing moments of my life. That was only the beginning. My tummy growled, and I made myself even smaller.
A week later, my mom made an appointment with Dr. Cole who poked, prodded, and sent me to the lab for blood work. They found unusual levels of calcium in my lab work, but Dr. Cole didn’t think that was the issue. These tests wouldn’t reveal the sickness that was Clint. I
was allergic to the fantasies he forced me to play out in the treehouse, in the bushes, and anywhere prying eyes couldn’t see. Dr. Cole called us in for a follow-up appointment. My parents stood and watched from the corner of the room while I quietly complied with Dr. Cole’s requests to lay down, lift my shirt, and be still while he pressed his fingers into various parts of my stomach. He sat me up and placed his cold stethoscope against my back, asking me to breathe deeply before he turned away to write something on his chart. I sat stiffly on the crisp white paper while he spoke with my mom and dad. My parents seemed frustrated when Dr. Cole couldn’t determine the cause of my illness. Another week of secret ice cream rendezvous passed and I was sent for more tests. Later, when I was “sleeping” on the couch, I heard my parents in the kitchen. “What did the doctor say?” my dad said, his heavy work boots clunking across the linoleum. The freezer door squeaked open. “They don’t know what’s wrong with her,” my mom said. He was pulling the lid off the ice cream bucket. He didn’t seem to notice how much was missing. The door of the freezer thudded shut and there was more stomping to the kitchen table. A spoon scraped a bowl. “Dr. Cole said we should think about taking her to a child psychologist.” “A psychologist? Why on earth would we do that?” “He thinks it’s emotional.”
(“I don’t receive that, in Jesus’ name.” He was almost shouting. ) Something slammed on the tabletop. “We don’t need some high-and-mighty psychologist telling us how to live!” My father was furious, and it was my fault. I pulled the blanket over my face. “I rebuke that in Jesus’ name,” he said. It was quiet in the kitchen until a spoon scraped against the bowl again. “This is a spiritual battle. We aren’t wrestling flesh and blood.” His voice rose in pitch and intensity, like the pastor I heard every Sunday morning at church. “I’m going to pray. The devil will have no part of my family. I’m going to take authority over this, and we will overcome!” Sunshine in a Victoria Backyard Jenna Cronshaw
The Devil Will Have No Par t
He would go face to face with the devil—day and night if necessary—and then he would declare the problem fixed, once and for all. Long after my bedtime, I heard murmurs downstairs in the living room. My mom and dad were praying. Their words commanded angels to battle the forces of darkness.
( After a while, it sounded as if my dad’s face was in a pillow, mournful but muffled. ) I covered my head and tried to block it out. The next day, after Jeff left for school and I had taken up residence on the couch again, my mom sat next to me. She looked sad and serious and her brow was furrowed. “Lisa, the Lord spoke to your Pa last night. Are you sad about something?” I panicked. What did God tell my dad? Did he know about Clint? Did he know about the dirty magazines and the condoms hidden in the treehouse? I felt my cheeks grow hot as I thought about what had been done to me, what I had become. I had to hide the horrible secret from her, from everyone—lock it away and pull myself together. “Are you sad because we got rid of Honey?” The shame and self-loathing rose like bile on my tongue. I would never be normal now, but I couldn’t tell her that.
“Yes,” I whispered, “I miss Honey.” I slowly released my breath. Yes, I was sad, so sad it was crippling me. “Oh, Pumpkin.” My mom scooped me into her arms and rubbed my back. For the first time in a long time, I sobbed. “Oh, Lisa.” My mom rocked me back and forth. “It’s ok. It’s ok.” I cried while she explained why they got rid of Honey. I nodded; I would be ok now. I turned on the tv and clicked past the soap operas, talk shows, and children’s programming. I stopped on The Urban Peasant, hosted by a pleasant-looking older chef who was very enthusiastic about fresh herbs. Maybe I would try to eat something today, something other than ice cream. The next morning, I woke up with a stomach ache and still felt exhausted. I pulled the blanket up to my chin and watched particles of dust dance through the parted curtains on a beam of light. I remembered my dad’s battle with the devil. My brother poked his head through my doorway. “You comin’?” “Yep.” I got dressed, ate breakfast, and packed my lunch. We had overcome; the battle was over. The devil had been rebuked. (30)
HOW I MET MY MOTHER Sarah Lewis
with a voice that belonged in a folk song—gravelly and sweet. “Come with me.”
HE CAME FROM BEHIND ME
I was 10, walking out of the Hotel Vancouver with my dad, Brian, the summer sun slanting between the skyscrapers to pierce my black-and-gold Gucci T-shirt. Dad was ahead of me on the busy sidewalk, thumbing his iPhone. She gripped my wrist. “Come with me.” I lost Dad behind several business suits and a woman in a long skirt and was folded into the back of a dirty car before I could think to scream. She threw herself into the driver’s seat, pulled out of a parallel parking space with surprising grace, and lost us in a stream of eastbound traffic. I’ve heard it in my mind a thousand times since. Come with me. She adjusted the rearview mirror, so our eyes met. We had the same narrow forehead and sharp chin, but her skin was darker than mine and her hair curly. She was young and pretty, though when she smiled her teeth were jagged. “Do you know who I am, Mercedes?” “That’s not my name.” My voice sounded small and curt. “It is your name. I named you. Mercedes Anastasia Rose.” “It’s my legal name, not my real name,” I said, ignoring what she really meant. “I’m Merry. Seth calls me Merry.” Seth was my uncle, and even Dad listened to him. “Alright Merry, I’m Mummy.” I shrank back into the musty seat, that word more terrifying than what she was doing. “You’re Izzy Shayne?” She laughed, louder and longer than most people. “Oh Honey, you look so scared. I’m your mother !”
my dad, returned 10 months later with his offspring. Seth had told me that she didn’t want me, that she had signed me over to the Barristers and their money. Neither Seth nor my dad wanted me either, but they kept me. The car growled its way over the Port Mann Bridge, through the Abbotsford valley, and up toward Hope. I pulled my knees up under my chin and stared out the window until my neck ached. She would have to speak first. “Why don’t you tell me about yourself, Honey?” I bristled at the endearment. She may be my mother, but she was also a stranger. Still I volunteered that I lived with Dad and Monica, his third wife, in New York, that I liked hockey and played on a team with Pee Wee boys, that Dad had grown-up children, Scott and Fidelity, who sometimes took me places, and that sometimes Seth did too. “Seth!” she said and snorted. “My poor baby, growing up with those monsters.” “He’s nice,” I said defensively. I belonged to them and not to her. She moved the mirror after that, so I could only see the upper right quadrant of her face. I turned over her names in my mind: Izzy Shayne, Mother, Mom, Mummy. None of them were right.
( I stared at the mountain and waited for rescue. ) It would be Seth and not my dad who would come. I pictured Dad turning around in circles on the street, walking up and down the block where he’d last seen me, going back to the hotel. When he couldn’t find me he would call Seth, his older brother, and Seth would call the police, but not before he tore a strip off Dad: “You let your daughter be kidnapped in broad daylight on a city street right under your nose?”
I’d never known my mother. She was not a person, but a name—a faceless phantom who, having once slept with Fiction
How I Met My Mother
Once it got dark we pulled into a gas station in Golden. She twisted around, her full face appearing younger than the intense, shadowed right eye visible in the mirror. “I guess we’ll stay here tonight. It’s a pretty name, Golden.” “Where are you taking me?” “This is gonna be a new beginning, a Golden beginning. It’s just you and me now.” She smiled softly, but I stared sullenly over her shoulder. “Do you even know where you’re taking me?” “I can’t give you Gucci T-shirts or hockey equipment, not like Brian, but maybe I’m all you need. I know you’re all I need.” Was she crazy? I curled up in the backseat and closed my eyes, and later, when she laid her sweater over my shoulders and stroked the short, dark hairs on my forehead where my pixie cut was growing out, I let her think I was asleep. The next day, I asked the big question. “Why did you leave me?” Seth had said she’d dumped me in New York when I was a week old. She met my eyes in the mirror.
( “Merry, you don’t know how long I’ve wanted to answer that question.”)
“Do you want ice cream?” “ok.” We walked toward the convenience store and I noticed she was shorter and frailer than I had realized. We sat on the trunk of the car and ate vanilla ice cream and she said she’d missed me, had always loved me, wanted me to call her Mummy. She said whatever was going to come, it was worth it for this moment. I thought that trading in the rest of her life for an ice cream was stupid. She stayed up all that second night, sitting in the driver’s seat, clutching the car keys. I haven’t had vanilla ice cream since. On the third day she woke me, shaking my shoulder until I sat up. She flung a white T-shirt over my head. “Here. Change. Hurry up.” It felt cheap and polyester and I had to crouch on the backseat floor to obey. “Why? I like mine better.” “I can’t bear to look at that any longer.” She hurled my Gucci T-shirt out the window and started the engine.
I held her gaze, sat back in the seat, and lifted one eyebrow as if to say, ‘So?’
“Hey, that was my favourite!” I said. Seth had given it to me.
She broke eye contact. “I thought money mattered. Brian’s got money, so I thought you’d have a happy life, a stable life. I was a teenager, I didn’t have a job, didn’t have anything, really. I knew that to him I was a mistake. He was never going to leave Monica, so when I got pregnant, I knew it would be my problem and that made me mad. I wanted him to deal with it, to pay for it. Seth said you’d be looked after.”
When we crossed into Manitoba I said, “I want to go home.”
When I was little, I used to think if my mother didn’t love me, why would anybody else?
“Maybe they don’t want you back.” She gripped the wheel and refused to look at me. “What?” “Seth’s a powerful man, Honey. If he wanted to find you, he would have done that already.” “That’s not true!” I scowled at her in the mirror.
“Why did you come back now?”
“Your dad was too distracted to even notice I’d taken you.”
“Because—” she kept flicking her eyes back and forth between the road and the mirror and I was worried we’d crash through the flimsy metal barrier and fall into the river below.
“Dad’s always been like that. It doesn’t mean anything.”
“I couldn’t bear it another minute, Sweetheart. If I waited till you were 18….” She smiled. “Well, you wouldn’t be my baby then, would you?”
By dusk we’d gone through Calgary and crossed into Saskatchewan, finally stopping at a gas station in Swift Current. I looked with interest at the level prairie grass, so different from Seth’s world, my world.
“You’re my daughter. You mean the most to me.” Something twisted in my gut. I told her I needed to go to the bathroom. “You just went!” Her face scrunched in annoyance. The Golden City Kashmir Lesnick-Petrovicz
“Well, I have to go again. Look, there’s an Esso at this exit.” She pulled off the highway and parked. I darted into the store and asked to borrow the cashier’s phone. “Seth? It’s me, Merry.” I wanted Seth to tell me he’d come, he’d get me back. “I love you,” I said. I think he hung up before I said it.
Raindrops smudged red-and-blue lights on the black windshield. Izzy reached through the gap between the front seats and touched my cheek. “Merry.” She opened her door. “It’s time.” “What? What time is it?” I shoved my face against the glass and saw police cars, officers, and two dogs surrounding us. “It’s the end, Merry.” She stepped outside and stood tall. The rain beat her springy curls flat against her back. I scrambled to stand beside her. I didn’t want them to think she’d hurt me. Should I apologize for being grumpy about the T-shirt? Seth came toward me past the officers. He looked the way he always did, like he was in charge of the situation. Izzy grabbed my wrist as if to say, “Come with me” again. “Give her up, Izzy. It’s over.” “No. You can’t have her. She’s my child.” Her voice wasn’t pretty now, but high and stretched like a howl. “This is crazy. Let her go.” “No.” Her hold was beginning to hurt. Next to Seth, my mother looked ragged. “You don’t have a choice,” he shouted. He met my gaze and his voice softened. “Merry, come here.” I broke free and collided with Seth. “Mercedes Anastasia Rose!” I didn’t look back at her cry, didn’t see them handcuff her and take her away. “It’s ok,” Seth said, rubbing my back as I leaned into his chest. “She won’t hurt you again. I’ll make sure she goes to prison for a long time. I promise.” He pulled away to see my face. “Merry, why are you crying?” I had never called her Mummy. (30)
FOOLS RUSH IN Patrick Coles Owen
INT. AIRBNB—DAY (FRASER, 22, lies on a double bed in a respectable airbnb looking out a large window. The sunlight dances on her face. With an unfiltered cigarette clenched between her teeth, she goes over a speech in her head while flipping through a pack of her mom’s old tarot cards.)
(Muttering) I know you wanted us.... (She thumbs the death card. Her little brother, ETHAN, 16, comes around the corner. He smells smoke.)
Can I have one? (She doesn’t look up.)
No, I told you already.
It’s a dirty goddamn habit. I’m not helping you shorten your life. Look at Mom. (ETHAN looks at the tarot cards in FRASER’s hand.)
Not sure Mom would appreciate— (FRASER gives him a deadpan stare then looks down at the cards and back out the window.)
Not sure she’d care, but you could always ask her. (FRASER turns to the urn of ashes.) Do you care, Mom? (No response.) That answers that, I guess.
That’s unlike her. She always had an opinion, a loud one.
Well, she doesn’t have one now.
I think this is the quietest…the calmest she’s been in years. (FRASER glares at ETHAN. he’s on thin ice.) Where’d Uncle Mark park the Airstream?
He doesn’t want us to touch it.
I know. Where’d he park it?
He doesn’t want us to—
I wasn’t going to touch it. (FRASER puts the cards down.)
Why do you want to see the Airstream?
I don’t know.
You’ve never wanted to before.
I don’t know. Just—
Jesus, just let me speak.
It’s just that I know someone who’s interested in it—
We’re not touching the Airstream.
He’s offering good—
We’re not touching the goddamn Airstream!
I wasn’t talking about touching it.
Gotta touch it to sell it.
Guess you’re right.
Why’re you in such a hurry?
It’s just sittin’ there.
It ain’t ours to fuck with, so it sits.
We’ve got power of attorney, right? We’re the benefactors. ‘The beneficiaries shall with discretion distribute, sell, call in, or convert to monies—’
We are not selling the Airstream. (Beat) It’s our birthright.
Well, where is this birthright? (FRASER looks at him.) (FRASER sits outside the airstream trailer. She’s thumbing the lid of her cigarette pack, and it falls open. Three left. She draws one out, strikes a match, and lights the cigarette. She’s still going over her speech.)
(Muttering) I know you grappled with guilt…thought…No. (She hears the door of the trailer open. Ethan steps outside.)
She was really into that Tarot shit, wasn’t she?
She’d always been into it.
I wouldn’t know.
No, I guess you wouldn’t. (Beat) How’s dad doing?
I’ve never seen him cry before.
Was it bad?
No, I’m saying he wasn’t crying. I’ve never seen him cry.
Not even now?
Especially now. (Beat) She didn’t write him out of the will.
Is that all you’re fucking concerned about?
I’m just being practical.
You never had to hold her hand, never had to tell her she wasn’t going to die when she knew damn well she was.
And yet I got the same share you did.
And you got the same share I did. (Beat) Dad still drink?
You know what I mean.
I don’t know. I don’t make it a habit to keep track. (Beat) How are you taking it?
Has anyone asked you?
So? (FRASER ashes the cigarette.)
You do that a lot?
Have been. Thinking about you.
About how I don’t deserve my share?
How you didn’t work for it.
Should it be something I have to earn? (FRASER looks away.) I think I know your problem.
You still loved her.
What the fuck is wrong with—
You still loved her, despite everything.
And you ran away the first chance you got.
I did what I had to do. The drinking, the screaming, the constant abuse...
[22 Major Arcana] copyright [Illusiongraphic] via Creative Market
Patrick Coles Owen
She never hit you.
I never gave her the chance. (Beat) Did she hit you? (FRASER looks down and away.)
Never on purpose.
Never on purpose… So, she hit you. (FRASER looks at her phone.)I’m in my right mind to—
You’re her son.
What do I owe her?
She was the beginning of you, you selfish prick!
And the end of you!
She didn’t do it on purpose. She wasn’t all there sometimes. Listen, please…. If not for her, for me? (Beat)You don’t have to do or say anything. Just be there. Please.
You know, I’m never going to forgive her.
I’m not asking you to. (ETHAN looks at her and nods.) (The sun starts to set on joshua tree. A one-minute timer ticks down on the lock screen of FRASER’s phone. FRASER shuffles the tarot cards. ETHAN sits nearby, handling the urn. He holds it awkwardly, wanting to let go. FRASER is going over the speech in her head. Her lips move, but nothing comes out.)
ext. joshua tree—eVening
Ethan. (ETHAN doesn’t turn.) Ethan! (ETHAN turns to look at her. FRASER taps her wrist. ETHAN saunters over. FRASER reaches for urn. ETHAN pulls it away. She reaches again and ETHAN hands it over. FRASER clears her throat.) Mom, I know you wanted us to come out here more often, to be more like a family. I’m sorry we couldn’t do that…We’re just not…you know. (FRASER rolls the urn from hand to hand. ETHAN watches her.) I know you grappled in the end with whether you were a good parent or not. I’m not a parent, so I can’t judge, but I think you did what you could. (Beat) Too little, too late, I guess. I just want you to know we’re doing alright. (ETHAN looks down.) Know that I forgive you, for most of it. Goddammit…. (ETHAN looks up again. he’s weeping.) I just want to say happy birthday. You wanted to spend more of them here, so now you won’t miss any more. (Beat) That much I can do. (FRASER twists the lid of the urn and looks at ETHAN then twists it back on again and exhales.) ext. joshua tree—later
“The Fool.”) (30)
(The urn sits under the joshua tree, a tarot card leaning against it reads
Bee Happy Lauryn Mackenzie
NINE SYMPHONIES Margot Fedoruk
ON THE RARE OCCASIONS SHE sat still, my mother hid in the dark living room, curtains drawn, warming her fingers around a mug of tea and listening to “The Nine Symphonies of Beethoven.” For an eight-year-old, the shrill violin strains sneaking through the floor vents were monsters. With a pillow over my head to drown out the sound, I cried and kicked my bare feet against the bedframe, jealous she loved something other than me.
My mother didn’t look like the other moms in our mostly Jewish neighbourhood in Winnipeg. She dyed her dark hair a light blonde, had her ears pinned back in an operation. I never saw my mother leave the house without her eyelashes curled. Her outfits were bought secondhand or sewn on her Singer sewing machine. The other moms stood on their front stoops hollering for their kids to come in for dinner, barefoot in unflattering smocks, no make-up, wiry hair, like they had given up. For special occasions, she had a bottle of Poison perfume I could sniff, but not use. Once, to impress my sister Dee Dee, I pulled out the stopper, but clumsily spilled the contents on her bedroom carpet. There was no way to hide the smell. She spanked me and I had to go to bed early every night for a week. From my bedroom window, I gazed through the slot in the curtains, longing to be with my friends. They yelped for joy and I sniffed back tears; there was no changing my mother’s mind. 2. I was nine years old when she locked my father out. He yelled behind the front door from dusk to dark, then it softened to a sob. I thought only children cried. Later that night, two police officers with guns in holsters stood in our kitchen. Their enormous bodies seemed to take up all the space in the room; my mother looked tiny next to them. I sat on the carpeted step watching the scene from my perch, bare feet stretching out the hem of my Holly Hobbie nightie. The officer with a stern face asked if she wanted to charge him, but she shook her head. Her left eye was swollen shut, but her other eye had a fierceness I’d rarely seen.
underestimated. My mother called him a disappointment, but to me, he was the embodiment of fun. If he came home late, which he often did, he’d crawl up the stairs on his hands and knees, snorting like a wild boar, the familiar scent of whiskey and cigarette smoke trailing him like a cloud. “I’m coming to get you!” he would growl. It made me scream in fright, but I loved every minute of it. When she asked him to leave a week later, I sat at the kitchen table plunging the tip of a Crayola into a flame, dripping magenta tears down the neck of an empty bottle. It was 10 in the morning and he’d just gotten home. “Frank, I am sick and tired of this, this…” my mother said, shaking the bottle of Crown Royal. She flushed the amber liquid down the drain with a blast of water. He called her a word I didn’t understand. She pressed her lips together. “I need you to leave this house right now.” Her words rose in a crescendo. My father looked stricken.
( Dee Dee sobbed silently under the table, clutching her Malibu Barbie colouring book, tears rolling down her cheeks. ) “I’ll pack my things,” he said. I could see his hands shake as he steadied himself on the edge of the table. He left the room and my mother began to wash the dishes. When the front door slammed, the flame of my candle shook. I ran upstairs to my bedroom window. He hauled his suitcase down the walkway, chucked it into his brown Oldsmobile, and peeled away. I stretched my neck out until I couldn’t see his car anymore. The trumpets of Symphony Number 6 vibrated through the floor. I pretended to be sick the next few days, laying limp under the sheets and reading Little House on the Prairie. I hardly spoke a word to my mother, feigning illness to punish her.
3. My mother met my father, Frank, at Saint John’s High School. He was her first love and had a wildness she’d Fiction
4. When Troy Bonkowski said he saw my mother on a date with the principal, Mr. Stewart, I crushed his foot into the gravel under my navy blue Keds. Why did my mother want to humiliate me? What was she doing with someone who lived in an ill-fitting brown polyester suit? He drove a station wagon with a bumper sticker that said: jesus saves.
Late one night, I stumbled down the hallway to find my mother on her hands and knees scrubbing a pool of Harold’s vomit from the shag carpet. She looked frail in her thin nightgown. I could hear him retching down the hall as I leaned on the wall.
For Spring Break, Mr. Stewart, who insisted on being called Bob now, invited us on a road trip to the Howard Johnson in Minneapolis. I sulked the whole way while Dee Dee and the two of them belted out the lyrics of Grand Funk Railroad’s “Some Kind of Wonderful” out of tune. Mother put her head back and laughed in a way I’d never seen before. I put my nose in a book and didn’t look up.
“I can manage,” she said without looking up.
