© 2017 by the authors, artists, and photographers issn 1183-5214 Portal is published by students in Vancouver Island University’s Creative Writing and Journalism Department. Words of the fragrant portals, dimly-starred And of ourselves and of our origins —Wallace Stevens, “The Idea of Order at Key West” Enter Portal’s literary universe and discover worlds and futures ready to unfold. Portal is your gateway to accomplished short fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction, scripts, interviews, book reviews, art, and photography by Vancouver Island University students. It’s your annual guide to prime words, compelling art, and momentous beginnings. For over 25 years, Portal has remained a proudly independent publication with generous support from advertisers, donors, and student fundraisers. It is “of ourselves and of our origins”—a contemporary portrait of literary talent in the making. Portal Vancouver Island University Bldg 345, Rm 221 900 Fifth St., Nanaimo, bc v9r 5s5 email@example.com portalmagazine.ca twitter.com/PortalMagazine www.facebook.com/pages/portalmag Portal is printed by Marquis Imprimeur Inc., 2700 rue Rachel Est, bureau 140 Montreal H2H 1S7 and has been printed on recycled paper since 1995. Portal 2017 is printed on enviro 100 satin 80 lb.
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
window cleaning company hired me shortly after I relocated to Nanaimo in 2014. It was tough work; I had to clean windows on residential and commercial buildings, often several storeys high, while balancing on the rungs of an extension ladder. I had grown up working for my parents’ roofing business, so it wasn’t the heights that bothered me. I just couldn’t grasp the intricate squeegee technique my boss, Ray, had shown me. The motions, as I quickly learned, were essential to achieving a streak-free window. After a couple of days of witnessing my complete ineptitude at the job, Ray asked me what I planned to do with my life. I told him that, as a high school dropout, I hoped to get accepted into Vancouver Island University as a mature student and enter the Creative Writing program. He was flabbergasted—not at my ambitions as a diploma-less dreamer but rather at the idea that someone would pursue creative writing as a career. From that day on, whenever I left a streak on a window, Ray would sarcastically say, “You just need to get more creative with it.”
Three years later, and midway through my ba, I’m employed as a research grant writer for The Autism Society of BC, a web editor for The Navigator newspaper, and a social media manager for my parents’ business, Wheatland Roofing, Inc. It’s wonderful to note that, as a creative writing student at viu, my success is not atypical. Over the past academic year, I’ve watched with pride as my fellow workshop companions secured book deals, literary awards, internships, and careers. I’m blessed to have the opportunity to learn from such incredibly talented classmates. Despite what someone like my former boss might insinuate, the ability to write, to communicate, to tell stories, is just as valuable as ever. Thomas King, in his 2003 Massey Lecture, said, “The truth about stories is that’s all we are,” and I couldn’t agree more. It’s the width of your grandma’s smile as she recounts your sweetness as a youngster. It’s the way your grandpa lowers
his voice and pauses for dramatic effect while telling a cherished story you’ve heard a million times. There is an innate human desire to relate to one another through storytelling. Cultivating the creative voice, that elusive creature, makes crafting engaging stories possible. It’s simultaneously primal and earned: what we undergrads hope to possess when we begin our journey, and what we take out $50,000 in loans to refine. It’s in our bones, and it’s in this year’s edition of Portal. The beautiful magazine you hold in your hands is a testament to two semesters’ worth of meticulous planning, fundraising, and editing by the crew 430/431 class; a condensing of several hundred submissions into a few dozen chosen pieces that provide a window into the burgeoning talent of viu’s writers, poets, and artists. These pages will transport you from a smoky offering table in Manila to the phosphorescent waters of a West Coast twilight; from an abandoned plantation mill in Suriname to the midst of reconciliation efforts on viu’s campus. These pages will transport you, via heartstring, to a dimly lit apartment where a young woman doesn’t give in to the temptation to tell a grieving friend that “everything will be all right.” You’ll also bear witness to the brain-picking of two of CanLit’s finest: internationally renowned typographer Robert Bringhurst and 2016 Gustafson Poetry Chair, Erín Moure. As the semester comes to an end, with its long editorial nights and my questionable dietary choices (extra cheese, please), I am overcome with a sense of gratitude and surrealness. Our fantastic team of fifteen, under the steady guidance of instructor Michael Calvert, has accomplished what we set out to do seven months ago: produce a top-notch literary annual to spread across the magazine racks of Canada. Thank you for travelling on this journey with us and letting the voices between these two covers welcome you to new destinations. Spenser Smith, Managing Editor
Managing Editor - Spenser Smith Assistant Managing Editor - Emily Reekie Business & Ad Manager - Alim Rawji Sales & Marketing Manager - Elissa Doerksen Acquisitions Editor - Courtney Poole Art Director - Isabelle Orr Assistant Art Directors - Rachel Jackson, Robert Ferguson
Book Review Editors - Sarah Torgerson (lead), Natalie Gates Copy Editors - Morag Williamson (lead), Keana Zimmerman Fundraising Coordinators - Robert Ferguson, Melisa Jones Social Media Editor - Isabelle Orr Print & Online Publicity - Vinci Lam Web Editor - Glenn Mathieson
Fiction Editors - Alim Rawji (lead), Rachel Jackson, Courtney Poole, Morag Williamson, Vinci Lam
Lead Audio-Visual Editor - Elissa Doerksen
Non-Fiction Editors - Keana Zimmerman (lead), Natalie Gates, Spenser Smith
Launch Team - Melisa Jones, Isabelle Orr
Poetry Editors - Glenn Mathieson (lead), Emily Reekie, Sarah Torgerson
Feature Writers - Emily Reekie, Courtney Poole
Graphic Designer - Karlee Takasaki Portal Instructor - Michael Calvert Untitled
FRIENDS OF PORTAL
Autosmile Detailing Beyond the Rock Photography Cobs Bread Cutting Room Creative Dog’s Ear Dropzone Games GEM Gates & Gifts Harbour City Fitness Harris Mazda Jay Ruzesky Joy Gugeler Jumpin’ Java Laird Wheaton GMC McKay’s Electronics Milner Gardens Moksha Yoga
Nanaimo Honda Cars Nicol Street Pawn & Paintball Perfectly Polished Rachel Jackson Rhonda Bailey Rondex Automotive Ross McKay Slice Pizza Sundown Diving Susan Juby White Sails Brewing Co. Winston Tea Co. Woodgrove Chrysler The Vault Cafe VIU Advancement & Alumni Relations VIU Foundation VIU Hair Salon
TABLE OF CONTENTS Fiction
13 20 26 32 35 42 46 52 60 64 68 72 74
Poetry Temps Levé Sauté — Courtney Poole Prototype — Spenser Smith Obeisance — Elaine Lay Overlay — Emily Reekie A Hunger — Isabelle Orr Empty — Zoe McKenna An Atypical Response — Lorin Medley Tasseography — Keana Zimmerman Beautiful Wisdom — Spenser Smith Sweet Fat — Clarice Lundeen Flâneur Club — Amber Morrison A Fine Cut — Courtney Poole Partenza — Isabelle Orr
16 23 24 25 34 51 57 58 63 77
Under the Sea and Breathing (excerpts) — Kendra Quince The War Room — Heather Froese Her Brackish Waters — Ivo Roemer The Scientific Method — Aislinn Cottell Panic Disorder — Délani Valin I Couldn’t Love the Thunderbird Instead — Emily Reekie A Poem About Ray — Lorin Medley A Circular Mind (excerpts) — Shauna Andrews Chooey — Victor Buchanan Trying to speak of my life I tell the story of this land — Spencer Sheehan-Kalina
8 18 28 38 54 70
The Staff of Life — Lynne Coverdale Finding My Voice — Sheena Robinson And So We Sit — Carolyn Harstad Witnessing Reconciliation — Sheena Robinson Welcome to Narconon — Spenser Smith A Fairy Tale Whim — Diana Pearson
78 79 80 81
The Wonder — Keana Zimmerman Do Not Say We Have Nothing — Rachel Jackson The Heart Goes Last — Vinci Lam The Mercy Journals — Robert Ferguson
Typography And Poetics: Robert Bringhurst on Listening to the Untamed World — Emily Reekie To Think With Your Mouth: Translating Time and Language with Erín Moure — Courtney Poole
THE STAFF OF LIFE Lynne Coverdale
early ten years have passed, but she is still
here. She is in the yellow crocheted doily hanging over my mirror that traps the sunlight like a dreamcatcher—one of the last things she made before she went away. She is in the aroma of fresh-baked bread, and she is in my memory. Dad called her Esther Lily. “Those are her given names,” he said one day, a little lit up with wine. “She was born on Easter Sunday.” Esther rarely spoke. For years all I heard from her were hesitant, short sentences and one-word answers, or soft giggles like a chortling stream. She had a smooth, round face, a compact build, and a faint smell of Ivory soap and fresh bread. Most of what I learned about Esther came through ramblings from my father as he rolled his next cigarette. I sat in the lumpy old chair beside him and tried to ignore the smoky air while Esther puttered around the tiny kitchenette, washed their clothes by hand in the bathtub, or walked the five blocks to the post office. “Esther Lily,” he would say when he wanted a cigarette or drink, or sometimes for no reason but the sheer pleasure of the words. “Esther Lily doesn’t eat sweets, she likes plain food. At the residential school all they got was mush, soup or stew.”
*** Dad and Esther met in the early ’80s while living at the quaint old Green Lantern Hotel in Chemainus. About a year after they met, they moved into a small, three-room cabin nearby.
On the living room walls were framed photos of our family; one of Dad and his parents, he and his father on violin, his mum on piano, all of them singing; there was also a portrait of Dad as a handsome young man, tall and dark, in his navy uniform with a poppy tacked to one corner. Tucked over the back of his chair was an afghan Esther had crocheted in a kaleidoscope of brilliant colours edged in black. One day, while Dad was napping, I asked Esther what it was like at the residential school. She spoke longer than I had ever heard her speak. “It wasn’t so bad. We had each other. We weren’t allowed to speak the language. I forgot most of it after a while. My brother was one of the ones you hear about. They treated him real bad. When he was eighteen he wanted to join the army. My mother wouldn’t sign for him. She said, why should he fight for this country? What did they ever do for him? I asked my mother what did she want him to do, end up on skid row? She signed. He did real good. Here is a picture of him with all his medals.”
*** The second or third time I met Esther, she and Dad were drinking. I always loved to see my father, but not when alcohol, the thief, had stolen his mind. Sammy, a friend of Dad’s, had dropped by. As they passed the jug around, Esther giggled and leaned toward Sammy, smiling. She’s flirting, I thought in disbelief. “Sammy and me are going for a walk,” she said. “What do you want to do that for?” Dad scowled.
Esther and Sammy staggered off down the road. Dad poured another drink. I left.
*** “Why does Grampa live with an Indian?” my thirteen-year-old son asked when I told him they were coming for a visit. Dad usually came by to visit once every few months. Sometimes a year went by between visits. This was the first time he had brought Esther.
tea towel, or washing pans and bowls in hot soapy water. “Might as well fill up your freezer,” she said as the scent of yeast and cinnamon filled our house. Dad sat smoking on the couch. “How about phoning Joe to see if we could come over for a little visit?” he asked. My stepbrother hadn’t seen Dad in over twenty years. My father was a wonderful man afflicted with a disease that changed him; not everyone could accept that. But I called, wanting to make my father happy. “Dad and Esther are visiting and he would like you to meet her,” I said. “He wants to see his grand-daughter, too.”
“Grampa loves her. Esther is good to him,” I replied.
“I won’t have them slobbering all over my little girl,”
When they arrived, Esther asked, “Do you have any flour? Thought maybe I should bring these in case you don’t have enough.” She dug out four ancient-looking bread pans, nestled one inside another, from her cavernous overnight bag. Within a half hour she was kneading bread dough, sleeves rolled up and arms immersed in a large blue enamel roaster.
Joe said. I remained silent for a long moment. What could I say? They’re not drinking, he never acts out at my house. I should have known better than to call. “Joe is busy and can’t see you today,” I told my father. “He doesn’t want to see me, does he? How come?”
“Esther Lily,” he would say when he wanted a cigarette or drink, or sometimes for no reason but the sheer pleasure of the words. “Do you like cinnamon buns?” she asked my son as he looked in from the other room. Most of her visit was spent measuring flour, kneading dough, checking under the slowly expanding
I didn’t know what to say. “Well, I guess he remembers some bad things, I don’t know,” I answered. There was no point dredging up the past. Dad was silent and rolled another smoke, forehead furrowed and face pulled down in disappointment. He went out to the veranda, lit the cigarette and drew deeply on it, watching the trail of smoke as it wafted upward.
The Staff Of Life
One day when I dropped by for a visit, Dad had fallen and cracked some ribs. “He has these pills for the pain, he can’t drink when he takes these,” Esther told me as she pointed out the warning on the pill bottle. Warning: Absolutely no alcohol. Liver damage may result. I read the instructions out to him. He was quite drunk. “Liver damage. Hm-mm-mm. Liver damage. Well, well.” He looked around the room and smiled. “Liver damage.” Esther looked at me and giggled. I tried to see the humour and gave her a wry smile. “Esther Lily, pass me my bottle,” he directed. “No. I’ll pour you a glass.” She walked over to the sink, poured about two fingers of rum into a large tumbler, and topped it up with water. He took it with a happy smile and downed a third of it. “Thank you, Esther Lily. Ah, that’s good, pass me my smokes, will you?”
“How do you put up with him?” I asked as I drove her to the bank. Through the twelve years they had been together, Esther had stopped drinking. Dad could hardly walk anymore, so I sometimes took her shopping or to pay bills. She thought a minute. “He has a happy nature. He never hits me. And he’s really smart, you know.” I was silent, remembering the years when he was alone with his bottle.
*** The years of heavy smoking and drinking finally caught up with Dad and he took ill. He had a series of strokes, each a little worse. “Your dad wants to come home from the hospital,” Esther said, face expressionless. “I can’t look after him. He’ll have to go to a nursing home.” I couldn’t blame her; she had already done so much.
“You’ve still got ten minutes to go,” she said, and quietly explained she had him down to one an hour. His cough had been bad lately.
The next day she phoned to say she was going to Manitoba to visit her nephew.
Salmon Warriors Lindsay Myers
Right now while he’s so ill? I thought, but instead asked, “Oh, when do you leave?” She left the next morning. Dad improved daily at first. “When Esther comes back, I’m going home,” he told me, eyes radiant. When I arrived at the hospital one sunny afternoon a few days later, he was seated in a wheelchair in his room, eyes closed, legs askew, and feet turning blue. It broke my heart to see him like that. I straightened him up and tucked a blanket around him. I then wheeled him outside, and sat down on the grass beside him. Then I sang the song he sang to me when I was a little girl those many years ago. You’ll never know, dear, how much I love you, Please don’t take my sunshine away. When Esther returned home, he didn’t know her.
Some time later, she moved to Kitamaat Village. She had lived there in the early years of her life. One blustery day, the Christmas before she went away, I received a large package from the bus depot with Esther’s large round script on it. When I pulled the box open at home, the yeasty aroma of freshly baked bread and nutty citrus filled the room. I unloaded twelve loaves of bread, six banana-nut loaves, and six lemon loaves. When I called Esther to thank her, she was all giggles. She had made the same for my sister. Esther often wrote from Kitimat after she first moved there, but the letters slowly dwindled. About nine months after she left, a letter came from her daughter. My mother passed away last week. She had cancer. She suffered terribly at the end. She didn’t want to worry you, so she asked me not to tell you she was sick. I believe she is happy and at peace now, somewhere with your dad.
He died two weeks later. “It wasn’t my fault,” she said as we talked after the funeral.
TEMPS LEVÉ SAUTÉ Courtney Poole
atarina’s toes curled and her heels pressed into the mattress. She blinked twice, slowly. The room around her was fuzzy taupe and cold steel, the bouquets of pale lilies and spindle-petaled chrysanthemums on the metal side table were a white blur out of the corner of her eye, and the machines clustered at her side on tall steel posts so complex that she didn’t want to look at them directly. The antiseptic smell, wet-blanket heavy, grounded her to one tangible idea: hospital, though the significance of it was lost on her in the fading haze of morphine and sedative. She drew her toes into the taut flexion of pointe and tightened the muscles all the way down her legs to stabilize the knee and ankle joints. She could feel it, the tension of hard, well-developed muscle contracting along the length of each leg. She repeated the motion, let herself relax, and then tensed once more, snapping her toes into the proper pose. She flung her hands to either side—second position. Her internal critic chastised her poor form, for the oblique angle in her spine, the way the bars on the sides of her bed pushed her arms out of position—but she did it again, mimicking a smooth relevé up onto her toes. Something wasn’t right, and an inkling of dread took root in her heart. She was left short of breath in a few moments. She let her hands fall to the bed beside her as she closed her eyes and tipped her head back into the pillows. Her ash-blonde hair had started to come loose from its elastic, spilling tendrils across the back of her neck and forehead that she lacked the energy to push back into place. A question emerged from the fragments of thoughts she caught as they drifted through her mind: why was she in the hospital? She’d been so careful, treading that golden thread between maintaining her strength and her weight, between fuelling her body, but not too much. A relapse would be enough to end her season. She didn’t remember collapsing, or feeling ill, not the effervescent sparkle of light-headedness or an unsteady tremor in her muscles. She had been fine; she had been good. She had been so careful. She wondered whether the company knew she was there. The flowers never entered her mind, nor did the forgotten cards
propped against the vases. Anxious energy clenched a fist around her heart, and she raised her head to find a clock. If she missed a rehearsal, or a performance, the role of Giselle might slip through her fingers—prima stripped from her without ceremony. There were no clocks, and the curtains were closed against the daylight. Her breathing grew shallow, and she tried to push herself fully upright. The National Ballet had to know where she was. The girls clamouring at her back could have her role over her dead and buried body. The shift of her body was met with a thunderclap of jagged pain that toppled her back into the pillows with a brittle-glass gasp. It made no sense—no previous hospitalization had ever felt like that. As a dancer, she was not unaccustomed to pain, but even the agony of breaking in new pointe shoes didn’t come close to the roar of sensation that now drowned out every inch of her. She could dance with cracked calluses and fresh blisters and bleeding toes with practiced ease; this sucked the breath from her lungs.
*** “Katarina, get up off the floor.” The Première maîtresse de ballet loomed over her, tall and willowy even if she was, at her age, no longer so slender as the girls in her company. Katarina, twelve, shook her head and yanked loose the ribbons from around her ankle. “Now. You’re holding up the class.” The Première maîtresse tapped the toe box of her pointe shoe impatiently against the floor. Katarina slid off her pointe shoe and gasped. The toes of her white tights were stained bright red, and with a howl—though she felt only discomfort—she began to sob. The maîtresse crouched beside her with a heavy sigh. “Stop your crying, it’s just a blood blister. Perhaps if you had corrected your sickle like I asked, you wouldn’t have rubbed it raw.”
Temps Levé Sauté
“It hurts,” Katarina said between choking sobs. “It does,” the maîtresse agreed. “And until you develop calluses, your feet are going to hurt. If the calluses crack, it’s going to hurt. If you don’t stop sickling and sprain your ankle, it’s going to hurt. If you’re looking for pity, you’re not going to find it here.” Katarina sat in huffy, tearful silence. “I have a question, and I want an honest answer,” the maîtresse began, tilting Katarina’s chin up with a fingertip. “Do you want to dance?” “I do,” she replied, dragging the last syllable toward a but before she was cut off. “Do you really want to dance? Is this what you want to do more than anything else in the whole world?” The maîtresse gripped her chin. “If not, you can save both of us a lot of time.” Katarina sniffled and nodded. “I don’t hear you.” “Yes,” she said, “I want to dance.” “Then you have to earn it.” The maîtresse gestured to the season’s headshots just visible in the hallway beyond the doors. Each one of the ballerinas had a sharp face, deadly and beautiful, and if she stared hard enough, Katarina could see herself in them. “They have all earned it, because they wanted it. This art is sacrifice, it’s pain, and it’s going to be that way for your entire career. You will have to give up so much in the name of your art. You must give it up willingly to be rewarded.” The maîtresse climbed to her feet and propped her hands on her hips. “Are you going to dance, then?” Katarina rubbed her hands over her face, scrubbing away evidence of her tears, and nodded.
The evening of her first lead role, Katarina was so nervous she thought she might be sick. At her position in the dark, she took a few deep breaths—the last she would have before the curtains fell again. Once they opened, she was the firebird, jewel of the grand pas, light and grace incarnate on the stage. The years of practice and resilience would pay off in this moment. She moved like quicksilver, exactly as she’d practiced; jeté, jeté, jeté, moving to the left of the stage, plié, and back. She’d watched herself en arabesque in the mirror so many times, slender and elegant, stretched to her full length, that she could see it as she did it, resplendent in ruby reds. As the performance moved toward its dizzying climax she felt a knot of nervous, giddy energy build in her chest. It was a struggle not to speed ahead of the music en fouetté, an effort to control the smile on her face. She was a whirlwind, a phoenix ascending. At the final curtains, the audience roared their appreciation. It fulfilled her completely, washed over every wound and scar, slithered its way into every void, and warmed her from within. It was not a sound she’d soon forget; she wished she could trap it in a box and tuck it beside the shoes, from her first lead performance on the mantelpiece. She heard the sound, echoing in her mind, that night when she went to sleep. Part of her wasn’t sure it had ever stopped.
*** She tried to shift toward the edge of the hospital bed again, but even the slightest movement of her lower body triggered the sharp hook of pain. She panted through her agony, and resting her hands against her hips. Draped over her, too large for her frame, was a coarse gown, white pockmarked with blue. Her eyes followed it down the blanket rolled up to her hips, along the curve of her thighs, and then— Nothing. Ice roiled in her stomach as she whimpered, reached out—
“Then put your shoes back on and get up.”
Where her knees should have been, there was a rough drop-off in the blankets, a pair of cliff edges, the grotesque absence
of something she knew had always been there, a void— All at once, the pit of her stomach plunged, and a bonedeep yearning to reverse time seared its way out to the tips of her fingers. She was submerged in salt water without a breath in her lungs and held down. She sucked in a gasp of air, let out a rough, choked-off sob. A ragged moan, turned into a long, drawn-out howl. And another, and again, until her voice broke and she fell into hacking coughs. Phlegm dribbled down her chin.
playful little circles, looping back through centre stage en pas de chat, little hops intermingled with pirouettes, leading into one large grand jeté. At centre stage, breathless and exhilarated, still tall and statuesque en pointe, she eased herself into an elegant arabesque and held the position for as long as the music seemed to allow. She let her gaze, held behind its smiling façade, pass over the crowd. past her prime. disgrace. disgusting.
*** The physiotherapy took far longer than Katarina had hoped it would, but after the second surgery, there was a lot of strength to regain. She kept her old Première maîtresse in her mind the whole time—this art is pain and sacrifice— and let that mantra soak into every muscle she had. She spent a solid year dancing, relearning the strength and flexibility and movements. She ducked into the company studio whenever the rooms weren’t in use, dancing alone in front of the mirror—her legs covered in thick opaque stockings. When she finally felt ready, she begged the current Premier maître if he’d let her have one more solo as part of the season’s final show. He watched her dance, studying the strength of her legs and the perfection of her movements, and agreed. “Only for my favourite prima,” he’d said. The night of the show, it was a full house. Everybody wanted to see the broken ballerina dance again. She stood in the centre of the stage, immersed in shadow behind the curtain, and tried to swallow the familiar knot of anxious energy in her throat. It was an energy of mingled giddiness and fear. The smell of the stage was as she remembered it: a mixture of polished wood, dust, hairspray, and cold sweat. The air was cool and crisp, and she filled her lungs while she could. The crowd was being drawn to silence. When the curtains parted, and the spotlight found her, dressed in gossamer white tulle that stretched to the floor, she was Katarina no longer, she was—
Her eyes widened, and she straightened, springing quickly from foot to foot. washed up. old. damaged. gone to fat. made a monster of herself. She dropped one hand to the hem of her long tulle skirt and balled up the fabric. The other still rested in that particular tense-not-tense posture that was deemed the pinnacle of elegance in ballet. Murmurs swept through the crowd; now, she could hear them, insidious hissing little creatures, wondering why she had stopped dancing. She yanked hard on the fabric of her skirt, tore it away, and let it float to the stage beside her. Beneath, her white leotard cut high over her hips, leaving the angry red scars on her mid-thighs exposed. From that point downward, knife-blade wickedness; her new legs were sharp, angular metal over circuitry. There was something deadly about the uncoated steel and the severity of the shape—as though she stood on nothing more than two daggers. a machine. The crowd’s gasps and uproar thundered in her ears as she took a long, elegant bow, but all she could hear was applause. a beautiful machine. Part of her wasn’t sure it had ever stopped.
