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WordCity Literary Journal. November 2022.

©®| All rights to the content of this journal remain with WordCity Literary Journal and its contributing artists.

Table of Contents

Letter from the Editor. WordCity’s non-fiction editor, Olga Stein

olga-stein89

Our War on War

War isn’t a place anyone would want to visit. Even this statement borders on the inane and insensitive, given the scale of destruction, death, and suffering we’ve been shown by journalists who’re forced to shield consumers of news from the real devastation taking place on the ground. Let’s keep in mind that we’ve been given a mere glimpse of what has been unfolding in the towns and cities in Ukraine — the ones bombarded, occupied, and, increasingly, those that have been liberated by Ukrainian forces.

Generally, what we get is the sanitized version of the war in Ukraine: it’s a fraction of a fraction of the picture of a military conflict, which happens to be the gravest and territory-wise the largest since WWII. Even the wars in the Balkans (from 1993 to 2001) do not compare, since Ukraine is more than twice the size of the postwar Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. What does call for comparison is the genocidal cruelty towards civilians. In 2001, Slobodan Milošević became the first head of state to be charged with war crimes in connection with ethnic cleansing. At Vladimir Putin’s behest, Russian forces are currently engaged in similar systematic murder and/or removal of native Ukrainians from cities and towns they’ve occupied. They’re aided by soldiers of the “Kadyrovtsy” (Chechens sent to the front by sinister Putin ally, Ramzan Kadyrov), and members of the murky Wagner Group, a private militia or mercenary army for hire.

Despite the strange mix of ethnicities among the would-be invaders, their military and political aims are unmistakable. In an article, “Vladimir Putin’s Ukrainian genocide is proceeding in plain view,” which appeared on June 29, 2022, on the Atlantic Council website, author Taras Kuzio wrote: “The sheer destructiveness of Vladimir Putin’s Ukraine invasion has stunned international audiences. Many have been particularly perplexed by the methodical annihilation of predominantly Russian-speaking Ukrainian towns and cities such as Mariupol which have been reduced to rubble despite deep historic, cultural and family ties to Russia. Any lingering sense of shock is misplaced and reflects a failure to fully grasp the genocidal objectives driving the Russian invasion.…Moscow aims to extinguish Ukrainian statehood and eradicate all traces of Ukrainian identity while incorporating much of the country into Russia itself.”

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Visual Art. Curated by Darcie Friesen Hossack

Michele Rule. Media Explosion

media-eruption-michele-rule

About Michele Rule

Miroslava Panayotova

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Fiction. Edited by Sylvia Petter

November Prelude

This issue has a variety of stories, for disasters come in different forms.

In Faye Brinsmead’s story, “Fires near me”, we see how near such fires can be.

Wayne Burke’s story, “Cut as if by Knife” begins as a sort of boys’ adventure tale but then turns serious.

Dana Neacşu’s “In the Beginning There Was Sound” takes place in 1970s Romania and is part of a collection of stories from that era.

Faye Brinsmead

Faye

Fires Near Me

We went to bed with the sliding doors open, but smoke woke us at 4. Uncanny, how fast the sleeping brain reacts to fire. The slightest whiff, and bam! You sprang up and closed the doors.

Thanks. I stroked the back of your neck, C1 and C2, where you tense up. Aircon? you asked, not turning. Guess so. It clunked to life, covering everything we weren’t saying with its idling truck roar.

Essential travel only, the public safety announcements had said. But the roads were still open, and we wanted our holiday. Okay, I wanted it.

It’s all booked. No one says we can’t. The nearest fires are miles away.

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Wayne F. Burke

WayneBurke

CUT AS IF BY KNIFE

JOHNNY GARIBALDI trudged up the soft clover-covered hillside. A black strand of hair, fallen from his pompadour, lay curled on his forehead. Johnny’s shoulders were broad and he had egg-shaped biceps from working-out with the Charles Atlas Expander bar (3 easy payments 9.95 each). Donny Baguette walked beside Johnny: thin, long-legged Donny wore glasses and was pale skinned, even in the summertime.

Johnny stopped at the crest of the hill, leaned his arm against the split and lightening-blackened trunk of an oak tree.

“Come on, you guys,” he called. “Move it!”

Eddie Kelly, Jimmy Garibaldi, and Charlie Baguette tramped side by side up the hill. “We are sergeants,” Charlie said to the other two. “And they—“ he glanced downhill at Weed Garibaldi and Butch Kelly—“are privates.” Charlie snickered.

“I am a scout,” Eddie said, thinking of Kit Carson, subject of a book he had recently taken out of the library and read.

The hill top stood above an inclined stony white road that lay at the base of a rocky hillside. On a plateau above the hillside sat a group of disused rusted tin buildings.

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Dana Neacşu

Dana

In the Beginning There Was Sound

In the beginning the sound incorporated the meaning of silence, too. Humming remembrance of the past. Of what happened, was imagined, or profoundly desired. Like an unventilated waiting room in a train station buzzing with flies. The door opens without a creak and the click-clack of heels announces an intriguing presence. Those high heels neither elongate nor hide her healthy short frame. They propel her. A well-tailored gabardine suit flatters her waist and her eye’s shade of green. Its skirt is cut above her knees – a sign she follows the new fashion. Individual freedom of expression trails the 1960s as they pierce through the Iron Curtain and take over the mind of Romanian women up to Romeşti, a Subcarpathian village along the Argeş river counting a few hundred as residents. Her black shoes – one less dusty than the other – match the small purse hanging over her shoulder.

She paces up and down the wooden floor as if challenging the time to move faster. The wall clock adorning the room remains unimpressed, moving its minute hand at the same speed it did before she came in. Now and then she shakes off a fly lost in her brushed up hair. It lands on a child half-asleep on a large piece of broken luggage showing its content: turnips to be sold on the city market.

From the clutch she retrieves a small round mirror and checks the room and her makeup. Impeccably smooth on her ripen peach face. Especially the red lipstick. Pretending to play some beautifying role on her slightly open lips divulging a string of perfectly sized, white teeth. The only flaw on this face of Titian’s penitent Magdalene is her nose, evidence of a past tense.

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Non-Fiction. Edited by Olga Stein

Bänoo Zan

banoo-zan-by-rumman-rahman-

Good for You

Dear Fellow-Writer in the West,

I see the uncomfortable expression on your face in the face of the ongoing protests in Iran. I see you cannot wrap your head around the fact that the citizens of a Muslim-majority country are demanding an end to an “Islamic” regime. I acknowledge that this is a very complicated concept for you. I see living in safety and privilege here in the West has robbed you of perspective. I see you!

          Here are a few facts: The Islamic Republic of Iran has a “supreme leader,” a high-ranking Muslim cleric, an ayatollah, who is also the commander-in-chief. This means all the military, police, revolutionary guards, Basij militia, and plainclothes forces opening fire on unarmed citizens in Iran are under his direct command. It means he’s responsible for this new round of bloodshed (and countless others before).

          The first protest against the compulsory hijab in the Islamic Republic dates back to March 8, 1979, immediately after the revolution that brought it into being. It came in response to Ayatollah Khomeini’s decree coercing women to cover up. In a larger historical context, Iranian women have been fighting against compulsory hijab imposed on them by custom and sharia law for more than a century.

          In recent months, the regime has been using increasingly brutal methods to arrest, torture, beat, and kill women who defy the hijab mandate. In these protests, you see women burning their headscarves and appearing unveiled in public. The protests against compulsory hijab have also occurred in the most religious cities: Mashad and Qom, bastions of Shiite orthodoxy, and home to saints and seminaries.

          Honestly, I have been trying to understand why so many of you bend backwards to justify the Iranian regime’s atrocity in the name of cultural relativism. “Every country has its custom and laws,” you say. You’re always quick to compare the human rights abuses in other parts of the world with the flaws of “Western democracies,” as if all regimes are equally unjust and brutal. But I am sure you know the difference, as you do not plan to immigrate to Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, or the Islamic Republic of Iran, even if you go hungry and jobless here. On the other hand, millions of people learn a foreign language, invest money, and risk their lives to escape Islamic regimes, knowing full well that they will face racism and xenophobia in the West.

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Olga Stein

olga-stein89

Eve and her Descendants

(Note to readers: This is the second part of the essay titled, “Religious Revanchism in the USA and that Old Antipathy for Women,” which appeared in the September 2022 issue of WordCity.)

Who is Eve and what does she stand for? It has become an important question of late, especially in the wake of the overturning of Roe v. Wade and now, as nationwide protests in Iran over women’s right not to wear a hijab enter their second month. There’s a connection between religious revanchism in the USA and religious fundamentalism in Iran. Central to both is the question of women’s rights — in essence, nothing less than women’s sexual and reproductive autonomy. In Iran, this translates into whether and how women get to display their bodies and hair. Fundamentalists, and even conservative religionists, insist that women’s bodies and head hair are an eternal temptation to men. Without being concealed, they argue (sadly, not only in Iran), all girls and women are an unbidden provocation to men. 

Eve as Unflattering Archetype

As a child of Jewish parents, I only ever knew Eve as the mate of Adam. She was made of his rib, and was therefore his natural partner. Additionally, Eve was partly responsible for the couple’s expulsion from Eden, since it was she who handed Adam the apple from the tree of knowledge. Both Adam and Eve were forced out of G-d’s garden, both had to endure the hardships of life from thereon, and Eve was given the additional punishment of experiencing the pangs of childbirth. Nothing more was added to this story or its symbolism, from what I recall.                             

             There is early rabbinic literature, as I discovered, that describes Eve as inferior to Adam in every sense, but the general presentation on the subject turns her into a minor figure, whatever her character flaws may have been; the same literature renders her inconsequential in terms of her impact on later humanity. Eve was naive, even childlike, and, well, merely human. Besides, Genesis quickly yields a string of laudable matriarchs — Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel — which supersede Eve in Judaism’s thought and imaginary.

            Origin stories and their narratives tend to have a powerful hold over the collective imagination. Still, as an adult, I continue to be amazed by the number and types of meanings Eve, the first woman, has been assigned — especially in some prominent Catholic and orthodox Christian camps. Eve is a slut, a fornicator, a lier, a snake, the devil’s companion, the cause of the Fall of mankind, the source of all misery, and like some noxious odour that fouls up a place, she refuses to dissipate. She’s everywhere, even when buried under piles of religious platitudes or explanations. What’s worse, she’s every woman temping men to sin, or at least that’s what we’re told early Christian thinkers argued — for example, Paul, Matthew, Augustine, Pelagius (though not, it’s worth noting, Julian of Eclanum, nor the theologian-philosopher Thomas Aquinas).

            So many of today’s Christian teachings stem from exegetical interpretations of the “words of Christ” — that is, interpretations of his interpreters. What’s more, so much of the emphasis on Eve’s sin comes from Christian “fundamentalists.” It doesn’t seem to matter that they’re more than 1900 years removed from the Apostles’ social surroundings (largely pagan), and some 1600 years removed from the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. 

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Literary Spotlight. Keeping it Fresh for Posterity.

Helen Eastman in Conversation with Sue Burge

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I’m delighted to have been able to pin down the human dynamo that is Helen Eastman for this wide-ranging and generous interview.  Helen has so many roles, she’s a true creative, and someone who is more than prepared to give back to her community in so many ways.

