Stick is rugged and living rough, shredded bristly
along their full 3 ½” length. Pick is a dental professional
— sharp tail, tension-calibrated jaw intact
though their blue coat is faded.

The two of them, functional days over
dance slow toward each other, in playful placement
on glossy conglomerate. Pick is head
over heels in pinwheel spin, Stick is a little

standoffish

but interested, definitely interested in knowing
this colourful character.

Or maybe Stick is a beggar-maid, shabby but proud,
meeting Pick the swashbuckler, whose charm
is tarnished but cutlass still keen, bow still strung, taut.

But why assume the possibility of romance, posit
a meet-cute? Try not to overthink. No one wants
to be an it but don’t gender them. Imagine
them instead as adversaries — youthful peasant
striding to challenge the bully-blue overseer, or feisty
apprentice strapping on the master’s sharp sword
to fight the shaggy-barked tree beast.

 

 

Frances Boyle is the author of two poetry books, most recently This White Nest (Quattro Books 2019), as well as a novella, Tower (Fish Gotta Swim Editions 2018). Her short story collection Seeking Shade will be published by The Porcupine’s Quill in April 2020. Originally from Regina, Frances has long been happily ensconced in Ottawa, where she helps edit Arc Poetry Magazine and writes reviews for the feminist literary journal Canthius. Visit her website at www.francesboyle.com.

 

♦♦♦

Up Next:

“The concept of one. I’ve never liked to be alone. I’m not a solitary creature.”

 

At Graveyard Number 1, the guide spoke of the water table under New Orleans, the city that floats between Lake Pontchartrain and the Gulf of Mexico. Conventional graves couldn’t be dug, so these were built up, like coffin-sized ovens, and used over and over. Families gave notice that a funeral would be taking place, and the graveyard keepers would precede the cortege, pushing the previous occupant’s meagre, baked remains off the upper shelf down a space at the back of the mini-mausoleum.

People came, he said, to see where Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda freaked out in Easy Rider, or to kiss Marie Laveau the voodoo queen’s grave, but he was proud of his hometown and wanted people on his tour to experience far more than the frisson of ancient folklore. As he said, people came to his city for the party or the jazz or the voodoo history, and while all of it could be found, packaged and price-tagged for the tourists, it didn’t fully represent the city he loved. So he guided these tours in the hopes he could paint a clearer picture of the Big Easy for those who came with eyes to see.

She strolled back to the hotel, down Royal Street, avoiding the drunks on Bourbon Street. She bought a print of an old French Market Coffee sign in one of the galleries, and the owner showed her the courtyard where Steinbeck had been married, and offered to take her photo there. Back on the street, she spotted green Mardi Gras beads in the gutter, bought in some souvenir shop so far from Lent, and she felt so far from home.

 

 

Janice MacDonald is best known for her amateur detective, Randy Craig, who stars in the first mystery series set in Edmonton. She has written non-fiction, children’s fiction, short stories, plays and music. https://janicemacdonald.ca/

 

 

More about Marie Leveau, the voodoo queen

—  & a song in her honour (happy Mardi Gras!)

 

 

♦♦♦

Up Next:

“No one wants to be an it but don’t gender them. Imagine them instead as adversaries—”

 

the future

Posted: February 7, 2020 in ronna bloom
Tags: , , , ,

 

I saw the icons of my generation trashed, pounded, run over.

Sunlight, Madge, we were soaking in it. That box that held our kisses

was flat. Lifestyle came undone so that life was hanging on by the grate

and style underfoot. What happened and is it everywhere?

“The future is in plastics,” said the man in The Graduate and it is.

 

One night in the last century, I dreamt I sat on a high wall an open book

on the ground and the sea rose. Be careful the book! I called.

The water came anyway. What is precious and who cares and how much?

To each her own footwear in the apocalypse. It’s not just the litter it’s the latter.

But some people notice. Someone took these pictures.

 

In Australia, fire eats the houses and the vines in California.

In Venice, someone’s couch was swept into the water, someone’s tombstone.

Tourists looted the Vuitton store and swam away with the goods.