En pointe. She was supposed to be en pointe, and she rolled up to her toes in a fluid relevé. She danced in
UNDER THE SEA AND BREATHING â€” excerpts
I. We jump from the sailboat, naked. Sunlit sea quivers turquoise green. You scrub the hull while I, tanned and proffered, starfish about with buoyant breasts and longing, thinking I am in a magazine. This sail is too white. The sea too green. The sun too much of a star. A scar on my thigh now, Iâ€™m hoisted up the ladder too soon without feeling my flesh perfectly chilled.
III. I am not myself. The sun rises, the moon remains a stubborn thumb-print in the sky. Love affair crumpled rhythms. Each month I start anew to deconstruct the safe harbour of my womb; soft layers shed like severed habits. A thousand calls have fallen unchanged and dying, dying and changed.
My muted heart; calling. II. The sea is blue, black, slate grey; cacophony of heron wings shifting dissonance.
Still the moon wakes me up in darkness; in daylight, within.
At night, we stir phosphorescent stardust potions in a void. The propeller rockets blue fire in our wake.
chase the moon Rachel Jackson
FINDING MY VOICE Sheena Robinson
sat straight up at my desk, sweaty hands running up and down my thighs, waiting in anticipation for my fourthgrade teacher to hand back the first big assignment I had ever written. We had to write reports on famous explorers—you know, the guys who “discovered” North America. I was determined to produce the best paper in the class, so I had decided to do my report on the big man himself—Christopher Columbus. After all, this was the 500th anniversary of his historical voyage. The teacher handed me my paper last, smiling as she placed the report on my desk. I stared down at the circled red A+ on the title page and beamed. Dad was beyond proud of my achievement—barely a grammatical error in the whole paper! His blue eyes sparkled as he showed mom the grade. They had taught me how to read and write early on in my childhood, and it was apparent with this paper. Mom’s reaction was slightly less enthusiastic. “Yeah, he was quite the hero, wasn’t he?” she said. I felt a pang in my chest as she turned and continued to prep for dinner. We didn’t visit extended family much. I was an only child, and Dad preferred it to be just the three of us spending time together. As a mixed-race couple, my parents decided, because they each had a different belief system, they would let me choose my own spirituality when I got older. I was lucky to dodge the church services and Sunday school that Dad and his siblings had attended and that some of my friends endured. It wasn’t until later, however, I realized this socalled freedom to discover my own spirituality had robbed
me of my Heiltsuk culture. Sure, I’d visited Mom’s side of the family up in Bella Bella, but I had virtually no concept of our ceremonies or language. I didn’t even grasp that I was First Nations—or Indian as we were still called back then. Shortly after I’d produced my prized Columbus paper, my mom and I walked down to the Punjabi market in our southeast Vancouver neighborhood for the annual Vaisakhi parade. Mom bought me some Jilebi, and we stood off to the side while I licked the sticky, sweet, orange dessert off my fingers. She didn’t buy any food for herself, which I thought strange since there were so many enticing spicy smells floating through the air. I was taking in all the brown faces and asked her, “Mom, are we East Indian?” I had never seen her laugh that hard before. Tears streamed down her high cheekbones as she managed to squeak out a “no!” Though my elementary school was multicultural, I didn’t know anyone in my high school with Native blood, and everyone apart from my close friends assumed I was a white kid because of my fair skin. By then, I was more concerned with landing skateboard tricks, watching hockey, and impressing boys than I was with learning about my cultural background. I got into acting, film-making, photography, smoking weed, and grunge rock. But that changed one day in grade 12 when my geography teacher, who had found out that our history teacher was ignoring First Nations issues, showed us a video on residential schools.
I was glued to the screen as they showed the coastal communities. I picked up on familiar words and recognized traditional foods like oolichan grease and seaweed. As I began to identify pieces of my Heiltsuk heritage, I noticed some of my classmates giggling. I couldn’t figure out why everyone was laughing until one of the boys imitated the Native elder who was speaking. Blood rushed to my head and my cheeks flushed. I only made it to the hall before breaking down in tears. “Why didn’t you ever teach me Heiltsuk?” I demanded of my mother just over a year later as we sat at her kitchen table playing Yahtzee. I was eighteen, and my parents had been separated for six years. “I only know, like, three words!” Empty Kokanee cans cluttered the table. She smoked the last of her cigarette, blowing the smoke straight up to join the haze above. Stabbing the butt into the overflowing ashtray, she slowly exhaled and looked out the window for a long time. Finally she answered, “Because I don’t know it either.” “How could you not know your own language?” I was just buzzed enough to have an edge to my voice. Mom looked at me sharply. I could tell she wanted to change the subject, but I stared at her, probing for answers. She took a long swig of beer and sighed. “We weren’t allowed to speak Heiltsuk at residential school. You got beat with a ruler or a strap if you did. We learned pretty quickly not to do it.” And then, for the first time, she told me about the six years she spent in St. Michael’s Residential School in Alert Bay. How she was taken from her family at the age of eight while her older sister hid in the bush so she wouldn’t have to go back. She told me about scrubbing the stairwells and hallways with a toothbrush for not finishing her rotting breakfast. “There were much worse things than that,” she said and her brown eyes turned glassy. “But you’re not ready to hear about them yet… and I’m not ready to talk about it.” Eventually, she did talk about it. It’s true; her stories were much darker than the toothbrush incident. When she left the residential school, she went through five different foster homes on Vancouver Island before moving out on her own at the age of eighteen. She fell into a dangerous cycle of drug and alcohol abuse in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside in an attempt to forget her troubled past. After nearly overdosing, she moved back to Bella Bella in her mid-twenties to reconnect with family and the community. Over time, I took some of her life lessons and made them my own. Others, well, I guess I had to learn them on my own—sometimes the hard way. My twenties were a blur of waitressing, bartending, partying, Orcas, Powell River Amanda Stephens
and generally throwing my money away. My boyfriend and I were both bartenders and often drank after work and slept the next morning away. When Dad passed away, I spiralled out of control. It was a Tuesday, and we were on our fifth night in a row of drinking and getting high when we realized we desperately needed to make a change. We moved north to Bella Coola, my boyfriend’s hometown, just a couple of weeks later. I got a job waitressing in a local restaurant and soon after became the manager of the connected bar. It was easy to leave our destructive ways behind us in the city. My boyfriend’s family introduced me to their traditional Nuxalk culture, and I learned how to live off the land. The Bella Coola River, running through the massive, snow-capped mountains, is the community’s main source of salmon. The surrounding land soaks up the nutrient-rich floodwater. We caught, smoked, and jarred our own salmon, grew our own garden, made our own jam from berries we picked, and cut wood to keep our woodstove burning through the winters. Hunting trips provided rich deer and moose meat, making it hard to eat meat from a grocery store. We went mushroom picking in the woods and learned the stories behind the Nuxalk petroglyphs— stories that were passed down orally for thousands of years. I was often reminded of what Mom’s childhood must have been like before she was taken away to residential school. Although I loved this natural setting, I couldn’t help wanting more for myself than working in the hospitality industry. I realized I wanted to help make the community a better place and no longer wanted to feed the demons that were keeping its people unhealthy. Why should I keep serving alcohol to people night after night when I could be helping them walk away from it? As my home life with my boyfriend soured, I started thinking about going back to school. I made the decision to leave Bella Coola after one particularly bad fight. I left him, our house, and all my belongings within. I left the entire life I knew there: the truck, our pets, even the friends I had made. I had some clothing, a box of photographs, and not much else when I returned to Vancouver. Just when I thought I might fall back into my old lifestyle and habits, I received the letter I had been anxiously awaiting. My hands shook as I opened the envelope. I breathed a sigh of relief as I read that I’d been accepted into the Bachelor of Arts program at Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo. Mom was ecstatic when I showed her the letter. “What program will you take?” she asked excitedly. “First Nations Studies,” I said, sliding my acceptance letter carefully back into its envelope. “It’s time to change Columbus Day to Aboriginal Day.”
Spenser Smith FICTION
roto scanned the screen of her creator’s MacBook Holo. The laptop’s light illuminated her high cheeks, narrow nose, and perfect symmetry. Her bionic eyes whirred softly as they absorbed the embedded information.
Nathaniel Weaver June 12 at 1:32pm When I die, bury me. Let my bones eat dirt. If, by the grace of Charles Darwin, my ghost floats northward, know that heaven changes nothing. I’ll still be lounging, this time on clouds, eyes tethered to my iPhone 8, scrolling forever. 108 likes 64 comments
Proto’s control algorithms latched onto several terms, “Charles Darwin,” “ghost,” “iPhone 8,” and ran them through the web-connected circuitry in her metallic skull. A flurry of search results flooded Proto’s system. Within milliseconds, she had the entire typology of ghosts, every peer-reviewed article on evolution, and the exact specifications of an iPhone 8 (including directions on how to 3D print one) available in her memory. Within half a second, she had the entirety of human knowledge regarding each keyword in her creator’s Facebook status. She could devour data at a phenomenal rate, but drawing meaning from this particular collection of words proved difficult. Her mechanics hummed as she stretched out her chromium arm and took control of the laptop’s mousepad. Proto clicked on her creator’s Facebook profile with a siliconlaced finger. Nathaniel Weaver Robotics Engineer at Alphabet, Inc. Amateur poet Lives in Mountain View, California Engaged to Tabitha Wells Proto felt an urge to click on “Tabitha Wells,” but knew she could not. Her programing prevented her from any research into Tabitha Wells. Proto scrolled the page. She almost didn’t recognize her creator’s face in a video thumbnail. He’d lost weight, 10.53 pounds, according to her comparison of her last visual of him. She clicked the white “play” button. Stardust
“I now introduce to you the next step in artificial intelligence. My team and I brainstormed singleword names, and, being the literary aficionados we are, decided on Proto.” Her creator’s words were met with applause from about a dozen onlookers. “Not only can she gather data at a mind-boggling rate, but she can construct the data in order to make perceptive conclusions. Sometimes, her ability to do so is indistinguishable from our own ability. She doesn’t just gather—she learns.” The video ended. Most of her creator’s words were not new knowledge to her—she recognized she was an android, and she knew her creator’s profession revolved around her—but the way in which he presented these words was strange. She ran “literary aficionado” through her algorithms and analyzed the video. The etymology of both words streamed into her system and she combined it with the data earthed from simultaneously re-watching the video hundreds of times in a fraction of a second. A new word popped into her system: sarcasm. Wiki: Sarcasm is the use of irony to mock or convey contempt. Wiki: Irony, in its broadest sense, is a rhetorical device, literary technique, or event in which what appears, on the surface, to be the case, differs radically from what is actually the case. Proto’s database continued to branch and connect a multitude of words through their corresponding definitions. She watched the video again, but this time she understood the humour woven into her creator’s initial statement. She shifted her attention toward the array of books that were littered across his desk. Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg, Neuromancer by William Gibson, and Endymion by John Keats were all open with their pages facing down. Proto picked up Endymion and began reading. A thing of beauty is a joy forever: Its loveliness increases; it will never Pass into nothingness; but still will keep A bower quiet for us, and a sleep Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
Proto’s hardware thrummed as she absorbed each word. She came to a conclusion: poetry—literary work in which special intensity is given to the expression of feelings and ideas by the use of distinctive style and rhythm. She had never encountered a poem before and was confused by the arrangement of words. Her electronic tentacles ran deep into the web and created a network of words and definitions, but she couldn’t manage to make sense of the five lines of text. She downloaded every YouTube video that included the word “poem” in its title or description to further her analysis. Proto heard the rattling of keys coming from outside the house. A woman dressed in black entered through the door, and Proto put herself into sleep mode. The stranger rifled through Nathaniel’s belongings. She tossed papers in the air, pushed the books from his desk to the floor, and knocked over several mugs full of cold stale coffee. She lowered herself to the ground and started picking up the wet papers one by one. She found a piece of crumpled loose leaf, unwrinkled it, and started reading. Her eyes darted from left to right as they dropped tears on the paper. She squeezed the paper into a ball and threw it against the living room’s french-beige walls.
pulled it out, glanced at the screen, and walked hurriedly out of the house. The door slammed behind her. Proto waited several minutes in stillness before booting back up to full capacity. She gazed at the pile of debris in the middle of the living room. She noticed a bright blue piece of paper, titled “Reminder,” mixed in with the other papers and books that were now stained with coffee. Dr. Keith Simmons. West California Cancer Clinic, June 2nd, 10 am. Proto beeped. The analysis of the YouTube videos was complete. She ran her newly acquired data with the keywords in the John Keats poem: beauty, joy, nothingness, sweet dreams, quiet breathing. Proto’s electronic limbs strummed as she walked over to the bay windows in the centre of the room. The way the sun’s rays travel through the cactus’s crystal flowerpot on the window sill and fling patterns of light on the wall. Her blue-tinted eyes focused on a dead ladybug lying belly up beside the flowerpot. The faded red of its elytra. Its impossibly small legs.
Proto’s hardware thrummed as she absorbed each word. She came to a conclusion: poetry—literary work in which special intensity is given to the expression of feelings and ideas by the use of distinctive style and rhythm. Proto stayed still and observed. Her systems were only operating at 10%. She initiated her slower than usual analysis of the woman’s body language: heavy breathing, flushed cheeks, tightened fists. Sadness. Anger. The stranger glared at Proto from across the room. A phone vibrated inside the woman’s jacket pocket. She FICTION
Proto spun around and observed each angle of the room. This room, and everything in it, is poetry. Proto looked down at the delicate fusion of metal and silicon of her feet. The crumpled ball of loose leaf lay beside her metal toes. She picked it up and smoothed it against her chest. I’ll miss watering the cactus I pulled from the ground on our first date I’ll miss the way you can’t say bye without saying “I love you” five times I’ll miss waking up with you and giving you the world’s tiniest kisses Proto walked over to the pile of paper wreckage in the living room, grabbed a mug from underneath Neuromancer, and filled it with water from the kitchen sink. She brought the mug back into the living room and let its water soak the cactus’s parched soil.
THE WAR ROOM Heather Froese
People like to think war means something. What can you learn from your opponent? More than you think. Who will master this love? Love might be the wrong word. Let’s admit, without apology, what we do to each other.
A twisted concept of tranquility, now among the cemeteries and ghost towns. Silent places are rarely peaceful, suspended in battle, our hands dry red.
— “Detail of the Fire” by Richard Siken War of the Foxes, Cooper Canyon Press, 2015
We are our own gods; we birth and bury. We dig our hands into each other, reaching for a heart to hold or to break. We come out covered in blood, either way, claiming that we kill in the name of love. People like to think war means something. You’re in a room full of worlds, full of mothers, soldiers, and priests. Which one is your enemy? Which one are you? Bring in the smoking gun. Bring in the man who points it at you. Look into his iron eyes, don’t look down at the hole in your chest. What can you learn from your opponent? More than you think.
We said we were fighting for each other, but love means something different when you have blood on your hands. Who will master this love? Love might be the wrong word. The fight ends when dead outnumber the living. The war room becomes a waiting room. Side by side, mothers, soldiers, and priests anticipate the end of their worlds. We’ve all killed in the name of love, but we’re too wounded to fight anymore. This is our peace, this is submission. Let’s admit, without apology, what we do to each other.
HER BRACKISH WATERS Ivo Roemer The Cost of Sugar is a historical novel set during colonial slavery in Suriname, South America
Black molasses slips through abandoned plantation mills—still Blood-stained sugar cane tastes sweeter when chained. She remembers blond porcelain dolls in her foster home, This dumped daughter cries for her deadbeat mother—still The Cost of Sugar and more blackened pages shut, Locked in the attic. She’d read to me before bed and I’d be still, Whip lashes and weeps, she’s cold like a ceramic doll She’s mute about why she left her: “Couldn’t you’ve kept still?” Far from the watermills, where saltwater and freshwater meet, Mud banks divide the two—black coffee and almond milk—still Her family reeks of diabetes pills, red wine, and witch hazel, Inseparable, unfortunate, blood-bound traits—but, still At seven, I saw my mother’s chronic depression torture her ill, She’d say, “let the molasses calm my anxiety, so, please, be still.”
Sunday Morning Paul White
AN ANXIETY SOLUTION VIA THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD Aislinn Cottell
Measure precisely 1.50 g of pure terrifying American proximity; place in 500 ml Erlenmeyer, and dilute using 100 ml distilled objectivity. Rinse a buret three times with primary standard anxiety, discard in labelled waste beaker. Fill to near top, drain, and check tip for optimism. Flick glass firmly to dislodge if present. Ensure buret is secured and level, then measure volume from bottom of meniscus. Titrate anxiety into solution, swirl steadily to ensure complete mental breakdown. As reaction nears equilibrium, add drop-wise until solution remains paralyzed for more than 30 seconds. Record volume dispensed. Discard excess titrant. Pipet 5.00 ml of standardized terror into five 50 ml volumetric flasks, dilute to the mark with apathy, and invert each five times to ensure homogeneity. Stopper tightly, label, and set aside until next election.
OBEISANCE Elaine Lay
anila, Philippines. November 1, 2016.
Incense smoke drifts up from the offering table, twisting as the wind blows. It hits my father’s portrait and dissolves. Nothing withstands Damien Hwan’s gaze, even post-mortem. His image stares at me now, eyes fixed and forever unblinking, as I perform obeisance. The Hwan family’s method of obeisance: take the incense sticks, hold with both hands, bow three times, replace the sticks. Take the bottle of San Miguel Beer, pour into a cup, offer three times, pour it on the ground. Do not drink. If bowing is difficult, just move the cup up and down with both hands. Only two things cannot be compromised when one is offering obeisance to the ancestors or the newly deceased: offer everything with both hands, and stick the chopsticks upright into the rice bowl. Never lay them across the bowl—that table etiquette is reserved only for the living. Even after all these years living in Canada, the ritual of obeisance is easy to remember. When I’m done, I stand back to return my father’s look, stare for stare. As a boy, I used to stand in this very spot, shuffling my feet and counting the minutes until my parents declared that we’ve observed the ritual long enough and that it was time for lunch. The best thing about paying obeisance was that we got to eat the offerings for the dead afterwards.
my childhood home. Why is this beer so iconically Filipino anyway? Because it was brewed in the Philippines? Isn’t beer itself a thing we borrowed from another culture? The logo of this brand—San Miguel in Spanish, St. Michael in English— how is it iconic of the Philippines? I guess time makes it Filipino. If generations of Filipinos grow up drinking this beer, it becomes iconic. My family has lived in the Philippines for generations, yet we don’t call ourselves Filipinos. Maybe it’s because Filipinos don’t pay obeisance to their ancestors like we do. To assimilate, we would have had to stop holding on to our ancestors’ legacies so tightly. Propped on the offering table, my father’s image stares at me from its frame.
*** Halifax, Canada. November 1, 2006. “And I need to see your ID.” I always get carded—it’s the baby face. “Oh, happy birthday,” says the clerk. He passes my ID back across the counter along with the six-pack of Molson Canadian I just bought. “You’re thirty, huh? Celebrating with friends?” “That too,” I say. “Oh?” The clerk raises an eyebrow. “It’s Halloween?”
I look at the offering table in front of me now. I remember staring at the exact same spread every year: a bowl of rice, a bottle of San Miguel beer, fruits, pan de sal, and lechon. I remember the smell of the lechon baboy—roasted pork with the skin toasted to a crisp, the layers of fat glistening in the middle. I remember the half-peeled Fuji apples, my favourite, lined up on the altar table like items at a market stall. I remember devouring my share of all the food offerings at lunch. But it never even crossed my mind to try the beer, not even behind my parents’ back. Now, I stare at the familiar logo on the bottle—St. Michael slaying the demon—and realize that I, Mario Hwan, at 40 years old, have lived my life without having once tasted the iconic beer of the Philippines, FICTION
“Oh, man,” says the clerk. He drums his fingers on the counter. “Born on trick-or-treat day. Wow. Yeah, forgot about that.” “And visit-the-dead day,” I mutter. The poor clerk gets this look on his face like he just stepped on a landmine, or walked over somebody’s grave. “Not the recent dead,” I hurry to say. “Just sharing some of this beer with my ancestors.” The clerk blinks at me. “Huh,” he says. “You think they’d be Myst
okay with Molson?”
He hands me four smoking incense sticks. “Hold them with both hands, Mario.”
I shrug. “I know they won’t be okay with me buying imported beer. Right now, local and cheap means Molson.” “Heineken is on a promo today.” Dutch beer, huh? I shrug again. “I already bought this one.”
*** University of King’s College. Halifax, Canada. November 1, 1996 The ancient quad at King’s is one giant party venue. The sound of laughter and music drifts in on a chill breeze through my third-floor window. But the heater in the dorms blasts at full power, as usual, so my room is a war zone of hot spots and cold spots. I sit at my desk with pages of untranslated Greek in front of me, the old Homeric stuff, copied out in my careful handwriting. I’ve quadruple spaced the lines of Greek text to leave room for my terrible English translation later. The paper glows yellow-white under the light of my lamp. The desk lamp is my hearth fire, the pages of homework, its fuel. I sit in this safe spot, at my desk, and listen to the students celebrate Halloween outside. Their wild partying is alien to me. I wonder if it’s a cultural thing or if it’s just my upbringing. No one in my family ever drank, but I was never warned against drinking either. It was as if my family just forgot that alcohol existed until it was time to pay obeisance. Our dead got more beer than our living. I get up and lean out the window. People have started dancing. The quad is awash with colours: bright costumes, ribbons, dyed hair, face paint. We were raised too sober to let go like this. But it’s a wonderful thing to see. From afar.
*** Manila, Philippines. November 1, 1986. “Now, it’s your turn,” says Papa.
I hold them with both hands and mimic Papa’s movements. I swing the incense at my great grandfather’s portrait, and at my ancestors’ name plates. “Stop.” He adjusts my grip. “Like this,” he says. “Like you’re offering flowers or holding a paint brush. Don’t grab and swing like you have a grudge against your ancestors.” He chuckles under his breath. I blink up at Papa. The smile softens his stern face even as it makes his eye bags look baggier and his eyes even smaller. I don’t get what’s funny, but I’m glad he’s happy. He takes another bunch of incense sticks for himself and lights them on the candle flame. “Even if you don’t get it all right, just remember two things. One: offer everything with both hands.” He closes his eyes and bows his head. The incense sticks smoke between his palms. It’s not what he showed me before. He looks like he’s praying. Then Papa straightens up, approaches the offering table, and inserts the smoking incense sticks into the holder. “And two: stick the chopsticks upright into the rice bowl. Never lay them across the bowl.” “Why?” I say. Papa shrugs. “That’s just how it’s always been done. Maybe it helps them eat.” “But we eat it.” “We do,” says Papa. “Now hush.” We stand side by side in front of the offering table. The glare of the noon sun bounces off the pavement, hot and bright. I squint and watch incense smoke rise upward in a straight line until a soft breeze blows it sideways.