5. Mr. Stewart went back to his estranged wife. I was a buck-toothed 12-year-old whose blue polyester Pert Pants got caught in my bike chain. My clothes never seemed to fit me properly. I was overweight—unlike my mother. She stayed home on the weekends now and cooked all our meals for the week ahead. The phone rang. It was Mr. Stewart. She hung up on him and told us to go and play outside while she tied a kerchief on her head and vacuumed the house with a vengeance. The music was so loud it seemed to shake the foundations. Later that night, Dee Dee snuck into my bedroom. I grumbled, but let her burrow under the warmth of the blankets. She cradled my hand like a doll, but I yanked it away and drew an invisible line on the mattress where limbs must not cross. In the morning, Dee Dee walked across the icy floorboards, shivered, tumbled back under the covers, and put her cold feet on my hot legs. I gasped in shock. She gave me a crooked smile, so I let her stay.
( We longed for our mother’s attention, but the two of us had to be enough. ) 6. On the surface, her next husband looked normal: Harold had a government job and drove a gold Chrysler with leather seats. My sister and I performed a mock ballet to the very popular Fifth Symphony (dah dah dah dah!) while they sipped wine on the sofa, applauding our antics. The dog got riled up in the frenzy. I pulled Dee Dee across the carpet by one of her scrawny legs. Her hair stood on end from the friction. Mother and Harold just laughed.
“Can I help?” I asked.
The next morning’s screaming match resounded through their flimsy bedroom door. Harold had a drinking problem. Dee Dee flipped Harold the bird when he walked into the kitchen; I snorted in laughter. He held his hand over his mouth. He had flushed his false teeth down the toilet in the throes of vomiting. I was too busy with friends by then to witness their crumbling marriage, sneaking into bars with a fake i.d. to drink pitchers of cheap draft. We took turns speeding down country roads, headlights off, windows rolled down, cold night air on our cheeks as we hurtled toward some unforeseeable disaster. 7. She suffered her first heart attack in my 18th year. A few months before the second one killed her, I sat on the edge of her bed. I hardly had time to register she might die. The air was sour, and I longed to open the window. I could see blue veins pulse at her temples, but instead of comforting her I complained. “How could you marry Harold? How could you love him?” I asked. “I loved your father,” she said, voice taut as violin strings. I secretly thought her heart couldn’t bear to keep on beating, but I pushed these thoughts down, and started drinking heavily. After she died, I embraced punk rock, the angry lyrics of the Dead Kennedys cranked to full blast. I ripped my clothes to hold them together with diaper pins, sheared my hair to reveal an ugly dip in my scalp. Weekends were spent hunting warm bodies, nights a blur of smooth, hot chests, vodka-and-orange juice licked from wet lips. I half-heartedly applied to university, but didn’t know how to plan for a future that didn’t involve fighting with my mother.
8. I didn’t cry at her funeral. “You’ve got to let it out,” Dee Dee advised. Our father was living in Edmonton by then. I heard he had a drug problem. I married the first man who could take me away and was good in bed. Bill’s tastes ran to country, which suited me just fine. Bill and I moved to Vancouver so he could work in a lumber mill. I ran a gym, working 50 hours a week. Dee Dee got her Master’s in Social Work, ran an addictions centre not far from the north end, where we grew up. We talked longdistance every Sunday night. I imagined her perfectly manicured hands sorting paperwork into little piles while we talked, never one to waste time. She was the only one to call me out on my drinking. “Mind your own business,” I said. Dee gave birth to a son. I stuck Brandon’s class photos to the refrigerator door, Grades 1-6. His lopsided smile broke my heart. 9. It has been 20 years since her death. I have dragged her blue boxed set of Beethoven’s Symphonies across three provinces, never listening to them. It was only after my third miscarriage I hauled her set of records from the damp rafters of the garage and reached for one of its black vinyl discs. The smell of mildew wafted up from the box as I took out Symphony No. 9 in D Minor. The needle circled the grooves as the Royal Philharmonic strings reached a crescendo. I finally cried. I cried with regret for all my selfish indiscretions. I cried for the loss of the little girl I was going to name Ella, after her. I cried until there was nothing left. The notes danced across my skin like the cool fingers of my mother’s caress. I finally understood how she buried sadness with an ode to joy. (30)
Bridge to Nowhere Kristen Bounds
THREE PORTAL ALUMNAE REVISIT THE ROLE THAT SET THEM ON THE PUBLISHING PATH Elijah Robinson
one magazine is celebrating three decades, we thought it appropriate to do one interview that featured three of our recent alumnae—to take a look at how what they did then affected where they are now. It’s tempting to ask for hard-won advice and wax nostalgic about the good old days in the trenches.
N A YEAR IN WHICH
We were also interested in how they made their their mark on Canada’s publishing industry from Vancouver using a four-year degree in Nanaimo that conferred skills, but didn’t necessarily prescribe how to use them. What follows is an illuminating wander down three diverse, but intersecting, roads that start at viu and Portal and arrive at impressive and dynamic destinations, showcasing publishing careers as unique as these inspiring trailblazers.
Sarah Corsie is the Production Coordinator for Caitlin Press and Dagger Editions. She graduated from viu with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 2015 and completed a Master of Publishing degree at sfu in 2017. She has worked in production and marketing for Harbour Publishing, Douglas & McIntyre, and Nightwood Editions, and hosted a podcast called The Book Project.
Meagan Dyer is a production editor at ubc Press. She graduated from viu in 2013 with a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing and Journalism. She interned at Now or Never Press, and has worked at Ronsdale Press, first as a Publishing Assistant, and then as Editor/Marketing Manager.
Jessica Key is the Managing Editor of subTerrain, a Publishing Associate at Anvil Press, and the Publicity and Social Media Coordinator for Iceland Writers Retreat. She interned at Ronsdale Press and has a Master of Publishing from sfu, and Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing from viu, where she was the 2014 Managing Editor of Portal.
How did your trajectory since graduating from viu prepare you for your current roles?
I did an internship at Harbour publishing in production and that rolled into a more permanent position in marketing, which then turned into a marketing position at Caitlin Press, and that eventually evolved into a production position again. I’ve gone back and forth between the two. I definitely am happy where I am now. It’s really nice to bring books to life, especially right now as everything is virtual.
I did an internship with Now or Never Press doing a wide range of tasks—updating their contracts, reading books in the slush pile, the normal entrylevel tasks—but I didn’t know I wanted to go into publishing instead of journalism until I was handing out resumes. Comparing the two industries, I think that was a good choice. When I got hired on at Ronsdale Press, I did production, marketing, grant writing, so it was a good introduction to the industry and helped me see which way I wanted to go.
One of the most rewarding parts of the job is when authors send you emails sharing great feedback they’ve had from readers.
I’m also the Senior Editor for the International 3-Day Novel Contest and work on our annual Lush Triumphant Literary Awards. At the roundtable everyone has their hill to die on; people are so impassioned, care so much, about literature. Getting to send those acceptance letters always gives me a huge thrill. Nearly 95% of my cohort in grad school wanted to be editors and that was true of me too. I love words and helping other people shape theirs. MD:
I had a fairly similar trajectory. In my final year, I knew I was applying to sfu’s Master of Publishing. I wanted to move to Vancouver right away, get experience, get immersed in the publishing industry before starting the program. So, I applied for an internship with Ronsdale Press and Meagan was my supervisor. I learned what a small press looked like. In the mpub, all my practice at Portal was very relevant. John Maxwell, the Program Director, said he felt students coming out of viu’s publishing program had very strong portfolios because we had so much tangible work we could show—a letter to an author, a line edit, a book cover—so I really felt it set me up for success.
What is your current job description in your own words? What aspects of it do you most enjoy or feel particularly suited?
There’s only three of us at Caitlin so I oversee how books go from submission to the printer to the warehouse and then to stores. There’s a lot of coordination along the way, moving the book through the contract, substantive edit, sensitivity read, fact-check, copy edit, design, typeset, cover ideas, proofs, inventory, royalties. I guide authors through it and when it’s their first experience it can be scary, confusing, and overwhelming. Listening to what they need is essential.
At Anvil we are also a very small team of three so we all do a little bit of everything. My day can be ad design, admin work, database maintenance, fulfilling orders, writer’s listings. We have yearly retreats where we share how we are feeling about our work and sometimes we swap tasks to stay fulfilled and enthusiastic.
ubc Press seemed massive after Ronsdale, with 25 people on staff, two of whom are production editors with me. We split up the season’s catalogue and each take on six or seven books each season. My day is very similar to Sarah’s in terms of production, but we have dedicated acquisitions editors we work with to shepherd the book through the publication process. It’s a scholarly press so it has a niche audience and a peer review process. Working with the authors is what I like most. There can be some challenging titles, for sure, but those are also a little bit more rewarding when they do go to the printer.
What were your memories of Portal during your time on the masthead or as a crew student generally?
Portal was a game changer for me. It gave me a clear vision of something I could read as a job. It was exhilarating and the magazine found a place for all of us. I was coming into publishing as a reader rather than a writer, so Portal helped me think about the audience, what people needed, and how to respond to that within our brand. I remember a lot of discussion about each of the pieces, each element and design. I loved being with people who were interested in the same thing I was, saying our peace, championing the work, the joy of getting to talk with smart people. We tried to make sure everyone got heard even if it was hard to reach consensus.
The Game Changer
Portal taught me when to convince someone to kill their darlings, when to hook the reader. It taught me effective communication with first-time writers who are sensitive, to write an effective letter, to offer commentary without raising anyone’s hackles. Managing interpersonal relationships under pressure was a big part of it. My favourite part was taking the time to figure out the narrative flow of the magazine. We had the power to impact someone’s experience of our work. I also got to interview Michael Crummey and that was a highlight. I peppered him with all kinds of questions I wanted to ask a writer of his calibre.
I’ve used skills developed in Portal in my recent roles, and having real-world exercises in the university setting was so helpful. We were taught to edit as much as needed, but we learned to gauge the appropriate number of suggestions, and how to communicate them, case by case.
don’t think this rate is sustainable over the long term, so it is a problem. I’m trying to hire freelancers whose life experiences speak to the books we’re publishing as a way to compensate for this. ER:
What are the challenges you’ve encountered this year in the virtual workplace?
My home life and work life take place in the same room so one of the biggest things I’ve been missing is these natural, organic conversations. However, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to attend online webinars I normally would not have been able, so it has created a more accessible environment. We are doing the best we can and hopefully are getting back to a world in which we can interact in person.
One of the biggest struggles has been managing the expectations of authors. I think some have the perception that things happen online instantly and it’s not necessarily the case. There are still things that go into setting up and publicizing an online event. Social media is not a silver bullet that’s going to turn them into a J.K. Rowling or Rupi Kaur.
I also really enjoyed looking at covers from Graphic Design and going to Word Vancouver and making contacts. It all taught me to know my limits and stay within those rather than volunteering for everything. ER:
We celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8th. Are there any observations about being a woman in publishing you’d like to share?
I work with two women who look a lot like me, which is comfortable, but also something that perhaps unfortunately reflects the publishing scene at the moment. It is less diverse than it could be. I miss hearing from people who aren’t like me (cis white woman in her late 20s) and think that has to change.
At larger houses in the acp (Association of Canadian Publishers) it seems men are still in positions of power as publishers and senior editors, whereas when I look at the lpg (Literary Press Group) there is more gender parity. That said, I think publishing has diversity issues that go beyond gender. In general, when I look around at my peers, most present as cis, white, middle class, and there are things we can be doing to combat that lack of inclusivity.
There are a lot of people who look like me in my office as well, and I hope that can change. It would be lovely if we could have more grants to hire young people who can grow within these companies, particularly people of colour. I think things are starting to improve, but I
Yet it has been an opportunity to reach out to new writers and access professional development we couldn’t have before. I hope this hybrid model continues for junior staff in particular as it gives us a more robust knowledge of how publishing works outside these four walls. MD:
Most of the barriers I had to overcome were personal ones to do with guilt—I think I should be working all the time. Our authors, who are also professors, are struggling with working and teaching and writing, which makes tensions run high and requires more flexibility to roll with the punches and make adjustments to schedules as we go along. I also miss not being able to pop into someone’s office to ask a quick question or rant or cheer someone on.
What advice might you offer to current and future Portalers?
In grad school I heard, “Take any opportunity you can. Do whatever you can. Pay your dues,” but I don’t think that’s something we should buy into. As students, we are working very hard, earning a degree that is worth something, and we should value that. Volunteer for what you believe in, be discerning, but value what you have to offer as well.
There are certain sacrifices you have to make to work in publishing. You will have to budget to live in
expensive cities, to go to launches and readings at night, to respond to emails on weekends, so try to find a work-life separation and balance. Also, broaden your definition of what working in publishing might look like, because you will have more opportunities if you’re willing to try new things. MD:
Know what really interests you and let that guide you and be flexible as you go about your career and look for opportunities. Also, try to network as much as you can; that’s always where I’ve found work. That doesn’t mean you need to go to every event and conference. Just do what you can and try to make connections with people who make decisions. Try and stay up to date with the trends, what people are reading. That will inform your own decision making.
What else could be added to Portal that you think might be valuable down the road?
It’s important to know how publications get into readers’ hands. Distribution isn’t covered in much depth in most publishing classes, but it’s a key piece of the puzzle. It would be valuable to hear that from sales reps, booksellers, to learn about what is selling, who is buying.
I think every year should build the brand’s consistent identity, personality, and readership. Working within the parameters of the brand doesn’t have to limit the design. It should be a unique voice in the broader industry. It’s great groundwork. Also, keep everything you make, from design mock-ups to author letters.
It can be a real uphill battle to get independent booksellers to dedicate shelf space to literary magazines and make the case for why they will sell. How to sell your magazine as a product as well as art is a really important skill. Pitching that to the university to get more institutional support is a case in point. Portal is a beautiful, perfect-bound, full-colour, nationally distributed literary magazine and as a calling card for a small Creative Writing program, and the whole institution, it deserves more than bragging rights. See the complete interview on video at portalmagazine.ca/portfolio. (30)
BORN COLD Dave Flawse
the sub-zero wind while we rested safely inside. Nine lay as the big spoon behind me.
HE CANVAS TENT FLAPPED IN
“Come on, let me see,” she said.
When she jerked to a stop, I cupped my hands and called through the blowing snow, “You ok?”
“No,” I said, tucking my chin under the blanket.
Nine lifted a thumb.
“I love them.” Nine stroked the pink frostbite scars on my jawline. Her sour breath exhaled into my neck. “Please don’t.” Nine pulled the blanket down and kissed the scars on my collar bone. “I think they’re sexy.” She took her time with me, despite our 30 long days together. I shuddered and hoped she didn’t notice. A friend told me you can tell someone’s age from their elbows. Nine’s loosening skin would put her in her early 40s, like me. Her brown hair had lost its lustre and, like mine, was matted. Nine’s lips reached my nipple. “You shouldn’t have come with me.” I told her this almost daily, and I was serious. She asked question after question like a three-year-old. In her mind, I was as committed as she was. She dipped her head beneath the thin blanket. “I’ll show you why I came.” I didn’t object. I shut my eyes and listened to the wind and snow beat against the canvas.
The following day found us trudging along the windward side of a steep slope. I scoured the barren landscape. Our journey south had so far provided no sign of warmth. I needed that sign, now more than ever. My snowshoe bumped into something solid buried in the wind-packed snow. I crouched to find out what it was and Nine bumped into me, falling backward with windmilling arms. The slide would have been endless if we hadn’t been
tied together. I dug my snowshoes in and braced myself against her slipping weight.
( I’d been waiting for a moment like this. Bringing her had been a mistake. ) If I untied the rope, she’d never be able to climb up through the deep snow on her own. Her frozen body could be reanimated at the compound as we all were after The Freeze. I had never enjoyed captivity there—all the monotonous computer tasks—but Nine hadn’t seemed to mind it. She’d excelled even. She remembered nothing of her life before her unthawing at the compound. All she knew was what I had told her of animals, children, summer—all the things that had caused her to latch onto me. I had to unlatch her. After I untied the rope, Nine yelled up through the wind. “What are these big ice blocks?” She patted one. I had nearly forgotten. I inspected the mass my snowshoe had bumped. “It’s avalanche debris!” I yelled. Warm weather had destabilized the snow. It meant I was getting closer to a place without it. It wouldn’t be long now. I retied the rope and helped her up.
Twenty sleeps later, seafoam skirted Nine’s toes. I told her it was the ocean. Behind us, another new word: forest. We had come through it after our descent—white had burst into green. Moss tendrils, ridged bark, finally somewhere my body could decompose and never be reanimated again. I lay in the surf, tears blending with water droplets. Nine dug a hand into the sand. “You’re from here?” I shut my eyes and didn’t answer.
Mountain Top Jon Bethell
“Are there others?” I hadn’t seen smoke on the horizon, or even washedup plastic on the shore. No pop bottles, Styrofoam, or derelict fishing gear. I didn’t think there had been people here for a very long time.
Days later, cross-legged inside our tent, the sea framed in the open door, I pulled out the last sustenance stick. How many years had the machine at the compound dispensed these dry tasteless bars? I hadn’t found anything edible in the forest, but I didn’t care if we found food. Once this stick was gone, we would starve and I would decompose. Rain pelted the canvas. Nine ripped off a bite and scowled. I could see her mind working. “What will we eat now?” “It doesn’t matter.” I swept my arm toward the dull sea. “Being here is all that matters.” “What happens next?” “Starvation.” “Will we die?”
I hadn’t known we’d find this place when we walked south. After I found the snowshoes, tent, and winter jackets, the opportunity to search for warmth had presented itself. They must not have anticipated that eventuality—a man with an intact memory. I knew what to do with the frozen pile of clothes and gear heaped outside the compound. The reanimated didn’t need the gear anymore, and soon we wouldn’t either.
( I was about to propose a quicker way to end our lives than starvation when something appeared in the distance. ) I squinted. It hovered above the water. My stomach roiled. Was it them? Nine followed my sightline. “What is it?” I could make out white wings. It soared above us and I let out the breath I’d been holding. It lingered for a moment before flapping on. “A bird.” “A bird,” she echoed. “Did you see the way it moved through the air? Amazing. I would never have imagined.” “You have no idea.”
“If we don’t eat, yes.” “You brought me here to starve?” “You shouldn’t have come.” Nine’s voice grew squeaky. “I came because I love you. You found warm land. You can find food too.”
It took three days and rubbing until our hands blistered, but we made fire. The miniscule ember finally caught as the sun set behind a masking fog. I fed the flames until our woolen underclothes steamed. We held our palms out to it. Our tattered jackets, propped on sticks, completed
our ragged family. As the sky darkened and the flames diminished, I placed clams on the orange coals. The first scrap I ate was gritty with sand. They didn’t have the sustenance sticks’ rejuvenating quality.
were. I wish they’d left me frozen with Lily, and everyone else, when The Freeze came. Or had they reanimated her too? She had been pregnant. Did she have the child? Maybe they were both alive.
I had often wondered if the sticks contained a mood stabilizer or birth control. I never saw a child at the compound, only reanimated adults.
When I had climbed down, Nine asked me if I’d seen the moon.
Nine sucked the juices from a shell. I asked her if anything had changed since the sticks ran out. She said she’d been bleeding. I sighed. If we lived much longer, we’d need to be more cautious. “It’s normal,” I said. “What do you mean?” “You will bleed every month. The sticks stopped it, but it’s normal.” “Every month?” “Remember how I said the moon cycles every 29 days? You can keep track with that.” There was too much she didn’t know, but also no reason now to tell her. The moon hid for a long time behind the fog. I’d sometimes glimpse waxing or waning crescents, but otherwise I tracked time with our changing bodies. Our blisters became rough with callouses, and we spent our days preparing a shelter and gathering food for winter. Firewood needed collecting and so did my thoughts. Our circumstances had changed. I cursed myself for not knowing more edible plants. Orange tuba-shaped mushrooms poked through the moss on the forest floor. Nine plucked one. I slapped it from her hand. “It will make you sick.” “How are you sure? I’m hungry!” “I just know, ok?” Before the last new moon, I wouldn’t have cared. I had perched myself in a tall tree, imagined stepping off. Nine, a speck far below, stood watching me. Why did they bring me back? I didn’t even know who they
“Why?” “My blood. It never came back.”
I hurried down a slippery path carrying a basket of fish to the shelter. I’d left Nine alone tending the fire because without the heat, we would die. Winter’s deep snow meant our food came from the sea. Fortunately, pounding storms brought fish, muscles, and giant barnacles attached to kelp. Smoke rose from the branches and canvas tent leaning over a depression in the ground. It was as dry as we could make it. We talked about building something stronger next summer. We couldn’t leave this place; the journey back to the compound would be impossible without adequate food. I hadn’t known she would carry it this long. The snow came and her belly had swollen like a blister. Naturally, she asked me about her transformation. I told her it was a parasite, but not to worry, because it would be gone soon. It was easier if she didn’t know what was coming. I’d been to midwife appointments with Lily, and seen a horse give birth once, but otherwise I didn’t know what to do when labour began. She wanted to help with chores, but I told her to rest and eat. She needed to save her strength. I rubbed fish oil over Nine’s belly. My hands explored her perfect unblemished skin. Nine had been plucked from the deep freeze like the rest of us, but something had gone wrong with me: the scars, the first-life memories. Nine’s breathing steadied as she slept. On my hands and knees, feeling around in the dark, I pushed open the tent flap. A gentle breeze rustled the snow-laden branches. I removed my torn shoes and the snow burned my feet. Losing a family once was enough. (30) Once in Summer Ta Udomchaisakul
Snow floats through frigid railing spindles revealing unseen spiderwebs. Sagged branches slough snow in upended mushroom clouds. Spurge laurel leaves wilt. Waxy Oregon grape blades stiffen, stretch—summoning spring. A towering fir’s slumped fortress fails to stifle swift winter wren trills. A woodpecker’s knock ricochets from conifer canopies. Alders pierce slush-crusted pools where gold veins cleave the weight of winter. Snow wafts from cedars on ocean winds, like a soul drifts from a body.
