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WordCity Literary Journal. January 2023

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Table of Contents

darcie-friesen-hossack

Letter from the Editor. Darcie Friesen Hossack

From the beginning, the success of WordCity Literary Journal has been something of a miracle. We didn’t know if it was too much to hope that writers from around the world would find and trust us with their work. Or if readers would follow. But you did.

On this, our third January issue, we thank everyone who has submitted writing and visual art, and everyone who visits and follows this global collection of voices and editors. We are truly grateful.

Fiction. Edited by Sylvia Petter

The stories in this issue deal with relationships and their perceptions – past, present, what could have been and what was, sometimes combining viewpoints.

“Faculty Lounge” by Paul Germano introduces an array of characters, each struggling with their own human condition.

“How the Tree Leaves Helped the Poet” by Dilan Qadir is a gentle story evoking the cyclical, in which things do not turn out as expected.

“The Clockwork Trinity” by Brian Hughes recounts how a boy‘s Christmas gifts finally miss their mark.

“Finding Transcendence into an Upside-Down World” by Marzia Rahman affords another way of looking at things.

Olga Stein’s story “Couples,” about various creative relationships — some symbiotic, others not — echoes one of this issue’s prominent themes. What do writers and other artists gain from intimacy with one another, and is there a tendency for one side of such an arrangement to benefit, even exploit the other — that is, as we see in Stein’s story “Couples,” to syphon off the creative élan of a partner? Certainly, this is what Irena Karafilli’s story “A Poet’s Widow Writes to Her Late Husband” suggests.

Finally, “Morning Star” by Chantel Lavoie recounts how an aging couple oscillates between emotions marked by their perceptions of a lodestone, an egg in a dish sharing their rooms, to finally through their pain find to each other again. ~ Sylvia

Paul Germano

Paul Germano author's pic

FACULTY LOUNGE

Blue-eyed social studies teacher Claire Peabody pushes open the door to the faculty lounge, letting herself in and shutting out the sweaty stink of youth that permeates the middle school’s hallways.

Inside the lounge, the air smells inviting, thanks to an autumn breeze blowing through a propped-open window that intermingles with the rugged woodsy scent of a colleague’s cologne and a freshly brewed pot of Hazel Nut coffee.

Two of the three tables, each smallish and round, are occupied. Claire says her “hellos” to three teachers sharing a table near the door, then nods at Alex Fuentes, the colleague wearing the woodsy cologne. Alex, who teaches Spanish, is sitting alone at the table by the propped-open window, munching on a Bartlett pear and going over his notes for an upcoming lesson. Alex looks up, pushes his wavy hair away from his face and gestures for Claire to join him. “What a happy coincidence that you’re taking your break now too,” he says, flashing his pearly whites and feigning surprise, even though there’s nothing surprising to him about her arrival.

Claire fixes herself a cup of coffee, grabs her lunch from the refrigerator, crinkles her button nose at something funky inside and slams the door shut. “Why do people leave their old lunches behind in the fridge like that?” she grumbles with true irritation. But her mood shifts to sheer delight as soon as she settles herself in at the table with Alex. She takes a small bite of her Anjou pear and a big bite of her turkey sub, then sips at her coffee. Under the table, she rubs her foot against Alex’s leg.

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Dilan Qadir

Dilan

How the Tree Leaves Helped the Poet

He gladly told everyone—sometimes volunteered unsolicited—of the first time he met her at a poetry reading. It was the evening of March 21st, International Poetry Day. He was invited to a reading at a neighbourhood library in North Vancouver. Back then he was working at a clothing store as a shop assistant, but he was also trying to make a name for himself as a poet. He often told his friends that he wished he had time to write as many poems as the many shirts and pants he folded each day at his job.

He read a few poems in Sorani—a Kurdish dialect—and at the end of the reading a girl walked up to him and introduced herself. She had attractive lips that deftly pronounced all the labial consonants, sharp inner eye corners, long black silky hair, and a graceful body that she was blessed with because—he thought—she was one of God’s favourites. She was, in one word, beautiful.

Her name was Mila. She was born and raised in Vancouver, but parents were from northern Iraq, the poet’s home region.

“Your Kurdish was impeccable!” Mila told him, her eyes wide open with delight. It was not clear to him if she meant the choice of words in his poems, or, more likely, that she was fascinated that he spoke a second language fluently. Which he did, but not in the way she assumed; Kurdish was his first language.

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Brian Hughes

Brian Huges

The Clockwork Trinity

Michael had a box of parts that he had bought and salvaged with the idea of building a remote control car. That box was as far as the project got. Some of the pieces had cost him a lot of money but most of them had been bought at garage sales, from projects like his that had never gone ahead. His friend Sam suggested that he take them to a hobby store on north Main Street by Cathedral Avenue, they might buy them.

He phoned the store and after explaining it all he was transferred to the owner and he explained it all over again. The owner said, “Bring them down, but I have to warn you, some will be worthless, some a little, and the very best is only going to go at fifty cents on the dollar.”

He took the bus downtown and transferred to the North Main route. It was cold, cold enough to make the snow squeak higher than you could whistle, he had to curl his hands into fists inside the palms of his gloves to keep his fingers from freezing, and there was a wind blowing. Once he got on the bus it took five minutes for his hands and thighs and ears to go from numb to aching and to something like normal.

When he got to the store the owner looked in the box, “Like I said, most of this is junk.” He pulled a model airplane engine out, “This is old, and maybe worth something just for that.” He pulled a control transmitter, then a receiver and he sorted through the servos, “This is the only stuff I can sell, sixty-five bucks.”

“Can you chuck the rest of it, I don’t want to carry it back.”

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Marzia Rahman

Marzia Profile Pic

Finding Transcendence into an Upside-Down World

When I woke up this morning, I looked out of the window and found the world upside down. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t think much of it. I didn’t want to puzzle myself. I carried on making breakfast; I made toasts and scrambled eggs and a cup of tea with one spoon of milk and half-spoon of honey and tried very hard not to peek outside.

When my husband woke up, I watched him keenly. He walked to the window with newspaper on one hand and reading glasses on the other. He threw a brief look outside; his expression didn’t change a bit. He had the same grumpy look he’d been carrying since his boss caught him with his secretary, cheating. On papers. Some kind of financial fraudulence. The office made an outcry, called it an ‘outrageous’ act, sacked the secretary and hushed the whole thing.

After an hour or so, I blurted out, “Have you seen the view?”

“What view?” he said.

“Haven’t you looked outside?”

He looked puzzled and said nothing.

“It’s different.” I said.

“What’s different?”