Carolyn Harstad NON-FICTION
ue opens the front door of the apartment
complex and tries to smile; the edges of her lips turn upwards, but her absent, puffy eyes void any potential happiness in her expression. She appears to have lost considerable weight since I saw her three weeks ago. Her T-shirt, with its orange “Florida” logo and sunshine backdrop, hangs from her frame. Her hair is unwashed, but combed; a ten-second attempt to appear normal. She opens her mouth to say something, but before she gets the chance I pull her into my arms and hold her. We maintain our embrace for several minutes before heading inside. Sue is only fifty-three, but today she has the frailty of someone much older. We make our way up the stairs and she asks me about my day and how school is going. Her voice cracks despite her efforts to sound okay. I recognize the same forced joy in her voice that we both used while serving customers at the grungy pizza and pasta joint where we met. Sue leads me into her small, dimly lit one-bedroom apartment. The cats are sitting in their usual spots: Sally is on the cat post looking out the window and Holly is curled up in her basket. The TV in the corner is set to CNN, spewing out noise about the American election. The room feels both empty and heavy, like all the oxygen has been syphoned out. Sorrow hangs in the air like a damp fog—it infiltrates my bones. Sue and her husband, Mike, entered my world when I was eighteen. One night after work, she invited me over and prepared the first home-cooked meal I’d had in months. This would be the first of many nights spent at their house. I could
Michael Robert Caditz
barely afford to buy groceries, so they offered me a spot at their dinner table. Sue and Mike never had children, but they welcomed me into their lives without question as though I was their daughter. As I stand near the front door, I am overwhelmed with thought; the walls of this apartment are coated in memories. I can’t help considering all the trials this beautiful couple has helped me through. Not only did Sue and Mike feed me, but they counselled me long-distance when I moved to northern Alberta, were there for me when I came running back with bruised ego in hand, and helped me get through the end of a three-year engagement. Through it all, they provided unconditional love and support and never once judged me or any of my decisions. This apartment has always been a sanctuary; a safe zone when life gets rough. But today is different. Today there is no Mike. The apartment appears to be paused in time. Mike’s felt hat is placed in its usual position, on the corner of the shelving unit right beside the front door, ready for the next adventure. His intricately hand-carved tobacco pipe sits on the coffee table, packed and ready to go within reach of where he usually sits. But his spot on the couch is empty. Mike was diagnosed with colon cancer last year. I remember the itchy fabric of the gray chairs, and the off-white walls of his hospital room, and the shake in his voice as he told me his diagnosis. I can still feel the warmth of Sue’s tears on my shoulder as we cried together. But most of all, I remember Mike’s fierce optimism. He was going to fight this.
And So We Sit
Not long after his diagnosis, Mike underwent major surgery and had a large piece of his colon removed. He was slated for a long recovery, but doctors assured him that all the cancerous tissue had been removed. Mike’s recovery began well. He even picked up a job as a dishwasher in a busy café only a few months after being released from the hospital. If Mike had slipped through death’s fingertips, it was only for a moment. Seven months after his surgery, he began experiencing severe abdominal pain again. They didn’t tell me about the month of emergency room visits until after he received his second diagnosis. Doctors had found a second tumour just behind his colon—this one inoperable. Mike opted against chemotherapy. He knew he was not going to win this round. He refused to spend the last of his time ill with the side-effects of chemo. Accepting his fate as best he could, he chose to spend the remainder of his time on Earth at home in the company of his wife of twenty-five years.
remember: he had been telling me about his time as a young sailor and the years he spent working a trap line in the Yukon. After a moment of silence, he looked at me and told me he had no room for fear because his heart was bursting with good memories. He looked off into the distance for a moment, and when his eyes met mine again, they were filled with a childlike excitement. He told me, “Death is just the next adventure.” Three weeks ago, we were celebrating the announcement from the doctor that Mike would have nearly a year left to live—twice as long as the original estimate. Mike passed away a week later. Sue brings me back into the moment by asking about my day again. She busies herself by stirring around the room and re-arranging the cards on the coffee table and removing the empty coffee cups; I notice she doesn’t move Mike’s tobacco pipe. I sit and look her directly in the eyes. “Enough small talk. How are you? Truly?” I say.
I wasn’t ready to lose Mike, who had become a father figure to me over the years, so I busied myself helping in every way possible. I spent hours researching natural remedies and pain control methods online, talked to medical professionals, made phone calls to set up financial support, and created a GoFundMe campaign. The next few weeks were a blur of doctors’ appointments and phone calls, but Mike never lost his ability to remain optimistic. There is one particular conversation that I will always
She pauses, then looks at me. Her lip quivers and we both erupt into tears. “I just... I can’t believe he’s gone,” she says as she slumps down into her chair. She tells me about Mike’s final days; the episode that put him in the hospital, the procedure doctors thought could save his life, and how he waited for her to leave the room before taking his
final breath. All this information flows out of her as she looks vacantly out the window. She stops, catches her breath for a second, looks up at me with a lost expression and asks, “What do I do now?” “You just keep breathing,” is all I can come up with.
My feet are heavy as I walk to the door, but I tell her she can call me anytime, for anything. The next day I get a call from Sue around 10 pm. She’s babbling and not making much sense; she doesn’t seem to be upset but is asking me to come over. I get there as quickly as I can, but she still can’t tell me what is wrong.
She thinks about this for a moment, then nods. Together we make tea, and soon the mood lightens. Happy stories flow like the tea in our cups. Sue smiles, a genuine smile, as she tells me the story of how she and Mike met. She was twenty-seven and working as a dock girl, and he was working as a deckhand on a large sailboat. Grinning, she says, “He sailed into my life on a tall ship. I invited him over for dinner that night, and he just never left.” Over the next hour and a half, she tells me details about her life that she’s never told me before. I remain quiet; I am afraid to interrupt this memory train. Even though she is sitting in front of me, talking, her glazed and dreamy eyes give the impression that she is somewhere far away, and I think that maybe, just maybe, she is somewhere back in time with Mike. She isn’t telling these stories for me.
So I sit. I let her talk. Forty-five minutes go by. Finally, she cries, and it’s not long before we are both in tears again. “It comes in waves. One moment I’ll be fine, and the next I can hardly breathe,” she tells me. All I want is to help her like she’s helped me so often, but there is nothing I can do. I refuse to tell her it’s going to be okay, so I say nothing. She lies down on the couch. I pull the blankets around her and place my hand on her shoulder. I wish that I could take even an ounce of her pain away, but I know that’s not possible. All I can do is be with her now, in this moment. And so we sit. *Names have been changed.
When her voice begins to taper off, I decide it’s time to head home. I stand up and give her a big hug. By the way she hesitates to let me go, I can tell that she is afraid to be alone again. “Nights are the worst,” she tells me.
OVERLAY Emily Reekie
ou and I are out for a walk. We’re arm in arm, though our jackets are bulky, because we are in love and this is our favourite park. In summer, we picnic under one of the oak trees and read books to each other. In winter, we sometimes rent skates from the little shack and go round the pond until our toes are numb and we want hot drinks. For you, coffee; for me, hot chocolate. But it’s autumn now, so we’re only walking and occasionally pointing out dogs we think are cute. We circle the fountain and proceed down the long, oak-lined lane. The black-barked trees, near abandoned by their leaves, are slick from the last rain. When we reach the wrought iron benches, we come within earshot of a couple having an argument. They are standing far enough apart that their voices carry and their arms are jerking in tight, abrupt strikes, as people do when they are overwhelmed and cannot express themselves. You give my arm a squeeze with your inner elbow to say, “This is a good time to sit, no?” We pretend we’re not interested in their fight, but we’ve been together long enough. We’re both familiar with each other’s fascination with strangers’ drama, so we sit and make small conversation just in case the couple comes out of their bubble of fury and hurt to notice us. We listen, trying to piece together what they are fighting about. “Could you please say something other than that you don’t care?” she says. “But I don’t. And you obviously do care, so just pick,” he says. “Just form a fucking opinion. For once.” “Jesus Christ!”
You grin a little maniacally, your back to them so they won’t see, because it’s a good fight, and they seem to be just warming up. We settle deeper onto the bench, cold through our pants. We realize, after a while, they are arguing over where to eat. The woman in the red jacket starts to cry. Her arms, two red lines, drop slowly to her sides and stay there. After that, she doesn’t try to make her point bigger or louder than his anymore. “It hurts,” she says. “It’s just lunch,” he says. “No.” She looks up at him, eyes large and expressionless. “It’s not.” You are looking somewhere over my left ear. Your smile slackens. The man turns from her and makes a sound like he’s choking. Our delight curdles. They go quiet; she sits on the nearest bench and huddles into her stomach. He rubs his face, and the anger leaves them both. I feel nauseated. It’s so easy, if I relax my eyes a little, to rub their faces out with a moistened thumb. To etch in ours overtop like double-exposed film. And so I do. I know this exhausted argument that is too cold to be called a fight. There’s so little difference between that woman and me, that man and you, and I can feel her hurt deep in my chest, feel his frustration roll over me, and even the itch of her pea coat against my neck. It’s like this we leave the park, overtop and in this other couple’s bodies. You help me to stand and we walk back to the car parked on the street, no longer arm in arm, unable to give each other’s pain as much merit as our own.
I forget about the bodies we came in. We’ve left them on the bench, shivering. Waiting, perhaps, for the next time we feel like skating, or for the weather to thaw. We get to the car—a blue Ford Sierra we didn’t come in, but we recognize it because we are them now. We sit inside, idling, with our seatbelts on. It will be a minute for the windows to defog. “So are we eating?” you say. You’ve switched into the impatient voice. “I guess so,” I say. I don’t suggest a place. You make a noise of frustration and throw the car into drive, accelerating faster than you do when calm. Out the window the park fades and is replaced by fashionable storefronts and faceless pedestrians.
about the special. Your voice is bright and you thank her so nicely my heart ribbons open for a moment. You deadpan once we are alone, and I think about how different your face has become. It isn’t because you wear this other man’s face now. It’s in your expressions. The summer I met you, your face was flush, happy, and young. My figure in a bathing suit impressed you, and I started the campfire when you couldn’t. I remember the freckled working of your shoulder blades when you ran into the water. Your eyes held mine while you buttoned your shirt up. Before we ever said we loved one another out loud. Your face was just different then. I’m not sure how to quiver out of this skin and back into that summer one.
We stop in front of a mediocre restaurant we are familiar with. “Is this ok?” you ask. A challenge.
Our food comes and we eat. You must have been thinking into the silence too because your hand comes across the table to touch mine.
“Yup,” I say and shrug my shoulders.
When we get back into the car to go home, we are silent again, though we hold hands now. As we pass the park, I see the blurry outline of a couple sitting motionless on a bench. They are tucked close together—a bird under its wing. You are watching them too, and as we pass them, we shiver into our own bodies and out of these borrowed ones. Her skin slips from me as fluidly as silk.
When we are seated, you flip through the pages of the menu without reading.
I blink and look up at the car passing, the red coat of the woman driving just visible through the window.
“There’s nowhere to eat in this town,” you mumble. I don’t say anything and I can feel you staring at me for one hard second. I am exhausted. When the waitress comes, you beam up at her and laugh when she makes a remark
“Let’s go home,” you say. I nod, and, our legs stiff and cold, we rise. The sky is greying and the black boughs of the oaks reach up into it. Your arm finds its way into the crook of mine and you squeeze slightly.
I forget about the bodies we came in. We’ve left them on the bench, shivering.
PANIC DISORDER Délani Valin
i. Terror You despise what transforms you. Lose control in the grocery store while cradling the bananas. Succumb in crowded restaurants, grasping at the crescendo of a song soon buried beneath clanging forks and chatter. Where is the waitress with the water? Where is the waitress with the bill? Jogging is supposed to help. But your heart attack waits three blocks from your apartment. Breathing too fast. It found you here; it can find you anywhere. In every empty elevator and every traffic jam. You’re always one breath away from grabbing a stranger’s arm and crying panic panic panic.
ii. Climax It happens: the sky and trees drip downward into great globs of gouache. Nothing is real. Your hands fail to grip anything and you tear out of your body. You’re gasping thinning air. Consider the astronaut speeding through the silent void. Directionless, out of orbit with dizzy glimpses of the Earth. There’s vomit in your helmet and this could last forever.
iii. Power Send your tendrils down. Plant your feet. Dirt is ideal, but linoleum will do. Be the trees with the stubborn, knobby roots. Be the old, immovable Douglas fir. You produce the oxygen, now. Breathe.
Saturday Morning 1 Amber Morrison
A HUNGER Isabelle Orr
hen Mary’s boss, Mr. Peterson, smoked a cigar, he gnawed on the end as if it were a hoagie instead of a Cuban. He would place the tip, wet with saliva, in a lacquered box that had been part of King Louis XI’s private collection. Mary entered his office, averting her eyes from the erotic Japanese woodblock prints lining the walls. Mr. Peterson’s gaze lingered on her breasts. “Mary!” he boomed, tapping the ash off onto a filigreed plate. “Right on time. It just came in. This is a first for Worldwide Magazine.” Mary peered at the wooden box on his desk. “What is it?” Mr. Peterson lifted the lid and removed a delicate white mask. “I called you in here specifically. We had it brought in from China, so I thought you would take a unique interest in it.” The mask was of a severe-faced woman with her eyes shut tight and her mouth turned down at the corners in a grimace. The casting of the porcelain was so finely done that Mary half expected the mask to open its eyes and breathe. Mr. Peterson’s fingers left greasy marks on the pristine china as he hefted it in his hand. “It was moulded after the Dowager Empress Cixi. The Dragon Lady. Eighteen fifty-four. Real nasty broad—they say she dabbled in murder and black magic. You’ve heard of her, I’m sure.” Mary shivered. Her mother had chastised her and her brothers before bed, warning them that unwiped counters, balled-up socks left in the laundry hamper, and toothpaste flecks on the mirror were the Dragon Lady’s least favourite things. “Dragon Lady hates when you leave your socks like this,” Mary’s mother would hiss, clutching the offending article in her fist. “She comes out from under the bed of lazy little girls, and she scratches them with her nails!” Seven years old and terrified, Mary would weep. “No she doesn’t!”
“She does!” her mother would continue, as she dug her nails into her daughter’s forearm. “She eats up children who lie and steal—just like she ate her own son!” Mr. Peterson placed the mask back in the box and closed the lid. “It’s going to be a three-page feature in the next issue. I’ll need you working on research right away. Have the piece in by tomorrow, no excuses.” He came around the side of his desk and placed a meaty hand precariously close to the small of Mary’s back. “I hope you know how important this is,” he said, bathing her in his smoky breath. She avoided eye contact, staring instead at the lobe of his proportionally tiny ear. “I chose you because you’re so exotic and unique.” Leslie and Sara, her fellow interns, glared at Mary as she left Mr. Peterson’s office and entered their cramped workspace. While Mary’s desk was neat and orderly, the other womens’ were covered with fashion magazines, gum wrappers, and empty cans of Coke Zero. They left their jackets and scarves puddled around the bases of their chairs as if they were nesting. “What did Peterson want?” Leslie was eating granola, seeds, and nuts, each separated into colour-coded Ziploc bags. She was six foot two and wore fluorescent orange lipstick. Mary clenched her fist behind her back and picked the skin around her right thumbnail. “He wants me to do research for a spread on a Chinese artifact.” “Oh.” Sara pulled out a bag of M&Ms, crunching them between her teeth one by one. She had once walked the runway for Dolce & Gabbana, and her last boyfriend, an NBA player, had left her for a reality TV star. “That makes sense, then. Must be nice.” Mary nodded stiffly and turned briskly to go to the washroom. Behind her, she heard Leslie’s nasal voice. “I bet she’s working on a spread for him.” Her ears burned and their laughter followed her down the corridor.
After nine hours of research, Mary left the office and started home to the apartment she shared with her boyfriend, Harold. Harold and Mary had met four years prior at a shoddy bar on Halloween. Harold had been holding the plastic rifle from an arcade game and swearing. Mary had finished her single cosmopolitan and tried to stagger past him.
Mary’s father would hold her mother’s tiny hands, kissing her delicate fingers. “Can you believe she’s had three children?”
Harold had turned to watch her. He wore a lumberjack costume and towered over her like a tree. Mary had come straight from work and hadn’t bothered to dress up.
“Be careful,” she had said matter-of-factly. “You’re getting fat. If you’re thin, you can wear anything you want.”
“You’re tiny.” He had stared at her blearily. At five feet tall, Mary was at eye level with his navel. In one quick swoop, Harold had wrapped his hands around her waist and lifted her over his head. Red-faced, she had struggled in his grasp. He gave no indication that he would put her down. Mary had stared out at the crowd of people in the bar and tried to imagine she was flying. Mary opened the door of her apartment, exhausted after her long day, to find Harold sprawled across the couch. The Office blared on the television, and the floor was strewn with several take-out containers. His eyes were glazed. “Hey babe,” he said, lifting a hand in greeting. His eyes stayed locked on Steve Carrell.
When Mary was thirteen, her mother had slapped a pork bun out of her hands. Her slim fingers had pinched the fat around her daughter’s upper arm.
Mary pushed the strips of beef around in the pan. The edges curled up and turned an unsavoury grey. The smell made her stomach clench in hunger, so she drank glass after glass of lemon water until the pain subsided. She served Harold, and he ate the strips one by one without comment. His eyes remained glued to the television as he sucked the oil off his fingers. That night, Mary tossed and turned. She dreamed she was back in Mr. Peterson’s office where the mask lay on the table. As Mary approached, the eyes opened. The Empress stared at Mary, and, as if seeing something she liked, the mouth of the mask smiled cruelly, revealing black teeth. In a trance, Mary took the mask and put it on. When she went to take it off again, she found, no matter how hard she tugged, she couldn’t. The mask had fused with her skin.
Her stomach growled. She hadn’t eaten the peeled carrot she had brought for lunch. “Did you get any calls today?” Harold had been looking for work for a month and a half and hadn’t left her apartment in that time. He turned the volume down, but still didn’t look in her direction. “No, not yet. But hey, if you make anything to eat, can you make me some too? I ordered takeout from that Thai place again, but I’m still super hungry. Maybe some of that pork thing? I really like that.” Annoyed, Mary strode into the kitchen and pulled beef out of the fridge instead of the pork Harold wanted. She sliced it into thin strips with a thick wood-handled cleaver and dropped the strips into a cast iron pan, searing them on both sides. The smell of the cooking meat reminded Mary of the traditional foods her mother had made for her father and brothers: salty and sweet-smelling pork, cooked in its own fat, melted in one’s mouth; tender scallops delicately sliced thin and laid across mashed turnip cakes; deep-fried black bean balls, studded with sesame seeds, still warm from the oil. Mary’s mother prided herself on her smallness. Two inches shorter than her daughter, she would wind a worn, black ribbon around her waist every morning to ensure she kept her figure. FICTION
“I bet she’s working on a spread for him.” Her ears burned and their laughter followed her down the corridor. Mary’s eyes shot open. She sat up in bed, her heart pounding. Harold took up most of the mattress, the majority of the blankets swaddling him. She reached out for him in the dark, but he refused to wake though she prodded him insistently. Sighing, Mary slinked into the living room and flicked on the television, letting the murmur of a breakfast talk show lull her back into an uneasy sleep. That morning, Mary stumbled through her routine. She let her hunger ground her at work; it forced her to stay awake and alert, and it allowed her to write with a clear head. She worked furiously, stopping only to place half a packet of sugar under her tongue to keep her blood glucose up. Leslie stalked into the interns’ office space with a bejewelled surgical mask hiding her nose and mouth and a feather
boa draped around her shoulders. Her eyes darted around. “Peterson wants you in his office.”
Struggling to turn the key in the lock, Mary heard a dull roar from the other side of the apartment door. It opened and a hairy arm pulled her into the room.
Mary stared at her, bewildered. “Are you sick?” “Obviously not!” Leslie’s voice sounded pinched. “Have you even been watching fashion week? Balenciaga is totally bringing the mask back.” She turned on five-inch heels and stalked out of the room, leaving a trail of bright orange feathers. The door to Mr. Peterson’s office was ajar, and Mary pushed it open. A cigar in hand, he was slumped in his chair. As she entered the room, his eyes rolled lazily to look at her. “Mary,” he said in a voice so deep it vibrated in her ears. “What an absolute pleasure.”
Harold stared down at her with bleary eyes. He had always been tall, but now he seemed monstrous, filling the living room with his bulk. Another wave of nausea passed over Mary. “Harold?” Her voice was shaky. “What’s going on?” Harold grunted at her and slapped his stomach. His arms and legs were covered in a dense fur, and a fine coating of hair crept up his neck and across his face. He sat heavily on his rear, bracing himself on his knuckles for support. Mary reached out a hand to touch him. “Harold?”
Mary clutched her papers. “I finished my research for the mask. You said you needed it in by today?” Mr. Peterson smacked his lips. “Ah, yes. Work. So tiresome, don’t you think? Just makes you want to lie in the sun.” He yawned, and his mouth stretched back impossibly wide as if hinged. His human teeth had been transformed into thick white pegs. His jaw snapped closed and his tiny ears fluttered like the wings of a butterfly. Mr. Peterson contemplated his cigar then tossed it into his cavernous mouth and chewed. Mary backed slowly out of the room. The floor outside of Mr. Peterson’s office was littered with neon feathers. A yellow beak had dislodged Leslie’s surgical mask. She held her bag of walnuts in front of her, darting her head down to scoop up each nut.
As she came closer, he swung his arm out and swatted Mary away with such force that she slammed into the wall behind her. She lay sprawled and stunned on the floor. She lifted a hand to her forehead and felt the warmth of blood. Mary stared—her blood smelled so good, and she was so hungry. Her stomach seemed to flip inside out, her spine snapped back with a harsh crack, and her eyes rolled into her skull. Mary opened her mouth and a dragon poured from her throat. Her human body fell limp and useless on the ground. The dragon circled the room as sinuous as a snake. It unhinged its jaw and swallowed what was once Harold in a single gulp. She circled the room restlessly in her new form. Somehow, Mary’s hunger was far from sated. She wondered what she could eat next.
To her left, Sara perched atop the coat rack as feathers fell gently from her hair. The floor seemed to shift under Mary’s feet; she was dizzy with hunger. “I’ll come back later,” she said, the words weak in her ears. Leslie watched Mary leave before smashing her beak on the table to crack open the tough shell of a walnut. Mary found herself driving home. Though the heat was turned up all the way, she couldn’t stop shivering. She had imagined everything, of course. It was a result of her troubled sleep. She would return to her apartment, rub Harold’s back, cook him some food, and watch television by his side as she had done for years.
WITNESSING RECONCILIATION Sheena Robinson
group nervously gathered in the boardroom of the university library, murmuring amongst ourselves as we watched the tables being pushed off to the side. Ten blankets were spread out on the floor, and a circle of chairs was formed around them. We sat down, and a hush fell across the room. After warning that the exercise may trigger us, one of the three facilitators asked us to remove our shoes and step onto the blankets. They handed out numbered scrolls we were to read aloud.
“These blankets represent the northern part of Turtle Island, or what we now know as Canada, before the arrival of Europeans,” said the facilitator. “You represent the Indigenous peoples—the people who have been here for at least 10,000 years.” I was with a group of Aboriginal mentors, the ’S’uluq’wa Community Cousins, who I volunteer with at Vancouver Island University. “We are the Indigenous peoples,” I thought to myself. “We don’t represent them.”
