Archive for August, 2015

bennett

They cannot make sense of it all time and again,
so they create a manual to service their needs.

There is a system of sorts at play here,
that divides the information by group sequentially.

“The damn manual’s a crutch on which we can no longer rely!”
So they fashion radical theories, letting the manual grow stale.

There is a process of sorts in use here,
that groups the divided information periodically.

They cannot lie to others if they will not to themselves,
so they scapegoat the manual, then redact for an eternity.

There is a procedure of sorts at work here,
that informs the groups by division intuitively.

Finally, they cannot keep straight faces when asked to explain,
So they tell it like it is, citing the manual verbatim without knowing.

Jonathan Bennett is a novelist and poet. He is the author of six books, the most recent of which is The Colonial Hotel (ECW Press, 2014). He is a winner of the K.M. Hunter Artists’ Award in Literature. Born in Vancouver, raised in Sydney, Australia, Jonathan lives in the village of Keene, near Peterborough, Ontario.

More at: jonathanbennett.com

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“From above, it was easy to see how the waking world was criss-crossed with delicate bindings that strained to hold it together…”

govier

At first I assume this fell out of an armful of laundry. Is there a laundromat close by? And I’m thinking it was lost on the return trip from the wash, not the outgoing. Fresh.

Either that or the elastic gave out.

But no, it looks intact.

The garment looks very clean. The curb, and the pavement too, look clean, newish, swept. Are we being put on? Is this an art project masquerading as legit Litter? And what about that Ripper-ish shadow leaning over?

I’m becoming suspicious.

It looks a little staged, like a clue. Follow the red panties…

Red underwear is alluring. It spurs the imagination to what lies up that skirt, what lies inside. In old Edo, Japan, the women about town always showed a dash of red beneath their indigo kimono.

Young women wear red panties. I used to, didn’t I? Have a few pair over the years? I remember one. A Valentine purchase. I don’t wear them, anymore. I’m not sure at what age I gave them up. Maybe there was a moment, just as this looks to be a moment, an instant, an impulse, when I thought, the young woman thought, you know what? I’m done with all that.

Katherine Govier’s most recent novel The Ghost Brush is about the daughter of the famous Japanese printmaker, Hokusai, creator of The Great Wave. It has been published in the United States as The Printmaker’s Daughter, and will appear in translation in Spain, Quebec, and Japan.

Katherine’s novel Creation, about John James Audubon in Labrador, was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year in 2003.  She won Canada’s Marian Engel Award for a woman writer (1997) and the Toronto Book Award (1992). She has twice been shortlisted for the Trillium prize.

The author of twelve books, Katherine has been instrumental in establishing two innovative writing programs. In 1989, with teacher Trevor Owen, she helped found Writers in Electronic Residence. Today she is the founder and Director of The Shoe Project working to improve the written and spoken English of immigrant women.

She can be found at www.govier.com

**(‘red knickers’ photo by Allison Howard)

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bennett“They cannot lie to others if they will not to themselves”

pureed frog

Posted: August 24, 2015 in alice zorn
Tags: , , , ,

zorn

It had been over a year—a long year. Karl still missed Charlie. (Charlotte to the rest of the world, Charlie to him.) He’d been smitten the evening she winged a cherry pie at him. No shaving cream stunts for Charlie. Watch out when she got angry. A bona fide bakery pie. Thwack! Squish! Filling plopped onto his shoe, gunking up the laces. And cherry pie filling stained, did she know? Forget the shirt. Forget how much it cost and that was only the second time he’d worn it. When Charlie smacked him with a pie, that was when he knew she was the real thing. He sent her roses, waited a few days, and called her. Insisted she allow him to apologize. Promised he wouldn’t have a pie behind his back. She laughed.