I shrugged and sighed. There was no point talking to him. Had we ever agreed on anything? Ever reached a consensus. And then again, we were the strong believers of science and physics, we worshipped them, but we never analyzed them.

Did I see it wrong? I looked out again.

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Olga Stein

olga-stein89

COUPLES

More than a decade has passed since the events I’m about to recount took place. It’s important to state this at the outset because the early 2000s seem like a different world. It was possible then not to know things. It was conceivable that a writer could ‘borrow’—ideas, even characters—without committing a theft, and without stepping uninvited into another person’s life. The world has changed.

We often hear that a bit of distance from one’s work is necessary for any writer. Some reflection or rethinking of what a story was meant to do—all that tends to be beneficial. Perhaps I’m doing it here. On the other hand, I’m still convinced that my intention was to write fiction. No amount of self-questioning would change that, and after all this time, and a whole lot of distance, I am both without guilt and satisfied with the story I told.

When I cribbed Henry Webster from Jason, a fiction writer and my ex-partner, Henry had only a fragmentary existence in a green leather-bound notebook. Jason wasn’t aware of my occasional forays into his notes, although I doubt he’d have minded then. He wasn’t vain. Some artists are careful to let others see only their finished work. Not Jason. He simply thought the notes wouldn’t be of interest to anyone. He wrote them out by hand, and kept them on top of his writing table as if he had nothing to hide. They were, in his words, “just bits and pieces, scattered thoughts on characters and plot lines.” They helped him get started. Or else he’d work out problems, hurdles that would be there during a period of incubation. Sometimes a solution to a problem would just present itself, seemingly out of nowhere, but more often he’d have to word hard, searching for it along diverse lines of story and character development.

Henry Webster, when I first encountered him, was just an idea. Jason would return to him sporadically. There would be notes on other things Jason was working on, and then Henry would appear. Details were added each time. He was a composer, living in New York. He was married to a younger woman. His wife, a beauty, was involved with another man.

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Chantel Lavoie

ChantelleL

Morning Star

Caked in rich mud, it lies in the husband’s gloved hand, plucked from the garden with an accidental carrot and a deliberate handful of weeds. It smells green. He hoses it off at the side of the house and carries it into the kitchen. He hands it to her, her own hand coming out of the dishwater to take it. The blue-grey stone is vaguely egg-shaped and egg-sized.

“A fossil?”

“Not sure. Maybe. Sure was close to the surface.”

She sets it on the windowsill alongside a fragment of driftwood, shells they gathered with their grandchild, and a small alien made of Playdough with bent toothpicks for antennae.

The next day she sets it on the piano between a family photo and a potted plant. An hour later she moves it to their bedroom, alongside her jewellery box on the pine dresser. Then it’s a paperweight in the small office, holding the month’s receipts against the desk. This position doesn’t last the day before she picks it up again.

The doorbell sounds while she deliberates. She shoves her hand into the pocket of her embroidered woolen vest. She answers the door to so-and-so selling this-or-that. When she removes her hand from her pocket, the egg stays behind.

Over the course of the day, despite its weight, she feels lighter. She wipes out the spice drawer, empties the toaster tray of crumbs and makes it shine with vinegar and newspaper.  He comes in from walking the dog to find her on her knees scrubbing the floor. For years they have used a mop.

“My fingers are doing great,” she says, holding her hands up and wiggling the digits. “The glucosamine must finally be working.” But the next day, she notices her kneecaps aching once more, and she has to ask him to open the jar of jam.

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Non-Fiction. Edited by Olga Stein

Dear Readers,

There was an unusual mix of submissions for the non-fiction section of the Jan 2023 edition. Two pieces came from men who have lived through traumatic circumstances in their native countries. The psychological dimensions of trauma are so palpable in Diary Marif’s “My battle scars,” that I doubt there’s any need to point out the double meaning of the title. Afghanistani photojournalist Ahmad Fadakar’s description of Kabul’s fall to the Taliban is equally distressing, with its emotional response — personal and collective — to the withdrawal of Western forces plainly yet eloquently communicated. We are beyond grateful for these contributions.

A very different kind of theme is developed with pieces by Eva Salzman’s, “Writers’ Wives,” and Suzanne M. Steele’s “If She Must Be a Myth.” While Salzman’s essay comments incisively and with great wit on the hazards of being a woman writer in a marriage with another writer, Steele’s piece functions as both a review of Heather Clark’s Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath, and a memoir of Steele’s introduction in Mallorca to — coincidentally —the wife of a writer, the very accomplished poet, Ruth Fainlight. Steele’s very smart piece is a meditation on the all-too-easy assumptions we tend to make about creative women labouring, often entirely unjustly, under the shadows of their celebrated husbands. I will it to readers to note how simpatico these pieces are, but I would also like to draw readers to two short stories that likewise zoom in on the dynamics of relationships involving two creative people. Irena Karafilly’s “A Poet’s Widow Writes to Her Late Husband,” literally (and poetically) explodes a relationship. My own story, “Couples,” also explores the pros and cons of creative couplings.

It’s a joy for an editor to watch as a theme is developed across a number of submissions and across genres. I hope you enjoy this through line as much as we have at WordCity.

Diary Marif

dyiari

My battle scars  

A scar the size of a small spider mars the left side of my head. It holds the memory of a four-year-old boy, who only knew war for the first four years of his life. His playground was an empty field and his toys were cannonballs, found among the ruins.

One day, the boy fell into a deep sewer and slit the left side of his face. He cried hysterically while his mother frantically searched for him. When she finally found him at the bottom of the hole, he was unconscious, severely hurt, with a deep cut that required stitching.

I was that boy, and I have the scar to prove it. It looks menacing, with a tail like a scorpion, full of poison. It earned me stares, cruelty from the kids at school, and eventually the nickname Scorpion.

Every scar that mars my body tells a similar story. I am a child of war, born in the middle of the eight-year Iraq-Iran war, which lasted from 1980 to 1988. My family had to move from one place to another since we lived at the epicentre of the war. Additionally, the Kurds tried to hide the identity of their males to avoid them being forced to join the Iraqi army. Being born as an unidentified person, coupled with the battle scars I had collected, traumatized me.

Barbarity and brutality became a routine part of the life of the country; people, including children, turned against each other. Most of my generation has several battle scars. The scars are so clearly visible that I’m still embarrassed by them after three decades. I counted the spots: one, two, and three… I found ten. Each scar represents war and has a deep tragic memory.

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Ahmad Ali Fadakar

ahmad5

15 August kabul fall.
 

15 August, Kabul Falls.

I don’t see Kabul anymore. Kabul doesn’t have its own blue sky anymore. And the girls of this city can no longer wear their flowery dresses and skirts. They’ve forgotten their laughter.