In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released their report on what Canadians can do to improve the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in this country. It suggested that educational institutions should lead the way with this challenge. As part of the “Road to Reconciliation” project, the office of Aboriginal Education at VIU was hosting an interactive workshop called the KAIROS Blanket Exercise. Accompanying the workshop was the latest installation of The Witness Blanket, a contemporary wood-based art project by Kwagiulth artist Carey Newman. It is made up of physical remnants of Canada’s residential schools, missionary churches, and old government buildings. It represents Canada’s dark history, but also the hope for reconciliation. My own Heiltsuk nation, based in the remote coastal town of Bella Bella, BC, had experienced devastating effects from European colonization, and many members of my community were affected by the ’60s Scoop when Aboriginal children were removed
from their parents and put into non-Aboriginal homes in hopes of assimilating them into Canadian mainstream society. Many of my relatives, including my mom, were forced to attend the St. Michael’s Residential School in Alert Bay on Vancouver Island. In fact, the infirmary door in the centre of The Witness Blanket was taken from her school. My mom’s haunting stories came flooding back to me when I realized she had passed through this door herself—as did many other sick and abused children. There were three facilitators for the exercise— two narrators and one playing a European colonizer. They took us from the pre-contact era through the treaties, the Indian Act and BNA Act, residential schools, the ’60s Scoop, and finally toward future reconciliation. Since I knew most of the presented information from my courses in First Nations Studies at VIU, I felt surprisingly calm as we went through Canada’s ethnocidal relationship with Indigenous people. My shoulders relaxed and I loosened the tight grip I had on my scroll. Yet, how could I be handling this all right? Millions died. My ancestors.
One by one, we were asked to step off the blankets to represent the people who were moved onto reserves, displaced by imposed borders, enfranchised, or killed off by European diseases. I was still standing when my turn came to read from my scroll. My voice wavered as I read: “The government thought the ‘Indian Problem’ would solve itself as more and more Indigenous people died from diseases and others became part of the larger Canadian society. As one government employee said, the government’s goal was ‘to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and that there is no Indian problem and no Indian Department’.” After my part, I paid more attention to the people around me and what was being said. The facilitators folded the blankets into smaller squares as they went and removed the ones that people were asked to step off. The next scroll was about residential schools. “Because you grew up in the schools and were rarely allowed home, many of you never learned how to be good parents,” relayed one of the narrators. “Some of you died at the schools. Many of you never returned home or had trouble reintegrating if you did.” I felt a ball of anguish form in my chest just as one of my fellow volunteers wailed out and another loudly sniffled back tears. A sense of heaviness and pain settled upon the room as the blankets shrank around us. Each scroll brought more tears. I was asked to step off my blanket and sit down. The facilitators struggled to hold back tears as they said,
“Those with yellow cards, please step off the blankets. You represent those whose connection to your family and community was broken—you never made it home.” Some broke out in sobs while others stared at the floor. The narrators read the devastating statistics that have plagued Canada’s Indigenous people since European contact: high suicide rates, reserves without clean drinking water, missing and murdered Aboriginal women. When the exercise was over, we looked at the blankets on the floor—small, folded-up piles where they had once been spread out. This is what was left of Indigenous peoples’ land after the government ignored treaty promises and attempted complete assimilation. After, we passed an eagle feather around the circle and each spoke to how the workshop made us feel. Some could not stop weeping, and others were angry. One participant revealed that she herself was a residential school survivor and, inconsolable, left the room. A facilitator ran after her to make sure she was okay. My mom’s story ran hot through my blood and I tried to share it, but my hands were shaking and the words caught in my throat. Our Elder had been right, recognizing the truth of the past had brought us closer together—and closer to moving forward. My chest was heavy for weeks after viewing The Witness Blanket and participating in the Blanket Exercise. Homework was harder to focus on, and classes became easier to avoid. But each day that I reflected upon my experiences, I recognized the importance of discovering the depth of my people’s
The View Gallery VIU
history in order to make positive changes. I decided that I wanted to be a part of other people’s experiences with this activity by becoming a trained facilitator myself. I was given permission to observe a group from outside of viu, the Nanaimo Youth Services Association, as part of this training. The group was large, and most were non-Indigenous. As they read out scrolls containing information they had likely never heard before, some voices cracked. Eyes widened at some of the atrocities that have occurred in their beloved country. Those who had been told to sit down rushed to pass tissues to their coworkers who were crying as they stood on the shrinking blankets. I watched several people, refusing to accept their fate, kick their blankets back out as the facilitators went around folding them in.
I felt a ball of anguish form in my chest just as one of my fellow volunteers wailed out and another loudly sniffled back tears. In the debriefing circle afterwards, many of the nonIndigenous people were experiencing “settlers’ guilt” over this aspect of Canadian history they had just learned. They felt terrible about what their European ancestors had done to the Indigenous people of this land. “When the blankets were being pushed in around me, I felt defensive,” said one woman. “I felt threatened, panicked, and angry. Like, why me?” She
paused. “Then it hit me—this is what really happened to so many Indigenous people and I didn’t even know about it.” Another man admitted that he’d had no idea about the government’s assimilation policies against Indigenous people. He was moved to create change and spread the knowledge he had received—as were many of them. Others simply said “thank you” and passed the feather quickly. “It’s not easy for me to admit that perhaps my stereotypes of Indigenous people have been unfair,” one man realized. “Or that maybe the Indigenous people I have come across are suffering from intergenerational trauma and are not simply impoverished or addicted to substances through fault of their own.” As I observed the exercise, I noticed several positive messages within the scrolls that I missed when I had been absorbed in my own sorrow. For example, young Indigenous people are striving to make changes to the education system by creating language immersion programs and healing initiatives; the resurgence of Indigenous culture across Canada is also showing itself in artists, writers, and radical educators. Hearing this, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of hope for the future generations, and I made a promise to myself to be a part of it. “The violence of colonization has left a lot of pain,” the final narrator said at the end of the exercise. “All across Canada, the relationship between Indigenous peoples and newcomers is often broken. We don’t need more broken promises. We need to repair the relationship, and, to do this, we need real change.”
EMPTY Zoe McKenna
or months after she had passed, the smell of her cooking had lingered in their home. He remembered the mashed potatoes, the steamed carrots, the roasts—and the way they felt in his mouth. But in recent months the memories held nothing more than the warmth of nostalgia. Richard sat at the kitchen table with his boots flat against the worn floorboards beneath him. He could see dark clouds through the kitchen window as they began to swirl above the barn. This late in the year, that could only mean more snow. The floorboards creaked as Richard stood. He sighed, and grabbed his lamp and jacket off hooks on the wall. “Come on, lady,” Richard called behind him, before giving a whistle. “Let’s go out to the barn.” It only took a moment for his retriever, Diana, to come around the corner; her tired face brightened up at his call to adventure.
He followed her to the other side of the barn where she slunk towards Honey’s stable. He knew something was wrong before he caught up with her. Opening the door, he was struck in the face by a cold burst of Albertan air. Loose snow from the day before drifted past his feet. Even after sixty-five years, he still hadn’t gotten used to
winter in the prairies. He pulled the collar of his jacket tighter around his neck and started off towards the barn with Diana close behind. There was a picture on the mantel of his great-grandfather standing outside the barn doors on the day he’d finished building the structure. In that picture, the barn towered as proud as the man himself. Now, the building swayed dangerously in the wind. Richard moved the heavy barn door latch with ease as years of the same action had smoothed the surrounding wood. He swung the barn doors wide. Diana slipped in ahead of him, eager to get in from the wind. He followed after her, twisting the knob on his gas lantern to better illuminate the darkness. There was something about the light from a gas lamp that made him think of his father and their pre-dawn routines. “How’re we doing, folks?” Richard called out, moving along to check the cows. They both lifted their heads to greet him, their black eyes shining glassily in the low light. He patted the nearest of the cows as they sidled up to the gate. Richard grimaced at the feel of ribs beneath her thinning skin. She mooed quietly, and he managed a smile. Diana reappeared between his feet, whimpering as she weaved between his legs. He followed her to the other side of the barn where she slunk towards Honey’s stable. He knew something was wrong before he caught up with her. “Oh,” Richard said. “ Oh, no.”
Honey lay still on the ground. Her blonde mane blended in with the hay around her. In the tiny stable, the outside world had ceased to exist. He opened the gate, his eyes wet, and approached her. Diana followed quickly; she seemed to alternate between flagging and rushing at his heels, unsure of how to proceed. He was sure that if the dog could, she’d be crying too. He ran his hand down Honey’s back, flinching as he made contact with her cold frame. “She’s stunning!” Ellen had said when he’d first brought the horse home to her. His wife was a beautiful woman on a regular day, and when she was happy, she was positively radiant. “You bet. Anything for you,” he’d said before she gathered him in a tight embrace. He’d snaked his arms around her tiny frame and squeezed her gently. Now, he wept on his knees. It took Richard a long while to calm himself enough to stand. He moved towards the cows and pulled their stall open. The nearest cow looked at him through long lashes. Richard turned away and followed Diana from the barn. The retriever started towards Ellen’s grave, but today Richard couldn’t bear it. “Come along, Diana,” Richard said, gesturing for the dog to follow him. “It’s time to go.” They trudged back to the house together
through the gathering snow. The wind howled like a wolf as it wound through the trees bordering his property. He could hear the open barn doors banging behind them. Richard turned to make sure Diana was still close, squinting against the gusts. Snow crunched under his feet, and he frowned as some of it made its way into his boot. He wiped his watering eyes with numb fingers, not wanting his eyelashes to freeze, and tried to move a little faster. In years gone by, they’d had neighbours on both adjacent plots. Unlike Richard and Ellen’s quiet household, the Watsons’ house had always been loud and rambunctious with their thirteen children. They had all been welcome around the kitchen table, especially on the days that Ellen had taken it upon herself to bake a batch of her pies. On the other side, the Abbotts had been run silly with bountiful crops every year. “We’ve got corn coming out of our ears! Y’get it? Ears?” was John Abbott’s favourite joke; Richard had smiled politely every time it was told. The three families had put together a spectacular Thanksgiving dinner every year for nearly a decade. Then the crops failed, and the meals dwindled. And the next year, the crops failed again. Their livelihood was gone, and one by one, the neighbours’ houses emptied. By that time, Ellen was too sick for them to follow, and so they stayed—alone.
Diana whimpered as they closed the distance between themselves and the warmth. Once inside, she nestled herself gingerly in front of the fire and fell asleep. Richard placed a record on the gramophone. The player had been top of the line when he’d bought it, but years of good use had made it stubborn. Richard smiled when the music began. The sounds of Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians, one of Ellen’s favourites, filled the room. Richard had never been one for the new-aged sound, but she’d sung this song often enough that even he knew the words. In her last days, she’d listened to nothing but. “Please!” she would say, pouting a little. Even when he saw her in her nightgown, face drawn with illness, he was infatuated. “Of course,” Richard would say. He’d reset the needle on the gramophone, and the song would begin again. After Doctor Perry had run out of favours for them, music had been the best medicine Richard could give her. The kitchen window blew open and hit the wall. A pane of glass shattered on the floor. Richard closed the window firmly, ignoring the wind that bit at his knuckles. A glance outside proved Richard right: the blizzard had begun. Within minutes, he lost sight of the barn.
He grabbed the last few crackers from the cupboard. They were the remains of his final shopping trip before the general store had boarded up its windows. He ate them more out of habit than hunger. Outside, the wind blew even harder. Richard had seen many storms hit the plains over the years, but few as violent as this one. By the time he and Diana had finished the crackers, the snow was level with the window sill. There was still no sign of the storm letting up. He opened the door and found the snow had begun to pack itself in a wall that reached his waist. “My dear Diana,” he said to the cold room. “I suppose that’s that.” She cocked her head to listen. Richard let out a nervous breath that created a soft fog as it hit the cold air. Diana huffed, and he closed the door to keep some heat in. Richard picked up the lamp and gestured for Diana to follow him up the stairs. They reached the bedroom, and Diana curled up at the end of the bed. The sky outside was dark—there wasn’t any light or life for miles. “All right, lady,” he said, turning to pat Diana on the head solemnly, “it’s just you and me, now.” As Richard blew out the lamp, Diana whined, perhaps in understanding.
AN ATYPICAL RESPONSE Lorin Medley
want my psychiatrist, Dr. Sheila Clarke, to step out of virtual reality and sit down beside me, to feel a slight dip in the mattress and the weight of her body. As if reading my mind, she looms to the front of the screen.
“Have you given some more thought to the reversal, Zoe?”
cherished landmarks of life on planet Earth: birthdays, graduation, marriage. “Sorry, Dr. Sheila.”
A part of me smaller than three quarks in a proton wants to be convinced to change my mind—the devil you know, and all that. I feel older than my years. I’ve put on weight. A small pad strapped over my radial artery blinks and reads my digital blood pressure: 115/50.
My psychiatrist is an opera buff. “Call me Mirella. Mirella Freni.”
“I’d like to see you off the Doxepin,” she says in her brittle, but not unpleasant voice.
It’s been a month since we talked and today I get “Happy Birthday” in surround sound. A wanna-be soprano voice fills the bedroom of my converted Toronto coach house.
“Very funny.” I’m sure she brings out the Mirella schtick to compensate for the vagaries of treatment proposed by the DSM 9.
I dredge up the energy to nod and offer a weak smile. Dr. Clarke prefers the familiar, “Sheila.” Today, Dr. Sheila’s hair has been swept into a loose chignon at the back of her neck, a style that projects casual professionalism. If history serves me, this ’do often precedes a trip to the salon for “something radical.” I feel for the remote and zoom in too close, splaying the screen with her cornea and pupil, then zoom out to the fine spray of eye wrinkles that have evaded Botox. This is the face that keeps me breathing. “We have very little data on reversals, as you know,” she says. “Most of us prefer to live without PTSD.” Ignoring her sarcasm, I prop myself up with a pillow and slap my cheeks as though they belong to a blue baby. “Something is missing!” I say. “I want to go back and find it.” “This something, how can you be sure it lies in the past?” Because the umbrella of my chest has been inverted by a rogue wind. Because I’ve been sleepwalking through the FICTION
Dr. Sheila tries. She’s been with me since day one, when my parents opted me into a lifetime of virtual personalized health care. I know her powers of persuasion like I know the honk-honk of geese on Grenadier Pond, the reflective curve on the Ontario Power building, and the humid summer nights. First, entertain. “Sorry, Doc. Your soprano is no match for my existential crisis.” “Okay, sleepy head,” she says. “I guess it’s curtains for me. As for you, Zoe Parker…” I pull the titanium arm attaching the computer screen to my headboard towards me. Zoe Parker. Whoever that is. Next, distract. “Do you like my latest decor?” The onscreen psychiatrist stands up in her home office and directs the visuals to a wall gallery of projected fabric—Ikat from Indonesia, felted wool from Norway, tartans from Nova Scotia. I had a mad crush on her in my teens. Right now, though
my belly feels bloated, I start thinking about food. Pizza, gummy bears—neither item stocked in my smart fridge. Pain management is Dr. Sheila’s forte. She’s seen me through everything from hip dysplasia to a failed marriage match. Countless bouts of depression. Oh, and a homicide/suicide. Mustn’t forget that. The wireless neural implant was supposed to be a game changer, an innocuous silicone disc that would eliminate PTSD. “So ask me about my dream,” I say. “You had a dream?” “I dreamt that Farrow & Ball came out with a new paint colour. You paint your walls and they change colour with your mood.” Dr. Sheila raises her eyebrows and smiles. “So I paint my whole house and I’m lying in bed one night and my mother brings me a rainbow scarf, but she won’t let me wear it until I take my gumboots off. So you see, Doc, it’s a sign. I’ve got nothing to lose.” “I’m not sure I follow, Zoe, but listen, back to the reversal: what if you retrieve the missing piece, and don’t like what you find?” I shrug. “Think about it?” No, I won’t. Dr. Sheila crosses her arms. “You know I can’t recommend this procedure.” I push the monitor aside and get out of bed, slide my feet into slippers placed on the floor by the house bot in perfect symmetry and walk over to the window. Outside, a transit hub rises three hundred metres into a cloudless sky. I’m
thirty today. Under the Freedom of Information Act, I have the right to know my full story. I can choose, at my own risk, to reverse the redaction of my life events in the Grand Self Narrative. In thirty more years, I can opt for assisted suicide. Mir, Mir on the wall. Mirella, the light of your voice does not reach the black hole at the core of my being. This is not La Traviata. No one, not even you, can pull me through the event horizon.
*** I want details: was I barefoot? Did I eat toast and jam for breakfast? When she tucked me in and kissed my forehead that night, did my mother know it would be for the last time? And above all, did I intervene? This is what I know: April 20, 2025. I was four. The surgeons inserted a tiny silicone implant to block sensory and long-term memory neurons—standard treatment for children who witness domestic violence. I remembered nothing about that bloody morning and that suited everybody. I grew up with virtual friends and a psychiatrist and had a good life. I was supposed to be a living validation of the trope: what you don’t know can’t hurt you. But at sixteen, my neuroendocrine levels rocketed and that continued for over a decade; for no apparent reason, my body’s natural mechanism to control stress and pain was malfunctioning. I became an anomaly, the sad brown maple leaf in spring. I got fat and slept a lot. Dr. Sheila performed due diligence. Year after year, she searched the data bank for atypical responses to the implant and new approaches to treatment. She speculated that there might have been a virus, but the scans came back clean. Her failure to ease my suffering must have been like the first waver in a soprano’s voice. I’m sorry about that, despite the state I’m in. ***
An Atypical Response
A week before the procedure is finalized, I meet my psychiatrist in the flesh. She has travelled from Boston for a final consultation. In person, she’s softer and, ironically, more pixelated. She wears a pantsuit and a jacquard silk scarf and smells like jasmine. “What about ayahuasca?” she says. “We could give you a low dose to improve serotonin levels. Vomiting may be an issue, but the new strains are a bit easier to digest. Zoe?” *** No one gets why I want to unblock a memory that will, in all probability, shred my psyche. The prosthetic neuronal memory chip has nestled in my brain for twenty-six years, its electrical signals selectively disrupting the neurons in my hippocampus to remove long-term memory. Now, the disruption will be reversed. D-Day. A sleeping cell on the chip will be activated, allowing it to act like a healthy neuron and reconnect memory pathways. The same scientific breakthrough that worked wonders for Alzheimer’s patients. On the day of the procedure, Dr. Sheila sits across from me in a small room on the neurology floor of Toronto General. Her hair has a new asymmetrical cut with auburn highlights. She looks pale. I have an impulse to wipe away the furrows in her forehead. She would probably add that to the records, parentification. Dr. Sheila will save the data from my procedure and forward it to Cornell University, where it can be studied. I sign the waiver electronically and hand it back to her. ***
The memory has been downloaded into a state-of-the-art A^Bit, which allows it to be separated into components: everything I saw, heard, felt, and believed; every body sensation and emotion in its original, unedited form. “What we don’t want is an info dump,” Dr. Sheila says. “We’ll take it one scene at a time.” She hands me the remote control. “Click here if you want to stop, okay? Let’s practise. The red button.” Start early in the story, the day before: Blackness. Eyes closed. I’m sitting in the basket of the grocery cart. My whole being floods with desperation. I’m screaming, restrained by a seatbelt, stretching out my arms. I want something so badly it feels like I will explode without it. ‘Zoe Parker, stop that. Stop it right now!’ “What’s there now?” says my psychiatrist. Bedtime. I’ve had my bath. I’m standing on a stool to reach the sink. My toothbrush is pink and the toothpaste smells like bubblegum. The sink is shaped like a clam shell. ‘Remember not to swallow, Zo-Zo.’ My mother’s voice is troubled. I see her smile in the mirror, but mostly I feel her standing behind me, ready to catch me if I fall. I spit and drop the toothbrush. She swoops me up and wraps me in a towel. It smells clean, it feels good, and I go limp like a baby. She sings “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” tucks
Complete Story Natasha Baronas
me in, and surrounds me with stuffies. Under the covers, I rest like a small island in a plush sea. “What do you notice now?” says Dr. Sheila. I lean back in the chair. “Contentment,” I say. “Joy.” “And where do you feel it?” “In my heart, my arms.” “Good. Okay, let’s enhance that.” I sense that my psychiatrist would prefer to stop here. Next. Morning. I’m still in my ducks-and-lambs pjs. A simulated park covers the walls of my childhood bedroom: benches, a girl swinging, a small pond with a pleasing frog on a lily pad. Sweet robin song.
I nod. Continue. My father stands in the doorway, but it’s not him. Something explodes. Me? I can’t tell inside from outside. “Run, Zoe!” I have no feet. The man who is not my father tries to tear something off him. The scream is my mother and she crumples like a red, red Kleenex. “Zoe? Zoe?” Dr. Sheila’s eyes flicker and her shoulders rise up to defend her ears. And then time loses its borders. I am watching from the ceiling in the corner. “Zoe?”
My father is yelling. A door slams and screams roll up the hallway. Loud, soft, loud, soft, like someone playing with the volume. “Please!” says my mother. She is polite. “Please, Brian!”
I watch the beings below me with great affection. Silly things, when will they learn?
“Pause there, Zoe. That’s right. What do you notice now?”
There is no body here, no words. All that exists is love, a love so vast it crosses the event horizon. I don’t want to leave this place. I belong here.
Quivering in my chest. My thumb finds my mouth. “The key is to notice your body sensations and thoughts as memory. It’s old stuff. I’ve added extra input to your cortex to help you with that.” My psychiatrist looks at me. “You okay?”
“What’s there, Zoe?”
Sheila presses pause on the A^Bit and reaches for a tissue. Tears begin their slow journey down her cheeks. She is so close I could reach down and touch her.
I COULDN’T LOVE THE THUNDERBIRD INSTEAD Emily Reekie A prose poem in response to Sylvia Plath’s “Mad Girl’s Love Song”
I couldn’t love the Thunderbird instead. Though it’s tender and treats me well. I want to love it; I deserve the gentleness, and each spring I open the window and it roars in, circles the room, and lands on my shoulder. It asks me what I’m doing, hopes it isn’t interrupting. I nuzzle it and say no, no, nothing at all, and kiss its beak my sweetest kiss. But these are lies. I’m always doing something and it always interrupts. What I’m doing is thinking of you. Shutting my eyes and lifting my lids, hoping you’ll appear or I will die. I do this in the kitchen, in cold bare feet. I do it at my desk, in the garden, and in bed long past when I am tired and my eyes want to close for sleep. But I close them only for you. And so when the Thunderbird comes, I’m grateful, for taking you away awhile, for coming so faithfully each spring. I’m sweet to it, almost think I love it. For a day. A week. My Thunderbird and I, petting each other’s lashes, and whispering arbitrary confirmations. But soon the dream returns. You’re singing at the window, and I wake moonstruck and go to look (though I know you aren’t there). The Thunderbird sleeps, head under a wing, and I glare as I go back to bed. With the dream comes my slow, slow, blinking...waiting for you to return, for us all to die. The Thunderbird flies into a room, sees me lifting and lowering my lids, asks me what I’m doing. And though it is kind and fretful, I scream, get out, get out, it isn’t for you. We go on this way, it with such patience and I with rage, until it flies around the room and I throw dishes and curses, because its love is wrong. I shriek until my arm tires, or my voice, or I run out of plates, and then I lie on the carpet and let the Thunderbird pull the tangles from my hair, its beak so gentle and precise. Sour tears run down my temples, and some of the Thunderbird’s feathers are missing, but it doesn’t leave, and I don’t apologize. Will you ever return the way you said? Some years I wonder if it would—could—change. If one spring the Thunderbird will not come. But I think, like me, it is bound, and couldn’t stay away any more than I could forget your name. When it leaves, I’m relieved, though still I weep. Because it’s sweet and good, though smaller and quieter each year, while I’m stronger and more furious. Because when it’s gone, I’m alone with the absence of you. Because I am mad and it loves me anyway.