Helen, so lovely to be able to discover more about you!  Could you tell us a little about your background and how that motivated you to start Live Canon?  How would you define Live Canon in its early days and how has it grown since then?

My first degree was in Classics and English (and I’ve got a doctorate in Classics), but vocationally, I trained as a theatre director, at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA).

For the first few years of my career I was working as a freelance theatre director, with new writing and political theatre, but then I ended up doing a lot more work with physical theatre, opera, and even circus. In about 2006/7, I suddenly realised it had been a long time since I’d directed any text (and a very long time since I’d worked with verse text).

Around the same time, I had a chat with the artistic director of Greenwich Theatre, James Haddrell, about how brilliant it was that spoken word had exploded as a genre, but how that meant that a lot of new work was experienced in performance while older work was read on the page; that can make it harder to experience both together. I had this idea of performing some of the ‘back canon’ as though it was fresh new work. James liked the idea and set aside some time in the theatre for a series of performances, which we called the ‘live canon’. I pulled together an ensemble of actors who were up for learning a lot of poetry and we got on with it. Some of our early performances featured Shakespeare, Keats, Shelley, Vita Sackville West, Virginia and Leonard Woolf, the War Poets and the Metaphysicals (Donne, Herbert etc).  The series was really popular and other theatres asked us to tour it, and then various museums, festivals and other venues got in touch too. And that’s how ‘Live Canon’ was born.  Five years on, we’d also added the publishing house, started to run courses, conducted outreach in schools and libraries and become a slightly sprawling poetry organisation that had sprung out of the liminal space between poetry and theatre.

I love that idea of the liminal space! How do you keep all the different aspects of Live Canon going?  Do you have a team?  What have been the challenges?  Any memorable highlights/events?  

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Books and Reviews. Edited by Geraldine Sinyuy

Gordon Phinn

Gordon Phinn

Book Basking in Autumn

Books Referenced:

Dirtbag, Massachusetts, Isaac Fitzgerald (Bloomsbury 2022)
All Of This, Rebecca Woolf (Harper One 2022)
Elizabeth Finch, Julian Barnes (Random House 2022)
The Razor’s Edge, Karl Jirgens (The Porcupine’s Quill 2022)
A Minor Chorus, Billy-Ray Belcourt (Hamish Hamilton 2022)
We Are Still Here, Nahid Shahalimi, ed. (Penguin 2021)
Until Further Notice, Amy Kaler (U. of Alberta Press 2022)
Intimations, Zadie Smith (Hamish Hamilton, 2020)
The Most Charming Creatures, Gary Barwin (ECW 2022)
Tras-os-Montes, Jose-Flore Tappy (Mad Hat Press 2021)

*

Who could resist the title Dirtbag, Massachusetts?  Or the notion that the book was a confessional and not just another memoir?  Or the breezy chapter titles like “When Your Barber Assumes You’re Racist Too? “ Not I, sir, not I.  While comparisons to the likes of Kerouac seem a tad overblown, the author does provide a guided tour through the seamier sides of life that your average page turner, pausing for a breather between one dull duty and another, might not be so thoroughly acquainted with.

Of course, we are not unfamiliar with the wounds that troubled, abusive families come armed with.   Many are the memoirs that tout such souls construct their redemptions from after  many decades of denial, avoidance, petty criminality, casual sex and more boozing and doping than you can shake a stick at.  Fitzgerald manages to outpace the usual braggadocio of the abused child on several fronts, not the least of which is his claim to having a 17-year-old girlfriend when he was 12.  As a matter of fact, who wouldn’t choose to do that as a means of escaping in stolen cars from the abusive, poverty-stricken, alcoholic and suicidal household to which he was condemned from the age of four?

Intriguing departures from the abuse shocker norm include a scholarship funded escape to a fancy boarding school where the wealthy kids, bucking the trend, treated him with an almost magical kindness, indulging the orphan in weekend trips to parent-provided pleasures of yachts and private aeroplanes, and indeed aeroplanes that take you to where those very yachts are moored, a six month traverse through San Francisco’s porn film industry, where he not only observed but acted, and an extended sojourn with a nominally Christian NGO surreptitiously providing material and medical aid to cruelly oppressed minorities in the remote jungles of Myanmar.

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Churchill at Munich by Michael Carin.
a review by Darcie Friesen Hossack

Everything that can possibly go wrong with a novel can and will be laid bare, then magnified in a novel that is written in letters. This is such an enduring truth that most authors should reconsider any thought of it. And yet. And yet! Michael Carin uses the form as a master weaver would use a loom.

Beginning in the first days of 1936, Carin’s Churchill at Munich presents itself as a historical document: a trove of letters written by Joffrey Pearson—a low-level German translator working at the British Foreign Office—to a woman not-his-wife living in the United States.

As Joff writes, we learn of the threat rising in Germany. Adolf Hitler tramples the Treaty of Versailles, while Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain plays his part as appeaser-in-chief. It is history as we know it, expertly, thrillingly, threaded with the letter writer’s own life.

One thread, richly coloured, is Joff’s marriage to his wife (a policewoman). Another, glinting off the page, is his daughter (nine, precocious, and a gifted historian). There are Joff’s work and colleagues at the FO. And Joff’s best friend since childhood, Damon Chadwich, a noted artist who has recently, alarmingly, become enamored with Berlin.

It’s with these threads that the vibrancy and pattern of history unfold. Until a singular event changes everything and Winston Churchill takes up residence at Downing Street. From there, Joff Pearson, whose name has been on the rise, is drawn into an alternate history that, on the page, feels as visceral and real as anything that’s ever happened.

“People have a weakness for messiah’s, sir. In the case of Germany, the weakness has become a contagion. A whole nation has found what it think is a deliverer,” Joff  says to Churchill at a moment when every single thread of the novel starts to pull taut.

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Churchill at Munich by Michael Carin: Excerpt

MichaelCarinByLaszlo

The novel Churchill At Munich is a work of alternate history. It orchestrates events such that Winston Churchill becomes Prime Minister a couple of years before he actually did. The lion-hearted man of legend then attends the pivotal Munich Conference in place of the deluded and spineless Neville Chamberlain. In this passage, the exceptional events that take Churchill to Downing Street have not yet occurred. It is April, 1937. He is still just an M.P., not even a member of the Cabinet. In fact, he is widely disliked and distrusted within his own party, and regarded by many in the general population as a warmonger. Since the advent of Adolf Hitler four years earlier, Churchill has been warning of the Nazi threat and urging massive British re-armament. In this excerpt, the narrator of the novel is attending a Churchill lecture with his wife Mary, a fierce admirer of Churchill. With them is their precocious nine year-old daughter, Vicky.

Churchill At Munich

Back safe and sound from the wilds of Hackney. Not a single savage beast was sighted, and the humans appeared evolved. Mr. Churchill too came away in one piece, though not unscathed. As things turned out, our darling Vicky … well, let me tell you things in proper order.

    Mary bullied us to the event early and we snared seats in the second row. Mr. Churchill is looking good for a relic in his sixties. The notorious pale blue eyes are still prominent, even youthful. When you think about it the man embodies the last forty years of our history, and here he is kicking and snorting as if in his prime. We should give the old steed credit for his unflagging energy.

    The audience numbered in the hundreds and included a group of Fleet Streeters scribbling into their notepads. I was disappointed when Mr. Churchill started his lecture with painful understatement. He seemed distracted, almost subdued. He stood with shoulders hunched, hands gripping the lapels of his coat. In a low drone he paid homage to the volunteer spirit and splendid works of the Hackney Women’s Institute and sister organisations throughout the Empire. Oh my god, I thought, is he off his game? Are we in for a protracted bore? The spindly fold-up chair was punishing my gluteus maximus, and Vicky’s fidgeting started the moment we sat down. The rain beating against the windows was a consolation. At least the afternoon we had travelled halfway across London to destroy wasn’t fine.

    “Giv’ it ‘em, Winnie!”

    The shout came from a cockney sailor in a bush jacket. He was egging Winnie on, because so far Winnie certainly wasn’t givin’ it ‘em. 

    Mr. Churchill unbuttoned his suitcoat and hooked his thumbs into the armholes of his waistcoat. An inscrutable smile shivered on his lips. Maybe he was about to share a tease. He looked up at the ceiling, playfully, roguishly. Then his expression turned icy – the incorrigible ham. He could have been on a war footing in the Commons ready to inveigh against his usual foes. His tone remained low, measured, sombre.

    “Good citizens of Hackney, I have been invited into your midst to discuss developments in Europe. I shall do so with the aid of vivid facts. Be warned, the details of current reality paint a dire picture. The signals from the continent grow more ominous. They augur little but crisis for our island.” His next words came in a sudden growl. “Yet in the face of approaching storm, we are being led by brittle and timid men!”

    A scattering of applause triggered a catcall from the back of the room. Mr. Churchill smothered the interruption with an engulfing roar: “THE BRITISH PEOPLE MUST BE TOLD THE TRUTH.”

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Poetry. Edited by Clara Burghelea

Diana Manole

20221016_123655

Iran needs us, we need Iranian women
    To Masha Amini and all women martyrs of the fight for freedom

“Women’s rights are human rights!” she gasps before
everything goes blue. “A dream I’m finally dreaming,” she thinks.
Blue girls and women walk, dance, whirl on the streets of Tehran,
throw their hijabs into the air,
their long blue hair raining down fire and burning sulfur
onto the walls of Evin prison, the Persian Bastille collapses,
their liberated laughter turning godless women’s guardians and state enforcers
into pillars of salt,
whirling mothers, daughters, wives, and sisters refract joy,
female love to God’s love, life to life, freedom to freedom.

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Jasper Glen

Jasper Glen

Shell

Outside the motor field: sallow colour
And greasiness of the skin.
Dead earth through pavement
A gas station becoming prairie again.
Left instructions: cash price 1
All American dollar echoing
Of the face; rouge and mottled
Low pulse rate, shallow pressure.
The long shutting-off,
Emotionally cool outlook 
Tower, and dark hills talk
A broadcast of dead radios.
Fixed ideas; states of violent
Excitement, the artists’ flow
Wrought by process. 

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Mansour Noorbakhsh. WCLJ Poet in Residence

Mansour-Snow-2020 (resized)

Iranian Youth
     For Mahsa Amini, Nika Shah Karami, Sarina Esmaeilzadeh and all   martyrs of freedom

I am a generation that my days 
have never tolerated with me.
I see you kill
but verbalize the justice.
I see you steal
but lament because of oppression.
I see it's foul only
what you make in the name of morality.
I find no name for you
except bandits
except tyrants.

Which crypt have you come from
that have no tolerance for sunshine?
Where do you prostrate that doesn’t make
a bit of truth in your existence?

I am a generation that 
cannot tolerate the intolerance
though I have nothing but my burning heart
that has raised with anger and pain
against the hypocrisy that loots our moments.

Continue to 2 more poems

Umar YB3

Umar Yahaya

From the trenches

They tossed you 
to the depths
and left you to
sink or swim;
though they were
more convinced that
you would end
up a victim.

But they're wrong! 
Look at you!
how you're still 
hearty and hale; 
How you delve 
into the trenches
only to emerge 
like a whale...

With fishes and 
pure pearls
in plentitude 
in your palms, 
Which you now freely 
toss to them—
like beggars 
receiving your alms! 