It was a dark day for Kabul and its people. I didn’t think at all that the Taliban would take over Kabul, and it was hard for me to even imagine it. Unfortunately, this is what happened. On Sunday morning, August 15th, I went to the German-language class as usual, and I didn’t suspect at all that the Taliban would arrive.

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Eva Salzman

EvaSalzman

Writers’ Wives

The Victorian writer’s equivalent of a Reader’s Wife photo might resemble Coventry Patmore’s homage to his first wife, Emily, that “Angel in the House”, which is also the title of a work for which he should surely be remembered. Men like Millais, Ruskin (who was shocked on this wedding night by his wife’s pubic hair), and Tennyson all shared Patmore’s enthusiasm for a particular kind of wife. According to Katherine Moore, author of Victorian Wives, she had to be “without self-pity or rebellion or reproach or any hint of ugliness or failure. She  did not have much sense of humour perhaps, but this was not required of her.” However, adds Moore, Milton’s “He for God only, she for God in him” didn’t really work in Eden either.

Patmore had two more wives (the first one died decorously young and beautiful). Then, at the age of 70, he fell in love with a poetess — an intellectual who was totally unsuited to domesticity and wife-hood, as he and a whole lot of Victorian stuffed shirts understood those terms. Shame.

Coleridge married Sarah, but Asra was his muse. H.G. Wells stayed good and married even while falling in love with and carrying on his affair with the more literary and, no doubt, altogether more challenging Rebecca West. Boswell, in search of a wife, discounted some who yet did splendidly as mistresses.

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Dr. Suzanne M. Steele

Suzanne Steele

‘If She Must Be a Myth’. a review of Heather Clark’s Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath. by Dr. Susanne M. Steele

 

The old comparisons to Medea and Electra no longer hold. If she [Plath] must be a myth, let her be Ariadne, laying down the threads, leading us out from the centre of the labyrinth. Let us not desert her.

~ Heather Clark, Red Comet (937)

I’m just finishing this brilliant yet very heavy (literally at 1100 pages, and figuratively) biography of Sylvia Plath by the American biographer, Heather Clark. To say it is a tour-de-force is an understatement. And yes, it does what Clark sets out to do, and that is shift the focus from her death, despite its ever-presence in the collective literary conscious, to a rich, rich life filled with good and loyal friends, people who cared for her deeply with friendship (and financial assistance), even to her final days/hours. The carefully detailed description of this care certainly corrected my previous understanding of Plath as a woman I had been under the impression had been left wholly abandoned, sick, to die alone; many people were absolutely present for her, even hours before her death 24/7, and this speaks of how worthy people felt she was.

The miracle of Plath, I realize as I read this 1100-page hard cover book (ouch, I had to use a pillow on my lap), is that she wrote anything lasting at all, never mind what many believe to be the very best of 20th century poetry, given the circumstances of her post-marriage, quotidian life and her times as a woman of the 1950s – early 60s. And of this poetry — the very best of her best— she wrote while weighted down by tremendous grief and loss at her husband’s desertion and the knowledge of his comparatively breezy life with another woman/women, coupled with his increasing fame and rising financial fortune. And oh, the irony that a woman’s best work comes from a man’s absence.

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Irena Karafilly

author's pic 3

A Poet’s Widow Writes to Her Late Husband

What I remember most vividly is the scent of dying chrysanthemums. It was Labour Day weekend. We sat together on the sundeck steps, in that nameless season between seasons, breathing in the piercing smells of rain-soaked earth and stunted vegetation. After a while, a beautiful grey cat padded out of the night and settled between our thighs. That seemed wonderful for some reason.

You were still a virtual stranger. One of my creative writing profs had been granted tenure and decided to throw a party. The McGill Ghetto House was too small for so many guests: faculty and students, neighbours and relatives.

You were my prof’s cousin, an English graduate student. Everyone seemed to be drinking too much, talking at the same time. We decided to stay outdoors, smoking and chatting, idly stroking the wantonly purring cat. You’d just had two poems published and were in high spirits. Remember?

I recall being hugely impressed. When I told you I hoped to have my work published some day, you asked whether you could read my stories, and I blushed and said, “Sure. Though I’ve barely written half a dozen. I’m too obsessive to be prolific.”

I gave you my phone number, which you wrote on the flap of your cigarette box, and also on the back of a bookstore receipt — just in case, you said. At that moment, a gust of wind rose from the river and the cat bolted, vanishing among the shuddering trees, as if pursued by malevolent spirits. We both burst out laughing, like doting parents over a toddler’s caper.

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Literary Spotlight.
Marthese Fenech in conversation with Sue Burge

Eight Pointed Cross Cover

 

LITERARY SPOTLIGHT: MARTHESE FENECH – STORYTELLING HISTORY

For this issue I was lucky enough to hook up with Marthese Fenech, who writes historical fiction, a genre I devour and admire!  I love all of Mar’s answers below, she answers my questions as a true and natural storyteller and is the polar opposite of the stereotypes relating to historical researchers – there’s not a mote of dry academic dustiness here but instead an endlessly curious, lively and engaging mind.  If you’ve ever wondered how historical novelists manage to breathe life into their chosen eras and characters, read on! 

Mar, lovely to meet you!  You are most well-known for your epic historical novels set in sixteenth century Malta and Turkiye.  Both your parents are Maltese, although you grew up in Toronto.  Did you have a strong sense of your heritage from very early on or was this interest something that came to you as an adult?

From the time I was three months old until well into my late teens, I spent more summers in Malta than at home in Canada. I grew up with one foot firmly planted in each country. In fact, I spoke fluent Maltese before English. Frequent visits to the island piqued my interest in its opulent history (and its delectable ice cream).

Life under the rule of the Knights of St John fascinated me most. The Maltese Islands lend themselves very well to literary descriptions—gifted with four compass points of natural beauty, the smell of the sea constant no matter how far inland one might venture, ancient temples that predate the pyramids of Egypt. It’s easy to find oneself swept up in its architecture and narrow lanes.

In July 2000, I travelled to Malta for a pre-college vacation. I intended to spend my days at the beach, my nights bar-hopping, and every second belly-laughing with old friends. I checked off every box, every day.

But that particular trip became so much more when my Dutch friend suggested we go to the capital city Valletta to check out the Malta Experience, an audio-visual masterpiece that showcases the island’s incredible seven-thousand-year history. The moment the Great Siege of 1565 played out on the screen, everything changed. Suddenly, the battle I’d heard so much about came to life for me as never before.