TASSEOGRAPHY Keana Zimmerman
irdie is careful, her hands soft and loose around the cup, like balancing a yolk in a broken eggshell. She tips the cup, points to a clump of leaves near the handle, and narrows her eyes. One by one, she whispers the secrets of the tea until she reaches the bottom. She looks over her horn-rimmed glasses with wide eyes at the couple across from her. The future. This is what most want to see. Violet turns with a roll of her eyes. She scoops the lavender tea, wrinkles her nose in disgust, and puts the kettle on. Eighteen years of business and the future reading has always been given the most weight. Violet liked to pay careful attention to the rim, stress its importance, but Birdie would often skip it altogether; the present was never given its due. The young ones, fussing over trivialities, were easy reads. “I see your future,” Birdie would murmur, “This anxiety will pass”— and of course it would!—with a little valerian. A pregnant woman fretting over her nausea was also an easy answer: “I see your future, and this sickness will pass”—and it did!—with a slip of red raspberry leaf. Birdie’s “true fortunes” were proven true time and time again. Violet glances from behind the counter to the reading table where Birdie sits with a handsome young couple. She’s nodding over a Lady Margaret teacup, leaning in close to the couple as if to tell them a secret that mustn’t be revealed to the empty tea shop. She’s hunched over, wrapped in a grey shawl. Birdie always says that she looks older when she hunches. And she says the old ones merit their trust. Her face tells her age, Violet thinks; she doesn’t need the shawl. The smell of lavender, impossible to get out, clings to everything in the shop. It hangs in the heavy curtains, curls out of hot tea cups, and tangles in Violet’s frizzy grey hair.
You’d think the smell of lavender would be a job benefit, a soothing reducer of stress and anxiety, but for Violet it meant migraines and hives crawling up her hands. The clashing of two opposing florals, she thinks. Many times she had suggested Birdie pull it from the collection, not even sell it, but it was Birdie’s favourite, so that was out of the question. On the infrequent days when Birdie falls ill and sequesters herself in her apartment, Violet throws open the windows and lets the fresh air and street noise rush in. Neither wanted to claim ownership of the idea that led them here, although neither had made a move to dissolve the partnership either. Enzela’s Tea Room was the name they’d settled on, a name that belonged to neither of them, although Birdie was often overheard telling patrons it was a tribute to the old woman who died in the flat upstairs and whose energy fuelled the psychic connections swirling about the shop. It was simple at first. They planned to give the customers what they wanted. And Birdie had a shrewd eye for it. But it was different now. Birdie was different, she was bored with the humdrum of shop life, and bitter for the life she could have led. A bitterness that grew into a sickness. Her increased loathing of the shop was impossible to ignore. Birdie had come up with a plan. “I see your future,” Birdie whispered to the woman who had an uneasy feeling in the pit of her stomach. The woman fell ill with a stomach flu soon after visiting the shop. “I see your future,” Birdie whispered to the fretting hypochondriac, and his obituary appeared in the paper soon after his visit to the shop. Violet picks at some peeling paint on the counter. Birdie had talked her into going along with the plan, citing the brevity of life and their long-dead families. There is a small glass jar on a shelf beneath the counter. It’s wrapped in brown paper and string. Violet carefully cuts the string and rolls the jar into her palm. Bits of dirt flake
onto her hands as she twists the lid off, and a harsh chemical smell rises from the leaves to bite at her nose. Belladonna.
sides as she’s done dozens of times, then adds an extra pinch of lavender to mask the smell.
The smell of money, she thinks. It was an expensive custom order, even from the druggist on Dock Street. She had carried it like she would a baby, cradled in her coat.
She sees the future.
“Be safe,” he had warned as he wrapped it. “Use small doses.” Violet had nodded at these warnings but had since ripped the dosage label off the jar. She has the power to pull life from bone and muscle, to see her future, and the future of the shop. She knows it can be better than it has been. She can make it better. They have money, this couple, and they are taking up time. Time costs money and Birdie knows this. She’s angling for a tip by putting on the full show for them, bowing her head to her ring-cluttered hands. Worried questions are asked, and then soothing answers are crooned back.
It’s an ugly shop if you look close. The tiny windows and dark corners are hidden by bright drapery, and the musty smell is masked by persimmon and rosehip. Of course, nothing competes against the lavender. The voices are louder now, across the shop, as Birdie ushers the couple out the door and tucks the money into her belt purse. There was a time when she’d share the take. She gives a toothy smile to the couple and waves from the window. Violet wants with her whole soul to rid the shop of this sickness, this venality. “Is my tea ready?” Birdie asks.
Violet pinches the fragrant flakes from the jar and bruises them between her thumb and forefinger before dropping them into the lavender mix. It’s a ritual. Funny, she thinks, how easy it is.
Violet nods, hands her the cup, and watches as Birdie takes a sip. I can see your future, Violet thinks.
She swirls the grainy black liquid up the sloping B
Two words I couldn’t muster. My greytinged skin, gaunt features, and tired breathing said it for me. My body language was terrifyingly eloquent. Scrunched shoulders, clenched jaw, and a posture that begged, “Please, whatever you do, please, don’t lock eyes with me.” My dad asked me, once more, if I needed help for drug and alcohol addiction. I conceded, but this time it wasn’t going to be one of those 28-day, government-funded, spin-cycle kind of treatment centres. I had tried that, along with numerous week-long detox programs, and swiftly relapsed after each. I was adamant that this time, only a private treatment centre could “cure me.” My friend Luke, whom I drank and used with regularly, was in a private treatment centre called Narconon. I messaged him on Facebook, curious to know what Narconon was like. He responded the next day. “This place is awesome. I feel so much better now. You would like it here.” The prospect of going to yet another treatment centre at only eighteen years old was intimidating. It was comforting to know that if I went to Narconon, at least I’d have Luke, a high school friend who came from a well-off family like mine. I checked out their website and they advertised a 70% success rate. Plus, it wasn’t a 12-step-based program. I didn’t have patience for the “find a belief in God” thing again. I told my parents I wanted to go to Narconon, and they agreed without hesitation. A bed opened up two weeks after my talk with Luke, and I was on my way from Regina
to Trois-Rivières, Quebec. I spent the five-hour flight dreaming about what life could be like sober. Will I have my own family one day? Will my parents ever say “I’m proud of you” again? Am I the monster I make myself out to be? Sobriety, I hoped, had reassuring answers to my questions. I landed in Montreal at dusk. A Narconon driver holding a sign with my name on it waited for me near the luggage carousel. He was a portly man, wearing a flat cap and a grin. His name was Pierre. It took an hour and a half to get to Trois-Rivières in the company Grand Caravan. During the drive, I dozed off intermittently, looking up from time to time at the picturesque, mountainous landscape. Periodically, Pierre would assure me that help was on its way. On my first day, while sitting in the dusty kitchen of the detox building, my twenty-something counsellor, Matthew, presented me with breakfast: a large jug of yellow, sour-looking liquid. “You’ll need to drink one of these two times a day,” he said. I told him the drink smelled like vinegar. He said it was vinegar. Well, a solution of vinegar, calcium gluconate, and magnesium carbonate, to be exact. I drank it. It sat in my stomach the way I imagine drinking lake water heavy with algae would. I was exhausted, light-headed, and hungry, but overall, detox wasn’t that bad. Coming off stimulants was a lot easier than coming off opiates. I liked Matthew too; he was young, smiley, and talkative. One thing I didn’t understand was why the topic of drugs, or more specifically, the topic of not using drugs, was never mentioned. On my second day, I completed my first exercise. Matthew
would repeatedly ask me, “What in this room is real?” He asked me the same question for over two hours, and each time I would respond with something different. “That blue pencil on your desk.” “The clock above the kitchen table.” “The magnet on the fridge.” On the third day, I asked him, “How come we haven’t really talked about sobriety or recovery since I’ve been here?” “We’re going to start a new exercise,” was his answer. “Get Frankie from his room.” Frankie was the only other patient in detox. Once he arrived, Matthew instructed us to grab two chairs from the kitchen table and face them together about a foot apart. We were to sit and stare into each other’s eyes without moving until the timer went off. Matthew set a five-minute timer on the microwave. We both sat down and locked eyes. Frankie, a well-built carpenter who spoke broken English, sat still and stoically. I was much more nervous. The awkwardness and anxiety made my body squirm. My shoulders flinched. My fingers were jittery. I was hyperaware of the frequency of my blinking eyelids. As I looked into Frankie’s misty grey eyes, I thought about how much I wanted sobriety, how much I’d put my family through. If all I have to do is look somebody in the eyes to stay sober, I’ll do it. After a week of looking into Frankie’s his eyes, I was integrated with the rest of the patients and finally connected with Luke. He let me in on the real reason for his rave reviews of Narconon: he had a couple of friends who would sneak into town and buy liquor. He said that he drank every night and Paintscrape - Yellow Head Paul White
that the Narconon security guards drank with him. I was shocked; I had bet my life on Luke’s recommendation. Once I started the “sauna portion” of the program, I knew I wasn’t going to get any real help. Before starting my daily five-hour session in a 150-degree sauna, I had to swallow a high dose of niacin, a small cup full of vitamins, and a small cup of vegetable oil sprinkled with bird seeds. Each day or two, the niacin dose increased, depending on how much it made my skin turn red (the redder it turned, the slower the dose increased). Laura, the sauna director, said the redness was due to the niacin bringing our bodies’ residual drug particles to the top of our skin. It sounded like a crock of pseudoscientific bullshit to me. I knew my skin was reacting the way it was because of the obscene niacin dose I had just received.
I felt sick, not only because of the fifty days of extreme heat exhaustion, but because I knew my parents wasted $25,000 in an attempt to save my life. My depression, which had fallen to an all-time low before treatment, was getting worse, and I couldn’t make myself wake up in time for breakfast. Each day before my sauna session, I would quickly down a can of Coca-Cola and eat a Coffee Crisp so that I didn’t have to endure the torturous heat with a completely empty stomach. It was just enough calories and sugar to help me survive. The name, L. Ron Hubbard, was printed in bold across all my Narconon textbooks. A few patients had said he was the founder of Scientology but, at the time, that didn’t mean much to me. I assumed, because of its name, that it was some kind of scientific approach to morality, to living life. I decided to Google his name. I Googled Narconon too. I found out, to my horror, that Narconon was a front for
Welcome to Narcanon
Scientology: a dangerous religion based on brainwashing and extortion. The “counsellors” weren’t counsellors at all; they were recently graduated patients paid minimum wage to take me through Scientology courses. Narconon had nothing to do with addiction treatment, and everything to do with leeching off vulnerable families. I called my parents. I emailed them. I pleaded to come home. I sent them URLs to several websites that showed Narconon was a scam. I couldn’t tell if they believed me. Years of stealing and lying tend to ruin trust. This is something that Narconon counts on. Most addicts and alcoholics have lost the trust of their loved ones and are unable to convince their families of the reality of what actually goes on at Narconon. I tried to convince others, including Luke, that Narconon was a scam, that it was dangerous, but no one would listen. For many patients, this was the first time they’d stayed sober for more than a few days, and that was the only evidence they needed that the program worked. Luke, even with his binges, felt as if he was succeeding. My parents finally agreed to send me home once I finished the sauna portion of the program. I ended up completing fifty gruelling days. When they picked me up at the Regina airport, both my mom and dad wore weary smiles. They were genuinely happy to see me after two months and genuinely disappointed that I didn’t follow through with the entire program. I felt sick, not only because of the fifty days of extreme heat exhaustion, but because I knew my parents wasted $25,000 in an attempt to save my life, and it was my fault for wanting to go to Narconon in the first place. The shame I felt was tremendous. Why couldn’t I have just researched this place before going? Three months after leaving, I received a letter from Narconon in the mail saying something to the effect of: We regret that you weren’t able to stay and complete the Narconon program. We know that change is scary and that you probably left out of fear. We understand. If you ever feel like asking for help again, know that Narconon is always here. I sparked my lighter and put it under a piece of crusty tinfoil. *Names have been changed.
A POEM ABOUT RAY Lorin Medley (For Ray Crossley, 1959-2010) (Pardon me, I have—) A poem about Ray would be served in plastic cups to keep you from biting your tongue; it would come with tics and yelps and profanity, cold packs and a cold room. Wear your jacket indoors when reading a poem about Ray—his inner temperature is tropical. Don’t be alarmed if a poem about Ray hits you in the forehead. (Pardon me, I have—) A poem about Ray would be a single father with two boys. It would let them find Nemo after chores; it would holler them upstairs and say give me some sugar, son, Ray’s word for hug. A poem about Ray would hold a pink ribbon instead of a wife. (Pardon me, I have—) —Politics, baby! A poem about Ray would be a year-round council meeting with line breaks and enjambments gathering like prose for the underdog. It would be a force of nature, push back the machine. You’d never get rid of a poem about Ray and it would give him great satisfaction to know that. (Pardon me, I have—) A poem about Ray would have a weakness for bacon-wrapped scallops. Laid end to end it would build a skate park. A poem about Ray would be available in bulk, fill freezers, line cupboards flush to the margin. Excess verbiage could be packed in foil containers and served with more condiments than you could dream of. You would never go hungry reading a poem about Ray. (Pardon me, I have—) A poem about Ray would have wheels: park it anywhere. Lurch to a stop on Beaufort Avenue, roll down the window and say —we’re good, right? No moss would grow between you and a poem about Ray. A poem about Ray would say, Hop in and bless the seatbelts! Baristas would serve hot chocolate when a poem about Ray walked in the door—imagine caffeine busting through the cantos. Pardon me, I have Tourette’s would not be the last word about Ray. Ray would never jerk you around. A poem about Ray would be a real slam and explode like root beer shaken first.
A CIRCULAR MIND — excerpts
Shauna Andrews O sweet spontaneous/ earth how often have/ the/ doting/ fingers of/ prurient philosophers pinched/ and poked/ thee — e. e. cummings, “O sweet spontaneous earth” The Dial Vol. lxviii, No. 5, The Dial Publishing Company, 1920
My fingers flex through fresh dirt that sneaks beneath my fingernails and stains my weathered skin. Culverts and slopes form earthen streets where ladybug citizens shuffle. I sit, I rest, I embrace the gentle face of earth. Damp soil tiptoes into my pants pockets while I manage my Lilliputian kingdom, face to the sun, roots in the terrain. Earth cries, cracks, devours its miserable squatters, then starts over. Too tired of being nice.
My toes press on packed sand, the shore fringed with salt rocks worn in endless whitewash. Shades ripple and spread from the centre, where I leave my depression and I see this imprint domino down through layers of loam, gravel, and clay crust, mantle and core to the heart. Maybe, I do matter. Surrounded by structures of steel and stone, I forget that I rely on this trusty, dusty mineral mass. Here I lie, caressed by continents composing an unsavory compost with my broken body fading into mud and mire back to the base of this raspy-voiced story.
Valley basins, mountain ranges, deserts and dells, forests and fields.
A Piece of Night
Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. . . . If you can’t go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does. —Margaret Atwood, The Penelopiad
but the result is echoes of laughter. My voice pirouettes with the fog before they evaporate together both cardinal and mutable as water can be.
Knopf Canada, 2005.
Caressed, carried, still. A rolling swell lightly lifts my head, bends my back, and falls off at my feet, drifting on indefinitely while delicate oscillations tease my senses. Can you hear that trickle spill that speaks in surging streams? Sounds just like the watery voice, saliva that rushes and slaps the teeth. It’s all the same fluid language. The wooden dock slicks with rain, I stand a sliver from the sea and think—I can do this. Arms try to ebb and flow,
Resist the relentless urge to surrender, push away, paddle out, pop up, this wave overtakes me, upside down and drenched, clutching, this board keeps me afloat counting on this lead to act as a lifeline should. I breech the never-ending whitewash with salty eyes, bloody nose, and an excuse to retire. Don’t drink the water? Why not? I lie here still and formless, sinking sodden and weighted ready to explore the depths of this water body, the bluest secret of this circular mind.
Spenser Smith he Craigslist ad said, “Delivery driver wanted
at China Rose Restaurant, bring resume.” It didn’t say shit about washing dishes. Ling hired me without glancing at my resume. He told me my first shift would start at 4 pm next Friday and mumbled something about sweeping floors and wiping counters between deliveries. When I arrived at the restaurant for my first shift, I walked through a set of swinging doors into the kitchen where Ling’s brother, Yan, introduced himself. When Yan released his fingers from the lock of our handshake, his mouth swelled into a smile, and those same fingers now pointed towards the dishwasher. “When there’s no delivery, you wash dishes,” he told me. He swiped his car keys off the counter and walked out the backdoor into the parking lot. I stood alone in the kitchen, staring at a pile of silver bowls, pans, and utensils—all oozing with red stickiness. Now, two months in, my forearms have become permanently stained with sweet and sour sauce. My sixteen-year-old self used to daydream about getting tattoo work done: wouldn’t my hands look cool with some red roses etched into them? My twenty-four-year-old self thinks: no, they most definitely wouldn’t. Remember, I used to think faux hawks were cool, too.
*** “Young boy, clean sink,” says Meihui, as she swirls her left hand in a tight circle, indicating the motion I should use to scrub, while her right hand continues to stuff dumplings. Meihui, who looks around 70 years old, and no taller than 4’10”, is Ling and Yan’s mother. I grab the steel wire scrubber on the top of the dishwasher and begin to scrub the layer of food sediment off the bottom of the sink. I can sense Meihui watching me from across the kitchen, so I make sure to mimic the motion she showed me. Once I finish the bottom, I move on to the sides. There is a set of bars on top of the sink that keep the dishwashing trays from falling inside. I bend my FICTION
arm under the bar, scrubber in hand, and claw at the sides the best I can, completely ditching Meihui’s technique. “No, no, no. Young boy, young boy,” says Meihui, pushing me aside. I hadn’t heard her approach at all. I want to tell her the only reason I wasn’t using her circular motion was that it was impossible to do so under the bar, but I’m not sure how to communicate it. Meihui’s English is serviceable, but, so far, our communication has mostly been through hand gestures and head nods. To my surprise, she doesn’t lecture me about the correct motion. She simply lifts the metal bars off the sink. Clever Meihui. Ling bursts through the swinging doors, followed by Yan. They are arguing in hurried Mandarin, a rapid-fire spat of what sounds like cryptic remarks. It’s strange—I work with Ling, Yan, and Meihui almost every day—but still can’t understand a single word they say to each other. That doesn’t stop me from psychoanalyzing the shit out of them. This is how I see it: Yan is pissed that Ling gets to run the restaurant and profit a lot more money than he does. Ling is pissed at Yan’s half-assed work ethic, and believes the only reason he gets away with it is that Meihui, who always works hard to defuse their arguments, wants them both to contribute to the family business. Meihui says a few words to Ling with a gentleness that reminds me of my own grandmother trying to mediate fights between my brothers and me. A veteran peacemaker, Meihui’s words effectively soften the kitchen’s familial tension. “Delivery. Need debit machine,” says Ling. He points at a large paper bag, bulging with cardboard boxes filled with food, on the counter. I walk through the swinging doors into the dining area and grab the debit machine off its charger.
“Ling and Yan fighting?” asks Jess, one of the waitresses. She keeps her head down as she speaks. She’s too focused on wiping the same section of counter she wiped ten minutes ago to look up at me (appearing to be busy is an essential skill in a slow restaurant). “I think so. I never know what they are saying, though. It all sounds the same to me.” “That’s kind of racist,” says Jess, her eyes still stuck on the counter. “How is that racist?” “Just because you don’t understand what they’re saying, doesn’t mean they all look the same.” Last week, Jess asked me why I don’t work Wednesdays. I told her it was because my AA home group is on Wednesdays. She responded with, “Oh, that’s where all the vodka has been going.” I informed her I haven’t had a drink in three years. “Step one is admitting you’re an alcoholic,” she said. “I know because my sister is in AA, and she steals, too.” I’m not sure if she purposely mixes up my words to piss me off, but I don’t care either. She’s seventeen, has braces, and uses the word “literally” in place of “figuratively.” It doesn’t bode well for my sanity (or sobriety) to take her rebuttals seriously. I walk back into the kitchen and pick up the paper bag full of food. “Be careful. Soup,” says Ling.
Meihui says a few words to Ling with a gentleness that reminds me of my own grandmother trying to mediate fights between my brothers and me.
phone and type in the address listed on the bill; 1122 Dingle Bingle Hill Road. The street names in this town are strange. It takes three turns at the ignition for the car to start. I bought it for $900 three years ago, and, amazingly, it still runs. Turning onto the highway, I protectively hover my right hand over the food, worrying the gravity of the turn might flip over the bag. It doesn’t. It never does. It’s more of a nervous habit than anything. Even after the turn is finished, my hand still hovers. Periodically, I put my hand on the back of the bag to make sure there is no wetness even though I can see there isn’t. Touch is more tangible than sight, and its conclusions are harder to wiggle from. According to my phone, it’s only five minutes until arrival. “In one kilometer, turn right at East Wellington Road,” says Siri. I am thankful for every day I don’t pick up a drink, and I am just as thankful for Siri’s ability to navigate Nanaimo. It takes the thinking out of delivering and allows me to focus on my continuous bag checks. “Siri” is Norse for “attractive woman who leads you to victory.” Every time I successfully deliver a bag of food without any leakage, I thank my fearless leader. “Turn right at East Wellington Road,” says Siri. My cell phone rings and lights up with Ling’s name. I pick it up from my cup holder and say “Hi” to Ling, just as I begin turning onto East Wellington. “Where are you?” says Ling. I hear the wrinkling of paper and a light splat. I look down, and see the bag on its side, leaking its red, gooey guts. “You there?” says Ling. “I’m here.” “Hurry back to the restaurant after delivery. There are three more waiting for you. Bye.” I twist my steering wheel left, crack a U-turn, and pull into a Husky gas station.
I envy pizza delivery guys. They don’t have to worry about delivering soup or containers of sweet and sour sauce. Three bags have leaked since I’ve started delivering for China Rose, and each time it was wonton soup. Luckily, the leaks have only created wet corners in the paper bags, and I’ve been able to pass the food off to the customers without their noticing. I walk through the back door, into the parking lot, and put the food into the plastic container that lies flat on the floor on the passenger side of my ’93 Dodge Shadow. I open Maps on my
I touch the bag, and it leaves a red mark on my finger. Reality is sticky. Should I try to pass this bag off at Dingle Bingle? I grab the bag at its sides and prop it back up to its original position. The bag slumps, a box falls out, and a couple chicken balls roll into the layer of sauce at the bottom of the plastic container. I pull out of the Husky and begin the trek back to the restaurant. Ling probably won’t kill me—I am his only delivery driver.
On Wednesday, my day off, he begrudgingly delivers the food himself. He needs me. My guess is that he’ll probably cut off my balls, deep fry them in batter, mix them into the buffet chicken balls, and send me off to finish the rest of the deliveries. Ball for ball, I can imagine Meihui saying. My phone rings again. Ling’s name lights up the screen. I don’t answer it. There are three deliveries waiting for me, plus the one Ling will have to remake now. I need to get back to the restaurant as fast as I can. I’ll beg for forgiveness and tell Ling I’ll pay for the destroyed order. I start down Bowen Road, going seventy-five in a fifty zone. “Carry The Zero” by Built to Spill buzzes through my speakers. What if Ling hadn’t called me right when I was turning? I would have caught the bag from falling. I would have just finished the delivery at Dingle Bingle and would be driving back to the restaurant with a debit receipt instead of a soaked bag. I look down at the two chicken balls, soaked in red liquid. Hopefully mine avoid a similar fate. I pull up into the rear parking lot of China Rose. I decide not to bring the mangled bag in with me. I open the back door and walk into the kitchen. “Why didn’t you answer Ling’s phone call?” says Jess. She’s slicing up Nanaimo bars and placing them on a silver dessert tray. “My phone must have been on silent.” “You were at the liquor store, weren’t you?” “No, I was doing the delivery to Dingle Bingle.” My neck and face flush. I look at the counter where the three bags of food should be waiting. There’s nothing but carrot peelings. “Last guy call back and cancel delivery. Bastard,” says Meihui as she dips a basket of prawns into the deep fryer. “You keep food. Ling out doing other delivery.” “How did you deliver the food if the order was cancelled? That’s literally impossible,” says Jess, gawking at me. “Young girl. Shut up,” says Meihui. I searched the meaning of Meihui’s name when I got off work. It means “beautiful wisdom.”