Into the Dark Woods Alexandru Stanciu
BIRDS OF A FEATHER Rose McQuirter
OMETHING RATTLES THE WINDOWPANE. Keet lies in bed and squeezes her eyes shut, convincing herself it’s the winter wind—that savage gusts shake the rotten frames all the time—but she knows it’s a bird.
The rattling stops.
Keet lowers her duvet and peeks into the grey room breathing dust. A strange country hum drapes itself on the sills and doorways and Pete’s side of the bed. She can hear branches across the road crack beneath snow, the shivering worms in the black, stiff earth, and the journalists in the city writing things about her: Lady Keet Quits Concerts: Her Baffling New Years’ Resolution. Keet folds back the blanket and approaches the window, pulling the curtain aside. Pete’s car is still gone. He backed out the previous night, his brown sedan shrinking like a hungry rodent into the night. She swore she’d heard wheels turning into the snow-packed driveway this morning, but the spot is bare. She looks for the man she saw crouched near the road yesterday, the stranger who crept out of the ditch after dark.
“He had a beak,” she’d told Pete, who pretended not to hear her and continued packing. She shuts the curtains. In front of the mirror, Keet releases her hair. Even after rinsing with apple cider vinegar, the strands stink like coins, dirty pennies caked in lint. Pete likes it—the scent of money. He made sure to dump coins on the bedside table so the smell of metal hitting hundreds of palms, and eventually falling into his, wafted up his nose as he slept. Keet opens her mouth.Her throat feels scratchy, but her tongue is still there, pinched between her chipped front teeth. She starts to cough. Downstairs, she swallows some cold coffee from the pot. When she stops choking, the quiet pushes in. Pete said the house in the country might inspire Keet to sing again because it never spoke itself. He made sure to pack its radios into the trunk of his car and left the dust-caked tube tv in the cellar, unplugged, so she wouldn’t hear that either. “Not even rodents can stand it out here,” he said, as though the thick quiet would coax her back to the stage. He seemed to forget that even his mum’s abandoned
cottage was a symphony. The kitchen faucet tapped out a lone drip every few seconds. The fridge clucked and hummed, the mattress shrieked, the knobs clicked.
( Pete must have forgotten another appliance, because music muttered in the basement, coming on every day at three o’clock. ) She drifts over to the window above the kitchen sink and looks out. Fat snowflakes start to fall. The yard begins to look smothered, pinned down under the heavy weight of white. She liked it when things couldn’t move, but something was moving now. Keet dumps the coffee pot in the sink and leans toward the glass. There’s something behind the lattice in the yard, but she can’t make it out. A shoulder, a head, maybe a wing? The shape stays crouched. She gets the feeling that it’s spotted her too. It’s the same pressure she feels from an audience when she’s on stage—their impatient gazes. She turns away, but her eyes catch Pete’s photo of their graduation class above the dining table. Robbie Michaels glares at her from the sea of students. Feathers gather in Keet’s throat, a drag of fibres at the back of her mouth. She opens the fridge to avoid the photo and drinks from the milk carton. Afterwards, she wanders to the back of the house where there are fewer windows and less lattices. She settles on the bed in Pete’s mom’s room and tries not to think about the ditch-man with a beak, or how Pete said he’d be back in a few hours. Keet opens the bedroom closet. She nearly spits out her milk. The rack is crowded with fur and feather coats, like animals—bear, deer, raccoons—with their backs turned. She steps forward to pull out one of the coats and her foot lands on something silky, slippery. The back half of the closet is littered with red feathers. As far as she knew, Pete’s mom loved
animals and yet every sleeve feels real. Her hands feel filthy. Keet steps out and heaves the closet doors closed, but they keep popping back open, animals fighting to get out. “Mum loves birds,” Pete used to say. “She’s mad about parakeets and they don’t even sing.” Keet rushes to the kitchen to call him, but there are only mangled wires where the phone used to be. She remembers now; he chucked that in his trunk too. She searches the house for a second phone because her tongue is dry, and there’s a flapping in her left ear that won’t quit. In the upstairs bathroom, she finds a phone that resembles a blow dryer. She dials and watches herself in the mirror while it rings. At some angles, she thinks she sees stage makeup clinging to the edges of her face. “Are you ready?” Pete asks. They’ve barely said hello. The flapping in her ear becomes more urgent, like there’s a bird downstairs crashing into walls. “Are you ready to sing, Keet? I knew you couldn’t take the quiet—” That tv comes on in the basement. It seems louder this time. “How are you calling me right now?” Pete asks. “Mum only had the one phone and that one’s in my car. Did you walk to the station? That’s like five kilometres in the snow.” Keet drops the phone in the sink. The blow dryer clatters against the porcelain. Downstairs, she searches for the source of the noise and confirms it’s in the cellar. When she opens the basement door she bites her tongue hard and tries not to see the glow from the far end, the muted light that moves. She changes her mind. She will sing again. Maybe the voice and the money aren’t her own, maybe the birds will smack her hotel windows, and maybe the dirty money will never wash out of her hair. She and Pete will brave a tour, and even if the man with the beak tracks her on the street she will go on. As Keet reaches to shut the door, two flat hands press on her back and she goes flying down the stairs with her tongue between her teeth.
Winter Sheds Jenna Cronshaw
Birds of a Feather
Keet rests on the edge of the bed at the Blue Flamingo Inn. Red feathers fall out of her costume and gather at her ankles. “I pushed her,” Keet admits. Pete turns around the room in a frenzy, searching for something to chew on. “Pushed who?” Pete asks. She catches his arm and pulls a penny from her purse. It’s barely in his palm before it reaches his tongue. “I pushed Robbie Michaels.” “Robbie from high school? So what?” “She bit… bit her tongue when she fell.” “And it came off. What’s your point, Keet?” Keet looks down at the blood-red feathers on her lap. She remembers how they fell out on stage at the Christmas fundraiser, and that the louder she sang the more they shed, the more the audience looked like a crowd of Robbies wearing feather boas and clapping. Or flapping? Pete spits out the penny. “Look at this.” He presses his backpack into her arms. “Feel how much money is in there!” The bag is stressed at the seams and she feels sick holding it. She’d never felt sick about the cash before. Pete had complained for months when they toured that it stank, that it didn’t matter how many times he washed his hands and his jeans. He lit candles and used body washes and scrubbed his face pink. He left air fresheners in the pockets of his bag. All this changed last night after the show when he dumped the cash on his bed and rolled in it, laughing. Keet was always taller than Pete, but now he towers over her and speaks into her face as if she hears with her eyes. “Who cares about Robbie? She married Julian Michaels. They hit the gym five days a week and have three kids and take Christmas photos in front of a fat white tree.” He drifts into the hotel bathroom and Keet hears the tap run, the brush against his teeth. “You know Robbie used to sing?” Keet says. “That’s why I pushed her. She had this smooth voice, not like mine used to be. I squeaked at the talent show—” Keet’s throat feels small. She starts undoing the buttons at the neck of her costume.
try. When I go up there it sounds beautiful, but by the song’s end I feel like my tongue has disappeared.” Keet wraps herself in the hotel comforter. Pete doesn’t respond and instead rinses his toothbrush, flicks off the bathroom light, and settles on the opposite bed. He runs his tongue over his teeth. “Still tastes like pennies,” Pete says, sounding pleased.
They move into Pete’s mum’s place after Christmas. On New Year’s Eve, Pete shuffles around in the darkest part of the basement and drops the tv where Keet can’t see it. He materializes again when he steps under the basement’s dull bulb and pauses there with a penny between his teeth. “This way you won’t hear anything.” “It doesn’t change anything.” Keet tries to hold his eyes, but she can’t find them. “I already told you I won’t sing again. It feels like—” “Your tongue might fall off. Yeah, yeah.” Pete’s penny clicks against his teeth. “You stay in all this quiet and your ears will fall off.” Keet gives up trying to find his eyes and stares across the room instead.
( When she gazes too long it looks like something is flapping back there. ) Pete grabs her shoulders, but doesn’t meet her eyes. “Look, Keet, I’ll take you to the best doctors if you just admit that you’re a mess. You look like a goblin from a Fuseli painting. Are you hydrated? Do you need a shower? What is it?” Now she does hear flapping, like a bird whose wing is caught, but Pete doesn’t seem to notice. “I coughed up red feathers this morning,” Keet admits. “I haven’t worn feathers in a month. I don’t even—” Pete throws his hands up and brushes past her toward the stairs. The flapping ceases when his heavy foot hits the first step. He stops halfway up. “Robbie Michaels isn’t coming for you, Keet.” She responds: “You’re right, she isn’t.” He pounds up the stairs and she swears he mutters, “But something is.” (30)
“After she fell, I could sing, but Pete, when I hear my voice it sounds like hers. I swear it is Robbie. I don’t even
Heron Now Chantelle Calitz
Y A W A D n E I R Ga i R y l i Em CA ts. ter je e h d g i l fi ns g rd like hero a Blue y backy eful, n. m i r ove soar, pr d ling ocea oad l the r s s They ds the ro o r r acr towa hbou g i e rn g, ou Dou ovating. he says. n. , o ch is ren ost done be over so scree m l e s l l t a h i s t s e ’ w t I with eir n acket in th ries mix pounds The r h c r c e eir head ns p hero atch. Th and my gun. e w Th eep l s nai e saw k and ug’s tabl ud of hi h o of D he dull t t h t wi
ys. wn ug sa oop do o D w war, gle s s. re at w an ea ’ young. s overall a s d a s i r s i n h b e o r The lls me h the he sting off e y u He t arry awa e says, d ons c h , d e an e her tur h a t n h s ’ watc That ng, I tlefield. i n r mo bat ng Each t for the s guardi long? ced i r repla e depa der who for how r a n d trees r I wo nests, an ruce n views? ll be ove p s r e i i a h t e w the c o re . noise and befo ong ll hoops , but the me sleep l w o s n Ho sketba o t age ly ge a by b ar will w ill final w w The e guilty h t d an
EXT. DUNCAN TOWN—RAGGED ISLAND, BAHAMAS—MORNING (The break of dawn provides a beautiful backdrop for this middle-class street in a town of under 100, lined with pastel-coloured houses.) INT. D'ANDRÉ'S ROOM—MORNING (D’ANDRÉ SWEETING, 17, lays awake in bed. He’s tall, skinny, wrapped in his blanket like a burrito. His vacant eyes show us he is emotionally devastated. Light seeps into the bare room revealing bland, chipped walls and cracks in the ceiling. A single picture of his family is on the wall. His mother, NICOLE SWEETING, 41, rummages through his closet. She removes all the black clothes from his collection, though there isn’t much to choose from.)
Maybe it’s time we got you a funeral suit, huh? (Her comment gets no response. She sits on the bed, next to D’ANDRÉ.) Once you get dressed, maybe you can spend time with Anthony. I think he’s missing you. (She rests her hand on his arm, but it brings him no comfort). INT. SWEETING FRONT ROOM—MORNING (D’ANDRÉ and his little brother, ANTHONY SWEETING, 13, sit in silence. They’re on opposite sides of the couch, refusing to look or talk to each other. On the tv we see a tourism commercial with the slogan “It’s Better in The Bahamas” playing. White tourists step off a private plane onto sandy white shores. They are greeted by smiles from the locals, who lead them to a luxurious villa. The tourists sit near the pool, surrounded by beautiful palm trees and hibiscus plants. As they wait, the locals serve Bahama Mama drinks and strawberry daiquiris. The boys’ eyes are glued to the screen. Their dad, JORDAN SWEETING, 43, turns off the tv. He’s well-dressed, sleepdeprived, and overworked, wearing signature black shades that hide any semblance of emotion. He strides towards D’ANDRÉ.)
Come here, D’Andre. (D’ANDRÉ does as he says. JORDAN removes his son’s tie, puts it around his own neck, and redoes it loosely.) You know you can always talk to me if you need to, right? (D’ANDRÉ nods his head. He doesn’t make eye contact, though. JORDAN places the tie around D’ANDRÉ's neck and tightens it.) Good. (NICOLE enters the room, impeccably styled in a black pant suit.)
Hurry up or we'll be late. (Everyone follows her out the door.)
PASTOR ROLLE (PRE-LAP):
EXT. SWEETING YARD—CONTINUOUS
(They walk from their house down the road, past their beautiful yard.)
Family and friends are important…always will be. INT. CHURCH OF GOD OF PROPHECY—MORNING (PASTOR ROLLE, 61, stands at the altar. He’s handsome and has perfect posture. His sunken eyes indicate he hasn’t had a good night's sleep in a long while. A picture of a smiling JOHNNY is placed next to the pulpit. The congregation sits cramped in tiny pews. Many fan themselves to remain cool.)
Fortunately, Johnny had a good support system. He had people who were there for him no matter what. It wasn't difficult to love and trust him. Johnny was kind, funny— (D’ANDRÉ sits in the crowd, fighting back tears. He scans the congregation for his friends. A group of young people wear shirts with Johnny’s face and the words “gone too soon” printed on them. He looks to his right and sees his father, stonefaced. To his left is his brother who isn't paying attention and chewing on a piece of gum like a cow chewing cud. D’ANDRÉ looks down at his shoes. A red puddle has formed beneath them. He follows Roots of the Sea Kashmir Lesnick-Petrovicz
the trail up to…the coffin. It’s tied in chains and locks. He hears a faint tapping. A few members in the audience take notice.) PASTOR ROLLE:
Johnny was bright, and young— (A much louder thud comes from inside the coffin. There is a moment of silence and then concerned murmuring.)
Settle down everyone. It’s alright. Everything is under control. (The pastor tries to collect himself. Looks at his notes.) Johnny was a bright— (Thud! Loud noises come from the coffin, along with the sound of rustling chains. Blood continues to seep from its creases. Someone, or something, is trying to get out.) ext. church of god of prophecy backyard—continuous (Pallbearers hurriedly carry the coffin to the cemetery in the church’s backyard. Others, including D’ANDRÉ, walk close behind them. They put the coffin in the hole prepared for it. D’ANDRÉ leaves before the crowd disperses.) int. hole—continuous
(The pallbearers frantically fill the hole with dirt.)
ext. forest—day (D’ANDRÉ sits on the roots of a silk cotton tree staring into the distance. He’s shaded by its branches, but surrounded by nothing but weeds, bush, and dirt, a complete contrast to the commercial he watched earlier. D’ANDRÉ looks up as the sun illuminates the face of ANASTACIA MOXEY, 16. She’s has jet-black locks that match her black dress.)
BOBO: ANASTACIA: BOBO: ANASTACIA: BOBO:
D’ANDRÉ: BOBO: ANASTACIA: BOBO: D’ANDRÉ: BOBO: D’ANDRÉ:
I couldn't stay to watch that…. It was too much. No one blames you for leaving, D….Do you want to talk about it? (D’ANDRÉ shakes his head and taps his foot frantically. ANASTACIA sits beside him and rests her head on his shoulder. JEVON "BOBO" BUTLER, 17, comes out of the bushes. He has fuzz on his upper lip he would call a mustache. He's dressed in khakis and a worn black, crinkled, button-down shirt.) Can someone please explain what the hell just happened?! I mean, you guys saw what I just saw, right? I'm not crazy? It's ok, Bobo. Relax. Relax? Either I just saw someone get buried alive or— It’s Obeah, dark magic used here on the islands. Some people can’t let go of their loved ones, so they try to bring em’ back. It happens. You'll get used to it. (A lengthy beat as Bobo absorbs what was just said.) Dark magic? Bringing the dead back to life? Get used to—do you hear yourself? You’re the crazy one. D’André, back me up here. You look just as freaked out as I am. (ANASTACIA gives BOBO a quick, reprimanding glance to shut him up.) Like Ana said, it happens. I don’t know if you get used to it though. No one thought to tell me about this stuff when I first got here? I should’ve turned around and left on the same boat I came in on. Would you have believed us if we had? Besides, I thought you said you were Bahamian? You don’t know what Obeah is? I’m technically Bahamian-Canadian, alright? You shouldn’t just assume that’s something everyone knows. This, this has to be some kind of sick joke. I’ve seen worse. What could be worse than the dead rising? (D’ANDRÉ looks away.) The Lusca.
Better in The Bahamas
ANASTACIA: D’ANDRÉ: ANASTACIA: D’ANDRÉ:
BOBO: ANASTACIA: D’ANDRÉ: ANASTACIA: D’ANDRÉ: BOBO: ANASTACIA: D’ANDRÉ:
The Lusca? Where? I went diving at our spot, the blue hole you named after your dog. D’André— I know, I know. It’s dangerous. I didn’t dive that deep though, I swear. I was on my way back up to the surface when something started pulling me back down. Look. (D’ANDRÉ pulls his pant leg up, revealing a bruise that looks like a suction cup with tiny white circles in the purple flesh. They examine it.) What’s the Lusca? (to BOBO) Folklore. Half shark, half octopus. It’s supposed to be nearly 25 metres. (To D’ANDRÉ) Did you actually see something, D? I saw its tentacles, yeah. Maybe it was just a regular octopus— And a shark fin…Listen, your Grammy ever tell you folktales? My grandparents are dead. Sorry to hear that. Mine did. B’Booki and B’Rabbi, Tar Baby, the Golin, Chickcharney, Lusca… Jack and the School Master. The Lusca’s not the only one I’ve seen. (The wind and rain blow heavily, shaking the trees and bushes. D’ANDRÉ stumbles through the trees. His crazed eyes scan the area. He thinks he hears something.)
At first, I thought I was chasing a wild animal. (It’s getting difficult for him to see or hear anything. There’s a blood-curdling screech. D’ANDRÉ considers leaving but presses forward. Not long after, he sees something.)
But I swear, it was the Chickcharney. There’s no doubt in my mind. (It's dark, so all he can make out is a bird of some kind, maybe an owl. It’s a metre tall and has a tail. It slowly turns its head around, without moving its body. Its eyes glow red. D’ANDRÉ stops dead in his tracks, a horrified look on his face.)
ext. forest—day—back to present
BOBO: ANASTACIA: BOBO: D’ANDRÉ:
(ANASTACIA and BOBO share a glance.)
Am I supposed to know what that is too? It’s… it’s hard to explain, but if he ran into the Chickcharney and lived to tell the tale, that would be a good thing. If you see one and are respectful to it, it will grant you good luck. If you’re disrespectful, it either grants bad luck or…you die, basically. You die? How? I don’t think you want to know. It’s pretty gruesome. (BOBO looks as if he’s about to pass out. He sits down.) ok. I'm not saying I don't believe in all of this, it’s just that it’s a lot to take in, you know. I'm still trying to process what happened at the funeral. Ana, you have to believe me. You must have seen something. (ANASTACIA fixes the chain of her bike. In the corner of her eye, she notices a man in a black three-piece suit and fedora staring at her. Once the chain is on, she rides in the man’s direction. She smiles at him, but now that she’s a bit closer, the man looks less human. His eyes and teeth are all…wrong.)
ext. forest—day—back to the present (ANASTACIA looks worried for a moment, but she snaps out of it.)
D’ANDRÉ: ANASTACIA: D’ANDRÉ:
Do you realize how ridiculous this sounds? Even if the stories were real, the Chickcharney lives in Andros, and the Lusca would be closer to Long Island, no? The School Master…he’s supposed to be the literal devil. Why would he be here, of all places? I know how it sounds, but I mean, maybe Obeah’s involved. Maybe someone’s bringing more than just people back to life. I know you and Johnny were close. Seeing him today must’ve been really difficult— Stop. This isn’t grief, or my imagination. I'll find proof; just wait. (30)
SPEAKING TO AND FOR THE DEAD ACROSS CULTURES Patrick Wilson
9TH OF THIS year, the following three writers from The Bahamas, Venezuela, and Tla'amin and Lilwat Nations participated in a two-hour Global Citizens Week event reading from their work and engaging the audience in a lively question-and-answer period. This Portfolio Spotlight was so successful, we wanted to capture excerpts of it here, with the full video available on our website. We also wanted it to be the inaugural feature in what will become an annual space held for emerging talents who are crafting works that intentionally write and right the cultural truths of their lived experience. It’s Portal ’s way of representing underrepresented voices too often at the margins and inviting them here to take centre stage.
Patrick Wilson: Kesu, as someone who comes from an Indigenous culture that celebrates the oral tradition, why did you choose to pursue Creative Writing and put your stories into print? Kesu Beaton: This is something I’ve struggled with my whole life, but I’ve realized something written and something heard are entirely different experiences for the audience. Reading is a tactile phenomenon, whereas active listening is holding space. As an Indigenous person, I thought it was important to bridge that space. The written form can travel faster and farther, but it’s more forgettable. For example, people will re-read books and catch details as they re-read them, but when you hear a story you have to rely on your memory and experience. I wanted to understand this and find a way to make the oral last longer, be more accessible, and travel farther faster. In my oral storytelling, writing techniques can still be useful. An excerpt from the prose poem “Some Stories Are Warnings”:
All that is in the universe exists as a story either told or heard. The only thing inextricably true about stories are that they are inexorable. The history of the world is a story, upon a story, upon a story, upon a story. The story of today is the story of dominance. The biggest, most righteous, most intelligent, most modern, most civilized, most holy, most white, is the story we hold to be self-evident. This story came equipped with a knife and whip and cut tongues out of mouths and lashed bawkwam qaymixwqenem. Slaxothachxw. Do you not speak the language? Xwach?echxw?ajuthemetaxw. Do you not understand the language? Xwach?ajuthmeten kwath qway. I don’t understand your language. The domination of one story sweeps the other under the rug, but these are still just stories. Some stories are true. Some stories are not. Some stories are warnings. These stories each use the sacred powers: mind, voice, word. Even though I may write the code—a language hidden in plain sight that casts our likeness across the skies, the stars, the oceans—that code is just a string of words. It is affirmations and negations, yeses and nos, ones and zeros. Yes does not make it so. I have words, so many words, you could never possibly entertain them all.