The Siege tested the resilience and fortitude of this little island and its people in ways I could hardly comprehend. It’s an underdog story for the ages. And just like that, the idea to write a novel based on this epic battle took root. Only it turned into a trilogy because there was far too much to pack into a single book.

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Books and Reviews. Edited by Geraldine Sinyuy

Clara Burghelea

clara-burghelea

Green Horses on the Walls by Cristina A. Bejan. Finishing Line Press, May 27, 2020. 46 pp

Cristina A. Bejan’s debut collection, Green Horses on the Walls (Finishing Line Press, 2020), is a 2021 Independent Press Book Award Winner and the 2021 Colorado Authors’ League Book Award for cover design which is also the author’s creation.

A spoken-word poet named Lady Godiva, Cristina A. Bejan, confers her collection the rhythm and beat of her performative act. Her reading at the Romanian Cultural Institute in March 2022 was an enthusiastic tour de force where Cristina A. Bejan’s acting skills complemented her poetry. Despite the easiness of her performative body language and enunciation, Cristina A. Bejan’s poems require a vulnerable and open heart since they address uncomfortable topics such as the crimes of communist Romania, mental health, and sexual assault. Blending Romanian, French and English, the author portrays the immigrant story of her family and through extraordinary acts of rebuilding, celebration and longing, her hyphenated identity reveals its richness.

Filled with visual and narrative streaks, her poems illustrate figments of a life that was shaped by immigration, separation, communism, trauma, while constantly negotiating the much-needed space to find balance. In her poem, “A Tricky Diaspora”, there is an accumulation of such earnest pieces that pull into forging the joint American-Romanian identity:

I’m from a tricky Diaspora

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Gordon Phinn

Gordon Phinn

Coasting Through Winter

Works Referenced:

This Is Assisted Dying, Stephanie Green (Scribner 2022)
The Philosophy of Modern Song, Bob Dylan (Simon & Schuster 2022)
Gangsters of Capitalism, Jonathan M. Katz (St. Martin’s Press 2021)
They Knew, Sarah Kendzior (Flatiron Books 2022)
Untold Stories: How The Light Gets In, Michael Posner (Simon & Schuster 2022)
The Animals, Cary Fagan (Book*Hug 2022)
A Factotum in The Book Trade, Marius Kociejowski (Biblioasis 2022)
Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart, Beatriz Hausner (Book*Hug 2020)
Shadow Blight, Annick MacAskill (Gaspereau Press 2022)

*

When a friend recently recommended Dr. Stephanie Green’s very personal account
of her interest in, and commitment to, medically assisted dying, I knew I had to get my hands on it.

The issue had been of great interest to me over the years of terminal patients petitioning the authorities to change the rules and being refused, on through those with sufficient funds travelling to Switzerland where the procedure had long been legal and thence to Oregon where the north American ice had been broken, while those without that recourse settled for anonymous local assistance groups to provide the helium regularly used for party balloons to ease the transition.  That and the likes of Jack Kevorkian, Dr. Death as he a came to be known, following their vision and finding themselves in the legal spotlight. Having some measure of dignified control over your death as well as your life seemed a primary human civil right to me, one from which all others sprang.

Of course this is a very contentious issue for many, perhaps even eclipsing the abortion debate, and its legalisation in Canada, 2016, was a triumphant celebration for some and an ethical disaster for others.  But for the early adopters, as we like to say, the clinicians who felt the call, there were the far more practical matters of studying the government’s guidelines on eligibility and proper procedure.  Dr. Green, it should be noted, had been a maternity nurse for nigh on twenty years and was beginning to wonder what other opportunities might be beckoning from around the corner when the choice presented itself.

Based in Victoria on Vancouver Island on Canada’s west coast, where it turns out, the highest number of requests for end-of-life services has now been noted, she began accepting referrals from doctors whose patients were at the end of their ropes and more than ready to take advantage of the new federal legislation of that spring.  Her memoir of that first year, This Is Assisted Dying, is a remarkable document, and will, I predict, be seen someday as a landmark in Canadian medical history.  She carefully illustrates the variety of family situations she encountered in her quest to aid the eligible to end the anguish of incapacitation and suffering that their conditions remorselessly dictated, whether fading away in hospice or home.  While the decision to bring their suffering to a halt, under Canada’s new law, rested entirely with the patient, spouses and adult children often pushed for a last minute reversal, pleading and sometimes bullying for what they thought was sensible and ethically defensible, with the patient’s agonies somehow kicked to the bottom of the list of priorities.  All the patients, I might add, were unconditionally grateful to have their wishes finally acknowledged by the system in which the doctors operated, some going as far as demanding the outraged promptly remove their passionate declarations of faith from the room.

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Love Letters to Water.
excerpts from an anthology by Claudiu Murgan

NEW-BLACK-LOVE-FRONT-Water-Sophia-cover-4-5-BEST_v2 (1)

A note from the editor: Claudiu Morgan
 
“Love Letter to Water” anthology has been a personal challenge that started in 2019 while taking part in the ‘Word of The Street’ book fair in Toronto. I noticed children playing a game, Love Letters to Your City. An interesting idea, I thought, and filled it in my mind. Then, in 2020 I started a podcast called ’Spiritually Inspired.’ I interview medical doctors, nutritionists, authors, shamans, energy healers, empaths, in general, individuals that are deep into their personal spiritual journey. 
 
What I had observed during these interviews was that at one point, the discussion turned towards the guest’s affinity to water. Childhood or adulthood experiences involving water brought forward deep feelings of gratitude. 
 
I realized that my guests could be the contributors to the anthology. Most of them responded enthusiastically, and two years later, the anthology morphed into its physical shape. Thirty-four contributors from 14 countries sharing their connection to water through fiction, non-fiction, and poems. 

The global importance of water to human life cannot be overstated and it is my hope that you,
the reader, will gain further insight into this essential life force via the shared thoughts of our impressive list of expert writers from around the world.

Continue to Excerpts

Poetry. Edited by Clara Burghelea

John Grey

John Grey

YOU ARE NOT A BIRD

Sorry
but your bones aren’t air-pockets.

You’ve no beak, no claws,
No wings or feathers.

A leap of three feet in the air
is followed by a similar drop.

You’ve not the lightness
to keep your ascent going.

And your descent
is like your life.

It will never break
with gravity.

