Posts Tagged ‘frontier college’


Posted: February 9, 2021 in donna besel
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photo credit: eaton hamilton


When I was a student, Manitoba Parks Branch offered me a job in my hometown, West Hawk Lake, beside the Ontario border. Permanent population is around two hundred. In summer, cottage owners, campers, and day visitors flock there by the thousands. And they create tons of garbage.

At first, I was a gate attendant, a job usually performed by women. At the end of June, I asked to transfer to campground janitor. This meant a bump in pay. The head ranger agreed; females could be cleaners. His belief in women’s intrinsic hygiene struck me as ironic.

As kids, my nine siblings and I often worked in our family’s construction business, but we didn’t do much housework. When I was fourteen, our mother died. After that, no one noticed if the toilet was clean or dirty.

A stern campground attendant taught me to mop and scrub. The next two summers were a blur of shit and vomit and drunken nakedness. Every day, I walked kilometres between washrooms and retrieved articles stuffed into flooding toilets — diapers, beer bottles, towels, condoms.

The following summer, I asked to work on the garbage truck. The ranger reluctantly agreed — no woman had ever done it. On my second day, as I was hanging off the back of the truck, the ranger and his assistant drove up behind us. After we reached the beach roadway, three metres above the sand, they stopped tailing us. They had seen me tossing full bins up to my co-worker, a slim city boy, who reached over the railing to catch them.

For the next three summers, I worked with this same guy. We met tons of bears and other wildlife. Children marched behind our truck, entranced by the “garbage girl” novelty. We decorated the hopper with old teddy bears and plastic flowers, and collected beer bottles to finance parties. During trips to the dump, we slept off the consequence.

I even got to fight forest fires, another job no woman had ever done. And I got paid more than all the other female students.

Now I come to the “ICK” memory.

Spread throughout the park, fish cleaning tables had holes in the centre and garbage cans underneath. In busy times, our visits could be three days apart. Fish rot made us retch more than any other garbage. Hot sun converted skins and guts into heaving masses of maggots, the colour of dirty boiled rice.

Or gravel embedded in cement.

A surface ranging from dark to light, just like the above ‘litter prompt’ picture I was sent.

Donna Besel loves writing of all kinds and leads workshops for all ages. Her work has won several national contests and been long listed for the CBC Literary Prize. Her collection of short stories, Lessons from a Nude Man (Radiant Press, 2015), placed fourth on McNally Robinson’s bestsellers list, and was nominated for two Manitoba Book Awards. A memoir, published by University of Regina Press, will be available in fall of 2021.

If you’d like to listen to a podcast segment that tells a story about Donna Besel’s garbage partner, check out CBC’s Love Me: Lost and Found, Episode 6.


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“…her single minded path to pristine white soles on our socks”

davis, tanya

It’s hardly garbage
the clutter of scars of hearts hardened
detritus’s presence a new garden
to stutter and start in

from darkened margins
luck beckons
here, listen

we lean in
we are cynics but believe we could be different
on our knees, our ears to leaves,
we are here for visions
or chances
to change

wisdom whispers, knows our ache
knows features of fervour
(seek further, where green grows down
and brown goes grey)

it asks us to a masquerade
let’s dress like love
the bloom, the fade.

Tanya Davis is a writer and performer based in Epekwitk / Prince Edward Island. She works across disciplines, creating poetry, music, and stage shows and collaborates frequently with other artists, including filmmaker Andrea Dorfman on the recent animated short How to be at Home.

NEW! How to be at Home videopoem
How to be Alone Videopoem


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besel - Copy

photo credit: eaton hamilton

“I even got to fight forest fires, another job no woman had ever done”

Candy can be a reward and a curse for Indigenous children.

At a Pow Wow, there is a Candy Dance. 

Children dressed in regalia dance in a sacred circle to the beat of the drums, the heartbeat of Mother Earth. 

At the end of the dance, candies are flung into the circle for the children to gather.

I have been witness to this dance many times.

One year, the Pow Wow MC announced there would be no throwing candies for the children to collect at the end of the Candy Dance. 

Elders, survivors of residential schools, watching were re-traumatized.

The MC said that an Elder had approached him after a Dance.

The elder explained that their captors threw candies to lure indigenous children.

The children were snatched and captured. 

The residential schools gobbled up the children like a hungry wolf.

The black brick monster spit out their broken spirit, those who survived years of abuses and torture.

Many didn’t survive.

An Eagle is sacred to the Indigenous Peoples.

It climbs higher to the Creator than any living creature.

An Eagle circled and soared above the Pow Wow.