Tom Waits is not dead yet so I ask him what am I seeing?

Misery’s the river of the soul, he says. Everybody row.

 

The young are out mopping because there’s no school

when there’s no school. And the old, well, it doesn’t matter how tired and dazed you are

when you’re up to your knees. All you can do is wait. The tide will turn.

Sunlight. The real thing. Until the next siren. Fire and water and so on.

Sisyphus that old trooper. Sisyphus is us.

 

 

Ronna Bloom is the author of six books of poetry. Her most recent book, The More, was published by Pedlar Press in 2017 and long listed for the City of Toronto Book Award. Her poems have been recorded by the CNIB and translated into Spanish, Bangla, and Chinese. Ronna is Poet in Community to the University of Toronto and Poet in Residence in the Health, Arts and Humanities Programme. She runs workshops and gives talks on poetry, spontaneity, and awareness through writing.

https://ronnabloom.com/

 

♦♦♦

Up Next:

“People came, he said, to see where Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda freaked out in Easy Rider, or to kiss Marie Laveau the voodoo queen’s grave…”

 

 

—lemniscus (n.) a plane curve with a characteristic “figure-eight” shape consisting of two loops that meet at a central point,” 1811, from Late Latin lemniscus “a pendent ribbon”….  (Etymology Online at https://www.etymonline.com/search?q=lemniscate)

—In Christian numerology, the number 888 represents Christ the Redeemer.  In Chinese numerology, 888 has a different meaning, triple fortune, a strengthening of the meaning of the digit 8. (Wikipedia “888” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/888_(number)

~

Three roadside infinities
gawp through the glisten
of their translucent looping noose,
an eternal ribbon of tripled fortune
enduring past vanished burdens
long ago redeemed.
Gutter to ocean, an implacable
embrace awaits.

 

 

Fiona Tinwei Lam’s recent book of poetry, Odes & Laments, contains odes to ordinary objects inspired by Pablo Neruda’s Odes to Common Things, as well as laments about plastic pollution and other human incursions upon the natural world.  She has authored two previous poetry books and a children’s book. She edited The Bright Well: Contemporary Canadian Poems on Facing Cancer and co-edited Love Me True: Writers Reflect on the Ins, Outs, Ups & Downs of Marriage with Jane Silcott. She has won The New Quarterly’s Nick Blatchford Occasional Verse prize and was a finalist for the City of Vancouver Book Award. Her work appears in over thirty anthologies, including The Best of the Best Canadian Poetry in English: The Tenth Anniversary Edition and Forcefield: 77 Women Poets of BC. Her poetry videos, including “Plasticnic”, a tongue in cheek short animated video poem, have screened at festivals locally and internationally. She teaches at Simon Fraser University’s Continuing Studies.  fionalam.net

 

♦♦♦

Up Next:

“The future is in plastics,” said the man in ‘The Graduate’ and it is.

 

discount

Posted: December 27, 2019 in becky blake
Tags: , , , ,

The line of people waiting to pay at the pharmacy is so long we have snaked up the aisle, all the way to the water filtration pitchers and the giant chocolate Santas marked at half off. Far ahead, I can see the pre-cashier area with its more appropriately-sized impulse purchases: Tic Tacs, small bags of chips and magazines. There is so much distance between me and the person currently paying that he seems foreshortened – a tiny man positioned at the vanishing point of this hellish Saturday morning snapshot.

How many people do there need to be before another cashier is called? I wonder this as we inch forward, one angry person-sized click at a time. I am extra grumpy today and try to flip into stasis, a mode where useless time like this can be skipped. In stasis mode, I am not simply somewhere else in my imagination; I am actually nowhere. Sometimes, I wonder if these pauses might eventually serve to extend my life. Will this nowhere-time accumulate and add an extra month or two to my final days? I think about this quite a lot lately.

Finally, I reach the outskirts of the cash register area, then the fringe, then the penultimate position. I am so close. I can almost feel the outside air on my face, followed by the relief of sinking back into my couch with the drugs I need to override my PMS.