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Jennifer Wenn

Jennifer Wenn

Crossing Lines

I am a transperson,
and thus, for some have crossed a line,
become an unwanted, disruptive element
crashing the party of their comfortable psyches.
It was not always thus,
so long as my male avatar soldiered on,
so long as my female truth remained
     bound and gagged,
they were not disturbed.

But this is not a whim or a whimsical choice,
not some neurotic obsession,
rather, beyond psychology or sociology,
deeper than marrow,
this is our very soul, my very soul,
so eventually and inevitably,
while chanting To thine own self be true
a flaming sword sundered her bonds
     and out she strode,
only to be deemed a line-violator,
and, for its guardians, morph into a
respect-free other, worthy only
of glares or maybe a 
malicious shout of “Tranny!”

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Eva Petropoulou Lianou

Eva Petropoulou Lianou

Peace, 

So expensive
We buy so many weapons
To maintain it

If we pray more
If we were kind to each other

We could say
We have Peace of mind
Poetic heart
Call for meditation
Inside our heart

Peace,
We say a lot
We make nothing

Peace,
Such as a woman
We adore her 
But few can approach

Peace,
A value with no cost
If the humans could understand that word...

I wish one day....

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Dr. Rubeena Anjum

Rubeena Anjum

Climate Change 
 
a convoy continues in smog, time ends
the bright world around us no more exists
and high-rise cities thatched in thick soot mists
blind hostage sun―brown auburn storm descends
 
its climate change, fire till the end extends
when scrolls from scriptures sync with scientists
then death is man's act; rogue syndrome assists
red venoms pass through epochs; dusk transcends

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Lori D. Roadhouse

Lori D Roadhouse

Revelations

Creator wipes clean Her 
slate	     	shale		igneous,
shakes down Her
Etch-A-Sketch Earth 
and starts over,
admits (to no one left)
that She wasn’t perfect.
	
Oceans strip evidence
from the surface,			
mountains fall to cover 
the mess we leave 
as our 
sins	 	souls		selves
are erased.

Creator’s shame and mistake - 
Her failure - 
Gone.

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Olga Stein

olga-stein89

Our Sisters in Iran

Why zip when you can zoom, beep when you can boom, rant when roaring is an option? Why bend when you can blare, or tiptoe around, or try to put out rage with quiet words instead of taking action? A moldering edifice needs bringing down. It won’t suffice to frown, or honk instead of howl, when lives are crumbling, and cruelty and lawless might are thrown in people’s faces.

Why turn a cheek? Speak, shout, kick! Don’t simmer, boil! Brawl, don’t bleat. Do everything that hurt and outrage call for. Don’t whimper, be that gust of wind. Knock power off its feet, and force it to rescind its life-denying formulations. Don’t yield. Defy intimidation. Don’t blindly follow dictates or bow to commination uttered by self-appointed surrogates of Argos.

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Jana Tzanakos

Jana Tzanakos

Don’t Use I 

Some days hurt consumes you
Latches on, paralyzes, numbs, refuses release
You sit for minutes that feel like hours
Staring at the wall
You are whisked into the past

Stuck now

Feel like the future doesn’t exist
Talking to yourself to calm you down
	
You realize they are trying to settle now
those boys you slept with when you were 16
those boys who most likely never left 16

They text you now
They call

You block them

Because you’ve blocked yourself away 
from the hurt

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Mitchell Toews

Toews

Sweet Caporal 
 
A seagull stands poised on one webbed foot. 
Its clawed toes grip the granite hump in the nautical dawn light. 
Preoccupied with breakfast, if not survival, the gull is indifferent to me as I walk out onto the      
fishing rock. 
Several other gulls gather to stamp their feet—as if in anger—on the mossy ground down by the little bay. 
Nightcrawlers mistake the gull stomps for the sound of rain and slither out of the dirt.
Sneaky buggers, them gulls.

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Dr Ashok Kumar

Ashok Kumar Verna

Something that binds us

Near or far, on the earth or in the space 
Known or unknown feelings of courage 
Remove negative people from valuable life 
Toxic they are, bring stress and strife 
Sweet soft soul chosen each other for one goal
Something binds us to play our role 

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Josie Di Sciascio-Andrews

Josie

Earwig 

You hatched from your mottled egg
Glossy black, like a coffee bean.

Dexterous and slim, you unhinged
A crooked quickness from calamity
Into the fissures of furniture
And ill-fitting floor trim.

Once, in horror, I watched you slide
From the plastic holes
Of a 60’s telephone receiver.

Pincers mongering old wives’ tales. 
Insinuating dread into ear canals,
Membrane and sinew. Entering
The sacristy of brain tissue
To clip away at reason. Bleeding me.

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Gordon Phinn

Gordon Phinn

Open Wounds

In the seemingly endless centuries
Of conflict and connived resolution
 
Where races strived mightily
To eliminate whatever Other
 
Seemed to stand in their way,
The wounded heart of humanity
 
Bled and never healed.  Tribes,
Sometimes tricked, sometimes swallowed,
 
Trickled into nations, only to discover
A more devious destiny daily unfolding.

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Susmit Panda

SusmitPanda

Jottings On a Winter Morning

It’s sad to be a normal girl in a room with
a yellow wallpaper. Yet I am one who is lonely 
like shit, an uninhabited house crawling 
all over with sun-glazed orbwebs…I would be
one spreadeagled in DH Lawrence’s sun,
& raise my belly to the furthest arc of my breath,
before melting in a grimace. & yet when first
I saw the curtains lighting menacingly up,
I clutched the pillow like my baby. & when
I woke up, I stared at the beaten crescent
dimming across the foggy waste of stars…
Through the window, I watch so many in a hurry,
so many brawl-revived, hands dipped in
wafer packs, so damn many ask, & receive  
what I should have as well, for I did ask!
I lifted my face when the echelon was passing overhead.
& yet what of it! Evening chooses its own
incense, the streetlamps their own moths,
the dog-shat lane its own choice quartz.
I see a people shaking candy floss at each other,
scratching tacks against each other’s skin,
tumbling into each other’s cologned tees, 
raising invisible lanterns, sharing cigarettes,
grazing the dust to mark out their acres.
Years ago, creeping behind their tipsy Gibsons,
my barbed-wire skin wrapped about me,
I’d go correcting the unnoticed blunders
of time. If I spied a rent, I taped it with grass;
if I stumbled, I rubbed my feet in glass. 
Our way was one; –I went mine. & look
how I make up for all this, anointing my cracked
skin, forgiving myself, if reminiscing were
forgiving…or I am noble enough to tuck
my hair behind my ears & ask the world
to forgive me as if I ever did deserve its
wrath. I crease the light like paper, I last only
the falling mayfly, to love I merely have 
the courage, to live, from choice to chores
& back, the unfortunate strength. 

Continue to more poems

“Women in Outdoor Prison” Image by Darcie Friesen Hossack. Created with Midjourney AI

Eve and her Descendants. part 2 of an essay by Olga Stein

olga-stein89

Eve and her Descendants

(Note to readers: This is the second part of the essay titled, “Religious Revanchism in the USA and that Old Antipathy for Women,” which appeared in the September 2022 issue of WordCity.)

 

Who is Eve and what does she stand for? It has become an important question of late, especially in the wake of the overturning of Roe v. Wade and now, as nationwide protests in Iran over women’s right not to wear a hijab enter their second month. There’s a connection between religious revanchism in the USA and religious fundamentalism in Iran. Central to both is the question of women’s rights — in essence, nothing less than women’s sexual and reproductive autonomy. In Iran, this translates into whether and how women get to display their bodies and hair. Fundamentalists, and even conservative religionists, insist that women’s bodies and head hair are an eternal temptation to men. Without being concealed, they argue (sadly, not only in Iran), all girls and women are an unbidden provocation to men. 

 

Eve as Unflattering Archetype

As a child of Jewish parents, I only ever knew Eve as the mate of Adam. She was made of his rib, and was therefore his natural partner. Additionally, Eve was partly responsible for the couple’s expulsion from Eden, since it was she who handed Adam the apple from the tree of knowledge. Both Adam and Eve were forced out of G-d’s garden, both had to endure the hardships of life from thereon, and Eve was given the additional punishment of experiencing the pangs of childbirth. Nothing more was added to this story or its symbolism, from what I recall.                             

             There is early rabbinic literature, as I discovered, that describes Eve as inferior to Adam in every sense, but the general presentation on the subject turns her into a minor figure, whatever her character flaws may have been; the same literature renders her inconsequential in terms of her impact on later humanity. Eve was naive, even childlike, and, well, merely human. Besides, Genesis quickly yields a string of laudable matriarchs — Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel — which supersede Eve in Judaism’s thought and imaginary.

            Origin stories and their narratives tend to have a powerful hold over the collective imagination. Still, as an adult, I continue to be amazed by the number and types of meanings Eve, the first woman, has been assigned — especially in some prominent Catholic and orthodox Christian camps. Eve is a slut, a fornicator, a lier, a snake, the devil’s companion, the cause of the Fall of mankind, the source of all misery, and like some noxious odour that fouls up a place, she refuses to dissipate. She’s everywhere, even when buried under piles of religious platitudes or explanations. What’s worse, she’s every woman tempting men to sin, or at least that’s what we’re told early Christian thinkers argued — for example, Paul, Matthew, Augustine, Pelagius (though not, it’s worth noting, Julian of Eclanum, nor the theologian-philosopher Thomas Aquinas).

            So many of today’s Christian teachings stem from exegetical interpretations of the “words of Christ” — that is, interpretations of his interpreters. What’s more, so much of the emphasis on Eve’s sin comes from Christian “fundamentalists.” It doesn’t seem to matter that they’re more than 1900 years removed from the Apostles’ social surroundings (largely pagan), and some 1600 years removed from the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. 

            Elaine Pagels’s books, Gnostic Gospels and its sequel, Adam, Eve, and the Serpent, examine the first four centuries of Christianity, up to and including Augustine. It was a period of “doctrinal disputes,” which continue to generate controversy, writes Joan Hartman, Professor of English and Humanities at William Paterson University. Hartman describes Pagels’s books as important “because [Pagels] historicizes what conservatives theologize: the nature of women and men, and relations between the sexes.” Pagels shows that “[t]hese might have been otherwise…as she traces through the early history of the church a series of incompatible interpretations of the first three books of Genesis. When Augustine’s interpretation prevailed, his culture pronounced our nature” (Hartman, p. 197).[i] To clarify, sometime between 386 and 430 CE, Augustine developed the concept of “Original Sin,” which from thereon shaped the meaning of Christ’s sacrifice, redemption, and grace, and hence also the relationship between Christ and his adherents. What followed were either categorically endorsed or condemned relations between man and woman, man and wife.

            Most pertinent is that for Augustine, sexual activity and sexuality reprised original sin. Marriage helped curb lust by alleviating it, but it was also a regrettable distraction from the only union that mattered — oneness with Christ. Besides, didn’t Jesus himself set the leading example with his asceticism and celibacy.[ii] Pagels compares and contrasts Augustinian interpretations of the story of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden with those of Gnostic Christians, like Pelagius. Given this essay’s particular aims, one key observation is this: Augustine’s theology contained “a pervasive debasement of sexuality and its attendant misogyny” (this is clear from the profusion of anti-marital writing produced in its wake). Furthermore, it’s important to grasp that the forms of Christianity entrenched today are derived from first millennia Christian movements that succeeded where others didn’t (compare the fates of the various gnostic strands with Pauline Christianity, for instance). Crucially, they succeeded in large part by delegitimizing rival sects — that is, by characterizing them as heresies rather than competing philosophies. In other words, as Pagels argues and Hartman concurs, Christianity’s take on Eve as responsible for man’s downfall — a calamity that only Jesus’ sacrifice could mitigate — wasn’t a foregone conclusion. Eve could’ve been a different construct; instead of a seductress, she could’ve been merely gullible, an innocent.