Sea Lions, Powell River Amanda Stephens
CHOOEY Victor Buchanan The presh presh pressure a sturdy assurance of matter in tatters teeth metching intently beat puttery meter light chicker-tack taps through the food bolus swallow gong
SWEET FAT Clarice Lundeen
ichard didn’t cry out as he fell—the only sounds were the clicking of pebbles bouncing off the rocky cliff and the dull thud of his hefty body slamming into the forest floor below.
“Rich?” Nicole’s voice was swallowed by the colossal mosscovered trees that stood watch around her. She rushed to the edge of the cliff and peered down. Her husband was lying face-up with arms spread-eagle, eyes closed, and mouth agape. “Rich?” She clambered down, using tree roots exposed between the boulders to aid her descent. Every few feet, she’d look down at the prone figure on the ground. She planted her feet in the patch of dense moss that extended beneath Rich. Nicole stepped over his backpack and approached her obese husband. Nicole took a deep breath through her nose and exhaled through her mouth. She was an expert deep breather— the only enjoyable practice of her four-times-a-week yoga class. She loved the control she had over her heart rate and how she could halt impending waves of anxiety. It also helped her keep the other feelings at bay: those uncomfortable thoughts, the distressing images, and the perverse emotions that crept in. She leaned over the silent body. “Rich?” Rich coughed, soft and pitiful, into the eerie quiet. He coughed again—more forceful, more alive. His eyes flickered open and focused on Nicole’s face. “Nicole. Nicole, I have a radiophone in my pack.” His voice rasped in pain. “Are you hurt?”
“Oh, fuck. My back. The radiophone, Nicole. Hurry.” She glanced at the backpack lying a few feet to her left, but she instead took a tentative step toward Rich. His body was bent at such an unnatural angle—the curious twist in his spine hypnotizing. She wanted a closer look. “Nicole, for god’s sake, get the phone.” She paused and moved in the direction of the backpack. Her breathing became uneven and uncontrolled. Her hand probed the contents of the pack. “It’s in the side pocket.” Rich tried to maneuver his broken body to better see Nicole. He shuffled his bulk with little success. When she located the radiophone and flipped it on, nothing happened. No crackle of life came from the speaker. She turned it over and took off the battery cover. She turned to Rich. “There’s no batteries.” “I packed them with the phone. I know I did.” Nicole shook her head. “I did, Nicole. You’re lying to me. They’re in that bag.” His voice became shrill with desperation. When he looked into her eyes, he quieted. “I swear I packed them.” The whites of his eyes shone in the fading light. The air chilled as the sun descended—what little warmth that had penetrated the thick, evergreen canopy dissipated. Nicole dug through Rich’s pack in search of an extra layer. Rich had taken a sudden interest in the great outdoors when he found out the nineteen-year-old he’d been lusting over “just looooved” rugged, survivalist-type men. Her name was Kelsey, and Nicole had hired her to watch the three kids. Nicole knew Kelsey’s ulterior motive was to convince
Rich that he could “totally” go backpacking, and that he should “totally” come with her sometime. He had become enamored with the idea of tromping through the trees with poor, dumb Kelsey, and her millennial friends, at his side. “I can do it! I was a top Cub Scout.” Rich’s voice had wobbled as he sucked in his gut to maneuver into his seat at the dining table. “That was thirty years ago.” “Goddamn it, Nicole, why can’t you just be supportive?” He had smacked his palm against the tempered glass tabletop— the pool of gravy around his mashed potatoes had quivered. Nicole looked into her bowl of steamed vegetables—Rich thought she had “gained a few”— and sighed. “I just think you should practice a little beforehand so you can keep up with Kelsey and her friends. They’re incredibly fit and experienced.” Rich had eyed her as he took a bite of steak. “Practice?” “You don’t want to slow them down, or they’ll never ask you to join them again.” “All right. I’ll practice.” Nicole pulled Rich’s thermal microfibre shirt from the pack and pulled it over her head. The material felt luxurious on her skin. Rich only bought the best for himself. She walked back toward her husband and stared down at his trembling body. “Nicole, please help me.” His eyes were wet. “Are you crying?” Her voice was soft. She didn’t wait for an answer before she lifted her right foot and placed it on his throat—gently, at first, then leaned her full weight onto her husband’s neck. Because she was fine-boned and slight, she had to employ her thigh and calf muscles to maintain a relentless pressure. All that damn yoga finally comes in handy. Rich sputtered in protest. He flailed his left arm in an attempt to push her leg away. But he was too weak from the fall. He pushed and swiped at her like a feeble child might refuse its bottle. She hoped he could still feel every ounce of the pain she inflicted. His eyes bugged out of his purpling face. He made one last kitten-like swat with his fist. His body jerked in a series of spasms. Then nothing.
pack, under the hatchet. The cover had a picture of two men with stiff, unnatural smiles wearing stereotypical red - and black flannel. She flipped through the pages and stopped at a diagram of a campfire and instructions on “How to Build a Fire.” It had several methods for all kinds of weather. She read the tips for getting a fire going in a wet environment. She grabbed the hatchet and whacked at a fallen cedar with force. She hit it again at an opposite angle, and again until she could pry out a six-inch square plug of wood. She balanced it on her palm, admiring the orange colour and tangy burst of West Coast musk. The book said to shave off peelings of wood and splinter the rest—this would make ideal fire starter. When she finished, Nicole rubbed the peelings and frowned. They were damp. “Shit.” She consulted the book again. It recommended drying pieces of wood by the fire. “That’s real helpful.” As she flipped forward a few pages, she came across a diagram of a man slaughtering a wild pig. A sentence jumped out. Animal fat is an excellent source of fire starter in difficult environments. Nicole shifted her gaze to her expired husband—his corpse laden with fat. “Hear that, Rich? You’re an excellent source of fire starter.” She sat, conflicted, on the cedar log and tapped her fingers against the rough bark. She got up and unzipped Rich’s jacket and yanked his shirts up to expose his belly. Nicole walked back and pulled the hatchet from the log. The weight of it felt soothing in her palm; it felt useful. “Did you see Annette?” Rich had said. “Goddamn, she looked good tonight.” “She’s twenty years old, Rich. She’s supposed to look good.” Nicole had slipped off her heels and pulled her arms into her party dress and twisted it around so the clasp and zipper were at the front. “Besides, how else would she convince Glen that marrying her was a good idea—with no pre-nup?” She had unzipped her dress and began to peel it off like a tube sock.
“Rich?” Silence. She found a book, The Guide to the Wild-erness, buried in the
“How can you put a price on love?” Rich had smirked, removed his tie, and leaned against their dresser to examine his middle-aged visage in the mirror on their bedroom wall. From the shoulders up, he didn’t show his weight.
“Ha!” he had snorted. “If Annette was offering, I’d give her a go.” Nicole had frozen—the dress pulled down enough to expose the waistband of her industrial-strength Spanx. After each of her three kids, her stomach had lost more firmness, and the effect had only became more pronounced with age. Her mushy abdomen was the only part of her body that she couldn’t control with her strict food and exercise regimen. No amount of yoga or dieting had made a difference. Rich had brushed past her, and removed his shirt, revealing a doughy, hairless torso. He had scratched at a spot beneath his bellybutton and yawned. “God, I’m starving.” Nicole’s brain surged with a savage mania. Her fingers clenched the wooden handle of the hatchet as she marched across the mossy ground. “Time to make yourself useful, little piggy.” His bulk rolled in waves when she jabbed his belly with her toe. She bent over and swung the hatchet unceremoniously, sinking it into the summit of his gut. Rich’s skin sliced open as easily as moist cake. Nicole felt a blanket of relief settle over her. It wasn’t so bad— minimal gore. But then she wrenched the hatchet out with a nasty squelch—blood splattered across the thighs of Nicole’s hiking pants and all over her husband’s carcass. Warm dollops of fat adhered to the cool, steel blade. She formulated excuses in her mind. “It was for survival, your Honour, I had no choice.” Nicole brought the hatchet down again, and again, and again. And once more, until a lump of meat larger than her hand came loose. At home, Nicole, fixated, had watched countless hours of weight-loss surgery shows—a guilty pleasure that was paying off now. She had seen innumerable slabs of human skin and fat cleaved away by surgeons. She held the chunk of flesh up and examined it, weighed it in her hand, slowly squeezed it, and watched as the blood and plasma oozed down her skinny forearm. A tingle of satisfaction crept up her spine. She dug Richard’s lighter out of his pants pocket. It was goldplated with his name engraved down the side. He’d started smoking pot after Kelsey had explained marijuana’s “awesome” health benefits, and he could always be counted on, when the two were alone on the patio, to provide a light for the girl’s joint. Nicole bent over a fledgling fire, coaxing it to life—she plucked off globules of fat and dropped them into the flames where they sizzled and popped. She continued Hang In There Buddy Matthew J Fox
to add sticks of wet cedar. Before long, she had a proper campfire warming her against the damp. She placed the larger pieces of cedar around the flames to dry them out. Nicole leaned against what was left of the fallen log and leafed through The Guide to the Wild-erness, tossing a fresh handful of fat and skin, from the pile she’d made beside her, into the fire. She turned to the page with the pig slaughter “how-to” and paused. Her eyes focused on the close-up illustrations of how to deconstruct a wild pig. Beside it, an image of a pale blue star overlaid with text that announced, “With a few tweaks, these basic butchery techniques will work on just about any kind of game!” Nicole stared at the exclamation point. Is it supposed to be fun? She rubbed her grease-slicked fingers across the words in the star. Nicole chopped through the strands of sinew still connecting the hunk of meat grasped in her hand to her husband. She had gone deeper this time, looked for a more suitable cut, a leaner one, free of the fat she never allowed herself. It was a difficult task given her husband’s sedentary lifestyle and voracious appetite, but she prevailed. Her rationalization of being elbow deep inside a man’s torso subsided, and she stopped the pretense of sanity—she ripped, tore, pulled or broke whenever it was needed. She whittled a three-pronged branch, pierced the piece of meat, and propped it up in the fire—she resisted the urge to turn it too often—a woman on the Food Network said you lost too much of the natural juice when you did that. Rich’s meat didn’t sizzle and crackle with life like his fat did. It hung off the stick and turned an unfulfilling beige. She took it off the fire, cut off a strip, and took a delicate bite. It tasted fine. At least as fine as the steamed vegetables, brown rice, and un-breaded chicken breasts she’d eaten every day for years. “How disappointing, Rich.” A small chunk of fat she’d thrown on the fire gave an oily pop, drawing Nicole’s attention. Sitting on a flat stone at the edge of the flames, the skin crisped and curled around the bubbling lard. Nicole stretched out her hand and plucked the morsel from the fire—her hand, covered in fat, smoked and singed, but she was transfixed on her prize and hardly noticed. She burned her tongue and the roof of her mouth with every bite. Grease filled the spaces between her teeth and ran down her chin.
FLÂNEUR CLUB Amber Morrison
he crowd crushes forward to surround a fistfight in the centre of the room. Expensive suit jackets are thrown aside, ties are loosened, and stiletto heels are kicked off into a pile in the corner. The well groomed yell in a uniform indistinguishable mass language at two opponents: a short, heavy woman and a large, wiry man. The curator, Carmine Klout, is taking cash bets. The room is stark white and, aside from the crowd, is otherwise empty. The walls and floors are covered in plain white canvas applied with as much care as the paper on the tables at an all-you-can-eat wings night. Only the wall by the entrance is exposed; across the wall, a banner with vinyl letters in large type states: Flâneur Club is a performative work with elements of relational aesthetics. Participating artists have been selected based on their performance in the Rivalry in Residency program. Klout, dressed like a dandy, stands apart from the fray in his neon-checkered suit and matching bowtie. He strolls around the perimeter of the scene he has created. His hands are in his pockets to appear nonchalant, but he guards the bets of the wealthy patrons. Klout likes the feel of the crisp edges on the slippery plastic bills. His assistant, Mari, a bored young woman in a blue cocktail dress, hands him a glass of champagne with one hand and
texts with the other. She returns to her post at the front desk without looking up. Klout raises his glass, a signal for the performers to start. The woman shrinks and sticks to the edge of the crowd. The man bounces on his toes and shakes his hands into fists. He lunges forward in two big steps, but he is awkward. He swings and clumsily connects with the flesh on the woman’s upper arm. She stumbles backward and regains her footing, but he can’t stop his forward motion and falls hard. Klout yells over the fight to announce that a book of his essays on the performance is available at the front desk. Mari holds a thin brochure up for all to see. Klout’s name, the most prominent feature on its cover, is followed by the gallery’s name in notably smaller text below. The Bracket Gallery, a new institution on the Downtown Eastside, is wedged between a coffee shop and a shuttered dispensary in a derelict building. Klout has boasted that the unlikely location has created an opportunity to connect with people outside of the typical Canadian art world. The female combatant lands several kicks to the man’s ribs. She screams with each swing; her voice is barely audible above the crowd’s cheers. The man grabs an ankle and yanks her to the ground, but she is back up
in seconds and retaliates with a blow to his nose. The crowd claps as the woman climbs on top of the man’s chest to pin him down.
his allusions to dance. She pulls back to wind up again—she is Judith slaying Holofernes— but the man wills the energy to tap out.
Klout, near the back of the room, stands apart from the crowd. He smiles and sips his champagne. It’s been a year since his last exhibition, The Roof is on Fire, when he curated the burning down of his own gallery in New York, causing one viewer fatality. He has been inactive since the incident, but the attendance of this event suggests that the public still has an appetite for his brand of curation.
Mari pushes through the crowd to assist the performer. She holds his broken face with the sorrow of Michelangelo’s Pieta and checks his pupils with a small flashlight. Two bystanders assist her in removing the man from the room by placing his arms over their shoulders. They step carefully to avoid spoiling the newly created work. The other spectators congratulate the female performer with genteel nods and small cash tips.
The sweat and blood of the performers now patterns the canvas below them. The man’s bleeding nose creates unique drip patterns in wide, red-splattered arcs, reminiscent of Abstract Expressionism; of Pollock’s thrown paint and Frankenthaler’s delicate staining techniques. It is a kinetic Modernist painting, a record of action and gesture. The man is stunned as the woman delivers punch after punch. Her fists knock his spit and tears into the blood as it whorls in complicated layers on the floor. This unexpectedly references the work of Jean-Paul Riopelle, who was known for
Relive The Moment Ryan Peppin
Klout clears the crowd and puts on a pair of white gloves. He carefully removes the strip of canvas from the floor where the man had fallen. The burnt sienna blood begins its transition to watercolour hues as it pools and runs down the surface. The woman’s feet smear and complete the composition, creating something entirely raw and new. He presents the work to the room and is met with polite applause. The bidding begins before the blood and tears have dried.
A FAIRY TALE WHIM Diana Pearson
hen we met, he’d told me he
was “going off the grid.” It was a tantalizing fantasy for a millennial, back-to-the-land wannabe. I had desired a future with him through instinct—what I thought was a deep, serendipitous knowing. The embodiment of a fairy tale whim. What I’d first read as confidence soon translated to arrogance. On our first date, I’d stated I would make the first move when I was ready; by the second, he’d said, “You’re lucky I’m patient—most guys would have lost interest by now.” By the third, he had bragged to me about his aversion to condoms; he’d told me that when his previous hook-up had requested they use one, he’d laughed in her face and shown her the door. Although this was only our fourth date, his identification with stud status had long since gotten old.
with fervor. Marked her territory. Chomped bugs in the open air. At least she was content to frolic in her illusion of freedom. “There’s something I have to tell you,” I said. I’d adopted this ominous briefing tactic in my early twenties to preface unsavoury information to loved ones. “Is it that you wanted to invite me inside and make sweet love to me on your couch?” he said, one eyebrow raised above his retro square Ray-bans. So playful. But so icky. “No, actually,” I said. “Well, out with it.” He stared at me. His auburn coif wafted in the wind.
I watched his lips as we made small talk at a quiet picnic table in Mill Creek.
It was arrogant of him to think that I’d invite him in, and unfair of him to set me up to seem like a prude.
He had insisted on picking me up. “No, really, I’d prefer to walk,” I’d said. He’d expressed concern that the April air was too cold. I’d rejected his paternalism, but the rejection was dainty.
“Wait a second,” I said. “Do you seriously think I would have brought you into my house, sat you down on my couch, and had sex with you?”
I thought of the first moment I’d seen him, mid-March, sitting down at table 202 at O’Byrne’s Irish Pub. I had felt the steal of my breath. The gut punch of desire. “I’ve met the man of my dreams,” I had said to my free-spirited coworker while carrying a stack of plates towards the dish pit.
“How do you know?” she’d said to me as she dolloped ketchup into squirt bottles. “I just know,” I’d said back, dreaming. I watched his lips as he made claims of “making it to the top” at his accounting firm, before deciding to leave it all behind to pursue and conquer the great outdoors. I huddled on my side of the picnic bench. His sheepdog, Coupon, ran wild along the walking paths. She played in the stream. Shook out her fur NON-FICTION
“Just climb on top. In the middle of the day. While my roommates—my cousin—is home?” “It’s happened before,” he said, grinning. Maybe with other women, I thought. Not with me. I cringed. “No, I was not going to invite you in. In fact, I don’t give my address to men I barely know.” I exhaled relief. He looked at me, Freud-like. “Where does that skepticism come from?” I wanted to tell him. I wanted to shun him for bragging
about making it to the age of thirty without getting an STD, despite his preference for unprotected sex. Let him know that coming to my bar at 1:00 am and waiting for me to get off was presumptuous—cowardly, even. Inhibitions dissipate after several Black & Tans. I wanted to reprimand him for kissing me— without permission—while he knew I still had a cold sore. He hadn’t listened when I’d said, “I’ll kiss you when I’m ready.” His advance was unexpected, irresponsible, and just plain gross. I wanted to tell him. Instead, I spoke in euphemisms because the cold, hard truth would only provoke him. Because I’ve learned to be agreeable instead of confrontational. Because it’s easier to skirt around someone else’s flaws than it is to force him to look at them. Instead of calling out his behaviour, I took responsibility for his misogyny. Perhaps it was a cop-out. Indeed, my naïve, fairy tale expectations had been too high.
It was arrogant of him to think that I’d invite him in, and unfair of him to set me up to seem like a prude. So I said, “When I lived in Calgary with my sister, she went on a bad date with some guy who called himself Mac. Pretty sure that wasn’t his real name, but anyway, after their date he would come by, leave notes in our doorway, and flowers on our porch. And then one day, she got a creepy email from him that confessed all the lies he made up just so that she would sleep with him. And then—” I paused for effect, momentarily engrossed in
Morning Devotion Sarah Packwood
the drama, “one morning after that email, we woke up, and our front door was wide open.” He looked at me, stone-faced. “It was terrifying,” I said. “It sounds like you have trust issues,” he said, “so why would you meet me here in Mill Creek where I could have done whatever I want to you?” He smiled again, amused by the irony of his vulgar humour. Frustrated by his threatening suggestion and dismissal of the reality of women’s vulnerabilities, my body welled with anger. I inhaled, chest expanded, face flushed. But before I formulated my rage into something coherent, he said, “So what was it you wanted to talk to me about?” “Oh,” I said, “Um, I think I only like you as a friend.” He let out a distant, overcompensating laugh. “Great. Works for me.” I nodded and felt a sense of relief. But as he got up to leave, he added one last comment. “You could have just texted me. You didn’t need to make a big production of this.” “I’ve met the man of my dreams,” I had said to my free-spirited co-worker while carrying a stack of plates towards the dish pit. “How do you know?” she’d said to me as she dolloped ketchup into squirt bottles.