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James Kowalczyk

James Kowalczyk

Orison

our memories
spread across 
uneven eons 
a second-hand tapestry of woes

naked shame 
clothe thy name

genuine prayer can drill 
a sacred screw into the poisoned blood 
like viscous iron
smelting the night

between the eyes 
it climbs a fence
like caged ivy

on Vena Cava Lane 
even Joey Gentile drops
her digital pacifier 

awakened
we charge thee
with apocryphal bible belt bullshit 
in the south 

rumor consumer ads
squirt like fish through an endless 
stream of consciousness

heading north

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gabor g gyukics

gábor g gyukics

in the swimming pool  

he jumped headfirst
but before each length
he read a stanza from a poem
and during each fifty meters
he engraved each stanza in his brain

as many stanzas
as many lengths 

when he finished
he recited the poem
to those present
at the pool’s cafeteria

he left damp pages
from his notebook
in the locker room trashcan

Continue to 2 more poems

James Coburn

James Coburn

Requiem for Edwin Chiloba

Some whom he loved 
banished him for years.
Do they think of him
now with tears?

Petals spread
before smashed to ground.
For hideous reason
his body was found.

Yes, his body was found
in a metal box, dumped like trash
on a Kenyan road
by a sick mind to implode.

He was born the son 
of LGBTQ mirth.
He found a family
by fashioning earth.

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Gabriel Bates

Gabriel Bates

left or right

it doesn't
really matter
which side
of the circus
we each choose
to stand on
because either way,
the donkeys
and elephants
will just end up
trampling over
everyone.

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Michelle Reale

Michelle Reale

CATALYTIC

Swimming upstream is a talent. Movement abstracted from a particular situation is an exercise and not a particularly useful one.  For instance, when I was born , a man leaned over me with a silver dollar on his chest. It gleamed with possibility, I was told. Intention counted for something then. His disappointment shone brighter than currency, which my mother tried to temper. She waved her hands as if shooing a flock of jewel –like birds , which had nothing better to do than flap wildly with bird-like exclamation.  My father dozed with his eyes at half-mast, a characteristic we’d become used to and for which he was known.  The blood red Trillium along the border of the narrow house, he’d cultivated for two generations. If he was lucky, there would be a third. Even pre-cognitive, the smell of death wafted my way. It would always be like this. I could discern the timing of things. They called it a gift. The variables were always shifting, but I managed to find the right angle to things. That egress window was a portal to safety or it was nothing at all.  Decorative was not in our nature.  I would have given my life for the idle abstractions of my own family history, a way to do it properly, or just end it all together, but the story dictates we were always ever on our own. Assurances sucked noisily on a wayward breast.  There is a ghostly foreshadowing linked forever to the the knife that is sharp, but destined to rest in the linoleum lined drawer, no matter what it is capable of.

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Bhuwan Thapaliya

Bhuwan Thapaliya

Lost Poems

I feel at peace
among the thick woods, 
tall swirling ferns, 
the bird’s songs,
and the humming creeks. 
Here in the secret of the forest
I pinch myself to see 
if I am a human
and then I hear myself 
humming an old pastoral song 
over and over again.
The birds are wheeling
 all around the sky 

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Anne Sorbie

Annie Sorbie

Promise of Birch

Below winter’s crust
the earth gestates
the kind of life we’ve 
come to expect of her

We see her anticipation
in the arms of trees
reaching east and west 
embracing the most 

wuthering winds 
accepting their dull roar
as they have for centuries
Their roots 

umbilical by nature
grow beneath the protection
of ever greening cedars
The birch knows

birthing and rebirthing
brings forth life 
in spite of
difficulty or danger

offers boughs of hope
unfurling sweet buds of joy
even though the danger
of annihilation lurks

The birch knows
her most difficult
challenge 
is living

	under the threat
	of blight
	climate change
	war 

And still she gives rise 
after 		
birth
to spectacular silver shimmer

arrays of leaves
that applaud her existence
her resilience
her bravery


Her earthly bearing
depends upon
her steadfast 
vascular fan

a subsurface braiding
outspread and reaching 
for the circumference 
of her verdant crown

and its otherworldly promise
of spring’s delight

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Yuan Hongri

Yuan Hongri

Golden Paradise
 
Golden birds ah!
Flew above my head
A golden ribbon
Spreading out to me from the sky
I saw the golden mountains
Smiling at me in the distance
The layers of airy pavilions and pagodas
Standing in the purple-red clouds
The gardens in the sky ah!
The exquisite pagodas 
The bridge of golds and gems ah!
Arched across the vast expanse of the Milky Way
I saw a giant
Waving to me in the sky
Stood on the propitious clouds
Shining millions of rays
 
The huge figure ah!
Like a high mountain
The golden dragons!
Fluttering around him
 
A round of sun ah!
Shining above his head
The golden robe ah!
Burning in the halos

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Fatema Akhtar

Fatema Akhtar photo by Nilofar Zohuri Rahoon

Birth of a Girl

Among desert-roaming nomads
one evening the downcast sickly-yellow Sun
collected her wares, gathered her skirts
and hurried towards the dark

The tent was black, the woman in pain,
her soul on fire, consumed, yet cold
Once more, it’s a girl—What an end 
to nine months of fear and hope

Not a gunshot to announce good news
Nor a torch to grace the space
The midwife—not rewarded—
cast a shadow on her face

I was that unwanted girl
the disgrace of the tribe
For my ancestor, the chief,
a girl was cause for shame

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Mansour Noorbakhsh

Mansour-Snow-2020 (resized)

The Meaning of Joints

The night,
grapples with the buttons of my garment 
in the repetition of a battle between the meaning of 
my fingers and the numbness of the cold.

I am not afraid of death
My fear is the repetition of death and its multiplication.
I have died many times before
in the teeth stained with blood and pain that 
have repeated a single word.
Like the farewell kisses.

Like chewing the cold
and the tremble of 
numb fingers.
That prevents recognition of 
the buttons from the night.

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Susmit Panda

SusmitPanda

Plaything

Zip it! Don’t tell me that the world’s a hard place, man.
I am the youngest of the Matryoshka clan. 

Don’t let no demon child dismantle, one by one
The mother, daughter and the baby son.

She sees, on my behalf, the dark, dark sky;
She sees, on my behalf, how human beings cry.

She dreams, on my behalf, of gee-gees whipped and drowned,
Of chariots shattered, tumbled to the ground,

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Pratibha Castle

Pratibha Castle(1)

Forest Eulogy
 
I choose a druid oak 
to oversee your journey, 
rest my back 
against its gravelled spine, 
sense its heartbeat 
syncopate with mine.

A winter past, 
we savoured wine
sparkled to rubies 
by flickers in the grate, 
crackling bark, guzzling

logs, bone chips 
and ash silky 
as the apple blossom talc 
you loved. 