Here is a place where the land is alive and breathes when I breathe. The Salish Sea has had its fill of me, for generations upon generations. I am a diluted version of the ancestors who have come and gone across the Strait, whaling and racing canoes. Here there are words older than the languages that have imprisoned what and who we hold sacred. The stories right and wrong have been taken and stored in tomes in homes of stone on hills stolen with guns. They save savages from themselves and replace their words with the word of God—which makes our words weapons. Our words became jail sentences. In my language there is a word, Sukwom, that means to go with the wind, as though you are on a boat. There is another word, Sawsukwom, that means fear of the dead, but not of the dying. When we die, we become one with the world and our spirit goes back to the Creator. We become one with the wind. Sukwom atz qomqom. My friends, go with the wind. See where it takes you. The land here speaks, if only you’d listen. You are a story, a series of events and relationships, woven with place. The story of the land cannot be told without you, nor can you exist without it. The story of this land is spoken in a different language. She hasn’t lost her ability to speak. We’ve given up the time required to listen. The wordfor family is the same as tree. When you cut down my Elders, you’re killing me.
An excerpt from the short story “Divine Intervention”:
When Gael was 19, a man possessed by the spirit of an elder during one his mother’s séances said to him, “You will get where you want to go, but your path is one of stones.” He took it as a warning. After false starts for his acting career, drugs, alcohol, and prostitution, he turned to the last thing he thought could help him: Santeria. His mother, Lily, was a witch, the most powerful Santera in her city. She was a Miami lawyer by day. A Santero or Santera can summon the dead to do their bidding, to seek clarity, heal someone, or harm them. When one messes with the realm of the dead, grim things follow. Gael spent most of his life avoiding this side of his heritage, but had learned a few things when he was younger. He knew how to cleanse a space of violent spirits and entities, make protective charms, sing sacred summoning songs and drum, divine the importance of salt circles and dreams, but his mother’s séances were too much for him to take. Before leaving, he warned his mother, “You are messing with violent spirits. Do you realize what you’re dealing with?” Gael packed a bag that night and called a friend to pick him up. He promised himself he would never mess with Santeria again. Now, he made a summoning circle with salt on the floor of his living room. Yemaja, the deity of motherhood, fertility, and the sea would help him. He set up some candles he had laying around in case the electricity went out. He tried to remember the laws of summoning from the Book of the Dead. There were four:
1. Respect and venerate your ancestors. 2. Use your ache (life force) with clear purpose. 3. Be respectful and kind to the muertos (spirits of the dead) 4. Perform rituals, songs, and sacrifice as dictated by the book. He repeated his name three times as he lit the candles. “I’ve been having visions about you—your pain, your drugs, your attempted suicide. I wanted to run to you, but Yemaja told me to wait. She assured me you would pull through. I have sent you a package. Inside there are some tools I’ve blessed. Use them to carve your savior. She lives within you. Close your circle now, you won’t need it. It will bring out the power within you and liberate you from the hold of addiction.” The next morning, a package arrived containing a make-up bag with handmade brushes and a vial of liquid glitter. He understood. He had loved wearing his mother’s clothes and heels when she wasn’t home and then he knew what he had to do. In a matter of hours, he had a spot to perform at a drag spotlight show in one of the busiest gay clubs on Davie Street. He bought shadow palettes, lashes, a wig, and a dress. When he got home he asked Yemaja to send him a name. When he stepped out of the shower “Divine Intervention” was scrawled on the foggy mirror. Yemaja had named him.
Patrick Wilson: Gabriel, can you tell us about the reception this work might have had in Venezuela if you had read it there? Gabriel Villasmil: The queer aspect of the story would be rejected flat-out. In Venezuela, everybody has a role they must fulfill, or they’ll be punished. It’s very macho, which means that if a story features anything about a man playing with his gender or gender expression, or dressing up as a woman, this would become the focus of the story rather the journey of the main character. Santeria is part of our culture, though its magic originated in Africa and then made its way to Cuba and then to South America. It’s Voodoo and Catholic because they pray to saints…. Venezuelans are very religious and Santeria is considered witchcraft, which means it’s evil or the devil. So, by extension I am someone from hell, a witch, a queer. I’m sure some people would have identified and found elements of the story familiar to their own experiences, but they would be the exception and likely afraid to admit it.
Raising the Spirits
Patrick Wilson: Danielle, do you feel pressure to accurately represent Obeah in The Bahamas, even in a movie script, and did you do so to correct assumptions people might bring to it? Danielle Minnis: The short answer is yes, I do feel some pressure. There are different variants of Obeah in other countries. For example, in Haiti there’s Voodoo. The Bahamas and Bahamian culture is rarely seen in the media. The few times that it is, it reflects misconceptions about our music, our food, the way we speak, our accents, the way we dress. So, when I present my work to people, I keep in mind that it’s most likely the first time the audience is learning about The Bahamas and if it’s not the first time, whatever they saw before was probably incorrect. This is the opportunity for me to correct those misconceptions or those stereotypes. An excerpt from the film script “Sink”:
(Sounds of splashing and screaming. The scene opens with DEVON BAIN, 14, submerged to his neck, flailing his arms, and screaming for help. He’s drowning. His brother and sister stand waist deep in the shallower water a few metres closer to shore, trying to block out his cries for help. MOYA BAIN, 13, cannot bear it. The oldest child, ANTON BAIN, 16, stares at his stepmother LISA CARTWRIGHT, 42, who stands facing them on the shore, unmoved.)
DEVON: Please, please. No. Help me! PLEASE! Ahhhh—(He is nearly pulled under the murky water. He struggles for breath. Everyone else stands in silence.) LISA: I don’t know why you all insist on making this so difficult. It’s simple. I ask you a question, you answer it...truthfully. (MOYA is near tears. LISA sees this, but turns her attention to ANTON.) Who was it, boy? (ANTON continues to stare at her. LISA is beginning to lose her patience.) WELL??!! (ANTON does not answer, but stands there, in silence. Within seconds ANTON sinks deeper into the water, as if something is pulling him down. MOYA screams.) ANTON: I’m fine. I’m fine. (Everything is calm for a moment then he is pulled further into the water. MOYA panics.) MOYA: I’m sorry, ok. Honestly. LISA: So, was it you? ANTON: No! (He sinks deeper. MOYA turns to LISA.) MOYA: Stop! Please! (MOYA turns her attention to ANTON.) You don’t have to protect me anymore. LISA: You? You...stained my dress? (MOYA hesitates.) MOYA: I didn’t mean to. I only wanted to look at it. I realized after the fact I spilled something and.... I tried getting it out. I’m sorry, I truly am. (LISA and ANTON wait to see if MOYA will sink. She doesn’t.) You have your answer, now please let us out. (LISA smiles.) LISA: Why do we have to keep going through this, huh? Why do you three constantly disobey your mother? ANTON: YOU ARE NOT OUR MOTHER! You’re a leech! You suck the money, joy, and life outta any man you can get your hands on. (MOYA puts her hand on ANTON’s shoulder to try to comfort him.) If our dad was still alive— LISA: Well, he’s not! So, you take your orders from ME now! (ANTON takes a moment to collect himself.) ANTON: I wish you had died. LISA: Really? Do you share the same wish, Moya? MOYA: I just wanna go home. LISA: That wasn’t an answer. (MOYA sinks deeper into the water.) MOYA: Yes! Yes! I do.... If I had to choose. (LISA sighs and looks away. As she does, DEVON emerges from the water, coughing, and walks to land. ANTON and MOYA are freed and walk to land as well. LISA towers over them, casting a shadow.) LISA: Do not let this happen again. (MOYA nods. LISA leaves and the three siblings reluctantly follow.) FADE TO BLACK.
HOWLERS Robert Bowerman
Costa Rica 2019
Every morning at five I’d wake up with goosebumps to a great grinding groan like the wail of wind whistling between high rises, buildings far from the lush greenness of this jungle canopy.
That last summer Old Bill stopped smiling. Recently widowed, he would sit on his stoop in his ratty housecoat and fuzzy slippers and drink beer at 10 in the morning. He’d litter the lawn with cigarette butts and empties, swearing and howling so loud I thought he’d pop a vein.
Later I learned that it’s the loudest sound in the animal kingdom— monkeys calling to each other saying they’d made it through another night. They were alive.
One day the ambulance took him away. Nobody ever saw him again. I was surprised I missed him.
Totoro House Malcolm Simard
MALIK INCARNATE Evan Shumka
IMON HAD NEVER BEEN ABLE to settle on an imaginary friend. He thought of a new one every day, but they never lasted long. Barboom the Turtle was succeeded by Oloptix the Terror Bird, and so on. None of them ever seemed solid, and they’d quickly fade. A boy of his imagination should have a proper imaginary friend, just like his sister Brooke did. She spent more time with her imaginary friend, Malik, than with anyone else.
Malik had first turned up two years ago, when Simon was six. Brooke, who was 11 at the time, was having a tea party in her room. She had her own little teapot with butterflies on it. All her stuffed animals had been invited. One seat, right beside Brooke, had been left empty. “Simon,” Brooke said, gesturing to the chair. “This is Malik.” Simon couldn’t see him, of course, but he did feel a certain presence. Unlike his own imaginary friends, Simon knew beyond a doubt Malik was there. He’d known the moment the name was spoken. Maybe it was in the way Brooke had tilted her head up to look at an exact point above her as she introduced Malik to him, maybe it was the way Simon could feel invisible eyes looking down on him. “Can I borrow Malik after tea?” Simon had asked. “No,” Brooke said. “He only likes me.”
Simon found himself longing for tea and biscuits as he stared at his plate of lentils, wild rice, and dry spinach salad. Mom and Dad were already finished. Simon didn’t understand how they could enjoy such cruel, bitter meals. He looked over to Brooke who was picking at her food like a bored cat. She always did that now, even on spaghetti nights when Simon’s jaw would unhinge and he’d engulf his dinner in minutes. When Dad had asked her about it, she said she wasn’t hungry. When Simon asked her, she said she was saving it for Malik.
Brooke had recently started middle school and Simon missed playing with her at recess. He used to lead his friends to her, like cavemen to a mammoth. They’d pile onto her, trying to bring her down, but they never could. Brooke was mighty. The only time he got to see her now was at home where she’d immerse herself in books. Simon would sit on the floor at her feet and wait for her to resurface—sometimes for hours. She could hold her breath underwater for quite some time.
She never wore a swimsuit at the beach. She’d dive straight into the frigid waters in her shorts and T-shirt. Simon had a sleek pair of swim trunks, which he thought made him look like a competitive swimmer, even though he could barely dog-paddle. “Wanna meet my new friend?” he asked Brooke one day as they lay on the wharf. She didn’t say anything. Maybe there was water in her ears—she’d complained about that before. He inched closer. “He’s a sea snake. I can ride on his back,” said Simon, scratching the palm of his hand. “What’s his name?” she asked without looking at him. “It’s—” He peered into the water, but couldn’t see his new friend. “Vi—sithni—dith.”
( Even as the name escaped his lips, he knew it sounded hollow. ) “That’s a cool name,” said Brooke. “I bet he could beat Malik in a fight. He’d wrap around him and squeeze him to death.” “Malik would eat him,” she said. “He’d slurp him up like spaghetti.”
Simon saw less and less of her after that. She was always in her room with the door closed. Every time Simon tried to go in, she yelled at him. He didn’t understand why she didn’t want him around. She wouldn’t even come out for dinner anymore. Maybe Malik was better company. One night, Simon woke up from a nightmare. The memory of it vanished as quickly as his scream, but what stayed was the fear, wriggling in his belly. It kept him vigilant as he stared into the darkness, which seemed to tingle with static. He needed to pee, but didn’t dare move. He waited for whatever dreadful thing might leap out at him. Nothing came. Simon crawled out of bed and ventured into the hall. He crept into the bathroom and sat on the toilet, unable to aim in the dark. He felt eyes on him, lurking behind the shower curtain, in the mirror, and outside the window. When he flushed the toilet, it screamed like a banshee. He fled back out into the hall and stopped to catch his breath. When it was silent again, he heard a sound from Brooke’s room: a feeble whimper, not quite a sob. His breath caught in his throat. He’d never heard her make a sound like that before. He stepped toward the door, his hand reaching out in front of him of its own accord. He turned the knob all the way before pushing the door open so he wouldn’t make a sound. Brooke was lying on her side, facing away from the door. She trembled under the blankets. There was something else in bed with her. It was gaunt with leathery brown skin wrapped tightly around its bones. Its feet hung off the end of the bed, its wretched hand gripping Brooke’s shoulder—holding her close. The back of its head was bald except for a few strands of long, thin hair.
Moon Thief Savanah Campbell
Simon gasped. The thing turned. Its milky eyes glinted in their sunken sockets and as it bared its teeth, saliva oozed down its chin.
( It growled like an empty stomach. ) Simon’s fear welled up inside him, but he couldn’t scream. He watched, petrified, as the thing reached out a long, horrible arm toward him. “Get out!” Brooke yelled. Simon ran back to his room and hid under his covers, hearing Brooke’s door slam shut.
The next morning, Simon sat at the table eating eggs and soldiers. He’d cut the bread into soldiers himself and they didn’t look as good as when Dad did it. Brooke emerged from her room looking thin. Had she always looked so thin? She sat down beside Simon. “I can’t finish,” said Simon, pushing his plate towards her. Brooke glanced at the eggs warily. Her eyes were red. “I have a new imaginary friend,” said Simon. Brooke said nothing. “She’s big and strong and she’s got armour like an armadillo,” he said. “She?” “Her name’s Ogma. She’s gonna kill Malik.” Brooke looked Simon in the eyes and there was an understanding between them. She dipped a soldier into the egg yolk. “Good,” she said, and took a bite. (30)
in May at the campsite in Rundu, Namibia. Misheck draped a rainbow collection of his satin briefs over a thorn bush to dry; its long needles spiked the colourful fabric.
T WAS A DUSTY AFTERNOON
“That bush looks like an underwear Christmas tree,” I said to Misheck.
We were two weeks into a month-long southern African safari in 2009. Our guides, Misheck and Dingie, had warned us that crime was on the rise in this northern Namibian border town. Across the river in Angola, political unrest had pushed many people to cross into this region. The campground hired armed guards to protect tourists. Our green canvas tents each had their own freshly swept tent pad. The sites were clean and spaced out, with the odd tree for shade. Misheck called this a “proper camp”: bathrooms with running water and electricity, a campground bar. Earlier we scrubbed our dirty laundry with bars of soap. The clothes dried fast since we were well past the rainy season. Misheck kneaded the ground meat and spices for spaghetti in a stainless-steel bowl. He told me it was zebra meat. “It says ‘beef ’ on the box,” I said. “Don’t tell the others.” While Misheck cooked for us over an open campfire, the rest of the safari group—about 15 Australians, mostly party couples in their 30s—explored the campground. Misheck unfolded his laptop on the table and played Kingdom of Heaven in which Orlando Bloom wears eye shadow and looks constantly dirty. “This is the best movie,” Misheck said. “I saw it a few years ago when it was in theatres.” “No, it’s new.” Misheck was tall and thin. He wore a faded Tilly hat that read: czech republic.
I sat in a folding chair next to the campfire where Dingie—the safari truck driver—hummed a hymn and stoked the fire with mopane wood. Dingie was short and round and wore a red fleece toque. He and Misheck grew up in Zimbabwe. They bought the mopane wood earlier from a roadside stand. Mopane trees are overlogged for firewood, so Misheck and Dingie made sure they bought dry, dead wood from vendors.
( Dingie said it was bad luck to cut wood from a tree struck by lightning. ) When burnt, the lightning spread to you and your family. “Do you go to church and read the Bible?” Misheck asked. “I haven’t gone in a long time,” I said. “I read the Bible growing up.” “In Canada, people have so much access to religion and freedom to worship, but they don’t. Why?” “Maybe because of the media? The media is cynical when it comes to religion—” “No,” Misheck said. “The media was against Jesus when he was alive and Christianity still spread. That can’t be it.” Dingie nodded. He muttered the words to the hymn. I recognized the words, but the tune was different.
When I had first arrived in Lusaka, Zambia two weeks before, I sweltered in the mid-afternoon heat as the taxi took me to the bus depot. Sweat blotted my T-shirt, but the driver wore a thick leather jacket. An Elmo plush toy hung from the rearview mirror above a Bible on the dashboard. I asked him about Elmo. He shrugged and asked if I had read the Bible. “Yes,” I said, “A few times.”
“It’s all true, you know.”
At the Zambia-Zimbabwe border in Victoria Falls, I watched aggressive baboons climb over cars and semis. They snatched food and shiny objects from open windows. Misheck said that baboons often raided crops in Zimbabwe. Farmers had to defend their fields during harvest, so they threw rocks, but the baboons picked up the rocks and threw them back. “Do baboons have good aim?” I asked. “No.” Baboons were crafty and farmers rotated tactics, but Misheck said that it was bad luck to fight the old white baboon who came down to the fields from the jungle. Misheck told me how he had once walked out of a deli with a Coke and a cake, and a baboon, drunk from rotten amarula fruit, sat on the sidewalk. It approached Misheck and eyed the cake. Misheck threw the cake down and backed away. The baboon sat by the cake and continued to eat the fermented amarula. It saved the cake for later. Baboons also targeted women with food and supplies bundled on their heads. The women had to cover everything tight. Baboons grabbed anything that stuck out.
A week into the safari we drove along a bank of the Chobe River in Botswana where a troop of baboons watched the sunset. The low rolling hills were bare along the river, but as they rose they became clustered with acacia trees, the canopies not quite close enough to touch each other. The baboons had taken over. They strutted around the levelled campsites and brick washrooms. A baby baboon spun on top of a concrete picnic table while an old baboon sat on the bench and drew in the dust with a stick. Dingie drove us in the safari truck through the campground and up the hill to a clearing in the jungle where we propped up our green canvas tents in a circle. Misheck advised us not to go outside the circle at night. That night, while I kneeled to take a leak out the door of my tent, a honey badger grunted and rummaged through Misheck’s pots and pans. In the morning, I found a hyena print in the dust outside my tent flap.
As we drove through a village on the Okavango Delta, a faded white sign read: too much alcohol leads you to unprotected sex. It had a drawing of a man and a woman leaning into each other, each holding a bottle. Sunset at Etosha National Park, Namibia Joe Enns
Dingie drove us down a dirt road past round huts with thatched roofs, the walls honeycombed with empty glass bottles and rusted metal cans. One hut had a purple banner professionally printed with a cell phone company logo. I bought drinking water and a bar of soap at a gas station. Dingie waited in line to pay for gas. Beside him was a bin of condoms and a paper sign that read: free. Dingie winked, grabbed a handful of condoms, and slid them into his green cargo pants.
I chartered a fishing boat in Swakopmund, Namibia, but the night before we were to go out on the ocean, I couldn’t sleep. The short bed was crammed between two sweaty bungalow walls. I had opened all the windows to move the heavy air, but everything was damp and smelled like sulfur. Outside, three Afrikaans men with barrel-chests and Dutch-sounding accents laughed and barbecued a collection of meats. They called me over and gave me a sausage and a lamb chop. All three of them were car salesmen. We did shots of Jägermeister late into the night. The next day, the Australians had other plans, so I paid extra to bring Misheck and Dingie fishing. Misheck would use the fish to offset the food budget. If they overspent, the safari company took the difference from their pay. In the early morning, the Atlantic Ocean was grey, the horizon blurred by fog, and there were one-metre swells. From the boat we could almost see the shore, but the coastline was flat, and the sand was grey too. Dingie vomited over the side of the boat. “I have malaria,” he said. Misheck sat still and held his rod steady, the line slack. His face was green. “These guys grew up in the jungle,” the captain, a young Afrikaans man named Rudy, laughed. “They’ve never been on open water before.” “Definitely malaria,” Dingie said. “Ocean malaria,” I said. We cut the trip short, but kept over 20 kabeljou—a meaty silver fish with a long dorsal fin and light spots on its back. After Rudy filleted the kabeljou, he packed them into a white Styrofoam cooler so Misheck could fry up fish and chips back at camp. The next day, Dingie’s ocean malaria was cured and he took me to the music store in Swakopmund. Movie Happy Meal Set, 2020 Ta Udomchaisakul
posters and racks of cds and dvds lined the walls. Dingie loved jazz. He slid three cds from the wire rack—African artists—and said I should buy them. Near the door stood an empty cardboard display of Highschool Musical 3 with Zac Efron’s face. At the counter I asked the cashier why it was empty, and he said it had sold out the first week. Outside the music store, a local man sat in a white pickup shaded by a tree. A dead cow was splayed out in the truck bed. People in business suits came from surrounding office buildings to buy strips of meat. Flies hovered over the corpse and I could smell it downwind.
From Swakopmund, we headed to Fiddler’s Creek, South Africa, beside the Orange River. A thick and scruffy Afrikaans man, at the campground bar challenged me to finger wrestle. We placed our right elbows on a table as electronic dance music shook the patio lanterns. I brushed mosquitos away, locked my middle finger with his sausage finger, and strained his sweaty fist toward my chest. I would have punched myself in the face if he had let go, but he pulled harder and my muscles gave out. He grinned and challenged me to a regular arm wrestle. He beat me again, but he raised his elbow off the table. The next morning, I woke up thirsty in my sleeping bag. My right arm was locked stiff from my shoulder to the tip of my middle finger.
Back in Rundu at the proper camp, after I had eaten the not-zebra spaghetti next to the underwear Christmas tree, we went to the campground bar. Three local men watched a soccer match on a television in the corner. The grinning bartender made us rum and Cokes (the Australians insisted on Red Heart rum) and there were pool tables. By midnight I was behind the bar making drinks while the grinning bartender played pool with the loud Australians. The Afrikaans owner walked in looking disheveled. He glared at me and called the bartender over. The bartender stopped grinning. “The bar is closed now,” he said, and ushered us out the door. Outside, a local man dozed in a chair in the middle of the dirt road. A rifle straddled his lap. Two of the Australians tiptoed over and lifted the rifle. He stirred, and awoke confused. They all laughed and the Australians posed for pictures. In one picture, the local man holds the rifle and one of the Australians kneels in front of him with the barrel in his mouth. (30) Non-Fiction
AUTO/GRAPHIC Shawnda Wilson an homage to Lawrence Ferlinghetti
I am quietly leading a life at The Vault Café watching hipsters judge while old men look for open hearts and ears. I have lived in Black ghettos, have seen tall men in 3-inch platform heels and diapers, clown make-up tattooed on defiant faces. I have played the cymbals in an anarchist marching band, have read The Sandman Book of Dreams, seen the opp kiss the pavement when the Saints won the Super Bowl, high fiving gutter punks and getting drunk.