A FINE CUT Courtney Poole
illiams’s knives were sharp enough to
shave translucent slices from tomatoes. The effortless glide through flesh and pulp, as though he were cutting gelatine, sent a thrill up his spine. He’d longed for a set of knives like these all his life—a weighty stainless steel that fed straight through the handle, balanced perfectly for his large hands, the bolster polished to a mirror shine, and the blade tall enough so he didn’t rap his knuckles against the cutting board on each downstroke. His new employer, Mr. Norwood, had taken him shopping for this set. He had tried every one in the store, as though they were buying a new suit, until he found the perfect fit. He didn’t dare ask how much they cost. “Big boy knives,” Mr. Norwood had said. Just for him. The ill-fitted knives he’d used all through culinary school would probably rust in the bottom of his kitchen drawer now. These were a perk of the job—though he was certain he’d end up paying for them in the end regardless. For now, it was a joy just to have them and to watch food bisect itself in the blade’s very presence. He cut thin ribbons of tomato and curled them into delicate rosettes. He nestled them on the edge of the plate to his left, between the roasted vegetables, zebra-striped from the grill, and the lake of demi-glace over the thickly sliced roast beef and its crusty crown of Yorkshire. At once, the speed of the kitchen seemed to resume. The clatter of pans and dishes and the sound of knives against wood rose around him. The air was hot, humid, and carried a savoury undercurrent. He wiped an errant smudge of sauce from the edge of the plate with his cloth, slid the finished dish up onto the counter, and rang the bell. Order up. The rest of the tomato fell into slivers with the slightest effort—flicks of his knife, so little resistance in the face of such a sharp blade—and he slid them into a container in his mise-en-place for later. He swept the sweat from his forehead with the back of his sleeve, grateful for the hat that kept his black hair out of his eyes, and reached for the next order. This was his first real night as chef de cuisine. The knowledge was a restless worm
in the pit of his stomach, coiling and twisting in terror at the prospect of messing up, even though the pace of a Tuesday night was subdued compared to Fridays and Saturdays. Tonight they would host the chef’s table for a select group of VIPs, and the burden of a flawless execution rested on Williams’s shoulders. The kitchen staff at The Monarch simply did not make mistakes, and he would not put his position into question. He’d excelled in culinary school and earned his certifications, but that meant squat in a kitchen as prestigious as this; such accreditations were common as scratches on the prep boards. There were at least a half-dozen bodies just as qualified as he was to fill his position, but they languished as rôtisseurs and sauciers in their own corners of the kitchen. The special guests of the evening were a table of four; they ordered the house-made truffle ravioli, the prime rib, the rack of lamb, and the duck confit, with soups and salads and tartare and foie gras to accompany them. It was time to impress. He did a loop of the kitchen, ensuring each station was on track and turning out dishes properly; meats well-cooked and pleasing to the eye, sauces appropriately rich and viscous, vegetables cooked but still crisp. Pausing by the potager’s station, he sampled the soup and checked that the flavour was exact—natural sweetness of caramelized onion, richness of butter and house-made beef stock, slight acidity of white wine, just enough salt—the kind of comfort dish that one would want to drown in. By the time he’d returned to his bench, there were new orders and never enough time; he barked directions across the kitchen as he cleaned his knife then ran it through a tender piece of meat for a steak tartare. The blade slipped through muscle and connective tissue like a ghost. It was half past seven, and the pace was picking up. He wondered, as he curled another tomato rosette and settled it beside a piece of curly endive, what his girlfriend, Dove, would be doing this time of day. Having a good meal, he hoped—so easy to fret about when he wasn’t there to cook for both of them—and he settled a raw quail’s egg yolk in its spotted little half shell between the tartare and the slices of baguette. He wasn’t sure if the red of the tomato clashed with
or complemented the raw pink of the seasoned meat, and he spun it and the endive around. Better. His hands trembled against the plate as he raised it to the counter for pick-up. He had spent the better part of the early afternoon working through larger cuts of meat and sorting bones for the potager from roasts for the rôtisseur from pieces that needed to brine or marinate. His new set included a butcher knife with a weighty blade to force its way between joints and through cartilage. It was hours ago now, but the images still crept to mind as he arranged the oozing prime rib against a heap of garlic mashed potatoes. Here was the final product of all his hard work: medium-rare and tender, lovingly assembled beside a dish of its own juices. Ghoulish as dissevering the beef may have seemed, he thought it was worth it to see the cut so beautifully arranged among gently roasted vegetables and curlicues of pea shoots. The end justified the horrifying means. The plates came together quickly in Williams’s efficient kitchen: the duck confit rested on arugula and tiny roasted potatoes surrounded by an artful swoop of sticky orange sauce; the rack of lamb was orderly, the points of ribs mirrored by the fan of thin spears of vegetables arranged at its base, with house-made mint jelly in its own little dish; the ravioli sat in an herbed cream sauce topped with chipped parmesan and thin wafers of truffle he had grated on himself. With the chef’s table taken care of, Williams could focus on the rest of the dinner service; he could allow himself a breath. But not for long; less than an hour later, Mr. Norwood strolled into the kitchen, holding back the swinging doors for just a moment so he could lead one of the VIPs inside. Norwood was dressed in a fine suit, his silvering hair the only real indication that he was anything other than in his prime. His guest was just as finely dressed. He wore an expensive watch, and his shoes gleamed under the harsh lighting. Norwood led him around the kitchen with a hand at the back of his neck, showing off what his staff were preparing. Williams broke out in a cold sweat at the sight of them. Mr. Norwood and his guest stopped at Williams’s prep table, and introductions were made. Behind them, the other chefs put down their tools and filed quietly out of the kitchen. Not one of them would catch Williams’s eye. They knew what this was. Norwood held Williams’s gaze while explaining to his guest where the chef came from and how he’d scooped himself out of the gutter. Norwood sounded proud as he told the guest that Williams had a nice fiancée, though really he had yet to pop the question, and a mortgage on a little house in one of the nice new neighbourhoods. The
revelation of details didn’t feel as warm to Williams. He placed his chef’s knife on the board and reached for the heavier butcher’s blade. Mr. Norwood gave a slight nod and covered his victim’s mouth with his free hand, leaving Williams with an open line at his throat. It took nothing at all— Williams’s butcher knife, heavy and sharp as his conscience, made short work of the victim’s skin, slid cleanly through the arteries and veins, and bit deep into his trachea. Blood sprayed across his jacket and bench. Norwood angled the victim over the drain in the floor, and let the body drop to the floor. “Good job, kid,” Mr. Norwood said, clapping Williams on the shoulder. “That takes care of some of your debt.” Norwood returned to the dining room. A prep cook returned and dragged the body to the walk-in freezer until it could be dealt with, while a dish washer slipped into the kitchen to mop the floor and scour the drain with bleach. Williams looked down at the bloody knife on his prep board. In his old life, he’d done a lot of nasty things—shakedowns, assaults, blackmail—but this was a first. And as much as he tried to fool himself otherwise, to immerse himself in the mundane, in the fantasy of a normal lover and a normal house in a normal part of town, he knew this was just an extension of his old life. Worse, now he had something to lose. Numbness spread from his chest as he scrubbed the board clean and gently wiped the edge of his blade. Could he say it wasn’t really his act of murder if he wasn’t the one ordering their death? He wasn’t sure morality worked like that, on a series of exceptions and clauses. He thought of Dove and how little she knew. Williams noticed the other chefs had returned in the time he’d spent sterilizing his equipment. Already the kitchen’s pace had resumed. A plate was ready for his attention; a steaming T-bone propped up against savoury roasted new potatoes, sautéed mushrooms, and a fan of grilled vegetables around the edge—long carrots and asparagus and broccolini, tapering to green beans and peppers and thin wedges of beet. A pinch of salt, a wedge of lemon, a sprig of parsley—perfect. He removed a cross-section slice of tomato from the miseen-place and bisected it, curled both halves into rosettes, tucked them between the steak and the mushrooms, then slid the plate onto the counter and rang the bell. Tomato juice dripped down his fingers and pooled on his board.
PARTENZA Isabelle Orr
iane woke up, alone, at precisely 6:50 am to James Blunt’s soothing voice. She fed her cat, whom she had never bothered to name, and who mostly kept to itself.
Diane was thirty-six, with limp brown hair and duncoloured eyes that unfocused quite regularly and gave people the impression that they were talking to a particularly uninterested cow. She had short, sturdy legs and a peculiar mole on her lower back that she thought might be cancerous but never had much inclination to check. As she left her house, her neighbour Mrs. Morrison was dividing her perennials. The clouds were dark and pregnant with rain. Diane was wearing two sweaters and a scarf. She flung one arm behind her in a half-hearted acknowledgement. Last evening, her fiancé of three months had rolled off her. Gary was a manager at the local bank and they had met when Diane had stopped in to discuss her retirement fund. He was three inches shorter than Diane, and though his family had a history of heart failure, he smoked constantly. “I’ve been having second thoughts.” Gary tapped the excess ash onto Diane’s paisley bed sheet. Diane gathered the blanket around her chest. “About what?” Gary closed his eyes, pulling meditatively on his cigarette. “This whole wedding thing, you know? Do you even want to get married?” Diane had spent three thousand dollars on the perfect off-the-shoulder, ivory but not too ivory, knee-length chiffon wedding gown. She realized that she was more in love with the gown than with Gary. “I guess not.” At work, Diane sat in her cubicle with her dusty plastic chrysanthemum in the corner. Her Cheerful Cats calendar was open to April although it was currently the middle of January. She filed other people’s taxes, counting
the minutes until her break. At lunch, she brought her rotisserie chicken to her cubicle to devour it in peace. Driving home, Diane felt a wave of nausea so strong she thought she might vomit on the steering wheel. She carefully guided her car into a nearby parking lot and tried to gather her thoughts. To her right was the grocery store Diane had bought her food from for the last fourteen years. To her left was the library she had taken romance novels out from every Sunday. Further down the road were both the elementary and high school she’d attended. The world began to slant to the left, and Diane realised she wasn’t breathing. She wanted—needed—change. An image filled her head; she was walking on white sands, a flower behind her ear; she heard the soothing sounds of the surf, tasted the tangy air; she was in a bar, surrounded by interesting men. In her dream she threw back her head and laughed deeply, showing straight white teeth. Reinvigorated, she drove home. She had put aside five percent (Gary’s recommendation) of every paycheque toward a honeymoon for the two of them. She had wanted to vacation somewhere warm and tropical—Mexico. She felt the word on her tongue and it was foreign, exotic. She drank a bottle of merlot while playing “Isla Bonita” by Madonna, and lifted her hands over her head while she danced in the living room. In the mirror, her eyes seemed bigger, her pupils dilated. There were splotches of colour on the high points of her cheeks, and her skin was luminous. The cat watched her from the top of the refrigerator. “I’m buying the tickets,” she told the cat. The cat did not respond. She didn’t need a round trip because she was leaving and never coming back. “I’m leaving and never coming back,” she told the cat. The cat licked itself. Diane looked for tickets online departing a month in advance, then two weeks in advance. In the end, she bought a ticket for the next morning. She didn’t want to
be in town any longer than she had to. She didn’t want her rooster-patterned cookware. She didn’t want her Philippa Gregory collection. She didn’t want her Will and Kate wedding plates. She didn’t even want her cat. “I don’t want you,” she told the cat who declined to respond. When Diane awoke the next morning, it was to the peaceful sounds of the Cardigans. The combination of the red wine and her nightly melatonin tablets had caused her to oversleep and miss her flight. Crestfallen, she treated herself to two cheddar bagels smothered in cream cheese as she got ready for work. Still woozy from the night before, she took an ibuprofen and some seltzer water to perk herself up.
light from the window was cool and grey. Outside, a thick blanket of snow coated the neighbourhood. The weatherman on the news was oddly chipper. “Worst storm of the decade! All schools are closed and all flights are cancelled.” Diane stared mournfully at the empty bottle of wine. The cat sneezed, trying to get the snow off its whiskers. “That’s what you get for going out on a day like this,” she told it. At 9:30am, the phone rang. “Hello, Diane? Bit of a no-show at work, eh?” “I’m sorry, Robert, I assumed because of the snow—”
At the last minute, Diane swapped her white button-up for a fuchsia blouse with a deep neckline. “Bella,” she murmured. She had taken Italian in high school instead of Spanish. Mrs. Morrison was tending to her shrubs. “Lovely day, Diane!” There was ice on Diane’s windshield. She waved. At the office, Diane’s boss, Robert, accosted her near her cubicle. “Nice top, eh, Diane?” He leered at her shallow dip of cleavage. He smelled of chives. “What’s the occasion?” “Thank you, Robert.” She fought the urge to cover her chest. “Listen, I was wondering if you could take over some of my overflow. I’ve been a little stressed lately. You know how it is.” Diane forced a smile. By this time tomorrow, she would be sunning herself on the shore with a drink in one hand and a paperback in the other. After work, Diane went to the corner store and bought another bottle of wine—a white this time. She hemmed and hawed over the small sunscreen collection, and decided on the SPF 50.
“Well, you know what they say about assuming, eh? Those reports really need to get done. If that’s a problem—” “Oh no, I—” “Great! You’ll be the only one in the office, so use the buzzer to let the janitor know you want in. Don’t call me. I’m sleeping off a wicked hangover. Dancing with the devil, eh?” The line went dead. Diane stared at the phone in her hands. If her flight was cancelled, there was no point in moping around the house. Before she left, she took three ibuprofen for the headache that was forming. Outside, Mrs. Morrison was frantically trying to insulate her newly planted bare-root trees. “How about this weather, Diane?” At work, Diane raided the lunchroom for snacks. She ate two boxes of stale Triscuits and washed them down with someone’s half empty Five-Alive. On the way home, she picked up two bottles of wine and drank them while the cat watched. “See if you ever see me again after tomorrow,” she slurred.
At home, she rearranged her suitcase, Ricky Martin blaring on the stereo. The cat glared balefully from the top of the recliner. “I won’t miss you,” she told the cat. The cat twitched its tail as if to say it wouldn’t miss her much either. One bottle of wine later, she purchased a ticket for the next morning. Diane placed her bags carefully at the bottom of the stairs and set two alarms, both to Alanis Morissette at top volume.
Blearily, she booked herself another ticket for the next morning. She’d soon be under a palm tree, drinking out of a coconut with a fancy umbrella and a curly straw. She’d wear a two-piece in the day and dance the Merengue at night. A strong man would take her in his arms, and she’d feel real. And even if she didn’t go tomorrow, Diane realized, she could go the day after that. Or even the day after that. She had lots of time, anyway.
When “Ironic” shook the foundations of the house at the crack of dawn, Diane’s eyes shot open. The Morgan
TRYING TO SPEAK OF MY LIFE I TELL THE STORY OF THIS LAND Spencer Sheehan-Kalina
Morning’s epigraph bleeds salmon ribbons onto indigo silver-pocked night while the ocean sleeps, black as cooled char.
It was the crow with a tumor clutching his garbage who flew highest in the murder.
I drank vodka from the bottle, took a drag of my smoke, a fox walked onto my porch and spoke to me.
The sea-wolf petroglyph looked to the ocean, its howl brought me to my knees— astonished.
* Despite winter’s rain, chickadees chirp and peck feed beneath smog-crusted snow.
* Hiking in dense forest, I think the same nothing as the rock, the river, the tree.
When my mother and father couldn’t help, when the doctor and priest couldn’t help, when the shaman couldn’t help, the poet did.
* It’s been so long since I’ve seen you. All I can say is I’m still here, still alive.
I hear a banshee song: an owl cries my name.
* Something’s out there— the footprints so familiar, perhaps an animal, perhaps— my own?
* Standing Empowered Lindsay Myers
BOOK REVIEWS spread beyond her village to attract tourists from other countries. Lib, hired to uncover the truth of this “wonder” during a two-week watch, struggles with the responsibility of caring for a child unlike any other she’s met. Familiar with suffering, having just served in the Crimean War, Lib is an educated and methodical nurse who comes across as simultaneously cold and compassionate. She denounces those around her as backwards in their religion and folklore, while still caring deeply for her young ward.
The Wonder Emma Donoghue Harper Collins, 2016 291 pages ISBN: 978-1-44345-002-7 $32.99 Reviewed by Keana Zimmerman Irish-Canadian author Emma Donoghue, well known for her 2010 international bestseller, Room, gives a stunning and disturbing story of two strangers whose tales are intertwined by unusual, perhaps miraculous, circumstances. The story begins as Elizabeth “Lib” Wright, an English nurse trained under Florence Nightingale, arrives by train to her mysterious job in the heart of 1850s Ireland. There she is introduced to elevenyear-old Anna O’Donnell, a little girl who claims to have survived without food for months. The girl’s story has REVIEWS
The unnerving narrative is inspired by cases around the world of “fasting girls” who claimed to live for months or years without food. The novel, through Lib and Anna’s relationship, presents deeper conflicts between atheism and Catholicism, English and Irish, and right and wrong. Donoghue writes a poignant historical thriller on human extremity that is steeped in wonderings on what we see and what we believe. “Clearly the Irish Midlands were a depression where wet pooled, the little circle in a saucer,” Donoghue writes. The Wonder, shortlisted for the 2016 Scotiabank Giller Prize, paints a vivid portrait of the Irish landscape. Lib is disappointed with her surroundings: by the wet bog where turf cutters stand waist deep in the land, by the humble home of the O’Donnell family, and by the eerie tree whose branches are heavy with rags. She is most disappointed by the people she meets: a curious newspaperman, determined to find the
truth; a passive nun with whom she shares her watch; a priest with total authority; and a doctor, blind with belief. On her watch, in the hours and days that stretch on, she is alone. Donoghue writes with an emotional tension that simmers under the surface, so the story becomes not about the act of fraud or divine intervention but about the consequences of deadly secrets. As Lib notes, “everybody was a repository of secrets.” The long, drawn-out opening of the novel, while gripping, lacks the intensity that readers of Room might expect; however, the reveal that comes is enough to engage the reader to the end. Overall, The Wonder is a memorable story. The devil is in the details in Donoghue’s latest work. The reader suffocates in the small cottage, breathes in the damp air, and methodically notes every small change in Anna—from the width of her belly to the loosening of a tooth. The O’Donnell home is painstakingly raked through in search of hidden food. This attention to detail could stagnate the plot, but, instead, draws the reader in, traps them in the frustrating inactivity, and intensifies the hunt for answers. Every detail has Lib, and the reader, wondering: is this a miracle, or is it murder?
remembering her father’s 1989 death. From there, Marie, now a math professor at Simon Fraser University, navigates her memories, reflecting on her sisterly relationship with an older girl, Aiming, the daughter of her father’s old teacher at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, who fled China following the Tiananmen Square protests.
Do Not Say We Have Nothing Madeleine Thien Knopf Canada, May 31, 2016 480 pages ISBN 978-0-345-81042-7 $35.00 Reviewed by Rachel Jackson “In a single year, my father left us twice. The first time, to end his marriage, and the second, when he took his own life. I was ten years old.” Do Not Say We Have Nothing, winner of the 2016 Scotiabank Giller Prize, is Madeleine Thien’s most recent novel. The story follows two generations from Maoist China to modern-day Vancouver. Thien’s novel is at once musical and cyclical, flowing and calculated, and written in a literary style that befits the genre. The novel begins in the first person with Liling, also referred to as Marie or Girl,
The complex family history is introduced in flashbacks as the reader meets Big Mother Knife; her revolutionary husband, Ba Lute; and Sparrow, Aiming’s father. The list of characters expands to include Big Mother’s sister, Swirl; Wen, the Dreamer; their daughter, Zhuli; and Marie’s father, Jiang Kai. The reader discovers the after effects of revolution through this large cast before coming to understand the complex relationship between Ai-ming’s family and Marie’s father. Thien expertly manoeuvres through her characters’ timelines. Central to this are love, family, music (specifically Glenn Gould’s two recordings of Bach’s Goldberg Variations), and the Book of Records—the mysterious story of Da-Wei and May Fourth, which has no known ending or author, only a family devoted to it in a time when books were considered bourgeois contraband. The Book of Records acts as a catalyst to push the story forward and could be interpreted as an analogy for history.
Revolution, while the chapters in the second part, Part Zero, descend from seven to one, following Marie’s travels to Shanghai in 2016 just as her father did in 1989. The final part of Do Not Say We Have Nothing is a coda. While prior knowledge of Chinese history helps the reader understand the historical context and political landscape of the time, it is not necessary because Thien gives context as the need arises. Thien also includes a fair amount of language that guides the reader through the meanings of Chinese characters with an ease that enhances the experience. Madeleine Thien is one of Canada’s newest literary stars and is deserving of such recognition. She is a former editor of Ricepaper magazine, her work has appeared in many publications in Canada and internationally, and she has written three novels, a short story collection, and a children’s book, all of which focus on Asian and Asian-Canadian culture, experience, and family. Do Not Say We Have Nothing is a beautiful puzzle of a novel that should be on the reading list of anyone looking for a unique read with cultural significance.
Thien has organized the book into three parts. The chapters in Part One are numbered one through eight, building towards the climax of the Cultural
The couple stumbles upon the town of Consilience, a safe haven that promises housing for all and zero unemployment. The cost? Just complete seclusion from the outside world and the surrender of their civilian freedom every other month. If this isn’t strange enough, Stan discovers Charmaine’s love affair with his “alternate”, the man who switches places with him while he is imprisoned. The adultery leads to the discovery of fake identities, conspiracy theories, Elvis robots, and peculiar practices such as “neuropimping”.
The Heart Goes Last (Hardcover) Margaret Atwood Penguin Random House, 2015 320 pages ISBN 9780385540353 $26.95 Reviewed by Vinci Lam “On screen now is Veronica, more luscious than ever. She’s explaining that she’s a Positron experiment gone wrong, doomed to be romantically bonded to a blue teddy bear forever…” Indeed, that was only one of the many absurd spinoffs of Canada’s preeminent literary author, Margaret Atwood, in her novel, The Heart Goes Last. The novel was originally an online miniseries titled Positron. The story begins in a future where the economy has collapsed and our protagonists, Stan and Charmaine, fall from the middle class and end up living in their car amongst poverty and chaos. REVIEWS
Atwood creates a spectacular dystopian universe in which she condenses all of society into a miniature world—the town of Consilience. Within this world, she magnifies social issues through bizarre exaggeration. Not all themes in the book parallel our current society, but the book in its entirety is a mockery of humanity, centred around the lack of corporate social responsibility. Atwood excels in capturing the essence of a totalitarian government, as she did in The Handmaid’s Tale, through convincing propaganda and the credible portrayal of humanity at desperate times. In many ways, the story resonates so well due to its ingenious representation of the worst components of society. To the reader, the tagline “CONSILIENCE = CONS + RESILIENCE. DO TIME NOW, BUY TIME FOR OUR FUTURE!” is false and misleading, yet it is believable to the characters in the story. Atwood successfully puts the reader in the position of complete clarity to the political situation.
Neither Stan nor Charmaine have appealing personalities. Stan, though he is integral to the story, is depressing and doesn’t do much other than follow orders. He barely qualifies as a hero. Charmaine, on the other hand, is initially portrayed as a bubble of positivity, yet her monologue is a constant struggle of internal conflict and a weak justification for her actions. The reader’s disconnect with the characters strengthens the political clarity and creates a sense of understanding. In other words, their personalities are so depressing that they become real and acceptable under the circumstances. Atwood maintains this exceptional portrayal of failed characters all the way to the end, establishing a finale that is so frustrating it is remarkable. The Heart Goes Last is a rollercoaster of a book where each turn of the page makes you throw away a little bit more of your hope in humanity. It was awarded the Kitchie’s Red Tentacle Award for “most progressive, intelligent, and entertaining” novel, and nominated “Best Science Fiction of 2015” in the Goodreads Choice Awards. Last September, MGM TV acquired the rights for a movie adaptation. The Heart Goes Last is a quirky read, and once a reasonable suspension of disbelief is established, Atwood keeps the reader immersed to the last.
dystopian tale offers the reader a story that is compelling and fractured—traits deeply resonant in her characters.
The Mercy Journals Claudia Casper Arsenal Pulp Press, 2016 228 pages ISBN: 978-1-55152-633-1 $17.95 Reviewed by Robert Ferguson Set in a plausible future, The Mercy Journals is the post-apocalyptic diary of Allen Quincy, AKA Mercy, a World War III veteran suffering from PTSD. In uncovering the personal accounts of Quincy, who ventures from the safety of the world he has created for himself, Claudia Casper creates an intimacy with her character rarely felt. Her sparse writing style, limited punctuation, and bleak tone is reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Casper’s combination of war, environmental cataclysm, a one-world government, and economic failure affect the landscape and act as a backdrop for her character-driven narrative. This
The novel is comprised of two journals written in 2047. The first journal takes the reader to Quincy’s run-down bachelor apartment in what was once Seattle. We find Quincy living in the smallest world he can create for himself—a handful of illegal goldfish his only companions. Emotions trigger his trauma, and having left his family behind, he hides in his dispassionate world devoid of personal interaction. Quincy, by all accounts, is only surviving—until Ruby literally walks into his life in red heels. She uncovers in him a yearning for more—no matter the cost. But Ruby, like Quincy, is broken, and cannot accept the ‘responsibility’ of love. Quincy, through his own writing, comes across as self-loathing, self-destructive, and damaged, yet he is intelligent and kind. He often cites Plato’s Phaedrus in describing his experiences. In this way, Casper creates a complex and compelling narrator. Quincy writes in his journal to expel his memory to paper and achieve a state of oblivion. What ultimately drives Quincy is left for interpretation, and, although the events are accurate, it’s clear the narrator is unreliable. The first journal recounts his tenuous relationship with Ruby, his confrontation with the ghosts of his past, and his yearning for the sons he abandoned. Quincy is convinced to open his world and face his fears by venturing to Vancouver Island to find his sons when his brother pushes himself back into Quincy’s life.
There is a tone shift in the second journal; it is shorter, the pace is quicker, and Quincy no longer writes in the past tense. He is no longer a writer “but becomes someone who writes.” Casper’s Canada seems like an isolated haven, a place where Americans seek refuge from the burdens of the fallen United States. But Quincy’s new home begins to crumble when he must face off against his brother in a reflection of the violence of human nature and society. Thankfully, through this darkness, Casper’s younger, less-damaged characters offer the reader some hope for the future. Although Casper’s The Mercy Journals is packaged as a dystopian novel, the focus is uniquely less on the external havoc of the world around her characters but rather on the inner devastation within them. The novel’s complex inhabitants survive as best they can in Casper’s post-apocalyptic world while trying to heal from the wreckages of their pasts. Deeply moving and haunting, The Mercy Journals reminds us the journey to healing is not an easy one.