            Several factors assured the success of some Christian movements instead of others: either more energetic and compelling proselytizing (note that the word Gospel comes from the Anglo-Saxon term god-spell, meaning “good story”); astute maneuvering (sidling up to those who were powerful politically and militarily); and, significantly, mass murder or violence routinely committed against rival creeds (the consequences of the Edict of Thessalonica in 380 CE are a case in point, but the systematic slaughter of Cathars in medieval Europe is another apt example).

            Historical developments are nearly always the aleatory result of multiple concurring factors. Hartman writes: “Christian doctrine as Augustine defined it emerged from a complex of historical circumstances some 1,600 years ago to become orthodox and is not, by virtue of its antiquity, natural.” She commends Adam, Eve, and the Serpent for the ways “Pagels deconstructs [doctrinal] naturalness….” (p.200). Philosopher Martha Nussbaum, the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago, devoted her book, Sex and Social Justice, to a similar set of goals: to demonstrating that the naturalness or rational inevitability that most people read into entrenched or commonplace societal beliefs and conventions are often anything but. Past civilizations had various cultures and sometimes startlingly different attitudes toward sexuality, she explains in the chapter “Constructing Love, Desire, and Care.” It’s no coincidence, for instance, that “[t]he precise species of guilt and shame about the body that many Christian cultures experience and cultivate has no one-one equivalent in ancient Greece and Rome” (Nussbaum, pp. 260-1). Nussbaum wants readers to see that societies in the current day could also be other than they are now by embracing newer institutions and values, and redesigning laws to better protect their most vulnerable members, including women, minors, and people whose sexualities don’t match long-held heteronormative expectations.

 

Celibacy, Chastity, and Mariology: Past and Present

Interestingly, in “The Notion of Virginity in the Early Church,” Peter Brown, the Philip and Beulah Rollins Professor of History at Princeton University, makes the issue of naturalness central by arguing that it was precisely the unnaturalness of celibacy, particularly in relation to common social norms, that appealed to clerical or patristic authors, from Origen of Alexandria (185 – 253 CE) to Jerome of Stridon (342 – 420 CE). Lifelong abstinence from sexual relations, the rejection of marriage and its comforts, was assumed to set devout Christians literally and figuratively apart from ordinary members of society and other practicing Christians. As Brown explains, celibates were taken “out of circulation in society” as potential husbands or wives, fathers or mothers. Not for them the bodily surrender to the needs of society; not for them “the abrasive, transient, and tarnished ‘communion’ of the married.” Instead, “the radical exegesis of the story of Adam and Eve [and its reduction to original sin] provided conceptual tools of great emotive power with which to explore…[alternative forms of] voluntary association” (p. 431). Such living arrangements were outside of customary social intercourse and profane authority. Yet precisely these ideas, which unfortunately also equated sex with fornication, were formalized by Benedict of Nursia (480–550 CE). His instructional book, Rule of Saint Benedict, introduced in 516, was well received by post-Nicene Church leaders,[iii] and was promptly deployed to lay the foundations for a life of monastic seclusion throughout Europe. Its impact on medieval Europe by way of the “regular church,” as opposed to the “secular church” wing of the institution as a whole, and its fixation on, and elevation of celibacy and chastity to the status of supreme moral goods, cannot be underestimated.

            Despite these foundations in the 5th and 6th centuries, which later gave rise to numerous monastic orders, the fixation on celibacy among Christian fathers and later Christian theologians poses a challenge for scholars of Late Antiquity and the Medieval period. No other religion supported celibacy among religious leaders. How and why, then, did celibacy and chastity persist as a central preoccupation — becoming a virtue above all others? Brown’s explanation is that since “Christianity had rendered itself patently absurd to thinking pagans — and even more so to Jews, and later to Muslims — by its doctrine of the direct, unmediated joining of the highest God to human flesh in the person of Christ” (433), it remained for Christian thinkers to search obsessively for “tangible forms of mediation between God and humanity.” Celibacy and virginity in particular, that “angelic,” untarnished state, offered up one avenue for bridging the distance between man and the highest and holiest of beings. Martyrdom was another. It’s no coincidence that female martyrs were usually represented as virgins who became shining examples of virtue for refusing to marry.

            Brown quotes Edmund Leach, writing in Genesis and Myth: “….although the central ‘problem’ of religion is…to reestablish some kind of bridge between Man and God… ‘mediation’ (in this sense) is always achieved by introducing a third category which is ‘abnormal’ in terms of ordinary ‘rational’ categories… The middle ground is abnormal, non-natural, holy” (Edmund Leach quoted in Brown, p. 432). What, then, can be said of Mary, that paradox of paradoxes, the unsullied birthmother of Jesus and holiest of all virgins? As a symbol of virtue, or as an instrument of “mediation,” is she not also the most abnormal or unnatural of constructs?

            Mary was “chosen” to bring Jesus into the world and then nurture him with her body. Pope Pius X, who grew to adulthood during Queen Victoria’s reign, described Mary as “the model of virtue, and a life free of sin.” Brown writes: “[t]he style of a whole Christian society was rendered visible in the figure of the Virgin holding the Ruler of All on her knees” (pp. 438-9). Here then is a point not reiterated often enough: The veneration of Mary and Marian iconography are a devastating millstone for women. For what woman, young or old, could possibly measure up to that innocent, giving figure hung about the house? Perhaps the bigger question is this: What explains the fact that Mary’s pristine example  — of chastity, devotion, and passivity — has endured for 1600 years as the yardstick by which all women are judged worthy of affection or opprobrium?

 

            Anti-abortion legislation is, to state things simply, one way of punishing women for having sexual relations. This kind of stark thinking tends to be set aside in our contemporary western liberal societies — until, that is, something like the overturning of Roe v. Wade takes place. To bring an age-old lamentable equation back into the harsh light one needs to be apprised of the right sources; one needs to know where to look. Check, for example, how the late Paul Lardier, a director of research at France’s Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS), and a founding member of the Centre de sociologie de l’éthique (the centre for sociology and contemporary research ethics), summed up France’s Protestant and Catholic authorities’ positions on abortion. He wrote the following in his “Religion, morale et politique: le débat sur l’avortement” (“Religion, Morality and Politics: The Abortion Debate”): “[D]uring hearings held from July-November 1973 by the Commission of Cultural, Family, and Social Affairs of the National Assembly concerning the proposed abortion legislation…[there were] internal Catholic challenges to the official position [which] appeared to rest principally on the question of when life begins but also touched on the inappropriateness of viewing unwanted pregnancy as a punishment for sexual activity.” Abortion in France was decriminalized in 1975, but the arguments and testimonies delivered by Catholic and Protestant theologians in response to proposed revisions of abortion law, and the beliefs guiding them, demonstrate that hard-core Catholics and Protestants in the 20th century have continued to view women’s sexual liberality (or free expression thereof) as deserving of punishment.

 

            The central question needs reiterating here: How did Mary and her insignia of virginity endure and become such a toxic facet of Catholicism and Christianity in general? How did Mary become a yardstick for all women, specifically in relation to sexual behaviour? A casual reader can easily look up the history of Marian worship for themselves. However, they might miss the centrality of the Immaculate Conception in the schema of Catholicism as we know it today. It’s worth reiterating here that the immaculist thesis didn’t go unchallenged from the start. It was a feature of one Christology among several competing explanations. It just so happened that its supporters outnumbered or outmaneuvered others, as the condemnation of Nestorius at the Council of Ephesus in 431 illustrates.

            Here are a few more pertinent facts: By the Middle Ages, veneration of Mary as virgin and God-bearer reached cult-like status — so much so, that later Protestant reformers considered Roman Catholic Mariology a sign of atavistic paganism, idolatry, or superstition. Iconoclastic riots swept through many parts of Protestant Europe in the first half of the 16th Century, but devotion to Mary persisted, despite the questions provoked by the aporia of her impregnation.

            Enthusiasm for the Immaculate Conception as Church dogma and creed was revived in the 19th centuries with Pope Pius IX (the “Immaculata” became the patron of the US in 1846). It continued to right up until the latter half of the 20th. One might speculate that in current-day America, Mary as virgin and mother has regained all of her former glory and oppressive powers.

            There are several ways of adumbrating the reasons for Mary’s outsized influence in relation to women’s status, and as a measure of their virtue especially. Some of the underlying theology has been touched on already. The causes for the uptick of Marian veneration in the Middle Ages require some additional fleshing out, which I attempt below. What also needs looking at, however, are the psychological dimensions of Mariology. What accounts for this clinging to the undefiled virgin? Let’s be clear, efforts to guard or alternatively capitalize on the pristine state of young women were a feature of all ancient patrilineal societies. Yet Christianity, which inherited the concept of virginity as a good from the pagan world, also managed to turn it into a powerful fetish as well as instrument of control.

 

Evolutionary Psychology and the Mary/Eve Dichotomy      

The field of evolutionary psychology offers new ways of delving into the Mary/Eve constructs that achieved currency with Augustine, Jerome, and others. For instance, Vladimir Tumanov, scholar at the University of Western Ontario, argues in his article, “Mary Versus Eve: Paternal Uncertainty and the Christian View of Women,” that “Eve, the inventor of female sexuality, is repeatedly viewed by the church fathers…as Mary’s opposite: ‘Death by Eve, life by Mary’ (St. Jerome).” The Mary-Eve contrariety “has given a conceptual basis to what is known in psychology as the Madonna-Whore dichotomy: the tendency to categorize women in terms of two polar opposites.” This has been the predicament for all women since Christianity succeeded at making their formulations respecting Eve and May clear-cut and categorical. All women have been and continue to be appraised on the basis of their sexuality. Tumanov explains what this categorizing is really about: the male psyche’s eternal angst with regard to the biological reality of paternal uncertainty.

            When viewed through the lens of evolutional psychology, Christian discourse concerning the cunning and sexual promiscuity of Eve becomes the psychologically distressing fear of being cuckolded, according to Tumanov. Christianity’s answer — in part because of the licentiousness witnessed among pagan peoples by early Christians — was to “c[o]me up with an ingenious attempt to overcome biology through mythology, namely, by splitting up the female into two distinct figures: Eve (along with her heirs) and the Virgin Mary.” How do we know Tumanov is on to something? We know because this phenomena is universal. Tumanov points out that forms of mate guarding are “common social institutions of patrilineal societies…. The repeated convergent invention of claustration practices around the world and the confining and controlling behavior of men even where it is frowned upon reflect the workings of a sexually proprietary male psychology” (Wilson and Daly quoted in Tumanov). The rigid insistence on women wearing hijab or burka is merely another manifestation of the same phenomena. For Christians,  Tumanov writes, what Mary offers the male psyche by remaining a virgin when she conceives Jesus is this: “she allows [it] to have its reproductive cake and eat it too.”