When the woman in front of me asks to check her lottery tickets, I lift my chin and look to the ceiling; I am a heron gulping down the wriggling fish of a sob. Soon. Soon. Soon. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. One, two – 

On three, it’s me! I’m here! This is almost over.

I unload my basket onto the counter, then toss a package of M&Ms onto the top of the pile.

“Need bags?” asks the cashier.

“Yes, please.”

“Points card?”

“No.”

“Are you a senior?” she asks, and everything stops. I should never have come out of stasis for this interaction; I should have paid like an automaton.

“Excuse me?”

“It’s senior discount day. Are you a senior?”

I turn with a wide-eyed look to the woman behind me. I need a colleague in my incredulity, a fan of my outrage, but her face is a blank page, rather than a mirror. I turn back to the cashier. “I’m thirty-nine,” I say. “So no. I am not a senior.” Have I ever used this tone of voice before? It is scalding hot, and the cashier feels its heat, pulling back from me a step. She is sixteen maybe. Eighteen maybe.

“I’m sorry,” she says, defensive, “but I have to ask.”

No, you don’t! I want to shout. This is not the LCBO! It is not illegal for people under the age of 65 to buy dish soap and Midol and –

I consider pointing to the box of tampons she’s recently packed in my bag and asking her what she thinks they’re for. Instead, I tap my card to pay and she hands me the bag, cautious like she’s feeding a potentially dangerous animal – one of those biting llamas maybe.

“Thank you,” I say, my words a pointy stick; a stick that’s pointing to her mistake, then pointing again to make sure she sees it.

The automatic doors sigh open and I step out into the world feeling scuffed up like a price sticker on the bottom of someone’s shoe. Any bonus time I had accumulated to extend the end of my life feels like it’s just been spent. I look at my reflection in the window. Forty. Fifty. Sixty. Soon I will be there.

 

A two-time winner of the CBC Literary Prize (for non-fiction in 2017 and short fiction in 2013), Becky Blake’s stories and essays have appeared in publications across Canada. Her first novel, Proof I Was Here, was published by Wolsak & Wynn’s Buckrider Books imprint in May 2019.

Becky teaches creative writing at the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Education, and holds an MFA from the University of Guelph. She is currently working on a second novel and a memoir-in-essays.

She can be found at https://www.beckyblake.ca/

 

 

 

♦♦♦

Up Next:

“Gutter to ocean…”

mela

Posted: December 3, 2019 in maureen hynes
Tags: , , , ,

 

she tells me
get some Mela-
tonin at London
Drugs  16 different
brands & dosages on
the shelves  empty sold-
out spots among them  she
needs Extended Release 10 mg

o god   an epidemic of sleeplessness
in our small neighbourhood  our
neighbours’  brains  & their
underactive pineal glands
blue & green screenlight
tricking their mentality
awake  a lot of SAD-
ness  afflicting us

mela from the Greek for
dark or black    for our daily
calamities  an industry gleans
the chemical bed of crystals over
which flows the inky river of night-
sleep   a machine powders its sand into
10 mg capsules   counts them into gleam-
ing white plastic bottles  &  seals them shut
 

 

Maureen Hynes’s work has twice been included in Best Canadian Poems and longlisted for the CBC Canada Reads poetry award. Her book, Rough Skin (Wolsak and Wynn), won the League of Canadian Poets’ Gerald Lampert Award for best first book of poetry by a Canadian, and her fourth collection, The Poison Colour (Pedlar Press) was a finalist for the Raymond Souster and Pat Lowther Awards. She launched her most recent collection, Sotto Voce from Brick Books, in October 2019.

 

♦♦♦

Up Next:

“I am extra grumpy today and try to flip into stasis, a mode where useless time like this can be skipped.”

 

 

 

 

Nobody knew back then that feeding bread to ducks was bad for them, that so many wholesome weekend tableaus ended with the equivalent of filling a baby bottle with Pepsi as families tossed torn white bread into seemingly happy, floating gullets.