They’d had good years together, him and Charlie. Comfortable, companionable years that made him understand why people got married and stayed married (which he hadn’t understood before). He shaved off his moustache as she requested. She decided on a single name for her dog as he requested. Wyatt never became his best friend, but what did Karl expect? Before he’d come along, no other man had challenged Wyatt’s doggie conviction that he rode shotgun in Charlie’s life. Even once Wyatt grew so old he was deaf to every other sound in the house, he still managed to struggle upright and bark whenever Karl came home. Intruder! Intruder! Intruder! Intruder!

Karl still mourned Charlie’s passing. He mourned remembering her. He mourned his solitude now. It was no joke being the one left behind. He went to bed alone. He woke up alone. Friends invited him over for summer barbecues where widows, who’d also been invited, gazed at him from lawn chairs with their jaws set to look defiant. Or desperate. Neither attracted him.

For a long time Karl kept shaving his upper lip. When he finally decided to let his moustache grow again, he was surprised it was grey. Well, of course, it was grey. Every other hair on his body was grey. Still. A surprise. He’d thought the moustache might resurrect his youth—help him catch a new Charlie.

Charlie had subscribed to a couple’s membership at the local gym and spa. She’d mostly taken advantage of the spa option. He used the weight room and the bikes, though never regularly enough to make a difference to his silhouette. He’d kept up the membership out of nostalgia. That fall he’d started going again because having a place to go gave a semblance of shape to his otherwise formless days. After his workout he often stopped in the juice bar for a cappuccino. He deliberately ignored the new trendy names for coffee—what in heck was a flat white?—and if the day ever came when he had to explain to one of the kids behind the counter what a cappuccino was, that would be reason enough to roll over in the morning, stay in bed forever, call it quits.

A month ago he noticed a woman with a perky haircut, probably his age, in the juice bar drinking a smoothie. The ends of her hair were wet. She winked at him over her straw. He blushed but nodded back. She opened a hand at the empty seat across from her.

Her name was Jeannette. She came to Aquafit classes Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. “Three days a week is fun. Five days would feel like work. I’m retired. These are my golden years, right?” She wore no wedding ring. He told her he was retired too. He didn’t say these were his golden years because he felt Charlie might have taken them with her.

Yet he began to look forward to Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. He imagined that if some essence of Charlie still existed in the universe, she would be pleased to know their life together had converted him to the ideal of coupledom. He would have liked to meet someone. Reclaim the happiness he’d had with her.

Monday, Wednesday, and Friday Karl always had a witty bon mot or a story to tell Jeannette. Her laugh was melodious. He liked to hear it. She was a good times gal. A bit on the hefty side. Not like Charlie. But truth be told, Charlie had been neurotic about her weight.

Jeannette mentioned that she loved to cook. Karl said he hadn’t had a home-cooked meal since who knew when. He stroked his moustache and tried to look hopeful. He said food was one of the great pleasures of life. He said he wished… He let the sentence trail off.

Two days later, on his way into the weight room, he stopped to look through the glass down onto the swimming pool and picked Jeannette’s turquoise bathing cap out of the dozen women bobbing in the water, wheeling their arms. After his workout and shower, he squirted himself with cologne.

“Hiya!” he greeted Jeannette.

She made dimples at him. Seventy-year-old dimples, but dimples nonetheless. Today she was sipping a thick green smoothie that made him think of pureed frog. “This is delish! Get yourself a straw, have a sip.”

He declined the offer of a sip but pulled out a chair. He was thinking of a roast beef and mashed potatoes meal with candles on the table. A good bottle of Merlot. Charlie used to do a sirloin tip to perfection.

“I’m glad I saw you today,” Jeannette said warmly.

This was it. It had to be. She was going to invite him over for a meal.

She dug her arm into the enormous woven bag slung on the back of her chair and pulled out a white 8 ½ x 11 envelope.

He was puzzled but took his cue from her wink. Whatever this was, it was good. Maybe, for her, a first invite to her house was a formal occasion. (He blinked at the sudden memory of candles melted to stubs and a flying cherry pie.) Maybe a woman who carried a purse the size of a briefcase gave out invitations the size of posters. He could feel several pages’ thickness inside the envelope, turned it over and saw how she’d written Dinner Ideas across the front. He still didn’t understand. Dinner, yeah, that was the right track, but what was this?