            As an aside, it’s worth pointing out that Mary’s polar opposites, Eve and her descendants, have always courted collective censure, condemnation, and punishment — as they do now by means of anti-abortion legislation. Tumanov explains that “fervent Mariological discourse…eventually led to the witch hunts of the late Middle Ages and beyond…[One] key accusation [in charges of witchcraft] was sexual misconduct, i.e., female sexuality outside of masculine control” (Hays quoted in Tumanov). Thus, Queen Elizabeth I of England, who refused to give up her prerogatives to a husband, made sure to be perceived as a virgin and, therefore, as morally upright throughout her long reign. In 17th century Puritan New England, where Salem’s witch hunts took place, “Eve was the main symbol of woman-as-evil….[because] all witchcraft comes from carnal lust which in women is insatiable.” The devil may have “tempted Eve, yet Eve seduced Adam” (Hays quoted in Tumanov). Given the Originalist readings of the American Constitution, we might well conclude that a return to Puritanism is what we’re witnessing in the USA today.

            It’s important to see that the subjection of women’s sexual lives to scrutiny is the result of a singleminded and pernicious fixation on virginity and its conflation with moral integrity. Scholars like Tumanov help us see one important dimension of Marian worship: it’s an expression of men’s deep-seated desire to control women’s sexuality and reproduction. It’s also, quite simply, a desire to control and subjugate women in general. The current-day religious revanchism in the USA, which has unfortunately infiltrated the Supreme Court, is really a tooth-and-nail struggle to re-establish systemic patriarchy.

 

Monasticism and its Constructs

Today’s medievalists are doing the crucial work of illuminating significant developments that contributed to the rise of Mariology and its implications. These developments include stereotypical constructs of the virtuous lady in courtly love literature (and in the music and poetry of the troubadours), and in various forms of popular culture. A great deal of scholarly work touches on the Cluniac or Benedictine Reforms which began in the 10th century. This and related scholarship looks at the influential figures behind the reforms, and the resulting dissemination and successful circulation of attractive or compelling ideas. The reforms themselves were intended to restore Western monasticism and its outposts, the monasteries, which served as centres of religious piety and worship, as well as important places of learning, and production of Christian manuscripts and iconography. The restoration of the monastic movement, therefore, had broad and profound consequences for medieval societies and commonly held attitudes and conventions.

            In Europe, Monasticism as an institution had been steadily undermined during the 9th and 10th century by the Vikings’ repeated attempts at invasion. William I, Duke of Aquitaine (c.875–c.918), and the abbot, Odo of Cluny (c.878 – c.942), each in their own capacity, spearheaded the building of monasteries throughout France (Burgundy, Provence, Auvergne, Poitou) and across Italy and Spain. Comparable work began in England with Alfred the Great (c.849 – c.899), King of the Anglo-Saxons from 886 until his death. Building of monasteries continued with his grandson, the uber-cultured Athelstan (c.894 – c.939), King of the English as of 927. It was carried out after him by King Edgar (c.959 – c.975), also a supporter of the monastic reform movement’s goals of replacing secular, often married clergy with celibate monks.

            This sketch, hopefully, will give readers a sense of the historical and political context in which certain religious figures of this period, their writing and teachings especially, came to prominence. Most relevant for our purposes are men like Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury (c.909 – c.988), Ethelwold (or Æthelwold), Bishop of Winchester (c.904/9 – c.984), and his student, Elfric (or Ælfric) of Eynsham (c.955 –  c.1020), who was an English abbot, as well as a gifted and prolific writer of hagiographies, homilies (Judith, is an apt example), and commentaries. He was also a teacher, grammarian, and a translator of Biblical texts from Latin to English.

            Medievalists are now grappling with the lasting impact on Christianity of monasticism and influential theologians like Dunstan, Ethelwold, and one of their most notable intellectual heirs, Elfric. Feminist inquiry in particular is tracing the ways Elfric came to have an outsized influence on the intellectual and spiritual landscape of medieval England and beyond. Thus, in “Virginity and Misogyny in Tenth- and Eleventh-Century England,” author Catherine Cubitt writes:

The monastic reform movement was an almost deafeningly articulate one whose disciples produced a plethora of texts justifying their own revolution; outstanding amongst these writers is the monk Ælfric, pupil of Bishop Æthelwold, monk of Cerne Abbas and abbot of Eynsham, and the author of a great programme of vernacular translations….Ælfric aimed to supply a complete series of sermons covering essential doctrine, aimed at the laity and secular clergy, to ensure that the errors and heresies of Anglo-Saxon vernacular teaching were eradicated. His work is marked by a desire to impose monastic standards upon the whole of society, from the secular clergy to the laity, and it shows the far-reaching implications of the new reform movement. It is a rich field for the examination of reform attitudes to sex and to women. (p.2)

Cubitt follows up by highlighting the connection between Elfric’s ideas and attitudes regarding women’s sexuality that eventually became predominant:

A whole history of sexuality can be traced in Ælfric’s writings….[T]he Fall introduced the evil of concupiscence (galnysse) and thenceforth sex was subject to restraint….[Mankind] exasperated God with various crimes, and above all with fornication….On the Day of Judgment, mankind will be judged according to its sexual record:….Such is their merit that the virgins will not be judged but will rather take their place judging alongside Christ.  In Ælfric’s sexual hierarchy, virginity is the highest good” (pp. 4-5).

            Cubitt highlights furthermore that “Virginity was the banner of the reform movement….Sexual abstinence was the hallmark of the new monasticism…. Chastity and virginity (in Ælfric’s own terms, claennyss and maeg∂had) were not for Ælfric simply one aspect of Christian morality but occupied a central place in his theology” (p. 3). Furthermore, it appears that a general distrust of women coloured his work: “[Ælfric] seems to have viewed virginal and chaste women with grave suspicion in a manner reminiscent of the strictures of the Regularis Concordia. His negative and indeed fearful view of women’s sexuality with regard to the female religious is seen too elsewhere in his writings on women” (p. 15).

            Similarly, and particularly with regard to the dissemination and persistence of ideas and values derived from Anglo-Saxon clerical authors, Aldhelm (c.639 – c.709) and the above-mentioned Elfric, in “Virginity and Chastity for Women in Late Antiquity, Anglo-Saxon England, and Late Medieval England: On the Continuity of Ideas,” author Melissa Hoffman elaborates:

While Aldhelm [the late seventh-century Benedictine English scholar] continued to be cited as an authority and Ælfric’s Lives continued its circulation, women patrons and their need for information led to the writing of new treatises on virginity after the Conquest [of England by William, Duke of Normandy, in 1066] by clerics, chaplains, and confessors….Saints’ lives were written not only for women but by women, and in the thirteenth century such works were as likely to be written in either French or English. For example Ancrene Wisse was circulated in both English and Anglo-Norman but was still being exchanged in French in fifteenth-century England (Wogan-Browne 12, 13).

            Elfric’s homily on Judith depicted her as a wealthy widow, who elects to remain single and chaste after her husband’s passing. The emphasis in Elfric’s exegesis repeatedly falls on Judith’s ‘clǽnnes’ and purity (lines 391-394). Accordingly, as Hoffman explains, the symbolic power of virginity in medieval society increased in line with the growing availability of monastically-inspired literature:

Ideas from Late Antiquity are elaborated in treatises such as Hali Meidenhad. The rewards for virgins in heaven are enthusiastically presented: Virgins will be accorded a special place in heaven, wear a special crown that shines brighter than the sun, be like angels, sing songs that only virgins are allowed to sing and at which all will wonder, walk next to God, and wed the fairest bridegroom of all, Christ. The writer….painstakingly catalogs the disadvantages of marriage, to which [virgins] might be tempted. Once maidenhood is lost it is irrecoverable, and the writer ends by exhorting the virgins to resist temptation. (p. 6)

            Significantly, according to Hoffman, “virgins received a one hundred-fold reward in heaven; widows a sixty-fold reward; wives, thirty” (p.1). Additionally: “As in earlier periods, virginity was not a static construct. The division of virginity into physical and spiritual states continued, as did claiming honorary forms of virginity for widows and wives, because virginity was ‘too powerful and prestigious a cultural ideal to be ignored or discarded’” (Wogan-Browne quoted in Hoffman p. 6). Ultimately, in medieval societies, all women came to be categorized in relation to this ultimate measure of goodness or purity, a state Mary represented in full. It also goes without saying that no woman on earth could approach this standard of holiness without first being martyred as a virgin (for such is the purported state of all female saints in the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches).

            Let us end here with the excruciatingly suggestive fact that in medieval societies women came to be categorized not on the bases of their character, demonstrated skills, or even socio-economic particulars, but on whether they were virgins, widows, or wives. These three categories denoted socially recognized and agreed-upon statuses and were applied to all women and girls. In terms of the evolving cultural expressions of these statuses and the values assigned to them during the Middle Ages, Hoffman writes this: 

The state of virgins in heaven evolved to reflect the ideals of medieval society: In the late twelfth and thirteenth centuries, they are represented as living in “eternity as elegant young noblewomen at God’s high medieval court, just as the iconography of heaven itself shifts from that of paradise garden to celestial city” (Wogan-Browne, quoted in Hoffman p. 6).

            As with the Mary/Eve contrariety, the place imagined for women who were neither virgins, nor wives, nor widows (who had reconsecrated themselves to chastity) was the opposite of the ‘celestial city.’ Women who had sexual relations outside of marriage, “fallen virgins,” or women deemed to be in a state associated with ‘fallenness,’ were perceived as deserving of condemnation, punishment, and inflicted suffering. It’s important that we understand how and in which forms these medieval ideas continue to structure attitudes and expectations today. We also need to recognize that any society that clings to practices that involve punishing women for being insufficiently ‘chaste’ is itself in essence medieval, backward in the broadest sense. Finally, let’s remind ourselves that the 21st Century is no time or place for any version of medievalism.

References

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Birkhäuser, Martin. “Ethical issues in human reproduction: Protestant perspectives in the light of European Protestant and Reformed Churches.” Gynecological endocrinology: the official journal of the International Society of Gynecological Endocrinology vol. 29, no. 11, 2013, pp. 955-9, doi:10.3109/09513590.2013.825716

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Hays, H.R. The Dangerous Sex: The Myth of Feminine Evil. New York: Putnams, 1964, 148, 153, 156.

Hofmann, Melissa A. and Felicia Jean Steele. “Virginity and Chastity for Women in Late Antiquity, Anglo-Saxon England, and Late Medieval England: On the Continuity of Ideas.” TCNJ Journal. vol 9, April 2007, pp. 1-10.

Ladriere, P. “Religion, morale et politique: le débat sur l’avortement.” Revue française de sociologie, vol. 23, no. 3, 1982, pp. 417–54, https://doi.org/10.2307/3320988.

Nussbaum, Martha C. “Constructing Love, Desire, and Care.” In Sex and Social Justice. New York: Oxford University Press, Incorporated, 1999. Print.

Tumanov, V. “Mary Versus Eve: Paternal Uncertainty and the Christian View of Women.” Neophilologus 95 (2011): 507–521, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11061-011-9253-5

Wilson, Margo, Martin Daly. “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Chattel.” In Jerome H. Barkow et al, eds. The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture. Oxford University Press, 1992, 289-322.

Wogan-Browne, Jocelyn. Saints’ Lives and Womens Literary Culture c. 1150-1300: Virginity and Its Authorizations. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001, 3-44.