Morning's Mirror Kashmir Lesnick-Petrovicz
I have recited lines from a bilingual Bible in La Paz, and watched as blacked-out Cuban ships dock in Montego Bay. I refuse to go to the ocean that laps at my door; prefer rivers and steamboats, the arms of a levy going up and down. I have hopped freight trains, have held Legba’s hand in hell. I was in Montreal when Katrina hit, passed the harmonica lady on Duluth Street, hat open at her feet. I am quietly leading a life at The Vault Café.
I am never as lonely in a crowd as I am with you. I lay in wait, am a lost leader, a warrior. I have seen sin city, the messy masses. I have swooned to sousaphone songs. I have heard Charles Mingus bleed on the sheets. I have slept under bridges while alligators creep. I have heard bird songs that made me weep, been to so many cities where trees were nooks in which to sleep.
What ladies in waiting, what lust in concrete jungles made of busts! Who promised this land? In which god do you trust? I am quietly leading a life at The Vault Café, but my soul still rages. I have marched on Harvard Square, crashed cymbals, seen jackrabbits rise in Wyoming dust squalls. I am separate from this body’s raw wreckage. I have meandered sinewy bi-ways. I have staggered on railroad tracks.
I am the moon’s tissue. I am as plain as a Jackson Pollack. My name is scratched on trees. I have seen wailing walls and the Mona Lisa. I am quietly leading a life at The Vault Café watching fools in love make scenes and run amok. I knew the meaning of it all before I had a tongue and it got lost.
NORMAL AGAIN Elliot Grace-Wilson
4 lunch breaks picking up glass shards by the track playing field. Some tried stopping me, fearing I’d cut myself, while others steered clear. I was doing what interested me—protecting my peers—while everyone else was doing what interested them. The next day, I did it again, and the next day, and the next. A whole year passed during which I was always the last to be picked in gym class or for group projects. To compensate, I read books and did jigsaw puzzles, withdrawing deeper into my own world.
SPENT MY GRADE
At the age of nine we moved for the second time and suddenly middle school seemed a much more challenging place, deprived of the familiar faces and context that had made socialization as an “atypical” possible. A few years later, in high school, a girl I had considered a friend told me she was moving away. She had talked to me occasionally, we’d tried to hang out, and I’d hugged her once in gym class when in a particularly enthusiastic mood. She hadn’t seen me as a weirdo to be avoided, or as entertainment, and I was grateful for the companionship. At the time, I was too overwhelmed, in unfamiliar territory, or too afraid of a heart-to-heart (my crush too big?), to thank her. I could barely stammer out a response. Was this, was I, normal? Or exceptional? There are many cosmetic differences that separate people–body type, gender, skin colour, nationality—but it’s neurology in the brain, the core of our personhood, where true differences are found. It’s relatively easy to agree on a definition of normal with like-minded people, to come to some consensus about how a person ought to act. As an atypical, I understand myself as a deviant from that norm though I don’t understand normal to be what most people do. It isn’t that I’m oblivious, it’s just that I don’t always arrive at the same conclusions most would when presented with the same facts. The terrifying thing about being abnormal isn’t knowing that I’m different from everyone else; it’s not understanding how and why they think differently. What did I do wrong?
Was it really wrong, and if so to what extent? It’s easy to feel helpless because, while there might be some things I understand better than anyone else around me, I have nobody else to talk to who understands my perspective. Instead, people give me grief for continually failing to grasp mundane aspects of life they perform flawlessly. When surrounded by judgmental peers, the crippling fear of doing something that will make my social standing plummet even further is paralyzing. Needless to say, socialization has, for the majority of my life, been a significant challenge despite being outgoing at heart. I need to be in my element to exhibit this side of my character, to be in a place where being myself is encouraged, where I can seek the company of others without fear of reprimand. It would take a place devoid of lasting consequences, populated by those on the same wavelength, to put me at ease. Eureka summer camp was that place. It was a camp for those on the autism spectrum, a place where I could sit in a tent and discuss both personal problems and small successes confident others understood me. We were normal to one another. As a 20-year-old, I thought that summer camp experience had been lost to me until I received an email, one of many sent out to Eureka alumni, asking if I’d like to return as a mentor and join fully-trained counselors to help guide younger campers. The opportunity to be normal again for a few weeks seemed too good to be true. The children, to their credit, were charming specimens of youth. Their energy was high, as could be expected, and they had an endless appetite for activity, whether smashing clam shells, prodding dead fish, or generally acting out to get special treatment (despite being told to stop). There were difficult moments, but I took my responsibility seriously, despite lacking any real power. Perhaps if I had been quicker witted or more patient, letting them tire of their shenanigans, things would have been easier. As it was, the best I could do to coax them
Moments Like This Jenna Cronshaw
off slippery rocks was to point out something they’d find more interesting. On the final night of camp, the arts and crafts area was redecorated as a ‘club.’ with music, a disco ball, and a line-up for snacks and faux alcoholic beverages—all full of sugar. It was a surreal experience. I decided to be as outgoing as possible. I danced with fellow mentors, leaving when that got stale to chat up three others on the balcony. We traded personal stories and I even gave two of them relationship advice when they didn’t know what to make of a mutual crush. I thought I’d truly solidified friendships and made progress as a person, or maybe that was just what normalcy felt like. I had made a difference. I was optimistic, enthusiastic, and I remembered what it was like to be unafraid to be myself. I felt I had found clues to a riddle that had eluded me: How wide was the gap between me and neurotypicals? How much of my awkwardness stemmed from my lack of social interaction, as opposed to my lack of understanding? Could I overcome my deficiencies and forgive theirs? It was wonderful, and an experience I will never forget even if these questions were too big to answer in only two weeks. It had proven my awkwardness as a child was more the result of moving so soon after my diagnosis. I could have avoided becoming such a shy person if I’d had even one good friend who stayed—a lasting connection. It would have made all the difference. I had that feeling at Eureka, that nothing was wrong with me. Then, it was over.
I tried to continue my outgoing streak, but the spell was broken. Those with whom I’d made progress disappeared from my life as quickly as they’d come into it, and those who stayed were silent outside the safety of the club, the camp, and the magic of another world. We scattered to the winds, mentor and camper alike.
( Just like that, I was abnormal again. ) Later, when I visited my hometown of Kelowna, someone whose name I’d long forgotten, recognized me and of their own free will said hello. It felt bizarre to be greeted out of the blue. Then I remembered—he didn’t know. He’d only known me when I was a normal, somewhat quirky kid. Free of the perception of abnormality, he only saw me for me. I think that was the best part of being a mentor to the children at camp—showing them they were normal, if not to others then at least to themselves. Through games and activities, offering accolades and genuine praise, we affirmed there was nothing wrong with them. In fact, they should continue to be awesome and unique. They weren’t all that different from normal kids anyway, so why treat them differently? Abnormality is in the eye of the beholder, after all, and I couldn’t see a single flaw. I hope I can take that advice and find my element again, return to a “Eureka!” of my own making that lasts longer than two weeks. I’d be grateful to spend even one more day there, among people like me, in a living daydream where we are all normal again. (30)
APPLES AND ORANGES Ashley Smith
lot of my local grocery with a sense of relief, despite being behind schedule. I live 10 minutes away and traffic was light, but with all the backtracking it took me 30 minutes to get here. When I’d pulled up to the first red light, I had panicked. Did I lock the door?
Some apples have small yellow patches on them, so I put those to one side. If they’re left, they’ll rot and contaminate the others. They really shouldn’t be here at all.
I always panic and I always lock the door—two, three times every morning. I lock, unlock, lock, and check again. Still, I needed to be sure. I did a U-turn and drove home. The door was locked, of course. At least now I could relax.
( I feel nauseous calculating the number of germs lurking on her fingertips. )
PULL INTO THE PARKING
What has she touched that’s just made its way into her mouth?
This is not the worst of it. Each morning I make the bed, meticulously folding under the corners of the sheet, just so. I run my hands over the soft fabric, careful to flatten out any bumps, and fold the sheet over the top of the blanket under the pillows. Then I pull it all apart and start again.
“No,” I say. “I’m just putting the display back in order.”
By nine o’clock, I’ve had a cup of Earl Grey tea steeped for four minutes, shaved my morning stubble, brushed my teeth for two full minutes, flossed, and triple-checked the stove burner is off. This morning was no exception.
“So then why bother?” she asks, grabbing an apple from the bottom row. “You know, there are employees paid to do that.” The stack destabilizes, careening a little to the side, and I watch it cautiously. I don’t answer her. She puts another apple into her plastic bag and ties it. I fix the display again.
Now I pull a Lysol wipe from the wall dispenser and scrub down the cart handle. Who knows whose germ-ridden hands have touched it? I push the cart down every aisle, even the ones selling items I never buy. I can’t skip a row or I’ll have to go back and start again, and I’m already late. By the time I reach the produce aisle, I have a few items in the cart, organized by size. The small items need to be closest to me so that I can be sure that none slip through the gaps. I never use the compartment that doubles as a seat for toddlers. I shudder to think of food touching the same surface as a child’s bottom. The stack of apples is utter chaos. What was once a neatly stacked pyramid is nothing more than a mess of scattered red fruit. I try to resist the urge to reorder the display, but it’s impossible. I can’t leave it like this. I park my cart beside the suitably arranged navel oranges and get to work.
“Gotta touch them all, do ya?” asks a woman as she licks her fingers and opens the plastic produce bag.
“Do you work here?” “No.” I think I’m satisfied with the arrangement.
“Are you even going to buy one?” she asks. “Yes.” I pick up one of the dark red apples and use my sleeve to shine it. This one has a small speck of yellow on it. I know it’s probably fine, but I put it back down and pick another. I can feel the woman’s eyes on me, judging. This apple’s no good either. “They all came from the same place,” the woman says. “What?” “It doesn’t matter which ones you choose. They’re all essentially the same.” “You’re right,” I say. It’s usually easier to agree. I pick up the next apple and gingerly skim my fingers across its surface. I’m convinced there’s a bruise under the sticker. I can’t feel one, but I’m certain it’s there.
Eventually the woman walks away. I hope I don’t run into her again at the cash register. My grandmother lives all the way downtown, so it’s approaching noon by the time I finally ascend the third and final flight of stairs to her apartment. There’s an elevator—the reason she’s still able to live here—but I prefer the stairs. I’ve managed to loop my arms through the grocery bag handles and balance them in the nook of each elbow so I don’t have to make a second trip. This is anything but graceful, however, and I fumble with my key. Eventually I get it in the lock, but something about the way it turns doesn’t feel right. I’m not convinced the deadbolt actually turned inside, so I lock and unlock it again. Before I can do it a third time, the door bursts open. “Christ’s sake, just come in already Chris,” says my grandmother, Margaret. Her 70-year-old face is covered in liver spots, and she sports a floral-print blouse, slacks, and a pair of loafers. She shuffles back to her recliner and eases into it as I close the door behind me and head to the kitchen to put away the groceries. My grandmother is a bitter old woman. She seldom has anything nice to say, and rarely shows kindness.
( The rest of the family wants nothing to do with her, but she’s getting frail, so someone has to be here to help her. ) Somehow, that someone ended up being me. Every week, I bring her groceries and check up on her. I used to stop by more often, but her constant belittling is hard to take. I wonder what happened to the smiling young woman in the old family photos, now so crotchety and resentful, but she's tight-lipped about it.
NYC Cityscape Alexandru Stanciu
“Are you hungry?” I ask her, after the last of the groceries are grouped by product and put away in orderly lines in the cupboard, labels facing out. She doesn’t answer. “Do you want me to make you some lunch?” “Sure,” she says, as if she could take it or leave it. I gather the bread and sandwich fixings on the counter, then wash my hands. Margaret’s soap smells of lavender. It’s pleasant, but I wonder how effective it is at killing bacteria. The soap I have at home smells strongly of antiseptic—I find it comforting. I pat my hands dry with a clean cloth before washing them again to be sure. I just don’t trust the lavender. Once my hands are dry again, I begin constructing the sandwich. The first piece of bread smells moldy, despite the fact that the best-before date is well into next week. I put that slice aside and grab another. “What’s taking so long?” Margaret barks from the living room. “I’m almost done.” The cheese comes in prepackaged slices, so I can trust it’s safe. I unwrap a slice, but as careful and deliberate as I am, it still tears at the edge. I can’t put it on the bread now, even though I want to. I just want to get the sandwich made. I open another slice. Finally, I plate the sandwich—just meat and cheese, because it would take me too long to inspect each leaf of lettuce for bugs—and carry it into the living room. “Took long enough,” Margaret says begrudgingly. “I’m going to put some chili on in the crockpot for you so you don’t have to worry about dinner tonight,” I say. She mumbles something that doesn’t sound like an objection, so I pull out the ingredients. I can’t cook with a crockpot at home because I know if I were to leave it unattended, even on low, the house would burn to the ground. Margaret never leaves the apartment, so I don’t mind using it here.
I take my time opening each can of beans. Margaret has an old-school can opener, the kind with the metal wheel that cuts through the lid and leaves imperfect and dangerous edges. I hate it, but haven’t had the nerve to replace it. Why don’t beans come in pop-top lids? The final turn of the can opener takes the longest, because if I’m not careful, the lid will drop into the can and I won’t be able to use it. The sharp edges of the lid will transfer microscopic shards of metal onto the beans. Despite my best efforts, the lid falls into the can atop the kidney beans. The entire can is ruined. “Fuck!” Margaret shuffles into the kitchen. “What’s wrong?” Nothing. Everything. I could cry. I yank the drawer open to return the can opener to its proper place. The jerky movement jostles the contents out of the drawer organizer. Now I need to put them all back exactly as they were. “Christopher, what’s wrong?” she asks again. “The lid,” I say, as if the issue is obvious. She takes the can in one shaky hand and slips her fingernail underneath the razor edge of the metal. Bile rises in my throat. What if she cuts herself and it gets infected? She’ll get sepsis and die. “Here,” she says. “It’s not a big deal.” She passes the can back to me, but I don’t take it. It’s contaminated. “I can’t use those now,” I say. I want to start over. “Sure you can. I got the lid out.” “It’s not that.” I push the heels of my palms into my eyes until I see neon patterns. She says nothing, but takes my large hands in her small ones, and pulls them away from my face. “Hey,” she says. “What’s wrong?” “They’re not safe,” I say. Her wrinkled face softens and she squeezes my hands. “You know, I had a friend like you once. He was a hypochondriac too, was always talking about illnesses he thought he had….” “I’m not a hypochondriac.” “It’s ok, you don’t have to be ashamed,” she says. “I understand.” “But I’m really not—” “Here,” she says, ignoring my protest. She releases my hands and starts randomly dumping all the ingredients into the crockpot. “I’ll finish this up.” I avert my eyes. I cannot stand by and watch this mayhem, but for the first time she got me right, even if she got the diagnosis wrong, and it feels…liberating. (30)
CIRCUMSTANCES Kristen Bounds
comfort of my vintage reading chair and opened Rising Strong by Brené Brown. She began by asking, “Do you believe everyone is doing the best they can?”
SANK INTO THE FAMILIAR
Gut reaction: Absolutely not.
When I was 16, I went through a shoplifting phase. Some of my friends did it and it turned out I liked the rush. I had a part-time job in retail, but I put the approval of my peers above job security. One day, my friends got caught and I watched from behind a clothing rack at The Bay as they walked away with mall security. What was I doing? I slipped the silk panties out of my English binder, placed them on the display table, and called my mom to pick me up.
In 2018, I was working as a journalist in Kingsbridge, a town of about 6000 people in southwest England. If someone drove home drunk from the pub and got a dui, it was the talk of the town the next day. If Harry down the street cheated on his wife, his “disgraceful” behaviour was discussed over afternoon tea.
an ambulance,” a man standing nearby replied, shaking his head. One of the schoolgirls said, “Her mum’s on her way too. Hopefully now she’ll be taken seriously.” The ambulance arrived and I returned to the office. “Domestic issue. No story,” I told my editor when he asked if there was copy for that week’s edition.
On St. Patrick’s Day last year my co-worker, Dana, and I refreshed the who website for updates while we scrubbed Lysol over each of the tables in the Greek restaurant, despite the unlikelihood of customers. Canada’s death toll had gone from zero to eight in 10 days. Sophie Grégoire Trudeau had been diagnosed. The Juno Awards and Coachella Music Festival were cancelled. Borders were closing. We’d been told to self-isolate and stay home.
( Pandemics were something we’d only seen in movies. ) No one came in for the lunch rush, so we sipped Caesars behind the bar to ease our anxiety, not knowing it would be the last day the restaurant would be open for five months.
One day during a slow shift, my sensationalist editor turned to me and said, “No one has died in a while—shame.” A few days later, he heard a crowd was forming near the quay in the centre of town. I had to see what the fuss was about and come back with a story. When I arrived on the scene 10 minutes later, a teenage girl was lying on the sidewalk, a blanket covering her for warmth. Two girls about the same age hovered over her. Tears streamed down their cheeks, arms folded against their school uniforms. I kept my distance. An older woman on foot stopped to ask what happened. “All we know so far is that the girl was banging her head against the stone wall and then she collapsed. We’ve called
Shortly after, there were quantity limits enforced at the supermarket. At the cash, the lady in front of me shoved items on the conveyor belt, her black coat collar rubbing against her wiry greying hair. Her cart was piled high with a jumbo box of diapers, three packs of toilet paper, at least 10 packages of pasta, two baby bottles, and dozens of cans of Heinz beans and tomato sauce. The clerk told her she had more than her allowable quota for some items. The lady proceeded to berate the clerk. “I’m trying to do my job, Ma’am,” said the cashier from behind a plexiglass shield. “I’m trying too,” said the lady. Non-Fiction
Given the Circumstances
Recently, one of my family members relapsed after six months of sobriety. I clumsily stumbled through a familiar cycle of emotions: sadness, empathy, frustration, anger, and love, always love. I realized that for some, simply getting through the day is the best they can do. Meanwhile, I paced my cramped, one-bedroom basement suite hoping my Canada Emergency Response Benefit cheque would come soon. Dishes were piled in the sink. My diet consisted of cheese, Goldfish crackers, and beans on toast. I chipped away at a 1500-piece puzzle of New York City and cracked open a bottle of Pinot noir at 3 pm. Apparently, we were living in an “unprecedented time.”
After Trump falsely claimed the election victory, I laughed hysterically at an Instagram video comparing the mailin ballots to the Dursleys’ contempt for Harry Potter’s Hogwarts invitation. Once Harry received it, there was nothing they could do to stop it. My friend said, “It’s incredible—our human ability to translate fear into humour is an advanced coping mechanism. We’re all terrified of the pandemic, climate change, racism, this election, and yet we’re pumping out jokes and memes like never before.”
My best friends from high school and I had reconnected a month into the pandemic for weekly Zoom trivia nights. In the 10 years since we graduated we’ve remained friends, drifting in and out of contact as each of us navigated our tumultuous 20s. During Kelsey’s turn to host, she crafted a round called “About You Nerds,” where she cited an embarrassing
memory associated with each of us and tested our ability to recall details. “In Grade 8, Lorenn accidentally SuperGlued which part of her body?” The round sent us into an hour-long spiral reminiscing about putting on too much make-up and jamming to Taylor Swift, skipping math class to smoke a joint behind 7/11, or competing for the best prom proposal. For our Grade 12 yearbooks, everyone voted for Best Dressed, Most Desirable, and other equally vain categories. The pressure to be the best started young, continued through adolescence, and won’t end until you decide it doesn’t matter. As the days grew longer and warmer, the weekly Zoom trivia nights wound down. In the group chat I typed, “I love feeling close to you again as we grow into our places in the world.”
Coming out of the grocery store, a bag in each hand, I noticed a disheveled man sitting on the curb asking passersby for change. No one stopped to look at him, despite his wishful smile. I was reminded of a cardboard sign I’d seen on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside that read: have you ever felt invisible? I dug through my wallet for loonies. Another man walked by, his clean white Reeboks glistening against the wet pavement. “He’s gonna use that for drugs, you know.” “I don’t know that, actually,” I said. “He will. It’s a fact.” “I’m not going to judge.”
“Neither am I.” “Sure sounds like you are.” “Fuck you, then,” he mumbled under his breath as he walked away. “God bless you,” said the man on the curb, looking up with kind eyes, as I dropped the loonies into his cut palm.
Recently I interviewed a university nursing professor who said, “We live in a world where people are ‘more than’ and ‘less than,’ and that causes us to compete with each other because, God forbid, we’re less than.” This constant comparison changes what “the best” looks like. There will always be someone smarter, someone richer, someone with a nicer house. I see this comparison a lot on social media, and often feel myself falling into its trap.
We were well into the second wave. Canada’s death toll neared 21,000 with no end in sight. I continued to eat Goldfish crackers and beans on toast. I now knew I felt better if I put my phone down and went outside or called my mom. Some people baked sourdough bread, some mindlessly scrolled TikTok, some watched reruns of Schitt’s Creek—all acceptable. When we look back on this time of self-isolation, Zoom fatigue, and uncertainty, I hope I never forget the ways in which people came together, playing guitar from their balconies, banging pots and pans every night at 7 pm in their driveways. The pandemic brought out the worst in some, but it also brought out the best in most.