The sacred Eagle collected the trauma of the residential school survivors.

It soared higher and higher.

It disappeared out of sight. 

The story of the Candy Dance is locked in the marrow of my bones. 

The healing continues.

Stella Shepard’s work appears in anthologies, newspapers and magazines. Her novel, Ashes of My Dreams (Acorn Press, 2016), is a thinly disguised fiction of her own life, giving voice to unwed mothers who were once silenced and shamed, and has been used by the University of Prince Edward Island in an adult development course. She is a member of the Native Council of Prince Edward Island where she lives on an organic farm.



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“A mum who couldn’t get angry with me when we were skipping double Dutch in the dining room and I put my arm through a plate glass window because, after all, she was at one end turning the ropes.”

“You’ve wrinkled your new dress,” Daniel said, and Lizzy looked down at herself to find that he was right. She hadn’t been careful to arrange the pleats of her skirt so they’d lay neatly across her lap. Instead, when she’d climbed up into the passenger seat of her father’s truck, she’d plunked herself down and balled up two fistfuls of fabric in her hands.

            “I’ll be wearing a robe,” she said, trying to smooth out the creases. “It won’t matter.”

            Expecting silence to follow, Lizzy’s throat cinched up as though by purse strings, when her father took his hands off the steering wheel, flexed and clenched them a few times, and dropped them into his lap. He began to steer, instead, with his knee.

            “You don’t know how to take anything seriously, do you?” he said, but until he replaced one hand on the wheel, Lizzy was unable to speak.

            “I am. I am taking this seriously,” she said. “I took all the classes. I read the book.”

            The book, What Seventh-day Adventists Believe, was a heavy, hardcover, edition that itemized and explained each tenet of the Adventist faith. Any applicant for baptism was expected to read it, cover to cover, and be able to affirm they agreed with every principle, no matter how dryly written.

            “Tell me about the Investigative Judgment,” Daniel said.

            Lizzy, who had plunged in and out of sleep the night before, and whose mind felt as gritty as her eyes, flipped through the pages in her mind until she came to the one she was looking for.

            “The Investigative Judgement is the second part of Christ’s atonement,” she said, paraphrasing. “The first was His work on the cross. And then, on October 22, 1844, He moved from the first part of the heavenly sanctuary into the Holy of Holies, where He’s been going over the naughty and nice list ever since.”

            It was the wrong thing to say. Of course it was. Lizzy, however, was as bunched up on the inside as her dress was on the outside.

            “What do we know about the state of the dead?” Daniel said, bringing Lizzy’s mind back to the truck.

            Lizzy cleared her throat. She’d known all this before. Twelve years of religious classes at the academy had made sure of that.

            “The dead are asleep,” Lizzy said. “No one has gone to heaven yet, and immortality is conditional. There is no hell, and the wicked will be destroyed. We call this Annihilationism.” She brightened for a moment. “Annihilationism is an excellent word if you ask me. It’s not often you get to use seven syllables all at once. Unless you’re a scientist.” Which, Lizzy didn’t add, was what she intended to be.

            Annihilationism was also Lizzy’s favourite doctrine. It came from the books of Ecclesiastes and Thessalonians, and meant that if she was judged and found wanting when her name came up, she would simply cease to exist at the end of days, and her mother wouldn’t have to worry about her in hell, like she would if they were Mennonite.

            “Ellen G. White,” Daniel said next.

            “Is the spirit of prophesy. Her writings are authoritative as a source of truth. They provide us with guidance, correction and comfort. They are a lesser light shining towards the greater light of the Bible.” Lizzy paused and thought about swallowing her next words. “Which, if you ask me, doesn’t make any sense, because a larger light will eclipse a smaller one and you won’t even know the smaller one is on.

            “Also, the Archangel Michael and Jesus are the same,” Lizzy added, tacking on a bonus point. “Which, incidentally, is why Principal Borthwaithe said that the two Michaels in the academy should use their middle names.”

            And with that, the quiz was over.

Lizzy hadn’t been able to eat breakfast that morning, but now, with the church and her date with the baptismal tank getting closer, she pulled a nut bar, wrapped in waxed cotton, from one of the pockets she’d begged to have sewn into her baptism dress.

            Before she could eat, however, the church came into view and Daniel pulled into the parking lot. He shifted the truck into neutral, but didn’t turn off the ignition.

            “I have something for you,” Daniel said, but didn’t, at first, reach for whatever it might be. “It’s the copy someone gave me when I was about your age. It’s what led me to the church. Without it, I would’ve been as lost as your mother when I found her.”