 

[i]Augustine believed that even marriage and procreation were tainted: “…yet, whenever it comes to the actual process of generation, the very embrace which is lawful and honourable cannot be effected without the ardour of lust….This is the carnal concupiscence, which, while it is no longer accounted sin in the regenerate, yet in no case happens to nature except from sin.” See Augustine, “On Marriage and Concupiscence,” Book I, cp. 27. See also Elizabeth A. Clark’s “Antifamilial Tendencies in Ancient Christianity,” where she writes: “Indeed, Jerome argues on the basis of Luke 18:29-30 that Jesus promised a reward to his devotees for leaving their children and wives to follow him” (p. 365).

[ii]In his essay, “The Notion of Virginity in the Early Church, Peter Brown explains the implications of celibacy vis-a-vis the reigning social structures and convention. In the fourth and fifth centuries, the “classical” age of Christianity’s expression, “writers such Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa, John Chrysostom, Ephrem the Syrian, Ambrose, and Jerome (to name only the better known) mobilized all the resources of a late classical culture in its Christian form to glorify the practice of virginity” (Brown).

[iii]Pope Gregory I portrayed Mary Magdalene as a prostitute in an Easter sermon in 591. Conflating her with the unnamed “sinful woman” who is forgiven (Luke 7:36-50), Gregory I thereby propounded the belief that Mary Magdalene was a repentant prostitute or promiscuous woman, an archetypal opposite of Eve.

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Olga Stein holds a PhD in English, and is a university and college instructor. She has taught writing, communications, modern and contemporary Canadian and American literature. Her research focuses on the sociology of literary prizes. A manuscript of her book, The Scotiabank Giller Prize: How Canadian is now with Wilfrid Laurier University Press. Stein is working on her next book, tentatively titled, Wordly Fiction: Literary Transnationalism in Canada. Before embarking on a PhD, Stein served as the chief editor of the literary review magazine, Books in Canada, and from 2001 to 2008 managed the amazon.com-Books in Canada First Novel Award (now administered by Walrus magazine). Stein herself contributed some 150 reviews, 60 editorials, and numerous author interviews to Books in Canada (the online version is available at http://www.booksincanada.com). A literary editor and academic, Stein has relationships with writers and scholars from diverse communities across Canada, as well as in the US. Stein is interested in World Literature, and authors who address the concerns that are now central to this literary category: the plight of migrants, exiles, and the displaced, and the ‘unbelonging’ of Indigenous peoples and immigrants. More specifically, Stein is interested in literary dissidents, and the voices of dissent, those who challenge the current political, social, and economic status quo. Stein is the editor of the memoir, Playing Under The Gun: An Athlete’s Tale of Survival in 1970s Chile by Hernán E. Humaña.

WordCity Literary Journal is provided free to readers from all around the world, and there is no cost to writers submitting their work. Substantial time and expertise goes into each issue, and if you would like to contribute to those efforts, and the costs associated with maintaining this site, we thank you for your support.

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Table of Contents. November 2022

Letter from the Editor. WCLJ’s non-fiction editor, Olga Stein

Fine Art.

Media Eruption. by Michele Rule

Miroslava Panayotova

Fiction. Edited by Sylvia Petter

Fires Near Me. by Faye Brinsmead

Cut As if By Knife. by Wayne F. Burke

In the Beginning There Was Sound. by Dana Neacşu

Non-fiction. Edited by Olga Stein

Good for You. by Bänoo Zan

Literary Spotlight

Keeping it Fresh for Posterity. Helen Eastman in Conversation with Sue Burge

Books and Reviews. edited by Geraldine Sinyuy

Churchill At Munich by Michael Carin. 3 WIBA reviews by Darcie Friesen Hossack

Churchill At Munich by Michael Carin. Excerpt

Book Basking in Autumn. by Gordon Phinn

Books Referenced:

Dirtbag, Massachusetts, Isaac Fitzgerald (Bloomsbury 2022)
All Of This, Rebecca Woolf (Harper One 2022)
Elizabeth Finch, Julian Barnes (Random House 2022)
The Razor’s Edge, Karl Jirgens (The Porcupine’s Quill 2022)
A Minor Chorus, Billy-Ray Belcourt (Hamish Hamilton 2022)
We Are Still Here, Nahid Shahalimi, ed. (Penguin 2021)
Until Further Notice, Amy Kaler (U. of Alberta Press 2022)
Intimations, Zadie Smith (Hamish Hamilton, 2020)
The Most Charming Creatures, Gary Barwin (ECW 2022)
Tras-os-Montes, Jose-Flore Tappy (Mad Hat Press 2021)

Poetry. Edited by Clara Burghelea

Iran needs us, we need Iranian women. a poem by Diana Manole

3 poems by Jasper Glen

3 poems by Mansour Noorbakhsh. WCLJ Writer in Residence

3 poems by Umar YB3

Crossing Lines. a poem by Jennifer Wenn

2 poems by Eva Petropoulou Lianou

Climate Change. a poem by Dr. Rubeena Anjum

Revelations. a poem by Lori D. Roadhouse

Our Sisters in Iran. a poem by Olga Stein

Don’t Use I. a poem by Jana Tzanakos

Sweet Caporal. a poem by Mitchell Toews

Something that binds us. a poem by Dr Ashok Kumar

2 poems by Josie Di Sciascio-Andrews

Open Wounds. a poem by Gordon Phinn

5 poems by Susmit Panda

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November 2022 Editorial: Our War on War. by Olga Stein

olga-stein89

Our War on War

War isn’t a place anyone would want to visit. Even this statement borders on the inane and insensitive, given the scale of destruction, death, and suffering we’ve been shown by journalists who’re forced to shield consumers of news from the real devastation taking place on the ground. Let’s keep in mind that we’ve been given a mere glimpse of what has been unfolding in the towns and cities in Ukraine — the ones bombarded, occupied, and, increasingly, those that have been liberated by Ukrainian forces.

Generally, what we get is the sanitized version of the war in Ukraine: it’s a fraction of a fraction of the picture of a military conflict, which happens to be the gravest and territory-wise the largest since WWII. Even the wars in the Balkans (from 1993 to 2001) do not compare, since Ukraine is more than twice the size of the postwar Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. What does call for comparison is the genocidal cruelty towards civilians. In 2001, Slobodan Milošević became the first head of state to be charged with war crimes in connection with ethnic cleansing. At Vladimir Putin’s behest, Russian forces are currently engaged in similar systematic murder and/or removal of native Ukrainians from cities and towns they’ve occupied. They’re aided by soldiers of the “Kadyrovtsy” (Chechens sent to the front by sinister Putin ally, Ramzan Kadyrov), and members of the murky Wagner Group, a private militia or mercenary army for hire.

Despite the strange mix of ethnicities among the would-be invaders, their military and political aims are unmistakable. In an article, “Vladimir Putin’s Ukrainian genocide is proceeding in plain view,” which appeared on June 29, 2022, on the Atlantic Council website, author Taras Kuzio wrote: “The sheer destructiveness of Vladimir Putin’s Ukraine invasion has stunned international audiences. Many have been particularly perplexed by the methodical annihilation of predominantly Russian-speaking Ukrainian towns and cities such as Mariupol which have been reduced to rubble despite deep historic, cultural and family ties to Russia. Any lingering sense of shock is misplaced and reflects a failure to fully grasp the genocidal objectives driving the Russian invasion.…Moscow aims to extinguish Ukrainian statehood and eradicate all traces of Ukrainian identity while incorporating much of the country into Russia itself.”

So far, Russia’s effort to occupy Ukraine has displaced 14 million people, caused irreparable destruction to historic buildings and vital infrastructure, and has, according to Reuters, resulted in nearly 40,000 deaths and some 54,000 injuries. Yet many features of Russian military and associated ‘administrative’ activity remain either under-reported or have been kept out of routine coverage of the war because they’re deemed too disturbing for wide dissemination. Nevertheless, information and detailed reports of brutalities involving helpless civilians — men, women, and children — are emerging. The trickle of facts has turned into a torrent of disclosures about atrocities, including sexual violence of the most heinous kind.

The UN recently published its findings regarding war crimes committed in Ukraine. In her October 28 article for the CNBC, journalist Amanda Macias revealed this in her key points: “A U.N. report says Russian forces committed an array of war crimes, including summary executions, torture, rape and other acts of sexual violence against Ukrainian civilians” (among them, girls as young as four years of age). The U.N. isn’t the only sources of information about torture and rape, however. Thanks to the conscientious efforts of doctors, mental health professionals, and trauma therapists, in countries bordering with Ukraine and now others (Canada included) where Ukrainians have taken refuge, victims’ stories are being documented and are reaching those of us who care to learn the grim truth.

Moreover, and because WordCity is a literary magazine, it would be terribly remiss of me not to acknowledge the crucial volunteer work done by Russian and Ukrainian expat writers, poets, and artists, now living in the United States, Canada, and in Europe. They’ve been doing everything possible (and occasionally, the seemingly impossible) to assist Ukrainians — from fund-raising, to publishing the individual accounts of survivors of unspeakable violence, to helping refugees connect with service providers.

On the artistic front, to facilitate a form of bearing witness, émigrés have ensured that the voices of Ukrainians who’ve been subjected to the tumult, destruction, and pain of forced displacement, are heard by way of articles and essays that have appeared in major publications across the US and Europe. Poems are being translated, and anthologies featuring Ukrainian poets are being organized and published. This rousing show of support, and the underlying empathy and generosity, is the surest sign of the compassion and faith in humanity that animates artistic practice. We’re seeing that art continues to unite people across the globe. Art continues to provide a shared purpose.

For this very reason, we cannot overlook the current situation in Iran, and the cause of women taking a stand against religious fundamentalism, its restrictive dress codes and other violations of basic human rights. The current nation-wide protests were sparked by the murder of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini at the hands of the Guidance Patrol or Iran’s morality police, essentially a goon squad empowered to intimidate and arrest women they judge to be non-compliant with the mandatory wearing of a hijab. No woman is safe because these squads are vested with the ultimate authority to assess and respond to women’s ‘moral’ conduct — that is, not merely to arrest, but also to inflict severe corporal punishment.

Of course, the fatal beating of a 22-year-old woman is only the latest example of a crime enabled by a regime that has maintained an iron grip on Iran’s populace since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. That revolution brought to power the regime of Shia clerics and their inseverable ties with the Revolutionary Guard, that part of the army responsible for maintaining the theocratic and authoritarian core of the Republic of Iran. Since 2009, on a regular basis, Iran’s Islamic government has been challenged by protests and strikes due to violations of human rights, and the mismanagement of the economy. The government has typically responded with ruthless force. Amnesty International reported that at least 304 people were killed by Iran’s security forces in the past six months. Twenty-three of the victims were children. Another 80 people were killed in the recent round of protests.

Let’s recognize that what is happening in Iran is a state of war. Violence against women, artists, journalists, and human rights lawyers are common occurrences. Rape and torture of political prisoners or anyone characterized as a threat to the regime are par for the course. At this point, we cannot criticize the war on Ukraine and Putin’s dictatorship while turning a blind eye to Iran’s despotism and the courageous resistance it has provoked among Iranian women and their allies. We hope to amplify their voices of resistance in our pages. We wish to thank all who have sent us writing, art, or poetry for this issue. Let us make war on war together.