A year ago, my choices were between handing in a late assignment because I worked an extra shift, or coming up short for my car insurance payment because I did my assignment on time. I rode my bike all month. Now my choices were between sneaking out for an illicit walk with a friend or staying home to protect my community in full lockdown. I seemed unable to concentrate on anything and I wasn’t alone. My partner, Andy, asked, “How many pages do you think I’ll get through tonight?” as we lay in bed. “I’ll give you three paragraphs,” I said. Moments later, the copy of Robert Jordan’s Path of Daggers slipped from his hands. As I watched him doze, I was reminded of Brené Brown’s husband and his answer to her question: “All I know is that my life is better when I assume that people are doing their best. It keeps me out of judgment and lets me focus on what is, and not what should or could be.” The next morning, I slipped on my boots for my daily walk around the block. As I stepped out into the crisp November morning, I thought of the ways in which, given the circumstances, everyone is doing their best: the frantic lady at the supermarket, my girlfriends at trivia night, the man with the kind eyes and outstretched hand. There is a homemade sign attached to a post on the street corner that reads: keep going. I usually pass by it without a second thought, but that morning I stopped, took a deep inhale of dewy air, and walked on. (30)
Six Feet Apart, Two Feet Together Kiara Strijack
LUCKY ONES Lee Groen
WO YEARS AGO TODAY, ON a rainy October afternoon, a third of the world’s population disappeared. There had been no warning, no time for panic. One second they were all here, and the next they weren’t. We called this The Blink.
The lecture hall was nearly full, but I only recognized half the faces. Two rows ahead of me sat a middle-aged man, anxiously bouncing his leg. A whole row toward the middle was taken up by older women with their arms interlocked like knots in a rope. Front and centre a girl my age sat silently praying, a strange looking rosary dangling from her clasped hands. Most weren’t here for the chemistry lecture. On the anniversary, people didn’t want to be alone. It was hard to fault them for that, and besides, who would turn them away from the brief comfort and company of those who remained? Even if this was only a chemistry class to me, to all of them it was somewhere to be. At the front of the room, the middle-aged professor stood with his back facing the crowd. He wrote half-life equations across the blackboard with a stunted piece of chalk. His hand was quivering and the bald spot on the back of his head was gleaming with sweat. Due to a shortage, he had been using the same piece of chalk for the past few months. The professor had lost his parents, wife, and two young children in The Blink. He buried himself in his work, but you could tell by the way he carried himself that he didn’t take much pleasure in it. After two years, we’d all learned our own ways to cope, but days like today made me wonder if the Blinked were the lucky ones, and those who remained the damned. “As you can see from the example on the board, Francium’s half-life is incredibly short,” the professor said. “In any circumstance, it won’t be long before it has completely decayed, just like everything else.” The chalk fell from his hand and split in half on the floor. He cleared his throat. “Sorry, folks. Give me one moment.” The professor hustled out of the lecture hall, his fist held to his mouth.
Kevin leaned over to me. “What’s his problem?” Since The Blink, Kevin had been the only person I could call a “friend.” Eight months ago, he sat next to me during a lecture and wouldn’t stop asking questions. When he realized I knew all the answers, he started sitting next to me all the time. I’ve learned to tolerate him. “It’s called the Anniversary Effect,” I said. “Anniversary of what?” he asked.
( Kevin comes from a small, tightly knit family who don’t really keep up with the news. ) On the day of The Blink, they were all spared and none of them knew what had happened until the next morning. The Blink hit some people and places harder than others. Scientists and political strategists tried to theorize what had happened, and religious leaders—new and old—weighed in, but nobody knew for sure. France, Brazil, and Japan lost so many people they collapsed due to economic instability and mass emigrations. Other countries like Germany, India, and Canada generally fared better than most. “The Blink,” I said. “It’s already been two years?” Kevin asked. “Time flies.” I ignored him. The last two years had been the longest of my life. Our island off the west coast of Canada had only lost 28% of its population. Some say it was a blessing, but the way I see it, if we were spared, somewhere else was hit harder. Still, that doesn’t stop people from saying we were lucky. My mother and baby sister were sitting right in front of me when it happened. I blinked and they were gone. I wish I could tell them I was one of the lucky ones. “He’s been gone for almost 10 minutes now,” Kevin said. “How long before we’re allowed to leave?”
Peaceful Waters Jenna Cronshaw
“I don’t know. Give him some time.”
“It’s the least you could do,” I said.
A few minutes later the professor returned holding a crumpled tissue in his shaking hand. “I’m sorry about that folks. This is a tough day for me, as I’m sure it is for all of you.”
A few minutes later the professor tapped the face of his watch. “Thirty seconds.”
The girl who had been praying hesitantly raised her hand. The professor acknowledged her. “In a few minutes, it will be the exact same time that… it happened. Maybe we could all take a moment for silent prayer?” she asked. “That’s a wonderful idea. How does a moment of silence sound to everyone?” A few affirmative mumbles rippled through the room. The professor looked on the brink of tears again. “Great.” Kevin sank into his chair. “I’m tired of the damned Blink. Why can’t we all just move on?” “Because most of us actually lost people that day,” I said. “Hey, I lost people too,” Kevin said. “My neighbor and his wife were both Blinked.” “Your neighbours?” “They were nice people—” “They were your fucking neighbours,” I said. “I lost my entire family.” There was a long and painful silence. “I didn’t mean it like that, I’m sorry. I’ll do the stupid moment of silence if that’s what you want.”
One by one, the people in the lecture hall closed their eyes and hung their heads, even Kevin, but I kept my head up and my eyes open. Looking around, I realized that this was the biggest crowd of people I had been in since The Blink. I felt uneasy in the silence of a room full of grieving people. I glanced at my watch and saw the seconds slowly drift by. 5…I thought of all my friends from before The Blink and the two who were spared. I thought of the pact they made without me, and how they killed themselves together shortly after. 4…I thought of the first time I made faces at my baby sister and made her laugh. I thought about the first and final steps she took and how proud I’d felt. 3…I thought of the gentle sound of my mom’s voice and how she used to roll her eyes before she pulled me in for a hug, always knowing just how hard to squeeze. 2…I thought of the last dinner the three of us had together. Mom burned the meatloaf, so we threw it out and ate Chinese takeout next to the fire instead. 1…I took a deep breath and felt a shiver run down my spine. I blinked and when I opened my eyes the lecture hall was nearly empty. Only the lucky ones were left. (30)
FIRST OPEN DOOR:
LIT MAGS ARE PUBLISHING'S FRONTLINE WORKERS Ashley Smith
2016 ISSUE, PORTAL cast an eye back over its 25year history and spoke to Geist, subTerrain, Malahat, and Five Dials about changes over a quarter century of publishing. This year, as we celebrate our 30th anniversary during an especially challenging time, it seemed pertinent to recognize the essential service literary magazines provide to both visionary writers and the public, especially in times of adversity.
covid-19 has certainly changed the way Portal produces the magazine as we’ve moved almost every aspect of the operation online in the last eight months. Our 17-person staff rely on video meetings rather than face-to-face three-hour classes and our author-editor consultations happen this way too. We work from home, using the Web for everything from building lists of potential advertisers and subscribers, to gathering a bibliography for a feature profile. Will this be the new normal for literary magazines now that they know office overheads and public offices may be expendable? When I asked Pamela Mulloy, Editor at The New Quarterly based in Waterloo, how she thought literary magazines might keep their toehold in the print marketplace despite fewer brick-and-mortar retail venues being open, and fewer people passing along issues in smaller social circles, she said, “The financials of lit mags go up and down,” but in the end “they are a special object that people want to hold and read.” Many magazines have always had a portion of each issue’s content online—many even have online exclusives—and some like Carousel have moved entirely online instead of continuing to print. Will this hold a readership willing to pay for something that may not replicate the sensation of holding a physical paper-bound artifact? In my conversation with Sue Sinclair, Editor of The Fiddlehead (Canada’s oldest literary magazine at 76 years)
in Fredericton, she said, “People have been predicting the demise of print for a long time now, and it’s been slow to come.” Despite speculation that the era of physical books and magazines is coming to an end, these media continue to survive, and in many cases, flourish. Much of this may have to do with the determined, passionate, perhaps downright obstinate people who work behind the scenes to bring these works into the world. Yet, it is also about the people waiting eagerly to receive these literary lifelines that offer escape from the all-too-real world around us. Many publishers of literary magazines no longer see the offline-online issue as two distinct entities, but one as an extension and variation on the other. As Sinclair said, “It’s exciting to see the online presence of magazines flourishing,” not at the cost of print, but as a supplement to it. The Web has allowed magazines like The Fiddlehead to reach a wider audience, to be more easily found via search engines, and to target readers in a way the national newsstands didn’t allow. In short, the frontlines are on the digital doorstep. Thanks to the introduction of Zoom readings and video livestreamed launches, people who would otherwise be unable to make it out to an event can now interrupt the routine of isolation to participate from the comfort of their homes. Sinclair said, “It’s very easy [for people] to join an online event, compared to getting their body to an in-person event.” The lower barrier to entry, minimal motivation needed, and ease of access should allow for greater contact and potentially deeper relationships. That’s the hope anyway. Whether it be online or in print, one of the most important components, according to Mulloy, is “building and maintaining [a] community” that allows the magazine to continue to grow and thrive. Like the public banging pots at 7 pm in support of the pandemic’s frontline workers, our communities keep magazines, and writers, going too.
One of the things I love most about working on, submitting to, and reading literary magazines is this literary community and how it unites to create despite the destruction all around us. “The whole lit mag world is pretty cooperative…. We’re not really competing with each other.”
you will likely stop receiving stories and poems of that variety. Because of this, Papadopoulos said it’s important to continue to show “interest in lifting up emerging voices who [haven’t historically had] easy access to publishing, and whose stories aren’t as valued in terms of the Can Lit canon.”
Though there are several dozen magazines of this variety coast to coast, they’ve each carved out their own readership, found support from arts councils in their region, gained a fairly reliable band of subscribers and advertisers, and managed to stay afloat with this hybrid of financial backing. The magazine world is largely live-and-let-live in this less commercially motivated niche, a refreshing alternative to the corporate takeovers and amalgamations of general interest, fashion, food, or business magazines.
It is crucial that we hold space for this and continue to reflect the true diversity evident in the writing community at large. Papadopoulos hopes the industry will work “harder to publish Black writers… Indigenous writers, and other underrepresented writers.” They also emphasized the importance of hiring “people of those demographics” to edit these pieces and to “make sensitivity reading a more common part of the process.”
“Everybody wants to feel [that they’re] part of something,” Mulloy said, “and I think the lit mag world is really an opportunity for writers to feel engaged, and [to be] part of something in some way…. There’s no reason why people have to be separated into readers and writers, the established and the emerging.” We are all in this together. The people who choose to work in this industry do so because of their passion for stories from writers at all these stages of their career. Their desire—or perhaps need—to share these with the world drives them to volunteer countless hours, or work for very little pay, for sheer love of the craft. “Everyone in our little office is drawn to [working here] because of [their] love of literature,” Sinclair said. This may be motivated by networking, resume-building, and ready access to review copies for some, but for most the reward is that intangible high you get from helping a writer find their reader. When I spoke to Jaz Papadopoulos, Reviews Editor at PRISM International in Vancouver, they said one of the things they like most about working on the magazine was being able to “help people get some grip in their careers, and to help shape the artistic world they want to see.” Lit mags offer a beginning, some room to experiment, and the affirmation many novice writers need to confidently continue their pursuit of book-length publication. Papadopoulos said they’re often “the first open door” for those on the road to becoming novelists, poets, and playwrights. In this way, content published in literary magazines directly influences forms of literature across the country; they are on the frontlines. This “opportunity to shape the canon,” as Papadopoulos explains it, reminds us that “media and cultural production [have a significant] impact [on] the world, and the people in charge of that have an immense responsibility.” It’s more important now than ever to continue pushing boundaries while being mindful of what these selections signify in the broader context. It’s a general rule of thumb that you will get what you publish in terms of submissions, so if you don’t publish a particular type of story, or poem,
Sinclair also acknowledges it takes a village to run such a tight and efficient operation and put out three to four issues annually. Usually, it means chipping in where and when you are needed and worrying less about title and rank and more about quality and having each issue make a difference. “Not all the tasks are intrinsically rewarding…. It’s about keeping your eye on the big picture.” What will that picture look like in 2021 and beyond? If these magazines and their staff are representative, the picture will not necessarily be a realistic portrait of what we see in the world, but perhaps one more akin to the world as we hope it would be. Quietly and behind the scenes, writers, editors, photographers, and designers will hone that vision and through small acts of literary stewardship, make the present and future clearer to its readers with every issue. As Mulloy explained, we “think about writing and publishing and editing as being all very solitary, and something you do at your desk,” but “anybody involved in working inside the Can Lit scene… [also] has a responsibility to be part of the wider scene” that goes beyond national borders. Readers join that scene not only by purchasing issues, and passing on word-of-mouth endorsements for well-loved pieces, or attending readings and buying gift subscriptions. “It can be small steps… like sending [an author] a note…. It doesn’t cost you anything.” If covid has taught us anything, it’s how quickly and how dramatically the people of this shared world are able to change. While this is sometimes alarming, it also reminds us that we have reason to hope, and to believe we’ll be even stronger when we to emerge. Writing will evolve, improving over time and with input from others who share a similar passion for the beauty of prose and its surprising capacity to shock us out of complacency and usher in something new. I for one hope it will be the next step along the road to equality and tolerance for all, and a safe space to share the stories readers deserve to hear, and that artists are eager to write as they burst through those swinging open doors toward a more inclusive future. (30) Feature
SUCH SWEET THUNDER Noemi Haynes
of late October and the patch of dried yellow grass where you first taught me aikido, our slow mornings with the smell of Turkish eggs, and music, always music—you liked the blues, but sang in crimson. I remember the warmth of your body beneath mine before, and the empty cold of the bed after. These moments come back as fleeting and powerful as thunder. I can still smell you, hear your voice, see your crooked nose and curly hair.
REMEMBER THE GREY SEA
“Tell me about your father,” you said once. We sat at the kitchen table with empty plates and low candles. The sun had passed beyond the coastal mountains and behind the arbutus tree the sky was fading from bright pink to lavender. You knew how to open me. I told you my father was always looking toward the future, waiting for something better. He worked hard without passion, and talked about retirement as if it were a fairytale. He hated clutter, leaving the tidy house devoid of a certain vitality. He made wine every fall. When I was a kid, he’d scrub my feet in the tub, carry me downstairs into the garage, and plop me in a barrel of grapes waiting to be crushed. He was the first man I loved and lost; you were the second. Watching my father die was the worst thing I had ever endured. He lay marooned on his palliative island in the living room. A necrotic shadow clung to walls, hung in the air, and slipped under my eyelids as I slept. Over the next six months, I watched him wither away to skin and bone, saw the nurses come and go. My mother changed his dressings as the tumor grew. I held his hand, the skin stretched thin, cold, and dry as he said, “This came too early.” I could have used you then.
“Do you want a trim? Have a quick shower and meet me outside.” You didn’t need one, but I wanted to cut your hair anyway. Instead, you looked up and grinned. I loved that grin. The green chair scraped the floor as you shot up and threw me over your shoulder, carrying me down the hall and into the shower. Furry Lewis spun softly on the record player inside, slipping through the open door to where you sat among the green leaves and wet footprints. Beads of sun rolled down your wet hair, sometimes falling from the scissors, sometimes running down my wrists. I half wanted to close my eyes, but thought better of it. Where are you now? The last time we were together was our trip to Strathcona. We slept under the stars next to the creek. I could see Pleiades and the pareidolic rabbit sitting in the contours of the moon. You told me the ancient Chinese fable of the White Jade Rabbit and immortality. I imagined asking him for the elixir of life, thinking of my father. At dawn you went fishing. You had already picked blackberries and lit a fire for tea. I sat with the bowl of berries, arcing them high into the sky, watching as they plummeted to earth. Some were tart, some were sweet. You gave up mid-morning with an empty hook and we went for a swim. I floated on my back as you held me on the surface, tracing the length of my arms and torso—I was your little fish.
(The next day we sat on the peak of the mountain and you howled at the dawn. ) On the drive home, the trees and mountains folded into the liquid spheres that slipped down the windshield. Our tires glided silently over the water toward the thunder on the horizon. (30)
The following morning you sat at the table as the sun caught the steam rising from your cup. I stood by the door and quietly watched you, lost in some faraway page of history. Your brow furrowed and lips parted as you read.
Post-Rain Beauty in the Okanagan Kristen Bounds
INDIANS IN SPACE Juanessa Prince I do not know the word ‘god’ in my traditional tongue. I swear never to capitalize it. I read the bible, but only feel Creator when the wind whistles. My thoughts are formed in English, so I never truly know what I am saying. In a colonized galaxy of adamantine colonial power I am a dying star. I expand into the universe before being smothered by darkness— light stolen from fading particles. We were only specks against an unspeakable backdrop of horror I failed to understand. Like a planet out of orbit, I do not have a place in this “progress,” this solar system. I long for the freedom of a galaxy nourished by my ancestors of the plains: where the moon told her stories, the stars whispered directions, and spirits danced; when our economy was gratitude— soul, mind, spirit entwined in our hair— and our names earned. At first, they called us Indians. Then they took that from us too.
LILLIAN ALLEN ON POETRY’S POWER TO TOUCH WHAT’S HIDDEN Kaleigh Studer and Lauryn Mackenzie
10TH AND 11TH of this year, Juno Awardwinning poet and activist Lillian Allen delivered the 2021 Gustafson Distinguished Poet’s Lecture in Nanaimo as part of viu’s annual celebration of the craft. This year the “godmother of dub” spoke to “Poetry as Social Practice: Dub Poetry and Spoken Word on the Frontlines.”
Allen was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and grew up in Spanish Town. She moved away from the Caribbean with her family as a teenager and studied in New York and Toronto. She is one of Canada’s leading innovators of dub poetry, a poetic form that draws on vernacular language and political content and is sometimes set to music.
You describe the origins of dub poetry in “De Dub Poets,” this way: “Instinctively [Jamaican-Canadian dub poets] set out to shape this new expression, to work with a form whose aim was to increase the dynamism of poetry, to increase its impact and immediacy, a poetic form that could incorporate many aspects of other art forms: performance, drama, fiction, theatre, music, opera, scat, acapella, comedy, video, storytelling, and even electronics.” As one of the most visible Black feminist voices writing in Canada, how do you see poetry, perhaps dub poetry particularly, responding to the current political and cultural climate and shaping its future?
Poetry resides with the people. It’s not just in words. It’s not just in grammar. It’s not just in the English language. It has to do with the way people stylize their lives, the way they move through time, the way they dream. That is an essential and important part of who people are, and what they can do to amplify what they're thinking. It’s also important that they can connect with other people, can talk about difficult things. We know there's power in that.
She was a driving force in the 2003 founding of the Canadian dub poetry movement, alongside Afua Cooper, Klyde Broox, Chet Singh, Clifton Joseph and d'bi young anitafrika. In 2003, she also helped found the Dub Poets Collective and in 2004 hosted Wordbeat, a cbc radio program on poetry and spoken word. She is the founder of the Toronto International Dub Poetry Festival and is an internationally recognized authority and activist on cultural diversity and equity.
There’s also power in talking about joy and being joyful, which for me, is what poetry should be. So, it is so important that everybody takes up the idea that poetry is for them, that they can play around with it, that they can fail at it–if there’s such a thing. It has given us not just aesthetic diversity and nuances around sense and sensibility, but it has also provided specificity.
Allen was also featured in the film Unnatural Causes (1989) and co-produced and co-directed the documentary Blakk Wi Blakk (1994). Her work for young people includes Why Me, If You See Truth and Nothing But a Hero. Allen’s honours and awards include a City of Toronto Cultural Champion Award and a William P. Hubbard Award for Race Relations. She is a Creative Writing professor at ocad. We sat down with her following the lecture, but found ourselves jumping up in excitement. Allen is full of spirit, spunk, integrity and love.
Astronaut Jason Duong
Resistance to racism and reform are common themes in your written and spoken word poetry. How have you seen that revolution evolve since you began writing?
We've seen how poetry can be integral to resistance, and integral to moving communities forward in Feature
terms of transformation. I have seen democratization, limited as it may be, in terms of what poetry is, and who gets to do it, and who gets to hear it, and who gets to listen to it. I think poetry should be accessible to absolutely everybody. KS:
You have quoted June Jordan who said, “Black people have survived not in spite of, but because of, the oral tradition.” Could you elaborate on this?
We survived with the oral tradition, in its various forms, in the churches, in the preacher and the comedian, in the people who tell stories. You had to deploy the oral tradition that is the basis of theatre and song writing, the basis of storytelling, of novels— rolling those words over and capturing people. I have to give credit to the dub poets, who at one time were the main voices of Black resistance in this country.
Can you speak to the role of new bipoc poets entering the field in Canada and what you see they are, or could be, contributing to the national and international conversation?
I’m involved with younger bipoc artists, mostly spoken word but not exclusively, and with writers who are university teachers in Creative Writing departments. Both these groups are extending who we are as writers and as a community, extending who we are and can be as Canadians.
During the Gustafson lecture, you segued easily into performing your poems from memory. Do you hear a rhythm or soundtrack to the words that help with your delivery or do you change the tune, so to speak, ‘as the spirit moves you’?
The word is written in meter, it’s just not the iambic pentameter. It’s written in a certain meter that’s usually based on reggae. By the time it gets to the public, it is so enmeshed in its own internal rhythm and meter, that that’s the poem in itself. If you start to pull it apart, you're losing the elements of it. I engage in a collaborative process that, first of all, starts with a poem and starts with a pulse. That goes into the creation of the music, that gets transferred into the instrumentation, and it’s just a little bit of magic.
You said in your lecture, “We carried the dreams of our community because we went to primary and
high school,” and “At the time in Jamaica, we were living in unforgiving times because Jamaican society had a narrow, very claustrophobic view of success for all but the ruling classes. There was very little room for mistakes.” Did this pressure to succeed help or hinder your development as a writer? LA:
I just took myself away from everybody and pretended I was in a spiritual space. I always had this drive to write because I felt there was another story that must be told. My family spawned a whole brand, a wide range of characters. They made a platform for their own children who went on to be very successful. They endured and they continue to inspire me. I feel so proud to be connected to them.