TYPOGRAPHY AND POETICS: Robert Bringhurst on Listening to the Untamed World
What are the essential
characteristics of the wild?” Robert Bringhurst asked in his 2003 lecture, Wild Language, the first in the Ralph Gustafson Poets Lecture Series. “For one thing, it is coextensive with time: simultaneously ancient and brand new, stable and ever-changing.” Bringhurst, the first Gustafson Chair of Poetry, is a recipient of the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence, and he has twice been nominated for the Governor General’s Award. This past October, he sat down with me following his talk, Designing Meaning: Translating Text to Type, and assured me that poetry, whether designed or not, is still as wild as always. Given that you’re an accomplished poet, with over 20 collections to your name, and that you’re a past Gustafson Chair, do you call upon
your poetic gifts when you’re proposing book and design styles? Well, a very important part of the craft of poetry is learning to read poetry. You have to learn to read your own poetry as well as other people’s poetry. Until you learn to read well and carefully, you’re not likely to write very well. At least, not dependably. Anybody can get lucky, but it must become your life, your work, your profession. In a narrow sense, no, writing poetry has nothing to do with designing books. But what I know about reading is thoroughly enmeshed in what I do as a poet, so, since I have to read a text in order to design its book, there’s some connection. As both an accomplished poet and typographer, how does your view of poetry and design differ from the writers whose work you format? I spend a lot of time reading and talking to anthropologists, so I often look at things with a kind of anthropological tint. Also, I’m an only child, and it’s sometimes said only children are anthropologists by nature. We stand outside of society and look at it as though it were a foreign species. And I’ve spent a lot of my life studying literatures of cultures that do not have writing. So I think of poetry as something that is inherently oral and has only recently in its life become something that people write down.
While I think it is possible to make poetry look nice, to make it easier and richer to read with the typography, I never really think I’m making the ultimate version of it. It’s just one way of doing it, and there are always lots of other ways. Many of the writers that I work with don’t see it that way at all. They have this picture in their minds, and it’s a graphic picture even though they’re not typographists. They may not be able to tell one typeface from another; they may not know anything about the visual design in terms of margins and proportions, and type size or anything like that, but they still have this picture of a text in their mind. As far as they’re concerned, my job is to help them get to that perfect vision which they have seen somehow in their minds but don’t have the tools to execute it. So if I can do that, that’s fine, but that’s not what I think of. Do you find that perspective informs your design layouts at all—that physical representation isn’t the be-all, end-all? To me, many decisions in typography are at the level of publishing and house style: should the long dashes be one en, or one em? Or three-quarters of an em? Should they have a little space on either side? The essence of the poem does not turn on such questions. I know people for whom this is as important as choosing the
right words, so their sense of the poem, even though they’re not typographers, is more typographic than mine. Then, when you’re looking at the details of a text that you’re designing, how does a font, or text break, or colour choice, interpret authorial intent? And how are these concrete elements imbued with meaning? As far as I’m concerned, typography is the interpretation of the text. It’s like the form of a piece of music. There are lots of decisions to make in each of these cases. The composer of the music, or the poet, may have thought that all these decisions were his or hers to make, but in the end they’re not because the composer is not always there when the musicians are rehearsing, and then they make decisions on their own. That’s part of the pleasure of getting involved. Typography is like that. The decisions that one makes are not necessarily as explicable as words. The musician’s decisions, to prolong this note, or emphasize that one, are based on trying to get inside the music, ask what the music’s trying to say. So, by reading a text, I perform typographically as best I can. Again, always with the knowledge that it could be done differently. I don’t expect to find the one and only solution, or the absolute best solution, but a good solution. A really good solution. That’s all you can ask any performer, whether typographic or no. Despite the enduring appetite for hardcovers from traditional publishers, many authors are now choosing to self-publish without the understanding of design that you talk about in your book, The Elements of Typographical Style. How do you feel about this development? And do you think there are opportunities for designers to appeal to these authors to improve the quality of their finished texts? There’s nothing wrong with a musician
performing his own compositions. But then he can only write for whatever he can play, right? If you write a string quartet, you can’t perform it all by yourself. Music as an institution would be much poorer if everything were performed only by the composer. Publishing is like that. There are lots of things that cannot be done very effectively by a single person. If people want to do everything themselves, that’s fine. I have no objection to an author making his own paper, designing his own type, fine. But actually, most people don’t want to do all those things. What they really want to do is write, and they rely on other people to make something of the text. That’s the way the publishing system works in our society. It is the case, now, that more books are self-published per year than are published by all the publishing companies in the world. And a lot of those publishing companies are de facto self-publishing operations, so really the disparity here is even larger than it appears to be when you look at the statistics. There’s nothing wrong with selfpublishing, but it is often resorted to by people who perhaps should never have published in the first place. There’s no reason for their work to be published, except that they desperately want it to be. And again, that’s also fine. But there’s no reason for the rest of us to take any particular interest in these hundreds of thousands of books. I can only read so many books in my life, and I would like to read the best ones that I can get my hands on, and not a random assortment of what’s available, or just the ones published by neighbours, or the ones that come to me for free. The publishing industry does a lot of fine things, but like other industries, it is under commercial pressures—enormous commercial pressures—that skew what it can do. That’s a real problem. I make my way by getting other people, who know what they’re doing, to publish my work, by doing myself the parts that I like doing, and am good at doing, which is writing
and typographic design. I prefer it to be more of a communal effort in that respect.
As far as I’m concerned, typography is the interpretation of the text. It’s like the form of a piece of music. Do you incorporate the enjoyment of the wilderness, the topic of your 2003 lecture Wild Language, into your poetry or design? Yes and no. Many people speak about writing and language as though it were some domain in which they create meaning. As if they really imagine that they start off with a blank sheet of paper and they create something there that didn’t exist before, and they take full credit for what they’ve created. And then they say, “well, it’s either this that I’ve created, or it’s a blank piece of paper which was meaningless and empty and had nothing.” But that doesn’t describe my relationship with the world at all. The world is not a blank piece of paper; it’s a very rich, complicated, sophisticated place—until human beings start simplifying it: cutting down the trees, replacing the forest with asphalt. I’m not interested in language or poetry as a kind of analogue to clear-cutting the forest and building a shopping centre. I’m interested in it as a way of listening to the world. Many of our readers are writers or designers themselves. Is there any advice you would offer them? Listen to the world. By which I do not mean the manmade world, I mean the real world. It was here before we were; it will be here afterward. To view Robert Bringhurst’s bibliography, please visit: <http://www.mediastudies.viu. ca/gustafson/?page_id=54>.
TO THINK WITH YOUR MOUTH: Translating Time and Language with Erín Moure
Courtney Poole book, Kapusta—a poetry-play about a sock monkey, a girl, her mother, cabbages, and an iPhone descending. Portal’s Courtney Poole got the chance to sit down with Moure during her visit to viu to discuss poetry, translation, and the art of language.
ancouver Island University recently welcomed Erín Moure as its Gustafson Distinguished Poet for 2016. Moure has led an illustrious career as a poet and translator of poetry. Her work in both fields has won numerous prizes, including the Governor General’s Award. She has written 19 books of poetry, 15 translations of poetry from Galician, French, and Portuguese, and a variety of essays. “What interests me is art and poetry that perturbs, that elicits a dissensus,” said Moure in her Gustafson Lecture. Moure’s work often strives to disrupt the expectations of the reader and bring forth complex ideas through an intricate interplay of form and language, such as the complex layers of structure and meaning in her 2012 book, Unmemntioable, and her 2015
Your most recent book, New Leaves, is a translation of Rosalía de Castro’s poetry from Galician into English, and it is your second translation of her work. Could you tell us what New Leaves is about? As with any poetry book, it’s reductive to talk about what it’s about. I could talk about what it grapples with. I think that it grapples with the effects of migrancy and economic precarity on people, which is as relevant to our world as it was to the world of Rosalía de Castro in the late 19th century. She was a Galician poet. Galicia, the part of Spain on top of Portugal, was actually a different country before Spain colonized it. It’s a country with a repressed language that has suffered political repressions and the economic effects of poverty. It’s a country full of riches, but they were owned by very few people, so it’s the same situation of a lot of societies today in that there’s the “haves” who are very few, and the “have-nots” who are the 99%, as we say. Rosalía advocates on behalf of the 99%, particularly from a woman’s perspective. Just as
importantly, she advocates for the right of a woman to think and for poetry itself as a valid place to think. In your introduction to New Leaves, you write, “Poetry is the taste of thinking in the mouth.” Could you expand upon that? If we just speak one language, we’re not that conscious of our mouths. However, when you try to speak a foreign language, in order to not speak with an English accent, to speak the way people speak, you have to learn to use your mouth differently. You’re very much conscious of how your muscles are working and in which part of your mouth you’re making the sound. Poetry, as an oral form, draws attention to all those ways the mouth works as well. Poetry has a written substrate, in books, but it has an aspect of orality. For Rosalía, poetry is the way she thinks; it’s like being able to think with your mouth. What have you learned while translating de Castro’s work? I was asked to translate both those books. I wouldn’t have thought on my own to translate somebody from the 19th century. It made me think about reading itself, and I realized a simple thing: that when we read Rosalía de Castro, now, in 2017, we can only read her as a contemporary. I can’t read her like a 19th-century Galician. Even a 21st-century Galician can’t read her like a 19th-century Galician. Once I
absorbed this, I was able to see just how radical her poetry actually was. Is there a particular trait or quality to the poets or works you select to translate? Because I can read in four languages, I can read and enjoy a wide repertoire of poetry across languages, times, and cultures. As a translator, I want to share the pleasure I had in reading those texts with my own community because I see poetry itself as a conversation. We’re all of us, poets and readers, part of that conversation; there’s nobody who’s the “Big Poet” above all the other poets. We’re all contributing; even people just learning to write poetry are also contributing. I want to bring the poetry that affects me into our larger conversation so that other people can enjoy it too. And I would wish that other people will do that for me, for poetry in languages I don’t speak. When translating work from another language, how do you manage things like metre, rhyme, or grammar that is not parallel to that of English? You’ve put your finger on one of the great and interesting things about translation. Even in languages closely related to ours, the word order in sentences is different, the way emphasis is achieved is different, rhetorical effects are different, and that’s just on the level of structure and syntax. On the level of vocabulary and lexicon, words have different registers. One part of the register of a word in English may be fairly equivalent to part of the register of the word in the original language, but you don’t want to lose the full register of the word, its resonance. So you try to figure out how to make the transfer without allowing unwanted elements of meaning of the word in English to enter into the poem and cause distraction. It’s like weaving a cloth and pulling on the threads and attending to the colours. The challenge is different in every book. For example, Rosalía de Castro did write in rhyme. It’s a lot easier to
rhyme in Galician than it is in English, because most adjectives and adverbs end the same way. It seems almost everything rhymes, and because of that, people don’t notice rhyme; rhyme kind of recedes into the background in receiving a text, whereas it seems to stick out for us more in reading English. So rather than alter all the other parts of the soundscape, the music, the repetition of syllables and structures, to force the translation to rhyme, I don’t. Sometimes I’ve been able to create rhymes that work, and so I can occasionally remind the reader that this was rhymed poetry, but mostly I try to re-create the soundscape of the poem. For a contemporary Galician reader, what is it that they receive from this text? I, of course, can’t read like a Galician, but I do try to immerse myself in that culture so I can try to understand that question, and thus be more able to give the English-speaking reader an experience of the text that is at least somewhat similar to the experience of the text for a Galician reader. What do you find rewarding about translation versus your original work, and vice-versa? For me, it’s the same practice. I don’t divide them into two categories. I work as a poet in translation as well; I have to make choices and read very attentively. The difference is that I don’t start with a blank page. Both poetry and translation are very deep and difficult and challenging ways of working with language, of learning what language can do, of listening to where words bring you. A lot of writers, particularly students, have a fear of the blank page. How do you begin, either when engaging with a translation, or in your original work? I think what we call the fear of the blank page is actually a fear of our internal critic. It is a fear of the voice that is ready to tell us that what we put down is not good enough; it’s weak, it’s frail, and it reveals how poor we are in language.
This makes people not want to put something down on the blank page. The writing of poetry starts long before you put something down on the page. It starts with reading and then looking up and engaging with the world, allowing what we’ve read to influence the way we look at the world right now. It involves listening to how other people talk about themselves and about how they manage to live their lives. In learning to be a poet, there are all these aspects to develop that don’t involve the internal critic in the same way but that involve listening, and reading, and attending to those moments before we ever write anything down. It’s important to train yourself to always be curious. The minute you stop being curious about language, you’ll stop writing poetry. You might write other things, and what you’ve learned about writing poetry will be with you all your life as you engage in other ways with language, and that’s great, too. We need curiosity, and to practise being curious, because without curiosity, we don’t get that little spark of fun, and then we go play soccer or watch TV or do something else that gives us that spark. To keep writing poetry, you need to nourish the curiosity that allows you to persevere, and persevere past the internal critic, which is usually a social voice telling you to shut up and go shopping. Be a consumer and not a creator! It’s a voice that is useful at times, but we need another voice, the voice that goes quiet and listens; we need to listen and read and love language, and then we can sit down and start to create. To view Erín Moure’s bibliography, please visit: <http://erinmoure.strikingly.com>.
CONTRIBUTOR BIOS Keana Zimmerman is in her fourth year at VIU and is pursuing a BA with a major in Creative Writing and a minor in English. “Tasseography” is her first published work. Diana Pearson is a BA student in Women’s Studies at VIU. She is a writer, musician, sex-positive feminist, and holistic nutritionist. Diana has published non-fiction in The Hampton Institute, Truth-out, Earth Common Journal, and Compass Rose. She writes a bi-weekly, sex-positive column in The Navigator, and has worked as an editor for The Navigator and Compass Rose. Diana explores existential questions about subjectivities and sexualities in her creative work. Zoe McKenna is a second-year BA student working towards a major in English with a double minor in Creative Writing and History. Her non-fiction work has been published in The Compass Rose 2016 and 2017. Victor Buchanan is a BA student at VIU. His poem “Chooey” is his first published work. Spencer Sheehan-Kalina is a BA student studying Creative Writing at VIU. His most recent work has appeared in Allegro Poetry, G.R.L.S., The Navigator, Haiku Canada and In Our Own Aboriginal Voice. He is currently working with bird, buried press on releasing a debut collection of poetry. Isabelle Orr is in her final year at VIU and is working towards her English and Creative Writing degrees. Her stories, “A Hunger” and “Partenza” are published in this edition of Portal. She was the recipient of the Victoria Foundation Chinese-Canadian Scholarship and the runner-up of the 2015 VIU True Story Slam. Her shoe size is a wide 7.5-8. Carolyn Harstad is a third-year English student with an interest in both fiction and non-fiction writing. She came second place in the VIU True Story Slam in 2016. “And So We Sit” is her first published work. Elaine Lay was born in the Philippines to secondgeneration Chinese immigrants. She moved to Canada in 2006. She speaks Tagalog, English, and the Hokkien dialect from the Fujian Province in China. She has a BA in English and a minor in Classics from Dalhousie University. Her work has been published in Ricepaper magazine and Inklette Magazine. She has received a BC Arts Council scholarship award, Nanaimo Arts Council Arts Achievement award, and a Meadowlarks Award from VIU. She currently works as a research assistant to Dr. Cynthea Masson, author of The Alchemists’ Council.
Aislinn Cottell is a second-year BA/BSC student at VIU, majoring in Creative Writing and Journalism, and minoring in Chemistry. “An Anxiety Solution via the Scientific Method” is her first published poem. Her work has also appeared in newspapers, including the Thetis Island Quarterly. She is the News Editor for The Navigator. Aislinn is particularly interestd in combining her scientific studies with her writing. Kendra Quince has been writing for twenty-five years. She studied English and Creative Writing at the University of Guelph. She has had feature articles published in a number of publications and has been writing as a regular contributor with In Focus Magazine for four years. “Under the Sea and Breathing” is her first published poem. She currently lives in Qualicum Beach where she homeschools her two children. Their most recent adventure was living on their sailboat, Ocean Gypsy. Clarice Lundeen has a BA in Creative Writing from VIU. She was Portal 2016’s Acquisitions Editor and a Non-fiction Editor. Her short story, “Only God Can Judge, But I Can Try,” and a review of Patrick DeWitt’s UnderMajordomo Minor appeared in Portal 2016. She won the Meadowlark Award in 2016. Sheena Robinson is a member of the Heiltsuk First Nation. She acknowledges that she is on Snuneymuxw territory and thanks them for allowing her to live and learn on their traditional land. Sheena is a third-year student at VIU, majoring in First Nations Studies and minoring in Creative Writing. She enjoys writing fiction and found it rewarding to try her hand at non-fiction. “Finding My Voice” and “Witnessing Reconciliation” are her first published works. Heather Froese is a second-year student in Creative Writing and Journalism at VIU. She feels her professors and fellow classmates have given her the best learning experience of her life so far. “The War Room” is her first published work. Délani Valin is the 2016 winner of the Lush Triumphant Literary Award for her poetry. She has previously been published in the anthology Those Who Make Us, as well as in Adbusters, Portal, Soliloquies Anthology, Beautiful Minds Magazine, and The Sacrificial. Shauna Andrews lives in Powell River, BC, and fancies herself the master wood-chopper and fire-builder at her cabin, the artful conquerer of the backwood trails in her area, and semi-skilled keeper of three lunatic dogs. Shauna aspires to one day own an island, or at least a really bright star. She is also a dedicated student working towards a double major in English and Creative Writing.
Spenser Smith is a Regina-born writer, editor, and photographer in his third year of a Creative Writing and Journalism BA at VIU. His work has appeared in (parenthetical), The Quilliad, text, Potluck Mag, and others. He’s the web editor for The Navigator and a contributor to Clip Through. He’s had numerous pieces featured in past issues of Portal, including the cover photo for the 2016 edition. He was the recipient of the 2016 Pat Bevan poetry scholarship. His website is <spensersmith.com>. Emily Reekie is a fourth-year Creative Writing major. She has been published in Portal three times and in York University’s The Flying Walrus. She was the recipient of the 2015 Meadowlark Award for literary achievement and the 2016 Kevin Roberts Award for poetry. She is the marketing manager for the Gustafson Poetry Chapbooks Series. Courtney Poole is a fourth-year Creative Writing student. Her fiction pieces “With His Ship” and “The Apiarist’s Daughter” were published in Portal 2015 and 2016, respectively, and she won the 2016 Pat Bevan scholarship for fiction. She interviewed acclaimed Canadian poet and translator Erín Moure for Portal 2017. She is fluent in French. Alyssa Johnson is a third-year Graphic Design student at VIU. She also has a Visual Arts Diploma. These two programs have given her insight into the differences and similarities between two separate disciplines that are often grouped together under one art umbrella. Her work “Aves” was published in Portal 2014. She has been involved in several gallery shows, including Progressions, ThemAll, and most recently, Orange. Amanda Stephens is a third-year BBA student, majoring in Accounting. She also enjoys photography and videography. Her work has appeared in the View Gallery and she is the current videographer for the VIU UCM YouTube channel on campus. Amber Morrison is an emerging artist and writer. She is attending VIU for her BA in Visual Art, Creative Writing, and Media Studies. She has won awards in Painting (2013), Art History (2014), and Sculpture (2016). Her short story “Bread and Roses” was published in Portal 2016. She is currently assistant curator at the View Gallery and a program coordinator at the Nanaimo Art Gallery. Jake Hardy is in his sixth year at VIU. He graduated in 2016 with his BA in both Digital Media and History. He is enrolled in the BEd post-baccalaureate program and plans to educate students and inspire creative talents. Cinematography and photography are his lifelong passions. Kent MacDonald is a conceptual/fine-art photographer and a third-year Graphic Design student at VIU. Lindsay Myers has been imagining and creating since an early age. She spent three years at Malaspina College dabbling in Art, Biology, and Psychology. Eager for different experiences, Lindsay left for Toronto where she spent a year at Max the Mutt College of Animation, Art & Design. Now back on Vancouver Island, Lindsay is stretching her imagination, feeding her spirit, and using art as a tool to create positive change.
A Piece of Night
Matthew J. Fox is a Visual Arts diploma student at VIU. He has received awards in Drawing, Sculpture, Liberal Studies in 2015, and for Printmaking in 2016. He has also participated in a number of student-curated exhibitions at the View Gallery, including Orange and Voices in 2016, and Post Portrait in 2017. His parents are relatively worried about his life decisions. Michael Robert Caditz is an upper-level Philosophy student at VIU. He’s published essays in several journals, presented at conferences, and is on the Dean’s List for outstanding academic performance. More of his photographic work can be viewed online at <michaelrobertcaditz.photography>. Natasha Baronas has a BA in Sociology from the University of Winnipeg. She is in her second year at VIU in the Love of Learning program and is slowly chipping away at an art degree one course at a time. Her photography has appeared in several Canadian dog and sheep publications. This is the second time her photography has been featured in Portal. Paul White is currently attending VIU and is working towards a Visual Arts degree. Paul’s work has appeared in student shows at VIU, three times in the ArtSplash show in Ucluelet, and at a few local businesses in Tofino and Ucluelet. His early work was primarily graphite portraits of pop culture icons. Since then, Paul has worked across a variety of mediums; his current favourite mediums are spray paint, charcoal, oil paint, screen printing, and ceramics. Rachel Jackson is a fourth-year BA History and Creative Writing student who likes to call herself an artist in her spare time. She is a collector of hobbies and a fan of cats. Her poems “texts I sent my Mum” and “Surveillance” appeared in (parenthetical) and Portal 2016 respectively. This is the first time her art has appeared in print. Ryan Peppin is in his final year of a Digital Media Studies BA, and he is also completing a certificate in Event Management. Ryan has an honours diploma in Graphic Design and New Media Production. He works as a videographer with the VIU Communications Department. Ryan’s photographs have also been featured Portal 2016. Sarah Packwood broke up with Journalism to pursue a Creative Writing major and Visual Arts minor at VIU. Her writing has been featured in The Navigator and her photos published in Portal 2016. Shannon McCartney is a mother, and she is majoring in Geography and minoring in First Nations Studies at VIU. She is working towards her post-baccalaureate degree in Education. She has been captivated by photography since she was fourteen. With her Nikon D40 strapped around her neck and gumboots on, she would spend hours outside taking photos on her family’s acreage.
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Join us for a reflective and intellectually engaging series of faculty presentations followed by discussion and accompanied by refreshments.
The Arts & Humanities Coo$ium Series FREE PUBLIC LECTURES
All presentations 10 am-11:30 am Malaspina Theatre | Building 310 Vancouver Island University | Nanaimo Campus
We’re pleased to announce the following presentations for the 2017-2018 series: September 29, 2017
Gregory Bush, Music Department
A Jazz Birthday Party: 100 Years on Record October 20, 2017
Anna Atkinson, English Department
It’s the End of the World as We Know It: Archetypal Narratives, The Epic of Gilgamesh, and the Fate of Civilization November 24, 2017
Cathryn Spence, History Department
The Rights of the Dead: Women and Wills in Early Modern Scotland
January 26, 2018
Sonnet L’Abbé, Creative Writing and Journalism Department
Writing Sonnet’s Shakespeare: A Poet’s Allegory of Colonization February 16, 2018
Tim Brownlow, English Department
The Importance of Being Seamus March 23, 2018
Nelson Gray, English Department
A Tale of Two Playwrights: Creating across Culture and Gender
For further information contact: Dr. Katharine Rollwagen at firstname.lastname@example.org https://ah.viu.ca/colloquim-series Support for the Colloquium is provided by Ros Davies and by the Dean of Arts and Humanities, Dr. Ross MacKay
Talking Arts, Seeing Ideas. @VIUTalkingArts VIUArtsandHumanities
CONTRIBUTORS Keana Zimmerman Diana Pearson Zoe McKenna Victor Buchanan Isabelle Orr Carolyn Harstad Elaine Lay Aislinn Cottell Kendra Quince Clarice Lundeen Sheena Robinson
Spencer Sheehan-Kalina Heather Froese DĂŠlani Valin Shauna Andrews Spenser Smith Emily Reekie Courtney Poole Alyssa Johnson Amanda Stephens Amber Morrison
Jake Hardy Karlee Takasaki Lindsay Myers Matthew J. Fox Michael Robert Caditz Natasha Baronas Paul White Rachel Jackson Ryan Peppin Sarah Packwood Shannon McCartney
Cover Design by Karlee Takasaki