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Olga Stein holds a PhD in English, and is a university and college instructor. She has taught writing, communications, modern and contemporary Canadian and American literature. Her research focuses on the sociology of literary prizes. A manuscript of her book, The Scotiabank Giller Prize: How Canadian is now with Wilfrid Laurier University Press. Stein is working on her next book, tentatively titled, Wordly Fiction: Literary Transnationalism in Canada. Before embarking on a PhD, Stein served as the chief editor of the literary review magazine, Books in Canada, and from 2001 to 2008 managed the amazon.com-Books in Canada First Novel Award (now administered by Walrus magazine). Stein herself contributed some 150 reviews, 60 editorials, and numerous author interviews to Books in Canada (the online version is available at http://www.booksincanada.com). A literary editor and academic, Stein has relationships with writers and scholars from diverse communities across Canada, as well as in the US. Stein is interested in World Literature, and authors who address the concerns that are now central to this literary category: the plight of migrants, exiles, and the displaced, and the ‘unbelonging’ of Indigenous peoples and immigrants. More specifically, Stein is interested in literary dissidents, and the voices of dissent, those who challenge the current political, social, and economic status quo. Stein is the editor of the memoir, Playing Under The Gun: An Athlete’s Tale of Survival in 1970s Chile by Hernán E. Humaña.

WordCity Literary Journal is provided free to readers from all around the world, and there is no cost to writers submitting their work. Substantial time and expertise goes into each issue, and if you would like to contribute to those efforts, and the costs associated with maintaining this site, we thank you for your support.

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Churchill At Munich. a novel excerpt by Michael Carin

MichaelCarinByLaszlo

The novel Churchill At Munich is a work of alternate history. It orchestrates events such that Winston Churchill becomes Prime Minister a couple of years before he actually did. The lion-hearted man of legend then attends the pivotal Munich Conference in place of the deluded and spineless Neville Chamberlain. In this passage, the exceptional events that take Churchill to Downing Street have not yet occurred. It is April, 1937. He is still just an M.P., not even a member of the Cabinet. In fact, he is widely disliked and distrusted within his own party, and regarded by many in the general population as a warmonger. Since the advent of Adolf Hitler four years earlier, Churchill has been warning of the Nazi threat and urging massive British re-armament. In this excerpt, the narrator of the novel is attending a Churchill lecture with his wife Mary, a fierce admirer of Churchill. With them is their precocious nine year-old daughter, Vicky.

Churchill At Munich. Excerpt

Back safe and sound from the wilds of Hackney. Not a single savage beast was sighted, and the humans appeared evolved. Mr. Churchill too came away in one piece, though not unscathed. As things turned out, our darling Vicky … well, let me tell you things in proper order.

    Mary bullied us to the event early and we snared seats in the second row. Mr. Churchill is looking good for a relic in his sixties. The notorious pale blue eyes are still prominent, even youthful. When you think about it the man embodies the last forty years of our history, and here he is kicking and snorting as if in his prime. We should give the old steed credit for his unflagging energy.

    The audience numbered in the hundreds and included a group of Fleet Streeters scribbling into their notepads. I was disappointed when Mr. Churchill started his lecture with painful understatement. He seemed distracted, almost subdued. He stood with shoulders hunched, hands gripping the lapels of his coat. In a low drone he paid homage to the volunteer spirit and splendid works of the Hackney Women’s Institute and sister organisations throughout the Empire. Oh my god, I thought, is he off his game? Are we in for a protracted bore? The spindly fold-up chair was punishing my gluteus maximus, and Vicky’s fidgeting started the moment we sat down. The rain beating against the windows was a consolation. At least the afternoon we had travelled halfway across London to destroy wasn’t fine.

    “Giv’ it ‘em, Winnie!”

    The shout came from a cockney sailor in a bush jacket. He was egging Winnie on, because so far Winnie certainly wasn’t givin’ it ‘em. 

    Mr. Churchill unbuttoned his suitcoat and hooked his thumbs into the armholes of his waistcoat. An inscrutable smile shivered on his lips. Maybe he was about to share a tease. He looked up at the ceiling, playfully, roguishly. Then his expression turned icy – the incorrigible ham. He could have been on a war footing in the Commons ready to inveigh against his usual foes. His tone remained low, measured, sombre.

    “Good citizens of Hackney, I have been invited into your midst to discuss developments in Europe. I shall do so with the aid of vivid facts. Be warned, the details of current reality paint a dire picture. The signals from the continent grow more ominous. They augur little but crisis for our island.” His next words came in a sudden growl. “Yet in the face of approaching storm, we are being led by brittle and timid men!”

    A scattering of applause triggered a catcall from the back of the room. Mr. Churchill smothered the interruption with an engulfing roar: “THE BRITISH PEOPLE MUST BE TOLD THE TRUTH.”

    That brought a hush. The master thespian charged in and started telling it as he sees it. The threat to peace in Europe, he said, has been maliciously fired and stoked. Dreams of conflagration prosper in Berlin. The fist of autocracy has cowed and mastered the German people. The productive power of that immensely energetic nation now serves a racist, oppressive, totalitarian regime. The vigorous youth of Germany, increasingly indoctrinated and regimented, are marching in thrall to an odious ideology. The democracies must brand Germany’s grievances as fraudulent, indict its goals as abhorrent, and pledge themselves to this truth: that the current predicament in Europe does not stem from the Great War rightly won, but from the Big Lie nurtured in its wake. It is plain deceit to claim the victorious powers imposed a Carthaginian peace on Germany. That is the myth leading Europe to the lip of war. In fact the German people have not been unjustly punished. It is the Versailles Treaty that has been unjustly condemned. Twenty years ago the Germans were defeated in a ghastly conflict of their own instigation, yet the victors left them whole, did not divide them, nor break up their state, nor loot them of their lifeblood …

    Of course we’ve heard it all before. We have heard it for years in newspaper articles, wireless interviews, speeches in the Commons. Although Mr. Churchill was saying nothing new, I must admit he has a way of saying it and an uncommon gift for holding your attention. As expected, Mary sat motionless, eyes rapt. Vicky too sat stock-still, her fidgeting banished by the speaker’s spell. The hecklers meanwhile seemed content to keep their powder dry.

    “Think of the Teutonic might and wrath now glowering over Europe. If we had reduced Germany to a vassal state, would it have possessed the breath and sinews to become the menace it is today? The question answers itself. In violation of its treaty obligations, Germany has rearmed. On land, on the sea, in the air, it flexes the muscles of a malignant war machine. Hitler’s factories produce five hundred tanks a month, a fresh U-Boat every ten days. The dictator said he would tear up the Versailles Treaty, and he is keeping his vicious vow, while the democracies stand back, mutely watch, do nothing. Our own factories remain idle and our research goes to rust. The consequence? We have made ourselves mortally vulnerable to Nazi threats and Nazi aggression.”

    I was irritated by Mr. Churchill’s pronunciation of the word Nazi. He rolls the ‘z’ off his tongue like the mellow ‘z’ in zipper. It drains the wickedness out of the word, even makes it slightly comical. I must write and tell him!

    Mr. Churchill then took up his pet theme of the importance of air power. He said the number of active squadrons and reserves in the Royal Air Force remains dangerously inadequate. He called for the number of aircraft and qualified pilots in the RAF to be doubled, then re-doubled, then doubled again. At this a woman’s voice rang out from the row behind us:

    “CRAZY MAN!”

    Vicky and I turned to see the source of this epithet rise to her feet and brandish her umbrella. “WARMONGER!” she added in a near scream, pointing her brolley at the stage and trembling with fury. This was no practiced firebrand but a nondescript lady in her forties wearing a well-ironed white blouse and modest grey skirt. Reminded me of our dear Patty turning insurgent.

    At the lectern Mr. Churchill was patting the air in front of him as if to calm a whimpering dog. “Madame,” he said in a tolerant drawl, “thank you for that lively contribution, no matter how imprecise. Be assured of my sole aim. It is to alert the British people to a grave disservice being done them. You should know for yourself, your loved ones, your countrymen, and equally for our cherished traditions of freedom … at the primary and indispensable task of guarding the nation, your government is failing!”

    “BOLLOCKS!” The loud vulgarity came from a man as aged as my father. “You are creating panic,” the old fellow croaked, as he made his way into the centre aisle. He stayed rooted there after his outburst, shaking a fist at the speaker.     

    “Sir,” said Mr. Churchill, “I salute your spirit. If our country continues down the dark corridor our leaders have chosen, we may need your passion to fuel our survival. For the time being let me say this: do not think that those who back down from the snarl and menace of Hitler have a monopoly on the desire for peace. I am – ”

    “OLD MOONFACE!”

    This comical insult issued from a tall pencil-thin young fellow at the back of the hall. I turned in time to see him follow up his rejoinder with the two-fingered salute. 

    “Scandalous!” shouted another man, and I could not be sure if he was agreeing with the heckler or rebuking the uncouth gesture. The dam broke then and numerous taunts rose up of Brandy man! and Remember Gallipoli! Answering cries came from Churchill supporters, including from one livid man who bellowed, “He’s the greatest Englishman alive!” So we had a rumpus of boos and retorts as hecklers jeered hecklers and I was confirmed in my view of Hackney as an untamed feral backwoods …

    It was at this point when my nine year-old daughter made me feel as if I were in a dream. Responding as she explained later with ‘a sort of instinct’ to those ‘mean shouters’, our darling Vicky rose, turned to face the audience, stepped up onto her chair, waved her skinny arms in the air, and screeched:

    “Please, please! Kindly be still! Can’t we hear Mr. Churchill speak?”

    Our little girl’s voice, pitched to its uttermost squeak, had the effect of creating a shocked and amused quiet in the hall. Mary and I sat stunned. From one instant to the next a beloved prepubescent daughter can transform into a mysterious stranger and declare astounding independence.

    Mr. Churchill rushed into the moment. “From the impulse and courage of our youngest should we take instruction,” he said, coming round to the front of the lectern and bowing to Vicky, who had retaken her seat and appeared dazed. “Thank you, my dear brave girl. It will be my honour to shake your hand at the close of these proceedings.”

    When the lecture ended I dashed out for some fresh air while Mary and Vicky stood in line to meet the speaker. Mr. Churchill did better than shake Vicky’s hand. He swept her up and gave her a proper hug. Then he took both of Mary’s hands into his own and complimented her on rearing ‘a young lioness’. Imagine the thrill for my spouse. She has only idolised the man forever. She came out of the hall looking nineteen.

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Michael Carin’s novel Churchill At Munich recently won the fiction prize at the Whistler Independent Book Awards. His previous works include The Kremlin Papers, The Future Jew, and The Neutron Picasso. His novel Five Hundred Keys has been optioned by Serendipity Point Films. Trained as a political theorist at McGill University, Michael was for many years Editor-in-Chief of Montreal Business Magazine.

WordCity Literary Journal is provided free to readers from all around the world, and there is no cost to writers submitting their work. Substantial time and expertise goes into each issue, and if you would like to contribute to those efforts, and the costs associated with maintaining this site, we thank you for your support.

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Media Eruption. mixed media by Michele Rule

Media Eruption
Media Eruption, 2021
Artist: Michele Rule
Acrylic, collage
Artist Statement: I was inspired to create this piece as COVID progressed and there was an onslaught of media attention, both good and bad. The push-pull between truth and misinformation made me anxious for what might happen to our communities and world.
 