            Lizzy’s gut went cold. She knew her mother’s secrets. She knew that Marie, when they’d still been in Kelowna, sometimes went to church on Sundays, in addition to Sabbaths. That she sometimes bought and ate ham and cheese sandwiches from the Zellers restaurant. That she drank real coffee when she could get it, and didn’t really believe that the Catholic Pope was the Beast from the book of Revelations.

            “Thank you,” Lizzy said, already certain what she’d find. “Should I open it?”

            “If you want to.”

            Unlike What Seventh-day Adventists Believe, Messages to Young People, written by Ellen G. White herself, wasn’t required reading before baptism.

            “While you remain in listless indifference, how can you tell what is the will of God concerning you? and how do you expect to be saved…” Lizzy quoted after she’d removed the wrapping paper and the book fell open to an underlined passage on a well-worn page. She closed the cover and felt every bit as listless as Ellen G. White had just accused her of being.

            In less than an hour, she’d be getting baptized. For now, though, she was still hungry, and while God’s word was supposed to be the bread of life, reading it had done nothing to fill her up.

            Looking around them, Lizzy counted the few other cars that were parked here and there around the lot.

            “There’s hardly anyone here yet,” Lizzy said, thinking how easy it would be to just drive away.

            “Don’t worry,” Daniel said, and patted Lizzy on the shoulder. “Soon it will be full.”

Darcie Friesen Hossack is the Commonwealth Prize-shortlisted, Danuta Gleed runner-up author of the short story collection, Mennonites Don’t Dance (Thistledown Press). The litter sent to her for this project inspired a chapter in her forthcoming novel, What Looks In. Darcie is the managing editor of WordCity Monthly, a global online journal for literary activism. 


Up Next:

“At the end of the dance, candies are flung into the circle for the children to gather.”

like the pine trapped in ice
I’m trying to escape my life

surrounded by white

cold, isolated, frozen
numb, miserable, broken
tired of being the “token”
black person spokesman

for the inequality they refuse to erase
for the discrimination they say to my face
for the women that won’t stop asking can they touch my hair and if it’s mine
for the people that won’t stop saying they’re colorblind
but how many lives lay scattered?

amongst prisons,
and cement
how many of them are black women and black men?

how many?


Guyleigh Johnson is a writer and Community Advocate from North-end Dartmouth. Writing is a tool she uses for healing, leadership, and implementing change in her community. As a workshop facilitator she teaches youth about the power of words, mindfulness and mental health. As a keynote speaker she often discusses race, trauma, self-esteem, and healing. Her first collection of poetry, Expect The Unexpected (Pottersfield Press, 2016), focuses on inner city youth and the challenges they not only face but overcome. Her most recent release is Afraid of the Dark (Pottersfield Press, 2018), a story that follows a young Black girl struggling with her identity as she tries to navigate her way through a society she doesn’t believe accepts her. In 2018 she won the Ancestral Roots Award for the Written/Visual Arts category presented by the Delmore “Buddy” Daye Learning Institute. Johnson wishes to encourage youth to see their true potential, step out of their comfort zone, and speak up for injustice. She is currently working on a project called “The Griot In Me” which focuses on Black Canadian History in the National Capital Region, as well as volunteering and participating in various community projects and committees. Whether you follow her Youtube, Facebook or her personal Blog page she is starting the conversation for change. Her purpose is simple, no matter how far she goes in life, she wants youth to be heard, feel seen and she does this by reaching back into her community to educate, take action and support.





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“what it is: rubbish of course, but lit and rather lovely,”




(for a Betty Crocker Box as Litter in a Park)


For starters, she didn’t exist.
This what you must know about almost every woman
you see packaged behind a screen of any kind, or glossy,
on paper and certainly, in any religious doctrine
you were raised with.
For starters, she was dreamed up by an ad company,
her hairstyle changed with the seasons, her red & white
garb with the eras.
For starters, she was a soup, then she changed
to the cake of cakes: soft, vanilla, suitable
for all occasions, unable to offend.
She ended up in every kitchen in America as a cook
or a baker, a bowl or a pan.
For starters, she wasn’t a man.



Catherine Owen is the author of 15 collections of poetry and prose including such litter-inspired works as Cusp/detritus (Anvil Press 2006) and berm: eclogues (red nettle press 2009). Her latest collection of poems is Riven (ECW, 2020) and her anthology of 24 memoirs by Canadian writers on mourning and place is called Locations of Grief: an emotional geography (Wolsak & Wynn, 2020). A Vancouverite, she lives in Delilah, a 1905 house in Edmonton.