You said last week, “Write for yourself; edit for your reader.” What did you mean by that?
I think the first thing you have to do is bring people to a love of writing, to show them, here’s this joyous thing. It’s like throwing somebody in a wave pool where it’s coming all the time and they’re going to laugh, they’re going to jump up, and that is what you want to bring people to, because that's what writing does. It’s about expressing yourself, about going to that place where you know you've hidden, or you haven't touched. A discovery of oneself is always beautiful, right? I think it's important that people learn to edit their own work, to become comfortable with it. In my introductory class, three drafts is the minimum I require on a piece of work, and you keep all your drafts. There are some people who won’t read their own work, which might be fatal. Overall, we look for mentors, not just the live ones, but in the things we read. I want people to think about the emotions in the piece, the character, the point of view, the persona. If your work is too precious and you're too attached to it, keep that for yourself.
You began teaching in 1992 at ocad and in 2018 you helped launch a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Writing there. How did the courses evolve during your 26 years in between to distinguish it from other programs across the country?
At ocad students take writing into video, into film, bring it into games. In my introductory class, everybody has to produce a chapbook that they actually design themselves. They say, "How do I do this?" and I say, “You are the artist, right?” They give you a range of samples you would call a book, but that you've never seen before, which is pretty
amazing. You need to tell your story, whether it's poetic or a narrative. We don't know exactly what you're going to end up with, but we know that you have something fresh and new for us. We want you to explore that, in addition to what's already there. KS:
What are some of the seminal books you assign your students to help with their development as poets?
Read what you love and read what you don't, just keep reading. It doesn't matter. Just read and reflect and push the words around; be with it. You're looking for work that's teachable, you're not looking for the pinnacle. You're looking at something that can provide some context to them and enrich their own lives and challenge them. I like a book called Writing the Natural Way by Gabriele Lusser Rico that provides a framework for people to understand what happens in creativity and consciousness and it demystifies it. If they love writing after that, then their writing will improve tremendously. I also use the Griffin Prize-winning books and contemporary poetry of the last 20 years. I travel a lot and see what's happening to bring it back to my students.
What advice would you give a young poet/writer that you wish someone had given you, looking back? If you're going to be writing for a long time, consider it a relationship, and consider that you have a lot of power in that relationship to make it beautiful. Make your writing a companion. I would encourage students to—if they love writing, they're inclined to it—try and make it a general companion, something they will love. I'm sure you can talk for 20 minutes without stopping. That's how we should get with writing. People don't go further because they get tripped up. They don't dig deep enough. See it as an apprenticeship. Look at where you want to land; not everything is to be published. That is so absurd; just be happy with it. The rappers do it in their heads, and then they put it down on paper. It’s a kind of meditation for me. Clear that creative space, to make it as unhampered as possible. I'd also highly recommend a small writing group with supportive rules. Give yourself a couple of years before you start thinking about the industry and a career. Then find a loving, caring audience and build your community from there. (30)
Bibliography Make the World New (2021) Psychic Unrest (1999). Women Do This Every Day: Selected Poems of Lillian Allen (1993) The Teeth of the Whirlwind (1984) with Dionne Brand, Clifton Joseph, charles c. smith Rhythm an' Hardtimes (1982) Discography Anxiety (2012) We Shall Take Our Freedom and Dance (1998) Don’t They Know (1994) Conditions Critical (1988) Juno Award for best reggae/calypso album Let the Heart See (1987) Revolutionary Tea Party (1986) Juno Award for best reggae/calypso album Curfew Inna BC (1985) Live in Concert, Lillian Allen: The Poetry of Lillian Allen (1985) De Dub Poets (1984) with Clifton Joseph and Devon Haughton Dub Poet: The Poetry of Lillian Allen (1983)
NENYUST’EN Patrick Wilson for Nathan Kyah Wilson and Katherine Arsenault Anih (Un-ee): Come here. Bit’aynistan (But-ine-is-ton): I’m depending on him.
Anih, I say, coaxing him from beneath his oak fortress. I love you, Kyah. He clamps my leg as I leave for work.
What do you want? an Elder demands. Nenyust’en! mimics their leader. I have only come to this keyikh to bring peace.
Don’t worry, Son. Nenyust’en. His eyes water ndet, a murky, muddied unstoppable c’ikwah.
For you, the people ndet, an offering of blankets, warmth against harsh nights beside the c’ikwah.
Anih Grandmother said, more apparition than sky, Nenyust’en. Nenyust’en.
The dreams, like the c’ikwah, have carved this place in my mind. It is as it was before those in the East came to ndet.
The Chief proudly accepts and an Elder says to the visitor, That is why bit’aynistan. I need a great leader. Nenyust’en.
I jolt awake and sketch the ndet where I’ve seen her, a place where the c’ikwah meets its sister.
Grandmother beckons me. Anih. This is what I meant when I said Nenyust’en.
Now grandmother lays sick and dying. She whispers faintly, Nenyust’en. I ask my sister… Anih, watch over my son.
The keyikh is a dwelling, home to ancestors and ancient memories. There she points to me and says Bit’aynistan.
On their final visit, men in rowboats, exhausted from the journey, enter the keyikh.
Bit’aynistan. My son is the future, a new beginning for the keyikh. He will carve a new path for us like the c’ikwah.
The dreams recur, similar but never the same. My son falls. I catch him. He runs away in tears.
They’ve come to our keyikh from a mysterious land. Their leader, wet to the bone, looks like Old Man c’ikwah.
I come from ndet. My life comes from the c’ikwah. My heart lies in the keyikh.
c’ikwah (Kay-Kwa): river keyikh (Ky-ah): village Nenyust’en (Nen-u-sten): I will see you again. ndet (Nn-det): (A place) down river
Spawning Salmon Coel Poesiat
The chill of November quiets Saint Paul’s streets as I walk home from work at dusk. I shortcut over the ball diamond fence and red clay crunches beneath my trespassing feet.
They are waiting for the bus to Saddle Lake, where the land is recognized as their own. It comes once a day around four, six, or eight.
I will my steps silent and slip through the slanted shadows cast by the cold and abandoned bleachers.
A group of girls approach the fire calling each other cousins. I know the girl in the faded orange Regional High hoodie.
The scent of smoked bannock wafts from their dwindling fire. Hot chocolate brewing in Styrofoam cups warms their fingerless mittens. The Elders share a blanket in the dugout
Her name is Catori, meaning ‘she is spirit,’ but I called her Cat in high school. Her earrings are beaded, blue and beautiful.
Wind from the coming winter bites through my autumn jacket and my pace quickens with thoughts of home.
Her hair is intricately braided with stories from her ancestors. She pours some spirit, cloaked in a brown paper bag, into her mother’s cocoa.
Parents grasp the chain-link boundary and bellow for their children to stay in sight, within reach. When I come closer, the little ones run from me.
Our eyes meet as I hop the fence. After my footsteps have left their mark. I ask her, When did you get here? and she answers, We’ve always been here.
The lands’ language rises from their chapped lips, cold clouds grasp each other before chilled gusts force them apart.
Wanderlust Jon Bethell
BOOK REVIEWS on Eden Robinson’s award-winning novel, Son of a Trickster, adapted for television by series co-creators Tony Elliot and Michelle Latimer, who also directed the six-episode miniseries for cbc. Ironically, the father-son duo play an insidious game of cat and mouse to escape their responsibilities as the titular trickster. Trickster is a dysfunctional comingof-age story that borrows elements from the gothic genre to approach real-world issues like intergenerational trauma, the struggle for cultural identity, and the ravaging of lands once protected. Trickster Michelle Latimer CBC
October 7, 2020 Reviewed by Elijah Robinson
Trickster follows Jared, a 16-yearold high school student and parttime employee at a local fast-food restaurant who shoulders the burden of his separated parents’ financial shortcomings. On the side, Jared cooks ecstasy in a rundown shack and sells it to drive-thru patrons as “extra salty fries,” in an attempt to pay for his parents’ respective households, with his mother Maggie (Crystle Lightning) and his father Phil (Craig Lauzon) each having accrued sizeable debts. Trickster successfully uses the gothic genre as a medium for storytelling, first deceiving its audience in the opening scene with supernatural elements, then showing Jared questioning his own sanity. Sarah (Anna Lambe), Jared’s love interest, is on a journey of self-discovery, but struggles to control her own life while confined to foster care.
“You can’t escape who you are,” says Wade (Kalani Queypo) to his biological son, Jared (Joel Oulette) in the season finale of Trickster, based
Traditionally, the son of a trickster must kill his father in ceremony to obtain his knowledge and open a gateway for ancient ones to travel to and from their own world. Offspring of tricksters naturally take the power of their fathers. Fearing death, Wade murdered his previous trickster son, delaying the cycle and preventing
ancient ones from returning home. The earthly world is dying, so the ancient ones pressure Wade to restore balance, while Jared wants to eschew tradition to escape destiny. The miniseries is accompanied by an amazing soundtrack composed by Todor Kobakov and supervised by Jody Colero. The alchemic score offers a retro synthesis, signifying the clash between the contemporary world and the ancient one. At the same time, the series advances the idea of resurgence through its use of traditional songs and genre-ranging Indigenous artists like Snotty Nose Rez Kids, A Tribe Called Red, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and others. The series pays homage to these artists via posters hidden throughout the series. David Cronenberg, a Canadian filmmaker, is also honoured for his contribution to the body horror film subgenre, with posters of Videodrome outside the theatre in episode 1, and a poster for The Brood in Jared’s room above his bed. In Trickster’s closing moments as the camera pans out, Jared holds his father’s ashes on a bridge over a river, just as in the closing scene of Smoke Signals, directed by Chris Eyre, often cited as the start of the Indigenous Film Renaissance. Trickster is a prime example of resurgence in popular culture, and the series creators are acknowledging their trailblazers. Trickster was approved for a second season, adapting Robinson’s novel Trickster Drift, the second book in her trilogy that concludes with Return of the Trickster, which is expected to be released on March 2, 2021. Controversy regarding the authenticity of Latimer’s Indigenous identity has unfortunately cancelled the second season of the series as of the time of publication.
Ever since pilgrims first made the voyage to Turtle Island, settlers have documented their observations and opinions about of Indigenous populations who already inhabited the land. They transmitted this knowledge in the written word and returned to the ‘Old World.’ The missives were treated as fact, with no concern for who might be affected by these ‘stories.’
Blanket Toss Under Midnight Sun: Portraits of Everyday Life in Eight Indigenous Communities Paul Seesequasis Knopf Canada, 2019 192 Pages ISBN: 978-0735273313 $32.95 Reviewed by Kesu Beaton
This, however, was only the beginning. Today these early commentaries are recognized as colonial interpretations and are inappropriate and inaccurate representations of Indigenous identity. Today, Indigenous peoples across Turtle Island have access to these works authored by outsiders and see the inadequacies and inherent racism in these ‘cultured’ representations. In most instances, Indigenous Peoples were not consulted about the nature of these portrayals. The information was often invalid, out of context, inauthentic, or created or curated without any oversight by the Peoples represented. In Blanket Toss Under Midnight Sun, Seesequasis writes an alternative history, not of the time of contact, but the middle of the 20th century in Canada (and parts of the us). Seesequasis’ mother, a residential school survivor, said she was “tired of hearing just negative things about those times…” and that “there had been positive and strong things in Indigenous communities then.” Seesequasis began looking through archives for depictions of Indigenous Peoples living their lives, not as pitied wards subjugated by the crown/state, but as thriving and robust Peoples flourishing in the wake of colonization.
began to recognize their relatives in the pictures. Seesequasis then looked for Indigenous representation from photographers or artists that told this parallel story. “Before the advent of smartphones and social media, we used images to define ourselves and represent how we wished others to see us.” Seesequasis narrowed his mission by focusing on eight Indigenous communities across Turtle Island: Kinngait or Cape Dorset (nu), Nunavik (qb), James Bay (mb/on/ qb), the Hudson’s Bay watershed, Saskatchewan, Alberta/Montana, Northwest Territories, and the Yukon. Though not an accredited historian or archivist, Seesequasis does his best to show this history through images intended to fundamentally reposition conversations and offer more accurate self-representation. He empowers the voices of the communities by sharing their art, photography, and by extension, history. Seesequasis naturally addresses some of the realities that Indigenous Peoples face, including representation, and demands readers reconsider what they think they know. Blanket Toss Under Midnight Sun is an important book, worth picking up and looking through again and again, remembering that “no narrative can tell the whole story, nor reflect, in all its complexity, a person’s life.” This book adds to the current dialogue in North America, one essential for all people to engage in if reconciliation is to be more than a concept given lip service.
He began by posting archival images on social media, and gradually people
“In the hospital, I dreamed that death lay beside me,” writes Torontobased writer Kelly Rose Pflug-Back in her first full-length collection of poems after her 2012 chapbook These Burning Streets. The new title marks a stark change in subject matter and poetic style. Taking its title from a well-known treatise on witchcraft, The Hammer of Witches leans into imagery of the arcane and blends it with the simplistic purity of love.
The Hammer of Witches Kelly Rose Pﬂug-Back Caitlin Press, 2020 72 pages ISBN: 978-1773860299 $18.00 Reviewed by Aaron Koch
This is apparent from the first poem, “Malleus Maleficarum,” addressed to a lover who lives for hundreds of years. Pflug-Back writes: “We were witches once, you and I…. It was morning when they killed us / and our hackedoff fingers / burrowed like pale grubs / into the earth below the gallows.” From the outset, The Hammer of Witches adopts a grim tone, but even this first poem is immediately undercut by the honesty of the speaker’s feelings: “Your love is a heathen rite, I told you once / in a note I wrote / on a restaurant napkin / and never showed to you. / Bride of nothing / bride of wind / and pouring rain / god is in the long bones of your thighs / the spined shadows / your eyelashes cast / against your cheeks / when you sleep / the two of us lost together / still / in this forest / of tall buildings.” Pflug-Back has mastered the art of modern conjury with The Hammer of Witches. The collection embraces magical realism, fusing whimsy with sinister overtones to create a unique voice and mood to which the reader cannot help but be drawn. Whether it be the image of an unknown mother pulling a necklace out of her tear duct in “Makeshift Ballroom,” or the disturbing sensation of a metallic spider crawling across the skin in “Grimoire,” PflugBack has a condensed moment of clarity for every situation.
This is emblematic of Pflug-Back's writing , a splendid blend of anachronistic imagery that bewilders the reader in all the right ways. She journeys effortlessly through the past, sometimes starting and ending a stanza in a completely different period, but no matter where or when in time we are, we are engaged. This is best demonstrated in “Miscarriage,” a poem about two lovers dealing with loss. The poem starts with the macabre imagery of a hospital, and follows the two characters through healing: “After Autumn’s tissue paper ghosts have blown free from bare fingerbone trees / and the department store Santas have closed their cotton wool eyes / after the trembling in my hands / at last, subsides / the party guests will grow tired of dancing / the patriarchs will ease themselves from creaking chairs / and button the buttons of their dark coats / and you and I will find ourselves / alone, laughing at nothing / in the thirdfloor rooms of your parents’ house / where I will tell you that I love you, still / the way I did when we were children / I love you, still, / the way I did when we were old.” The Hammer of Witches underscores that faith, loss, and miscommunication create distinct voids in our lives that can only be filled with the sorcery of unconditional love. This title is a stark contrast to the insidious nature of witches in popular culture and a powerful treatise on the healing and all-encompassing force of love that is a magic unparalleled by any other potion, poetic or otherwise.
The Bones Are There features a woolly mammoth, an elephant bird, a short-tailed hopping-mouse, and a dodo, each extinct at the hands of humans. In Kate Sutherland’s fourth book of poems, she asks us to reflect on our colonial past and our desire to explore and destroy.
The Bones Are There Kate Sutherland Book*hug Press, 2020 89 pages ISBN: 978-1771666251 $18.00 Reviewed by Brennan O’Toole
The book is divided into three parts: Beasts of the Sea, The Bones are There, and Familiar. Using excerpts from journals, ship’s logs, textbooks, and manuals, Sutherland pieces together a mosaic that tells a cautionary tale for future explorers. Each section reads like one long poem, whole poems becoming stanzas. The poetic language of the book does not come from the voices of these found documents, but from Sutherland’s ability to tell the story of human hubris. Each poem builds on the last to read like a novel as much as a collection. Beasts of the Sea follows Russian sailors on their arduous journey to North America as they describe everything from a bird’s feathers, to death by scurvy, to long days at sea. These are real voices from hundreds of years ago, but they feel eerily similar to our own. While language and ideas may have changed, the human will to understand persists. The journals can be both disorienting and clear, emulating both rough and calm days at sea. In The Bones are There, the pages are backlit with the faded names of extinct animals, while the poems chart their physical characteristics and explore the effects humans have had on the species. Sutherland details their systemic slaughter, along with the payouts hunters receive for the kill, itemizing the destruction of people, animals, and land for colonial profit. “We authorized the superintendent to give the following rewards for the / destruction of Noxious animals:
For every Male Hyena 5/For every Female Hyena with or without young 7/Half the above prices for Male and Female Devils and Wild Dogs.” Some creatures are recognizable by name, but the majority are not. Most are paired with the names of their native habitat: American cheetah, Jamaican long-tongued bat, the Christmas Island musk shrew. The hunters and traders follow these orders to survive, exploited by the same men who own the fur companies and the zoos. It makes you wonder what the ocean might look like if sea cows still floated in our waters. One section departs slightly from the form of the first two to tell the stories of women in the 14th and 15th century executed as witches. The women in these stories search for potions to solve their problems, and send white cats to destroy their neighbour’s cattle, making clear colonialism butchers more than animals. These women were not helped by their communities, but ostracized and executed. They are spliced between scientific descriptions of extinct frogs and toads (a symbol for witchcraft) and recipes for concoctions designed to cure. Sutherland was born in Scotland and emigrated to Canada as a child. She studied at the University of Saskatchewan, and then Harvard Law. Her stories and poems appear in Best Canadian Poetry and Best American Experimental Writing. She teaches at Osgoode Hall. The Bones Are There breathes life into the dead. Sutherland reimagines our world as if our ancestors had been less careless and blood-thirsty, less intent on their own aggrandizement. It is a world you need to see.
According to Kepple’s Guide to the Vikings, Zelda’s Bible, being legendary requires she meet six conditions: to be a hero “skilled in hand-to-hand combat,” to acquire a “powerful weapon,” to “win the love of a fair maiden in danger,” to have access to the wisdom of a “wise man,” to pillage “rival villages for treasure,” and to “defeat a villain who threatens the tribe.”
When We Were Vikings Andrew David MacDonald Gallery/Scout Press, 2020 336 pages ISBN: 978-1982143268 $24.99 Reviewed by Kiara Strijack
When We Were Vikings is a wonderfully funny, gritty debut, a coming-of-age novel as touching as it is heartbreaking. MacDonald invites the reader into a world of Vikings and quests to learn what it means to be the hero of your own story. Zelda, a 21-year-old Viking enthusiast with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (fasd), wants to be a good Viking, and to contribute to her “tribe” and—she is no maiden in need of saving. “People look at me and do not think that I am brave or strong and that I am the one who needs protection,” Zelda observes. “My legend will show people that, even if you are not gargantuan, you can still be strong and brave and help others in your tribe.”
Some tasks are easier than others. She’s already won the love of her fair maiden-slash-boyfriend, Marxy, whereas defeating a villain is a little more challenging, but Zelda approaches each one with inspiring vigor and determination. When her older brother Gert falls in with the wrong crowd, Zelda has the perfect opportunity to face villainous “Grendels,” “shit-heels,” and “níðíngrs.” Since villains abound, When We Were Vikings is not for the faint of heart—there are themes of sexual assault, violence, and abuse. On top of the usual trials that come with entering adulthood, blossoming into a woman, and independance, Zelda navigates her own unique challenges that come with fasd. Getting your first job and having sex for the first time are all the more difficult for Zelda. Lists guide Zelda’s life, but she soon learns that not everything in life has, or should have, guidelines, and “sometimes the most important things don’t fit on lists.” Zelda’s idol, Dr. Kepple, says “the most important parts of life, the parts really worth cherishing, are the things that we don’t expect.” Zelda is preoccupied with Viking language, rituals, Norse mythology, and even ocean sounds to recreate imagined scenes of Viking vessels. This, interspersed with “Words of Today” and Zelda’s letters to Dr. Kepple, reveals Zelda’s obsession, love of routine, and personality.
Unfortunately, Zelda’s disorder isn’t indicated until page 65, late to contradict the assumption that she is on the autism spectrum. That said, the book raises awareness of fasd, a condition more common than Autism Spectrum Disorder (asd), but rarely the subject of press, fiction, or film. The book also addresses the “taboo” subject of sex and disability, and approaches it appropriately and respectfully. fasd is caused by fetal exposure to alcohol, and symptoms might include poor coordination and memory, attention difficulties, learning disabilities, speech delays, hearing and vision problems, and other difficulties ranging from mild to severe. fasd and asd are very different disorders—individuals with asd have fewer physical coordination and memory problems, but a harder time relating to others. The novel is remarkable for its emotional scope, representation of disability, and convincing firstperson depiction of a young female character by an adult male writer. Edmonton-born MacDonald has won a Western Magazine Award for Fiction, was shortlisted for the Canadian National Magazine Award for Fiction, and has had work included in four volumes of The Journey Prize anthologies. When We Were Vikings was on Goodreads’ list of January 2020’s “Most Anticipated Books,” and was on one of New York Post ’s lists of “Best Books of the Week.” While Zelda may just be trying to be a good Viking, what she’s really learning—and teaching us—is how to be a good friend, a good sibling, a good partner…and simply a good person. Let Zelda inspire you to be legendary—whatever that looks like for you. Skál.
In Bernice Friesen’s second novel, Universal Disorder, the protagonist Charlie is in his 30s and fixated on mathematics and an unrequited love for former fellow student, Jae. After 10 years without contact, her number flashes on his call display, a number Charlie could never forget.