Michele Rule
 
 
Michele Rule is a disabled poet and artist from in Kelowna, BC. She is published in WordCity Literary Journal, the Lothlorien, the Pine Cone Review, Five Minute Lit and Chicken Soup for the Soul, among others. Her artwork can be found in homes around the city. Michele lives happily with two dogs, two cats and a wonderful partner.
 
WordCity Literary Journal is provided free to readers from all around the world, and there is no cost to writers submitting their work. Substantial time and expertise goes into each issue, and if you would like to contribute to those efforts, and the costs associated with maintaining this site, we thank you for your support.
 
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A Changing World. visual art by Miroslava Panayotova

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Miroslava Panayotova (Bulgaria) graduated from Plovdiv University, specialty Bulgarian philology and English language. She has published poems, stories, tales, aphorisms, essays, criticisms, translations, articles and interviews in periodical and collections. She has published the following poetry books: Nuances, 1994, God of the senses, 2005, Pitcher, 2014, Whisper of leaves, 2017, Green feeling, 2018; two books with stories: An end, and then a beginning, 2017, Path of love, 2018; two eBooks: Laws of communicatons /aphorisms/, 2018, Old things /poetry/, 2018. She is a member of the Union of the Independent Bulgarian Writers and a member of Movimiento Poetas del mundo. Miroslava Panayotova is an ambassador of IFCH (International Forum for Creativity and Humanity).

WordCity Literary Journal is provided free to readers from all around the world, and there is no cost to writers submitting their work. Substantial time and expertise goes into each issue, and if you would like to contribute to those efforts, and the costs associated with maintaining this site, we thank you for your support.

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Fires Near Me. fiction by Faye Brinsmead

Faye

Fires Near Me

We went to bed with the sliding doors open, but smoke woke us at 4. Uncanny, how fast the sleeping brain reacts to fire. The slightest whiff, and bam! You sprang up and closed the doors. 

Thanks. I stroked the back of your neck, C1 and C2, where you tense up. Aircon? you asked, not turning. Guess so. It clunked to life, covering everything we weren’t saying with its idling truck roar. 

Essential travel only, the public safety announcements had said. But the roads were still open, and we wanted our holiday. Okay, I wanted it. 

It’s all booked. No one says we can’t. The nearest fires are miles away. 

You got that look in your eye. The one that said, I give in, but I like you a little bit less. 

As we drove coastward, smoke came and went like a bad conscience. Bungendore: all clear. Braidwood: haze, throat-choke. Batemans Bay: a cinder on my tongue. Ulladulla: nada, bliss. Cloudlessness, frangipani nuzzling our windows, not quite a sea view but beyond the Norfolk Island pines, if you squinted … 

I flopped into a green-striped deck chair on the patio, boneless with relief. Now our holiday could slide out of its jelly mould, quivering blue-green perfection. 

You checked the Fires Near Me app at least 10 times before dinner. We were ringed by triangular icons. Mostly yellow. Two orange. No red, yet. 

You flicked on the six o’clock news. Seventy-one fires burning. Smoke visible from space. Three firefighters perished. 

Why do firefighters always “perish”? I asked. No plain old dying for them. 

You flicked off the TV, spent a long time in the bathroom. After DoorDash Thai, you shuttled between Fires Near Me and TikTok. Four orange triangles, a trio of dancing goats in polka-dot pyjamas. I pretended to read. An orange-and-black jacketed Agatha Christie, And Then There Were None.

We didn’t fuck, just pushed the greasy pad see ew containers off the bed and turned out the light. After the smoke alert we lay braced, unsleeping. Your phone screen flickered yellow, orange, red. 

I fell into a pixel-flimsy dream. Disco goats with burning hooves bleating pe-rish pe-rish pe-rish to the tune of Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! 

Your voice cut the synth pop.

We should get out. Before they close the roads. It’s going to get a lot, lot worse. 

Scrunched on the edge of the bed, you stared at the wall. As if you were holding a séance and the ghost of our future had just shown up.               

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Faye Brinsmead’s writing appears in journals including X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, MoonPark Review, New Flash Fiction Review, Flash Boulevard, South Florida Poetry Journal and Twin Pies Literary. One of her pieces was selected for inclusion in Best Microfiction 2021; another was nominated for a Pushcart. She lives in Canberra, Australia, and tweets @ContesdeFaye.

WordCity Literary Journal is provided free to readers from all around the world, and there is no cost to writers submitting their work. Substantial time and expertise goes into each issue, and if you would like to contribute to those efforts, and the costs associated with maintaining this site, we thank you for your support.

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Cut As if By Knife. fiction by Wayne F. Burke

WayneBurke

CUT AS IF BY KNIFE

JOHNNY GARIBALDI trudged up the soft clover-covered hillside. A black strand of hair, fallen from his pompadour, lay curled on his forehead. Johnny’s shoulders were broad and he had egg-shaped biceps from working-out with the Charles Atlas Expander bar (3 easy payments 9.95 each). Donny Baguette walked beside Johnny: thin, long-legged Donny wore glasses and was pale skinned, even in the summertime.

Johnny stopped at the crest of the hill, leaned his arm against the split and lightening-blackened trunk of an oak tree.

“Come on, you guys,” he called. “Move it!”

Eddie Kelly, Jimmy Garibaldi, and Charlie Baguette tramped side by side up the hill. “We are sergeants,” Charlie said to the other two. “And they—“ he glanced downhill at Weed Garibaldi and Butch Kelly—“are privates.” Charlie snickered.

“I am a scout,” Eddie said, thinking of Kit Carson, subject of a book he had recently taken out of the library and read.

The hill top stood above an inclined stony white road that lay at the base of a rocky hillside. On a plateau above the hillside sat a group of disused rusted tin buildings.

Johnny and Donny emerged from the brush at the base of the hill and stepped out into the road.

“Come on you guys!” Jimmy Garibaldi called from the first hill’s crest. “Move it!”

“Yeah, move it!” Charlie said.

“Shut-up, Baguette,” Weed Garibaldi said. He and Butch moved crab-like on hands and toes.

“Wait for us!” Butch called.

“I am a scout too,” Jimmy said.

“Me too,” Charlie said.

“I thought you were sergeant?” Eddie asked Charlie.

“I can be sergeant AND scout, can’t I?” Charlie shouted angrily, face reddening.

“We will each be scout,” Jimmy said. “Like the Three Musketeers!” He put his arms around Eddie and Charlie’s shoulders.

Johnny and Donny moved along the road, past the tin buildings and up a steep incline between rock ledges and thick woods.

The steep road leveled out above a huge bowl-shaped rock quarry pit, hundreds of feet deep and a quarter mile across, strata of walls a colorful array of stone.

“Hello!” Donny shouted. “Hallo-lo-lo-lo…” the quarry pit answered. Johnny pushed a boulder over the edge of the pit; the boulder shattered on a ledge below and pieces of rock fell further to the quarry floor. Eddie, looking down, felt himself grow faint. To think of falling so far down, and of hitting the floor! He turned and walked ahead into a meadow of knee high grass. Springing grasshoppers bounced off his legs. The ground lumpy with red and yellow crab apples, fallen from a gnarly crab apple tree. From a thicket beyond the tree a partridge burst from the brush, its wings whirring like the tongs of an electric cake mixer.

“Look!” Eddie shouted, pointing.

Charlie raised his hands and, holding an invisible gun, blasted the bird.

Eddie led the way along a narrow path trodden into the ridge line. Thorny balls from picker-bushes clung to his shorts. He took off his cap and wiped sweat from his forehead. The grass along the path was speckled with white lime dust. Eddie heard the lime kiln roaring in the distance. Right of the path, a lime kiln road sat glowing, limestones sparkling in the sunshine.

“We will head down the road and walk up,” Johnny said.

“Alright Johnny baby,” Weed said. “You are the General.”

Along the roadside, dense woods thick with vines and brush. Above, the mid-day sun sat like a polished coin in the white sky.

“Quiet!” Donny said. “I hear something!”

“Scatter!” Johnny called.

Eddie leapt into the thicket. Dried leaves cupped like little hands crunched underfoot. He crouched behind a wheelbarrow-sized chunk of orange and white quartz crystal rock.

A pickup truck, loaded with kiln workers, passed by trailing a cloud of dust.

“Alright, let’s go,” Johnny commanded, wiping dust from his checkered Bermuda shorts.

The top of a narrow shoebox-shaped canyon came into view.

Eddie thrilled at the sight. The canyon stood like an upended box, the rock walls cut as if by a knife. The pinnacle of the canyon sprouted small crooked trees and mossy vegetation. A series of steeply pitched hills–dirt hills newly seeded with grass seed, rose in tiers from the road to the ridge line high above, parallel the top of the canyon. The new grass soft-looking as hairs on a baby’s head. Lime stone boulders sparsely scattered on the hillside.

Johnny stood gazing up at the canyon. “What do you think? Should we stay on the road or climb up and go along the ridge?”

Donny scratched his head.

“Stay on the road,” Eddie said. “It is shorter. We can climb the canyon trail.”

“Yeah, stay,” Jimmy said.

Johnny stared up the road. The steeply inclined road dipped a hundred yards distant, making it seem as if the road ended in the bluish-white sky. A drop of sweat ran down Johnny’s forehead.

“I say we climb the hill.” He tapped his chest. “I am the General, and I say we climb.”

“I am going up the road,” Eddie said.

“That is insubordination,” Johnny said. “You could be put up before a firing squad.”

“I don’t care,” Eddie said. The road is faster. Why kill ourselves climbing?”

“Let’s go,” Johnny ordered. He strode to the base of the tiers of hills and began climbing.

Eddie walked up the road. “Come on, Jimmy.” The road made more sense, Eddie told himself. It was easier, shorter…Johnny and the others were dopes. Let them kill themselves, he thought.

Eddie glanced back: like beads on a necklace, Johnny, Donny, Charlie, Jimmy, Weed, and Butch, climbing. Eddie groaned turning back.

Eddie’s sneakers sank into the soft loam; dirt and pebbles rolling downhill bounced off the visor of his cap. Should have kept to the road, he thought. It was stupid to—

The blast sounded like a shotgun going off beside Eddie’s ear. He glanced to the road. Rocks—small rocks—rocks the size of washing machines—fanned out through the sky, sailing through the white haze, their shadows flashing like birds across the landscape.

Eddie squirmed, wormed his way into the soil. Deep as he could get. But not deep enough. He wrapped his arms around his head. He heard rocks crashing into the woods as the blast echoed through the valley. He raised his head: Charlie Baguette ran, galloping downhill, Charlie’s arm twisted to reach behind to his back, hand reaching to a big red splotch on his white t-shirt. Charlie’s screams cut through the echo.

Eddie leapt to his feet and ran, listening, as his feet beat the sharp stones of the road, for the sound of the next blast.

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Wayne F. Burke’s short stories have been widely published in print and online. He is author of a short story collection titled TURMOIL & Other Stories (Adelaide Press, 2020), as well as eight published poetry collections–most recently BLACK SUMMER, Spartan Press, 2021. He lives in Vermont (USA).

WordCity Literary Journal is provided free to readers from all around the world, and there is no cost to writers submitting their work. Substantial time and expertise goes into each issue, and if you would like to contribute to those efforts, and the costs associated with maintaining this site, we thank you for your support.

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