“…for the inequality they refuse to erase
for the discrimination they say to my face”


for Anthony Schrag


I got this sudden burst of energy as I was walking no strutting—really
actually strutting down commercial drive . . . it was one of those walks
where I knew people were whispering, what is she so happy about?
in my head I built you a table
out of cardboard and chopsticks and christmas lights
I put it in the living room with foil-covered urban organix bins
for chairs
and sprinkled coconut
the idea died
and a new table appeared
balanced on our typewriters
a crippling structure of letters, numbers and metal
the sticky sides of envelopes holding it together
no, I said,
our bones will hold us together
I will build us a table of bones
and our skin will keep it dry
oh . . .
safeway let me down
I couldn’t build a table of sourdough bread and pineapple juice
I bought you some granola
in the hope that
our teeth crunching down
would emulate hammers
and a table would appear.



[Editor’s note:] My thanks to the author for permitting me to publish the following email message that accompanied this piece. It’s as gorgeous as the poem itself.

“I let myself forget the news this morning and spent some time with this picture.  It took me back to 1998, to Vancouver, to the corner of Broadway and Commercial where I once lived.  It took me back to a time when all my money went to cigarettes and music and nights out dancing.  I was 17.  I wrote this poem for my roommate.  We didn’t have a table to eat at.  We were sick of eating on the floor.  Now we’re both professors.  We haven’t seen each other for six years.  He lives in Edinburgh; I live in Oregon.  We’re both married. I have a daughter; he has a son.  We have tables.  We have all we ever wanted, really.

So I offer this to you in order to preserve that time for me—that time of wanting so much and having so little.  A time when I would gather up cigarette butts, twist the leftover tobacco out of them, and roll up a new smoke.  A time when anything found on the street was a kind of treasure.”



Marjorie Celona is the author of two novels: Y, published in 2012, and How a Woman Becomes a Lake, forthcoming in 2020. Y was published in eight countries, won France’s Grand Prix Littéraire de l’Héroïne for Best Foreign Novel, was a #1 Indie Next Pick, and was longlisted for Canada’s Giller Prize. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Marjorie has published stories, book reviews, and essays in The O. Henry Prize Stories, The Best American Nonrequired Reading, The Southern Review, Harvard Review, The Sunday Times, and elsewhere. Born and raised on Vancouver Island, they teach in the MFA program at the University of Oregon.





Up Next:

“For starters, she didn’t exist.”



No, no, no. I’ve never played Uno. It wasn’t part of my childhood board game life. And despite the popularity of adult board game nights some of which are great (though I once murdered my entire army because I got bored during a night of Risk) and many I’ve declined, (like, hard pass, Settlers of Catan) I’ve still never played Uno. The only special card games with special cards I remember were Scopa and Briscola played at my Nonno and Nonna’s house, them and their friends throwing down Italian cards with Italian suits and Italian illustrations and shouting joyfully in Italian. Not just one word,  like, “Uno!” Lots of words. Lots of laughter. Lots of shouting. No, we never played Uno. We learned to gamble with pennies. Sure, we played Crazy Eights, but I remember five card stud (never Texas hold ‘em) and blackjack. I felt very cool because I was using real adult cards for adults for adult card business. We played together. Never Uno. Uno is one. I’m not into Solitaire. But Uno. There was always just something about it that wasn’t appealing. Maybe that was it. The concept of one. I’ve never liked to be alone. I’m not a solitary creature. When I’m alone it’s serious. I have to play inside with the hardest parts of my brain. When I’m with other people, it’s a good time, people finally getting together, like Milton Bradley advertised in the late 90s. Nope. No Uno. Though I guess deep down we’re all alone, like some plastic-coated paper tossed onto wet concrete, flimsy on the inside, a hard outer shell even acid rain can’t wash away. And if we’re lucky most of us will break down into papery mulch mostly after we’re dead, and not while we’re still here, trying to make connections, to have a time. Most of us won’t feel like a solitary card left behind after a game of 52 pickup.


Dina Del Bucchia is a writer, podcaster, literary event host, editor and otter and dress enthusiast living in Vancouver on unceded Coast Salish territory. She is the author of the short story collection, Don’t Tell Me What to Do, and four collections of poetry: Coping with Emotions and Otters, Blind Items, Rom Com, written with Daniel Zomparelli, and the newly released, It’s a Big Deal! She was a senior editor of Poetry Is Dead magazine, the Artistic Director of the Real Vancouver Writers’ Series and hosts the podcast, Can’t Lit, with Jen Sookfong Lee.





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“in my head I built you a table out of cardboard and chopsticks and christmas lights”



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


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



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.



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—”