Universal Disorder Bernice Friesen Freehand Books, 2020 320 Pages ISBN: 978-1988298559 $22.95 Reviewed by Dave Flawse
Universal Disorder begins in media res just after Charlie has “stumbled out of the psyche ward.” Ten short paragraphs in, Friesen flashes back to his childhood in small-town Saskatchewan with Charlie struggling to connect with his alcoholic father. After his parents’ separation, his mother spends a modest inheritance helping Charlie overcome an illness. By his early teens, his condition has improved, but one traumatic encounter with his father sends him plummeting again. When Charlie is in university, he studies in the art building to be closer to the unpredictable and eccentric Jae. Every day for a year he walks her home. “But a slightly different version of her every week, her skin scrubbed of feathers, her hair dyed in a sequence of rainbow chemicals from impossible Day-Glo green to a radioactive violet. Then she shaved it all off and got a tattoo of a fleur-delys.” They attend art shows, games nights, and parties, but Jae’s friend Tasmin seems to always be in the way and Charlie is in the friend zone. He isn’t well equipped to interpret the subtleties of relationships, so he takes her rejection hard and it’s the first trigger in a relapse. Within a few years, he quits his phd in math and develops a fear of sunlight. Now, Charlie is working in Montreal’s subway and instead of answering Jae’s phone call, he skips work and, risking sunlight exposure, tracks her down. When he knocks on the door of her old place, Jae has long since left, but he finds someone he needs, a step on his journey back to mental wellness.
Friesen’s journey through a troubled mind begins with 108 pages of Charlie’s childhood, giving context to his mental illness. He’s “functionally mentally disturbed” with ocd symptoms, and there’s some back and forth about an Asperger’s diagnosis. Friesen crafts a dynamic voice in this third-person narrative, which matures from puerile “mummy” to “his mother” as Charlie ages. The voice changes with his mental state too, using a stilted prose and ephemeral thoughts for his lows, and floating but affirmative sentences in his recovery. These subtleties place the reader firmly in Charlie’s thoughts. Some of the story’s elements are arranged as you might expect in a novel about ocd, including mathematical symbols for chapter titles, but Friesen departs from logic to tell the story out of chronological order. The leaps in time are easy to follow and they add to the verisimilitude of a story with disorder in the title. The technique creates tension by delivering Charlie’s most striking recessed memory at the climax of this dark tale. Perhaps the most heartwarming character is Lou-Anne, a country bumpkin who got pregnant with Charlie in her teens and, despite having an abusive father, she’s Charlie’s rock. While Charlie’s iq is impressive, it’s Lou-Anne who excels at eq, an emotional quotient that makes her a vital social support for a man whose prodigious mind often overshadows his intuition. Universal Disorder examines how to reconcile genius and a broken soul, and how to see the potential in damaged lives. Like pi, which Charlie’s computer has been calculating for over a decade, there are infinite ways to heal. You’ll be thinking of Charlie long after you put this book down— count it on your must-read list.
CONTRIBUTOR Kesu Beaton is a 2S Tla’amin, Lilwat, and adopted Namgis third-year
student in the Indigenous Studies program, studying Anthropology and Creative Writing. They have published “Dawn” in PLACE 2019 and “For the Record My Name is Sorry” in The Ants of Elve Hotel 2020. Their prose poem “Some Stories Are Warnings” is featured in “Raising the Spirits” and they reviewed Blanket Toss Under Midnight Sun for this issue.
Jon Bethell is a freelance photographer who has a diploma in Sports
Management and has completed the Canadian Outdoor Leadership Training program. His photos “Dreamland,” “Wanderlust,” “Summer Nights,” and “Mountain Top” are featured in this issue.
Kristen Bounds is a fourth-year Creative Writing major, minoring in Journalism. Her work has been featured in The Navigator, where she is the Features Editor, as well as in Incline. In 2020 she received the Barry Broadfoot Award for Journalism and Creative Non-Fiction. She is a Fiction Editor for Portal 2021 and on the Advertising team. Her non-fiction “Given the Circumstances” and photographs “Dusk at Nanaimo Harbour,” “Post-Rain Beauty in the Okanagan,” and “Bridge to Nowhere” appear in this issue. Robert Bowerman is a retired teacher and Creative Writing student who
in 2019 received the Meadowlark Award for Fiction. He was long listed for the Peter Hyncliffe Prize in The New Quarterly 2018. He has published “Divine Intervention” in The White Wall Review, the poems “Shopping Cart” and “Fullness” in Antilang, “On My Way to Port Hardy” in New Reader Magazine, and the poems “Impressions of Japan,” “Malecon Quinceranera,” and “When I Stopped Clapping” in The Navigator.
Chantelle Calitz is in her fourth year at viu pursuing a bdes in Graphic Design. Her photography and abstract paintings “Precarious,” “Slices of Sunset,” “Crimson,” and “Heron Now” have been published in Portal 2019, 2020, and 2021. This is her third year designing the magazine. Savanah Campbell is a second-year student at viu pursuing her bdes in Graphic Design. Her illustrations “Moon Thief ” and “Home” are her first print publications.
Jenna Cronshaw is a second-year student in Media Studies at viu pursuing film and photography where she focuses on street style. Her four works “Sunshine in a Victoria Backyard,” “Peaceful Waters,” “Winter Sheds,” and “Moments Like This” are her first publications. Jason Duong is a third-year Graphic Design student at viu whose work
“Matrix” was published in Portal 2020. He speaks four languages and has worked for Logo West. “Astronaut” is his second publication.
Joe Enns has a bsc in Ecological Restoration from bcit and is currently in
Cloudy Oceans Malcolm Simard
third-year Creative Writing at viu. He received the Pat Bevan Scholarship for Poetry. His feature writing has appeared in The Link and his fiction was shortlisted in FreeFall ’s 2020 Prose and Poetry Contest. He is a Non-fiction Editor for Portal 2021 and on the Advertising team. “Kingdom of Thorns,” “Sunset at Etosha National Park, Namibia,” and “The Weight of Winter” are his first publications in Portal.
BIOGRAPHIES Margot Fedoruk has published “Doris Day and a Cup of Lemon Tea” in Portal 2019 and “In the Shade of Towering Cedars” and “Careful of the Bones” in Portal 2020, The Globe and Mail, Quill & Quire, BC BookWorld, and The Ormsby Review and interned at New Society Press. She has a ba from the University of Winnipeg and is completing a Creative Writing degree at viu. Fedoruk was awarded the Barry Broadfoot Award for Journalism and Creative Non-fiction, and the Meadowlark Award for Fiction. She is completing Cooking Tips for Desperate Fishwives: An Island Memoir. Dave Flawse has published the non-fiction works “The Elk in Our Backyard” and “Current Demand” in CV Collective and the poem “Nest” in Portal 2020. His story “Born Cold” and review of Universal Disorder appear in this issue. He was a recipient of the Meadowlark Award for Fiction in 2020 and is co-Managing Editor for Portal 2021. He volunteers for the Fat Oyster Reading Series in Fanny Bay. Emily Gain is a third-year student of Creative Writing at viu. Her poem “Under Their Heels” was featured in Portal 2019 and her short story “Someplace Warm” and poem “Carried Away” appear in this issue. Claire Gordon is in her third year of a ba degree with a major in English at viu. Her work has been showcased in The Navigator in 2018 and 2019 and in Canadian Yogi in 2019. Elliot Grace-Wilson is a Creative Writing student at viu and “Normal
Again” is his first publication. His play “Bunker” was performed in Grade 12 at Seycove Secondary School.
Lee Groen is a second-year Creative Writing major at viu. In 2020, he was awarded the Pat Bevan Scholarship in Creative Writing for Fiction. His short story “The Lucky Ones” is his first published work. Noemi Haynes is a second-year student completing her ba at viu. Her story “Such Sweet Thunder,” and artwork “August” in this issue of Portal are her first published works. Nic Ismirnioglou was Poetry Editor for Portal 2019 and his poem “Party at the Plaza” was published in Portal 2018. His work has also been featured in The Navigator. He received the Meadowlark Award for Fiction, the Bill Juby Award, the Annaliese Skoropad Award, a bc Arts Council Scholarship Award for the Literary Arts, and two iatse Local 891 scholarships. He is writing a coming-of-age novel entitled Skinny Mike. Aaron Koch is a fourth-year Creative Writing student minoring in English Literature. He has had “Saturday,” “Foreign Policy,” “Gasoline,” and a book review published in Portal 2019, 2020, and 2021. He is a Poetry Editor and on the Social Media team for Portal 2021.
Lisa Kremer is a third-year Anthropology Major and Creative Writing
Minor at viu. She was a nominee for the English Essay competition in 2019 and in 2020 she was on the Portal team as a Non-Fiction Editor and Copy Editor. “The Devil Will Have No Part” is her first published work.
Kashmir Lesnick-Petrovicz is completing a ba in Visual Arts with a minor in Global Studies at viu. Her work has been exhibited in student shows at viu, including Progressions 2019, and "Tla-o-qui-aht Totem Pole"published in Portal 2020. “Journey’s End,” “The Golden City,” “Morning’s Mirror,” and “Roots of the Sea” appear in this issue. She is Portal’s Art Director. Sarah Lewis is a ba student at viu with plans to major in Creative
Writing. She is a five-time winner of the Islands Short Fiction contest. “How I Met My Mother” in this issue is her first work published in print.
Lauryn Mackenzie is a third-year Media Studies student minoring in Creative Writing. She was the Junior Reporter for chly, has written for the Powell River Peak, and is the News Editor for The Navigator. She was a Poetry Editor for Portal 2020 and this is her second year as an Audio-Visual Editor and her first time on the Social Media team for Portal 2021. Her photo “Bee Happy” appears in this issue and she co-authored “They’re Going to Jump Up” interviewing Lillian Allen. Rose McQuirter is a fourth-year English major and Creative Writing
minor at viu. Her story “Birds of a Feather” is in this issue and “Bump and Strike” won the 2019 Portent Fiction Contest. Her stories “Child’s Play” and “No Castles” were published in Portal 2019 and “The One Who Knew Us Best” in the 2018 issue as well as the 2016 edition of In Our Own Voice. She is the recipient of viu’s Meadowlark Award for Fiction.
Danielle Minnis is a fifth-year Media Studies transfer student from The Bahamas. She is a filmmaker and videographer who has done corporate work for organizations including The Bahamas Ministry of Education and University of The Bahamas. Her film scripts “Better in The Bahamas” and “Sink” are in this issue of Portal. This year she is an Audio-Visual Editor and on the Portfolio team. Sabrina Mudryk is a fourth-year student completing a ba with a Psychology major and a Creative Writing minor. She won the Portent Poetry Prize for “They Are Waiting” this year and reviewed Kayla Czaga’s poetry collection Dunk Tank in Portal 2020. She was both an Audio-Visual and Advertising team member for that issue. Brennan O’Toole is a third-year Creative Writing student at viu. He wrote a book review in this issue for The Bones Are There. This is his first year as Poetry Editor for Portal. He has received the Mary Garland Coleman Prize and the Pat Bevan Award for Poetry. Patrick Coles Owen is a fourth-year student in Creative Writing at viu. He has completed a 150-page screenplay, Divitiae, which was a quarter finalist in the 2020 ScreenCraft Sci-Fi Competition.
Coel Poesiat is a viu student applying to the Graphic Design program. Her works “Earth Heart” and “Salmon Spawning” are her first publications. Juanessa Prince is a Plains Cree woman in her third year of a Sociology major, with a minor in Creative Writing at viu. “Indians in Space” is the first piece she has submitted, and her first publication.
Elijah Robinson is a fifth-year English and Journalism student at viu.
In addition to writing a book review for Trickster, the feature “The Game Changer” and serving as a Non-fiction Editor for Portal, he serves as the Editor-in-Chief at viu’s newspaper The Navigator.
Out of My Shell Ashley Smith
Evan Shumka is a second-year Creative Writing student at viu. In 2016, he made a 20-minute short film called Sasquander, available on YouTube. In 2019, his one-page script, Libertary, was published in The Navigator.
Malcolm Simard is a third-year Graphic Design student. “Orange
Vortex,” known as oil photography, “Cloudy Ocean” a long exposure photo, and “Totoro House” a vector illustration of the house from the movie My Neighbour Totoro are his first publications.
Ashley Smith is a third-year ba student pursuing a major in Creative
Writing. She is currently Acquisitions Editor, as well as a Fiction and Copy Editor. “Apples and Oranges,” and “The First Open Door” are her first published works along with the photos “Out of My Shell,” “Wave,” and “Tranquility.”
Alexandru Stanciu is a second-year student at viu enrolled in the Tourism Management program. His photo “Dark Woods” and “nyc Cityscape” are his first publications. Kiara Strijack is a fifth-year Creative Writing and Psychology student. She was an editor for Rebel Mountain Press’ In Our Own Teen Voice 5 anthology and is Copy Editor for The Navigator. Her poems “In the Space Between Love,” “Global Summer,” and “Eviction,” as well as her photography have been published in Portal 2020 and 2019 and The Navigator. Her book review for When We Were Vikings and photo “Six Feet Apart, Two Feet Together” appear in this issue. She has received the Meadowlark, Pat Bevan, and Jason Mayes Memorial awards. She is co-Managing Editor of Portal 2021.
Kaleigh Studer is a third-year Creative Writing student and a Poetry
Editor for Portal this year as well as being on the Sales and Marketing team. She is also the Arts Editor at The Navigator. She co-authored the interview with Lillian Allen in this issue.
Ta Udomchaisakul is a fourth-year student in Visual Arts at viu. In 2019
he received a viu Visual Arts award for excellence in Advanced Photography. He has photographed a fashion shoot for Lucid, and items for the Nanaimo Art Gallery website. His works “Once in Summer,” “What Happened After the Night Out,” and “Happy Meal Set, 2020” appear in this issue.
Gabriel Villasmil is a third-year Creative Writing student at viu. He has been published in The Ants of the Elves Hotel anthology and contributed to Portal 2020 as Script Editor and Portfolio Series Coordinator. He is a Latino queer actor and performer known for his role in Minority Report and his drag persona Divine Intervention. Patrick Wilson is Wet’suwet’en from Smithers and is in his fifth year of
a ba in Creative Writing. His non-fiction “Spotless,” and fiction “Those You Hold,” were published in the 2020 issue of Portal as was a book review and interview with Gregory Scofield. His article “Transition Ambitions” was published in Incline. This year he is a Feature Writer for “Raising the Spirits,” and authored the poem “Nenyust’en.”
Shawnda Wilson is a mixed media visual artist, writer, and publisher
originally from Montreal where she participated annually at the Anarchist Book and Zine Fair and monthly as a part of the Words and Music collective. She shows her visual work in venues on Vancouver Island. The extended version of “Auto/Graphic” can be read on shawnda.org.
Ashley Wood is a published poet, writer, and photographer in the Aboriginal University Bridging Program working toward Bachelor of Nursing. She is part of the ‘Su’luqw’a’ Community Cousins reconnecting with her Indigenous heritage. Her poetry and photography “Serpentine” and “Spilling Forth”are in this issue. Her work appears on Instagram @ ashmariewood and her fiction “Shards of Charcoal” was featured in the 2007-08 bc Teachers of English Language Arts’ Voices Visible.
Whether you’re a major, minor, Honours student or elective, English courses help develop essential reading, writing, and research skills for every career. Delve into the histories and contexts that make sense of our changing world or learn more about the cultures in your own backyard. From courses in film and popular culture to Medieval literature, Globalization to West Coast literature, English has the right course for you!
Join us for a reflective and intellectually engaging series of faculty presentations followed by discussion.
FREE PUBLIC LECTURES
The Arts & Humanities Cooium Series
All presentations 10 am-11:30 am Malaspina Theatre | Building 310 Vancouver Island University | Nanaimo Campus
Visit our website for information about our upcoming season: ah.viu.ca/colloquium-series View past presentations any time on Youtube: youtube.com/VIUMediaStudies Email us to join our mailing list and receive regular updates: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Talking Arts, Seeing Ideas. @VIUTalkingArts VIUArtsandHumanities
Theatre Diploma Apply Now viu.ca/theatre 29-03-2019
VIU VISUAL ART DEPARMENT GRADUATING STUDENT EXHIBITION
VIEW GALLERY top floor, building 330
April 22 - May 14 Please visit our website for gallery hours https://ah.viu.ca/view-gallery
When there’s a will, there’s a way. Support a future VIU student with a gift in your will, or a donation directed to awards and bursaries. Contact Susie Caswell with VIU Advancement at 250.740.6216 to learn how your gift can change lives. “I am forever thankful to those who have put these awards in place; I hope to honour their gift by applying myself and using my education to give back to the community that makes all this possible.”
Joseph Monaghan Bachelor of Science, 2019
CAMPUS STORE 54-11-8600
New/Used Textbooks eBooks General Books Art Supplies Giftware Stationary Computer Products VIU & Mariners Apparel
/viubookstore campus-store.viu.ca Nanaimo Campus Open Monday to Friday 9 am to 4:30 pm Tel (250) 740-6200
Cowichan Campus Open Monday to Friday September to June Tel (250) 746-3516
Used Textbook Buyback Fridays 10 am – 3 pm Nanaimo & Cowichan Campuses
LOCAL 13 BC FEDERATION OF STUDENTS
vancouver island university
The VIU faculty congratulate the talented writers, editors, artists, and designers of Portal magazine and proudly celebrate another exceptional issue!
share your story Orphans of Empire A Novel by Grant Buday
“Meticulously researched and vividly drawn, Orphans of Empire brings to life the half-forgotten world of early British Columbia. This is an immersive, shimmering novel.” —Steven Price, author of By Gaslight and Lampedusa
21 Feminist Essays for Rising Up Inspired by emma Talks edited by carla bergman
“bergman has seamlessly woven together a chorus of gorgeously diverse voices that . . . remind us of what it’s like to be human. . . an important and necessary celebration of marginalized and triumphant voices.” —Dani Burlison, editor of All of Me: Stories of Love, Anger and the Female Body
From Bear Rock Mountain
The Life and Times of a Dene Residential School Survivor by Antoine Mountain
“Antoine Mountain’s book is braided with the northern spirit and is a treasure of knowledge for the world. I am in awe of his talent, his humility, his gifts. This is a life’s work and it is spectacular! Mahsi cho, Antoine!” —Richard Van Camp, Tlicho Dene, author of The Lesser Blessed and We Sang You Home
now accepting submissions touchwoodeditions.com
The Nanaimo Arts Council supports amateur, emerging, and professional visual, performance, media, and literary artists—participate, engage, enjoy!
2021 NAC Programs: Art Around Town Ekphrastic Poetry Contest Nanaimo Artwalk Islands Short Fiction Contest Member, Contest & Pro Exhibitions in 3 Online Galleries Visit www.nanaimoartscouncil.ca to see what we are up to, become a member, or volunteer! Photo credit: Moon Jelly by Hans Hillewaert (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
MASTER OF PUBLISHING
Apply now! For application and program information publishing.sfu.ca email@example.com
WHERE CULTURE, MARKETING, DESIGN, EDITORIAL, AND TECHNOLOGY MEET. An interdisciplinary masters program bridging humanities, information sciences, and business. Our Master of Publishing (MPub) program helps graduates develop practical and conceptual tools for leadership in the creative and cultural sector. Our alumni include more than
across publishing, media, and associated organizations in Canada and beyond. The MPub program’s blend of seminar and project courses build on faculty research in the areas of digital technology, history, media studies, editorial, design, and marketing. We are committed to nurturing a just and inclusive community of practice. CANADA’S ENGAGED UNIVERSITY sfu.ca
LITERATURE FOR THE REST OF US Subscribe to Geist
Go to geist.com/subscribe or call 1-888-GEIST-EH
“subTerrain has been essential in guiding me to some of the country’s most impressive new voices.”
— MICHAEL HOLMES, EDITOR ECW PRESS
FICTION 3,000 words CREATIVE NON-FICTION 4,000 words POETRY [suite of 5 related poems] $ IN CASH PRIZES
ENTRY FEE: $30
(includes a one-year subscription to subTerrain Magazine)
DEADLINE FOR ENTRIES:
MAY 15, 2021
2021 Prose & Poetry Contest $1700 in Prizes! submissions: www.freefallmagazine.ca Entry Deadline April 30, 2022
r 1 te by 2 En $35 , 20 1 r fo ust g Au
Creative Nonfiction Prize WI N
Your turn to shine Commit these deadlines to memory November 1, 2021 Open Season Awards | $6000 Three writers split the winnings
February 1, 2022 Novella Prize | $1750 One winner gets the prize
May 1, 2022 Far Horizons Award for Poetry | $1000 One winner gets the prize Complete guidelines at malahatreview.ca
Defining excellent writing since 1967
Because every issue is an EVENT.
44• 2 Richard Kelly Kemick They can hear your stomach churn, smell the cavities in your molars, elevendollarsninetyfive see your pulse galloping into the soft parts of your neck. There is no place they do not know you.
poetry and prose
Read. Subscribe. Submit.
• 2020 National Magazine Awards Silver Winner, Poetry • 2020, 2019 & 2018 Journey Prize Short List • 2017 Canadian Magazine Awards Winner, Best Literature • Regularly featured in Best Canadian Stories, Poetry & Essays anthologies • Popular Reading Service for Writers • Canada’s longest-running Non-Fiction Contest
PRESENTS CREATIVE NON-FICTION
DEADLINE: January 15, 2019 THE PACIFIC SPIRIT
POETRY PRIZE DEADLINE: October 15, 2021
CONTEST PRIZES: Grand Prize: $1,500 First Runner-Up: $600 Second Runner-Up: $400
Entrants receive a one-year subscription to PRISM. We waive entry fees for Indigenous and Black writers. Visit our website for contest entry guidelines:
Creativity that conveys, carries, and conducts. Explorations that elevate, enchant, and entrance. Prose that provokes. Stories that spellbin...
Published on Apr 21, 2021
Creativity that conveys, carries, and conducts. Explorations that elevate, enchant, and entrance. Prose that provokes. Stories that spellbin...