Next day, you watched 
me fork the log’s dregs 
beneath your favourite David Austen. 

Your last choice patience, 
you rest now 
beside the grate 
in a copper urn. 

Dawn sweeps away the night 
as I gather ash 
and flecks 
in a shovel 
arthritic with rust, 

cradle your pot, 
pad a Gretel trail 
of golden dapple 
to your guardian tree, 
sprinkle ash 
about its knuckley roots.
 
Lift my head to the echo 
in a blackbird’s eulogy 
of your song. 

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Finn Harvor

Finn Harvor

BOY MEETS GIRL AFTER BATTLE 1

Pretty in the morning
Disfigured by afternoon,
The girl lies under rubble
Where a soldier spots her,
Not realizing that three hours earlier
Everything else being equal,
He would have felt differently
And their meeting,
Crump-thuddy
And shot-staccatoed,
Would had led to something more,
A sequel.

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Lake Huron. January 2023.

Featured

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

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 39-1.jpg

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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

spotlight1

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! 

Continue to 2 more poems

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!”

Continue reading

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....

Continue to another to poem

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

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

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

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

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 

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading and to 1 more poem

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.

Continue Reading

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

Mitchell Sheffield

IMG_20221202_161742~2

What’s The Point

What’s the point of tanks if you can’t have a little fun?
Riding on the rusty turret and swiveling the gun.
Computer games are all that war’s about,
Say hungry soldiers grabbing little piggies by the snout.
Just a game of hide and seek ,as
artillery triangulation is adjusted just a tweak.

Continue reading

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

Table of Contents. WordCity Literary Journal. January 2023

Fiction. Edited by Sylvia Petter

Faculty Lounge. by Paul Germano

How the Tree Leaves Helped the Poet. by Dilan Qadir

The Clockwork Trinity. by Brian Hughes

Finding Transcendence into an Upside-Down World. by Marzia Rahman

Couples. by Olga Stein

Morning Star. by Chantel Lavoie

Non-fiction. Edited by Olga Stein

My battle scars. by Diary Marif

15 August kabul fall. by Ahmad Ali Fadakar

Writers’ Wives. by Eva Salzman

‘If She Must Be a Myth’. by Dr. Suzanne M. Steele

A Poet’s Widow Writes to Her Late Husband. by Irena Karafilly

 

Literary Spotlight.

Marthese Fenech in Converstaion with Sue Burge

Books and Reviews. edited by Geraldine Sinyuy

Green Horses on the Walls by Cristina A. Bejan. by Clara Burghelea

Coasting Through Winter. by Gordon Phinn

Works Referenced:

This Is Assisted Dying, Stephanie Green (Scribner 2022)
The Philosophy of Modern Song, Bob Dylan (Simon & Schuster 2022)
Gangsters of Capitalism, Jonathan M. Katz (St. Martin’s Press 2021)
They Knew, Sarah Kendzior (Flatiron Books 2022)
Untold Stories: How The Light Gets In, Michael Posner (Simon & Schuster 2022)
The Animals, Cary Fagan (Book*Hug 2022)
A Factotum in The Book Trade, Marius Kociejowski (Biblioasis 2022)
Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart, Beatriz Hausner (Book*Hug 2020)
Shadow Blight, Annick MacAskill (Gaspereau Press 2022)

Love Letters to Water. excerpts from an anthology by Claudiu Murgan

Poetry. Edited by Clara Burghelea

3 poems by John Grey

3 poems by James Kowalczyk

3 poems by gabor g gyukics

Requiem for Edwin Chiloba. by James Coburn

left or right. by Gabriel Bates

2 poems by Michelle Reale

Lost Poems. by Bhuwan Thapaliya

2 poems by Anne Sorbie

Golden Paradise. by Yuan Hongri

Birth of a Girl. by Fatema Akhtar

2 poems by Mansour Noorbakhsh. WCLJ poet-in-residence

Plaything. by Susmit Panda

2 poems by Pratibha Castle

4 poems by Finn Harvor

Return to Journal

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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Love Letters to Water. excerpts from an anthology by Claudiu Murgan

NEW-BLACK-LOVE-FRONT-Water-Sophia-cover-4-5-BEST_v2 (1)
 
A note from the editor: Claudiu Morgan
 
“Love Letter to Water” anthology has been a personal challenge that started in 2019 while taking part in the ‘Word of The Street’ book fair in Toronto. I noticed children playing a game, Love Letters to Your City. An interesting idea, I thought, and filled it in my mind. Then, in 2020 I started a podcast called ’Spiritually Inspired.’ I interview medical doctors, nutritionists, authors, shamans, energy healers, empaths, in general, individuals that are deep into their personal spiritual journey. 
 
What I had observed during these interviews was that at one point, the discussion turned towards the guest’s affinity to water. Childhood or adulthood experiences involving water brought forward deep feelings of gratitude. 
 
I realized that my guests could be the contributors to the anthology. Most of them responded enthusiastically, and two years later, the anthology morphed into its physical shape. Thirty-four contributors from 14 countries sharing their connection to water through fiction, non-fiction, and poems. 

The global importance of water to human life cannot be overstated and it is my hope that you,
the reader, will gain further insight into this essential life force via the shared thoughts of our impressive list of expert writers from around the world.

Poetry

LET WATER LIVE 
Geraldine Sinyuy (poet), CAMEROON 
 

Water is life 
Water is love 
Water for life, 
Water for the seeds to grow 
Water for the fishes in the seas, 
Water for transportation 
Water for cleansing 
Water for restoration. 
 
No water, no life. 
No water, no food, 
No water, no sea transport 
No water, no trees 
No water, no fish, 
No water, no beauty. 
Save the water, save lives. 
Pollute the water, you pollute life. 
No water no firmament, 
The water existed before mankind, 
Honour water, respect water. 
 

No water, no castles high and huge 
No water, no chemistry and apothecary, 
No water, no beer, no wine, no juice. 
Water is needed by both great and small, 
It’s the most basic need of mankind, fauna and flora. 
No water, no Timbuktu, 
No water, no trees, no voyages by ship, 
Life would be impossible without water, 
And all would be deserts, 
Human beings baked  
Like sand in the desert, 
And all entrails crushed  
and crumbled under touch 
like soaked chalk. 

Without water all would be wild storms of dust 
Unleashed from the bowels of an enraged nature! 
Wind and sun go rampage 
Thus drought in the land! 
Hungry starveling and thirsty souls 
Skeletal dehydrated ghosts 
Gape in the heavens 
Eyes sunk deep in dryness, 
Lips unable to pray 
Clipped together for lack of saliva! 