“These are really simple recipes. Spaghetti sauce, chicken strips, a couple of casseroles. You chop a few things, put them all in one pot, let it cook. Voilà! Once you’ve made them, let me know and I’ll give you some more.”

Was she joking? He peeked into the envelope. Even at that acute angle he could recognize the look of a recipe.

“Thanks,” his mouth said. Grimaced stiffly.

She seemed to think he was smiling because she smiled back. “No problem, my pleasure!”

He nodded, wondering how to cover his retreat, then knew it didn’t matter. He wasn’t going to sit with Jeannette while she drank pureed frog ever again. He stood with the envelope still in hand and stalked out of the juice bar.

At the first row of disposal bins he upended the envelope. Not into the paper bin. Into the unredeemable, unreclaimable, unrecyclable, garbage, crap, toxic substance, waste bin.

He left the building, strode to the parking lot. He wasn’t aware he still clenched the envelope in his fist until he tried to shove his hand in his pocket for his car keys. He mashed the envelope into a tight ball he dropped on the asphalt. Hoped he drove over it as he backed away.

Alice Zorn’s  book of short fiction, Ruins & Relics, was a finalist for the 2009 Quebec Writers’ Federation First Book Prize. She has twice placed first in the Prairie Fire Fiction Contest, as well as won the 2013 Manitoba Magazine Fiction Award. Her first novel, Arrhythmia, was published in 2013. She has a new novel, Five Roses, forthcoming in 2016. Originally from Hamilton, Ontario, she now lives in Montreal

She can be found at www.alicezorn.blogspot.ca
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govier“Are we being put on?”

clare

“She’s all arms and legs, that girl,” was what everybody kept saying to Myra when Teeny turned six and got gangly. Which irritated Teeny, who was not only pedantic but also sensitive to remarks about her appearance, and so she’d glare at whoever was speaking and she’d say, “That’s not even true. I have a body.” Slapping her bum to make the point, storming away, a tornado of limbs. Eventually Myra’s sister felt she had to have a word.

“That girl needs to learn to watch her tone.”

Her tone?”  repeated Myra. But Myra couldn’t do anything about it. She’d forgotten to be preventative. She never took her folic acid, and then at 33 weeks she’d been trapped alone in an elevator for ninety minutes, stuck between floors of the nursing home where she worked. She had to pee in her thermos, and she didn’t like confined spaces at the best of times, so when they got her out, she’d been hysterical, her blood pressure through the roof. Putting the baby in danger, so Teeny was delivered by emergency caesarean soon after. Spending her first five weeks in the NICU and couldn’t breathe on her own, and you could tell her apart from all the other preemies because of the purple birthmark on her cheek.

When Teeny was four months, Myra’s dog’s therapist raised the alarm. It was the last time they ever saw the therapist, as Myra had less time to remember to refill her dog’s prescription for canine Prozac after the baby, and it would not be long before she gave the dog away altogether. But this one last appointment was made ages ago, and if she hadn’t gone, they would have charged her. The dog bounding around the therapist’s office, lunging for chew toys, and the therapist said, “I think we’re seeing real progress here. But what about the baby?”

Myra confused, because other people had only ever admired her baby, her fortitude, the success with which she’d overcome adversity. They made specific remarks about the shape of her ears because they didn’t want to mention the birthmark.

But the therapist did. “A manifestation of trauma.” She showed Myra an article about 9/11 survivors who’d been pregnant and passed PTSD on to their children. “Low levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.” She told Myra, “It can mess with pigmentation. I don’t know. I’m just saying. I’ve seen similar things with guppies.”

When Teeny was five, she had the birthmark removed. She was being teased at school, and it was still really ugly, like a huge seeping wound had sat down on her face. Whenever Myra took her daughter’s photo, she’d tell her, “Turn the other cheek,” but she meant it the wrong way. When she wrote about the surgery on Facebook, her cousin Marsha compared the procedure to genital mutilation, but in the end Myra was happy they’d gone through with it. The scars were barely noticeable.