Auntie Jane always brought bread with her when we went to the duck pond, loose in a crumpled A&P plastic bag. She wasn’t really my aunt, but my mother’s friend. That was how they said it, friend, singular, like you only got one. Neither of them ever seemed to need more. Sometimes Jane would bring her boyfriends with her to the Galleries, which was the somewhat aspirational name of the park where the duck pond was. It sat on a sliver of rocky beach, about a fifteen-minute walk from our apartment, with the pond set in from the shore, and in between was a never-open building that that was supposedly some kind of art gallery.

I don’t know how many of the boyfriends I remember, because I’ve forgotten the ones I forgot. But my favourite without a doubt was Rick. He wasn’t handsome in any way a little girl would have cared about, not Disney prince pretty, but he had a way of combing back his hair, comb in one hand, his other hand following, smoothing over the already smoothed shiny blackness, that was somehow endearing. It was like a tic – I don’t think he even noticed himself doing it. It might have seemed like an affectation in another man, but in Rick there was a softness to it, as if he was politely rearranging chairs to make room so everyone could sit, as if he was raking the neighbour’s leaves without being asked.

He’d come to the pond a few times before but the last time he came he and Jane were late, not badly late but long enough that Mom and I had walked around the Galleries twice. It wasn’t a big park and by the time they arrived, Mom had me occupied skipping stones on the water. She had a perfect flick to her wrist when she did it and could bounce a good stone six, seven times. I was up to three, but even then I had to be picky about the stones I chose.

When they found us there, Jane’s face had a hard, faraway look and my mother’s face went soft and close in response without either of them saying anything.

“Sorry we’re late,” said Jane. Her voice was like a good rock, flat and thin. “We brought bread.”

Rick smiled at us. It was a winter sunlight smile, weak and watery, but he seemed to mean it. He rocked back on his heels and said “Skipping rocks eh?” He took out his comb and ran it through his hair and, quick as a snake, Jane snatched it out of his hand and snapped it in half.

“You’re always combing your goddamn hair,” she said. “It’s fine, damn it, it’s perfectly fine.” She threw the pieces into the rocky beach. One landed with its teeth straight up, like a tiny plastic bear trap, while the other just lay amongst the rocks.

Mom said, “You brought bread?” like nothing had happened and the bread hadn’t already been announced.

“You know I get all fidgety now, without my smokes,” said Rick.

“Why don’t you guys go feed the ducks?” said my mother, and she pushed me towards Rick and the bread. Jane was already turning away from him, towards Mom, her face seeming to get smaller somehow, and I knew she was going to cry.

I trotted towards the pond and Rick lopped along behind me, saying, “Wait up, kiddo.”

At the edge, he opened the bag, which was tied in a few knots, and reached in.

“I wonder if this is really good for them,” he said. “It doesn’t really seem natural, I dunno what ducks are supposed to eat, but bread doesn’t seem right somehow.”

“They love it,” I said, boldly snaking my hand into the bag he held and tossing a morsel out. The ducks, already gathered, went to war for it, shaking their feathers and poking their bills at each other in sharp jabbing motions.

“That isn’t enough,” he said, and then, as if correcting himself, “That doesn’t make it right.” Then he patted his pocket unconsciously and stiffened, remembering the comb was gone.

I thought of Rick when I read that you shouldn’t give bread to ducks. I thought about the things I’ve wanted that weren’t good for me, and how often I’d dove for them, swallowed them down. I thought of my mother’s wrist, flicking perfectly, and the good stones skipping and skipping, almost to the horizon.

 

 

Grace O’Connell is the author of Magnified World (Random House Canada 2012), a national bestseller, and Be Ready for the Lightning (Random House Canada 2017), which was named a Top Ten book of 2017 by The Toronto Star. Her fiction and essays have appeared publications including in The Globe and Mail, The Walrus, The Toronto Star, FASHION, Elle Canada, and The Journey Prize Stories. Grace was the recipient of the 2014 Canadian Authors Association Emerging Writer Award and teaches creative writing at the University of Toronto.

She can be found at https://graceoconnell.wordpress.com/

 

 

♦♦♦

Up Next:

“blue & green screenlight 
tricking their mentality
awake  a lot of SAD-
ness  afflicting us”