Fish and hippos forever united  
To sand and mud 
No surgical separation possible! 
This will be the fate of man without water? 
Let water live! 
 
Before 

Before you waste a glass of water, 
Think about a weary traveler in the desert. 
Who longs to have just a drop on his lip. 
Before you waste a bucket of water, 
Think about those who travel a thousand miles 
And dig a million metres 
Just to get a cup of water. 
Before you waste hours in a shower, 
Think about those who haven’t bathed for months. 
Before you pollute water, 
Think about those who depend on it, 
The people, the fish  
And life aquatic 
Before you toss away that bucket of used water, 
Think about recycling. 
Before you let the rain water waste, 
Think about the drought.  

Cameroonian born Sinyuy Geraldine trained as an English Language and Literature  Teacher at the University of Yaoundé in Cameroon where she obtained a Secondary and High School Teacher’s Diploma in 2005. Geraldine earned her PhD in Commonwealth Literature from the University of Yaoundé in 2018 and currently teaches English Language and Literature at Government Bilingual High School, Down Town Bamenda.

She is a book review/contributing editor at WordCity Monthly Journal; co-editor/contributing author of the poetry anthology, Poetry in Times of Conflict; and author of Music in the Wood: and Other Folktales.

Sinyuy passionately advocates for organic gardening and environmental care.

She has had the following awards; Featured Change Maker at World Pulse #She Transforms Tech Featured Change Makers Program.

Featured Storyteller on World Pulse Story Awards, May 2017.

Prize of Excellence as Best Teacher of the Year in CETIC Bangoulap, Bangangte, 23 October, 2010.

She is also Winner of the British Council Essay Writing Competition, Yaoundé, 2007, and Winner of Short Story Runner-Up Prize, Literary Workshop: CRTV Bamenda, 1998. 

LOVE LETTERS TO WATER
Rainey Marie Highley (author, coach, yoga teacher), USA 

 						       
Inside... 
         You have journeyed with us.  
         For eons. Unnoticed. Unrecognized.  
Finally.  
Our conscious union begins...  
         We sing.  
         You move.  
               Masaru Emoto taught me that.  
         Sacred geometric dancing...  
         Creates the energetic conditions.  
Alchemical Transmutation.  
         Trans-form  
               Frozen  
                     now melting  
               Liquid 
                     evaporating  
         Mist in between  
               Steam  
 	 	     It’s all moving, you see.  
               Plasma  
                     You read about the 4th phase, right?   
               What is that, you say?  
         Liquid Light  
         That’s right  
We ascend.  
         Transcend.  
               Trans-form  
                    The human condition a distant dream...  
               Memories flooding back.  
               Respect, reverence, realization  
               Your sacrifice etched forever...  
                    Engraved in every molecule,  
                    Imprinted on our souls...  
Love 
     and  
         Gratitude  
     Always  
Love 
     and  
         Gratitude.  

Rainey Marie Highley is an award-winning metaphysical author of over seven published books including two #1 Amazon bestsellers and the award-winning book, The Water Code: Unlocking the Truth Within. As a Spiritual Life Coach, Soul Tribe Teacher & Guide, Rainey helps clients shed societal programming, accelerate their spiritual growth, awaken to their soul’s mission, and grow in happiness, confidence, strength, and courage. Rainey is based in Sedona, Arizona USA. For more, go to www.4authenticity.com.

Fiction

THE STORY OF THE SEVEN LAKES

Claudiu Murgan (author, podcaster), CANADA

The story of the Seven Lakes surrounding the peaks of the Sacred Mountain had immemorial roots.

Word-of-mouth that had survived generations now extinct said that God had created Adam and Eve as giants, and that was the place where they had first walked as living beings.

The heaviness of their bodies had left deep recesses on the moist soil that later filled with the water with which God had blessed the land after that important creation.

Shaken by the awareness of who they were, Adam and Eve had knelt down to face each other, pushing up the ground that was now the Sacred Mountain, but only Adam’s left knee had touched the ground. The other one had kept its footing, pressing hard for balance. Adam’s Right Foot lake is the deepest, and some say, the most treacherous.

The mountain’s dizzying heights and jagged edges were never conquered by mortal climbers on their way to fame. Millenia had passed, and humans had learned to stay away for their own safety and gaze at the threatening peaks from a distance, getting their satisfaction by their daily fulfilment of mundane goals.

Rumors spread throughout the communities at the foot of the mountain, that the wisdom and teaching transmitted orally from gurus to yogis, were much more potent than the written ones.

Stories rolled into myths like timid spheres of snow that, when reaching their tipping point, become devastating avalanches. The few touched by the teaching neither confirmed nor denied the validity of the primordial creation or what happened after Adam and Eve were, mesmerized by the love beaming from their physical shells.

How could love and the realization they had been spirit molded into physicality, shrunk to allow for procreation and the nimble integration into what they understood was Mother?

Why had they kept to themselves the knowledge about the healing powers of their tears that, when stored in vials the size of a thimble were enough to bring health and prosperity to a whole family?

Was it true that God had imprinted the Water of the Lakes with innate intelligence and awareness as if it were a fluid-vigilante over humankind?

Historians had yet to uncover any words Adam, Eve, or of their descendants, for that matter, had written about Water’s role in its time-forsaken hide-out.  

Openings the size of a peephole on the sides of the six of the lakes allowed for the trickle of a whisper of the water to find its way down the slopes, hopping over stones and fallen logs, clearing layers of leaves with lost identities, resting along its arduous journey in clear puddles.

Humans and animals alike quenched their thirst from the liquid veins traversing Mother in all directions, but only a handful of them appreciated the gift of life through open prayer and thankful thoughts.

Centuries had passed before inquisitive minds acknowledged the omnipresence and omnipotence of Water. It played so many characters at once: fluid in the shape of oceans, rivers, and ponds; vapor in the invisible state of humidity and flying rivers; solid in monumental ice sculptures attached to the side of unforgivingly steep mountains and aged icecaps.

Over time, the spirituality and scientific inquiries stirred in the cauldron of evolutionary thinking, raised the unthinkable question: was Water another form of God?

Heads nodded equally in agreement and denial. Were they afraid to elevate Water to such an inconceivable level? Was it sacrilege? Water seemed to know it all, to record in its fluid molecular structure the rise and the fall of life on Earth from its inception.

Naturally, another query dropped into the pool of human consciousness: if the awakened Water seeped from the Sacred Mountain, would it contain the biological imprints of Adam and Eve?