Kerry Clare is a National Magazine Award-nominated writer and editor of the essay anthology, The M Word: Conversations about Motherhood. She teaches The Art of Blogging at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies, edits the Canadian books website, 49th Shelf, and writes about books and reading at her blog, Pickle Me This. She is currently at work on a novel called Mitzi Bytes.

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zorn“Today she was sipping a thick green smoothie that made him think of pureed frog.”

bruneau1 - Copy

Before the diesel wheeze and asphalt
rumble, before a miasma of butts (battlefield: satellite view),

before a grizzle of frying meat and bagpipes’ blare from some
opened window, before the ash

bruneau2

of car parts meets crusher dust (summer eats winter),
before a gloveless thumb, a rotting orange, a greasy list
(hamburger, carrots), and before a sock requiring
a zillion Tide-washings to resume life
(question, common as Tim’s
cups: why just one?),
before such urban wreckage—

bruneau3 - Copy

(never mind a shady smell, cut grass and gas, small engines grazing Joni-style hissing lawns), on a path walled by rose-hung chain-link, this:

Like a hard candy sucked clear, Stop, it says,
Pick me up and I’ll save you, goes its evening-blue flare (daybreak pink
or sunset glow) best left for a signal-reader who knows
her stuff
—a blazing-trail commuter? a kid with training wheels?—
(red sky at night, yada yada, red sky in the morning) and takes
fair warning: whoa.

bruneau4 - Copy

Carol Bruneau is a novelist, essayist and reviewer who lives in Halifax. Her latest book is These Good Hands, based on the life of French sculptor Camille Claudel. She teaches writing at NSCAD University.

She can be found at www.carolbruneau.com

(photos by Carol Bruneau)
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clare“It was the last time they ever saw the therapist, as Myra had less time to remember to refill her dog’s prescription for canine Prozac after the baby, and it would not be long before she gave the dog away altogether.”

connelly

Nicole!
Cry out her name
from the tops of buildings
mountains
your lungs

Write her that invitation
to the party (though you may regret it)
address it:
Nicole
Nicola
Nick
Niko
Nikky

Also known as Nike. Expensive runners.
Most kids in this neighbourhood
cannot afford to buy them
though they steal, sometimes, Nikes.
Why not?
Sometimes you’d do anything
for a pair of shoes to prove
your right to walk
on this sidewalk
in this city
in this country
on this sweet, bloody earth.

Niki : ancient Greek for victory.
That’s why the shoe merchants
wanted the word, they wanted
to drink the old power, kiss Niki,
goddess of Victory.
A girl she was (not a god)
known for guiding the horses
of conquerors.
In the very beginning, Niki
drove Zeus’s chariot in his early battle
against the Titans. Which he won.

The rest is history.
Athena, goddess of war
and wisdom, loved her.
I can be honest.
I, too, want to return
to these ancient origins.
My own beginning.
Don’t you?

Though you can’t remember
seeing it then,
both you and I—every one of us–
had the small innocent face,
empty eyes, simple smiles.
Oh, return me, Niki, to the early days
without evil, when victory was still in the future,
when none of us knew
what it would cost.

Nicole! Nicola!
The ‘le’ and ‘la’
derives also from Greek
laos for ‘people.’
Victory of the people.
The people’s victory!

Shout it
from the tops of roofless
buildings in countries
with ever-changing names,
whisper it quietly from the middle
of a mattress where your son and your daughter
lie exhausted on either side of you,
their faces taut even in sleep,
even in sleep—how can it be?—
waiting for the mortars.

Victory of the people.
Yes, she was beautiful.
But a liar, too.
More trouble, with her marching and flags,
than she was worth. Travelled a lot.
Still does. Drags her plans across the continents.
Manifestos, speeches, drone-maps, IED’s, rivers
of refugees caught below her on the mountainside
in a wake of burnt-out jeeps and tanks
and walls and human flesh tracked with bullet holes
like worms through wood, an almost-beautiful
decoration of wreckage, broken-off edges,
the blood sinking up, somehow,
through the blankets, into the bed sheets,
so it seems as though the children
lay sleeping in a bed of poppies
 

Karen Connelly is the author of ten books of best-selling nonfiction, fiction, and poetry. She has won the Pat Lowther Award for her poetry, the Governor General’s Award for her non-fiction, and Britain’s Orange Broadband Prize for New Fiction for her first novelThe Lizard Cage. Published in 2005, The Lizard Cage was compared in the New York Times Book Review to the works of Orwell, Solzhenitsyn, and Mandela, and hailed in the Globe and Mail as “one of the best modern Canadian novels.” Her latest book is a memoir in poetry called Come Cold River. Her next book, The Change Room, is a novel about adulterous lesbian sex and heterosexual housecleaning. It will be published next year.

She can be found at www.karenconnelly.ca
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bruneau2“before a grizzle of frying meat and bagpipes’ blare from some
opened window…”

theis

Twelve she is, and headlong into life. Hi, Dad, hi, she says at five on Friday. He says, Shush, he’s kinda had it, he’s been ten hours at the office and you wouldn’t believe the monsters. Falls on his bed with a book so she can’t see his face behind it. At seven-thirty she comes, side-wise, to his door. What? he says. What is it? Can it wait? So she sees there must be something to it, this trick of reading as a way of being somewhere else, not here.

Supper first though: on the kitchen counter she finds the wooden stick from yesterday’s popsicle. She dips it into the big red can of Squirrel peanut butter, and now into the corn syrup, now into her mouth and licks it, yum. Again she slides the stick into the peanut butter, now the sugar bowl, now her mouth. Has there ever been a better way to eat? Over and over, eight courses, each a variation using any or all of margarine, peanut butter, syrup, brown sugar, white. Afterward, she keeps the stick in her mouth for the taste of the wood.

Her own bed’s a top bunk. She can kneel on her mattress and touch the solid ceiling whenever she needs to. Up the two-rung ladder she carries every volume of L.M. Montgomery she can find on her older sister’s shelf. For days and days she chews on the popsicle stick and reads. Leans out and drops each book onto a sliding stack on the dresser as she finishes. Sleeps at night surrounded by the ones she hasn’t got to.

First it’s feisty Anne, going on for volumes. Then tragic Rilla of Ingleside and the beautiful man who will never come home from the Great War. She cries and cries, our ripening girl of twelve, over Rilla’s lost love and over all the shivering sadnesses a twelve-year-old harbours though she doesn’t yet know their names. Then The Story Girl, where the kids eat pickles and milk before bed in hopes the drama of their dreams will spike. Then, from where it’s wedged between the mattress and the wall, The Golden Road. Finally the Emily books, like landing on a pair of pillows. The trick Emily has of righting the world by writing the world. Writing herself out, she calls it, and years later our girl will wonder if that was what Montgomery was doing all along. And she’ll wonder why, when Lucy Maud and Emily slipped that notion to her all those years ago, she didn’t sit down and write her own self out—the joy of a meal on a popsicle stick, the melancholy dad who disappeared for most of 1969 inside a tower of books, the monsters she imagined in the office where he worked—three-eyed, five-limbed, misfit creatures, God bless them all. And even now she does things every day that, were she brave enough, she’d put out there in writing. For instance, yesterday, when that man ….

Leona Theis writes novels, stories, and personal essays. She lives in Saskatoon, where she continues to revise her next two novels and is completing a volume of memoirs. She’s learning how to use a stand-up paddle board, and finds that this is good training for writing: if it’s too easy, you aren’t taking enough chances. Recently she won the Prairie Fire nonfiction prize for her short memoir “Six Ways She Might Have Died before She Reached Nineteen.” In the past, Leona has volunteered with both Frontier College and Read Saskatoon.

You can find her at www.leonatheis.com

 
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 connelly“A girl she was (not a god)
known for guiding the horses
of conquerors.”