Thoughts scattered in all directions like a beehive under a bear attack and then quieted, appalled by their intrusion into seeking the bond between God and Water. The mystery remains unsolved. 

Is Water God?

Claudiu Murgan is enthralled by our consciousness and the notion of  our place in the enormous wheels of the multiverse. His settings as science fiction, fantasy or eco-fiction, focus on describing the beauty of Mother Nature, who demands action from all of us.

Claudiu’s experience in various industries such as IT, renewable energies, real estate and finance helped him create complex, realistic characters that bring forward meaningful messages.

Claudiu is the author of three Science Fiction/Fantasy novels: The Decadence of Our Souls, Water Entanglement, and Crystal Cloud. His short stories have been published in anthologies in the USA, Canada, Italy, and Romania.

Connect at ClaudiuMurgan.com

Non-fiction

WATER

Wade Davis (ethnographer, author, filmmaker), CANADA

We are born of water, a cocoon of comfort in a mother’s womb. As infants our bodies are almost exclusively liquid.

Even as adults only a third of our physical being has solidity.

Compress our bones, ligaments and muscle sinew, extract the platelets and cells from our blood, and the rest of us, nearly two- thirds of our weight, stripped clean and rinsed, would flow as easily as a river to the sea. 

We live on a water planet. Two atoms of hydrogen bonded to an atom of oxygen, multiplied by the miracle of physics and chemistry are transformed into clouds, rivers and rain.

A droplet in the palm of a hand rolls about, fortified by surface tension, a wall of oxygen atoms. Spilled to the ground, it changes shape to match whatever it touches, yet adheres and bonds to nothing save itself.

The unique physical properties of water alone allow tears to roll down the skin, perspiration to bead in the nape of the neck, menstrual blood to flow.

Breath condenses, soft as mist. Rainwater runs as rivulets through cracks in the clay. Rivers of ice harden and flow. Streams slip away to the sea. 

Water can be a crystal matrix, solid as glacial ice, as delicate as a snow flake. It falls from the sky as rain, sleet or hail. It disappears as vapor only to reappear as fog. It pools in great caverns beneath the surface of the world, erupts in geysers, cascades over the highest of escarpments, sweeps as oceans above the tallest of mountain ranges.

 Water can shift states, becoming gas, solid or liquid, but its essence can be neither created nor destroyed.

The amount of moisture on the planet does not change through time. The water that slaked the thirst of dinosaurs is the same as that which tumbles to the sea today, the same fluid that has nurtured all sentient life since the dawn of creation.

The sweat from your brow, the urine from your bladder, the very blood in your body will ultimately seep into the ground to become part of the hydrological cycle, the endless and infinite process of evaporation, condensation and precipitation that makes possible all of biological existence. 

Water in this sense has no beginning and no end. To slip one’s hand into a pool, a lake, or an ocean is to return to the point of origins, to connect across the eons to that primordial moment, impossibly distant in time, when celestial bodies, perhaps frozen comets, collided with the earth and brought the elixir of life to a lonely, barren planet spinning in the velvet void of space. 

Wade Davis is a writer, photographer, and filmmaker whose work has taken him from the Amazon to Tibet, Africa to Australia, Polynesia to the Arctic.

Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society from 2000 to 2013, he is currently Professor of Anthropology and the BC Leadership Chair in Cultures and Ecosystems at Risk at the University of British Columbia. Author of 23 books, including One River, The Wayfinders and Into the Silence, winner of the 2012 Samuel Johnson prize, the top nonfiction prize in the English language, he holds degrees in anthropology and biology and received his Ph.D. in ethnobotany, all from Harvard University.

His many film credits include Light at the Edge of the World, an eight-hour documentary series written and produced for the NGS.

Davis, one of 20 Honorary Members of the Explorers Club, is the recipient of 12 honorary degrees, as well as the 2009 Gold Medal from the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, the 2011 Explorers Medal, the 2012 David Fairchild Medal for botanical exploration, the 2015 Centennial Medal of Harvard University, the 2017 Roy Chapman Andrews Society’s Distinguished Explorer Award, the 2017 Sir Christopher Ondaatje Medal for Exploration, and the 2018 Mungo Park Medal from the Royal Scottish Geographical Society. 

In 2016, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada.

In 2018 he became an Honorary Citizen of Colombia.

His latest book is Magdalena: River of Dreams, Knopf, 2020.

Return to Journal

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 Poet’s Widow Writes to Her Late Husband. fiction by Irena Karafilly

author's pic 3

A Poet’s Widow Writes to Her Late Husband

What I remember most vividly is the scent of dying chrysanthemums. It was Labour Day weekend. We sat together on the sundeck steps, in that nameless season between seasons, breathing in the piercing smells of rain-soaked earth and stunted vegetation. After a while, a beautiful grey cat padded out of the night and settled between our thighs. That seemed wonderful for some reason.

You were still a virtual stranger. One of my creative writing profs had been granted tenure and decided to throw a party. The McGill Ghetto House was too small for so many guests: faculty and students, neighbours and relatives.

You were my prof’s cousin, an English graduate student. Everyone seemed to be drinking too much, talking at the same time. We decided to stay outdoors, smoking and chatting, idly stroking the wantonly purring cat. You’d just had two poems published and were in high spirits. Remember?

I recall being hugely impressed. When I told you I hoped to have my work published some day, you asked whether you could read my stories, and I blushed and said, “Sure. Though I’ve barely written half a dozen. I’m too obsessive to be prolific.”

I gave you my phone number, which you wrote on the flap of your cigarette box, and also on the back of a bookstore receipt — just in case, you said. At that moment, a gust of wind rose from the river and the cat bolted, vanishing among the shuddering trees, as if pursued by malevolent spirits. We both burst out laughing, like doting parents over a toddler’s caper.

Soon, we found ourselves sharing our own foibles. You thought irrational fears defined human beings more significantly than their aspirations. I did not agree. I told you I couldn’t sleep with my feet exposed, no matter how hot the weather. Ever since I was three years old, I’d feared some nocturnal creatures might creep up from under the bed and nibble on my toes.

“I doubt this says anything significant about me.” I was gnawing on a stubborn hangnail, making a worm of blood seep along my thumbnail. You noticed and made a face. You confessed that you were trying to get over a lifelong aversion to the sight of blood. A week earlier, you had tried to give blood to the Red Cross but ended up vomiting in public. You told me this and averted your eyes. I, too, disliked the sight of my blood and was rattled when, during our first night together, the leg I’d cut, shaving it for your hand, bled and bled. You concluded I was not a virgin. You went so far as to write about it later.

Oh, time has shaken out dozens of fragmented poems. My favourite — the one that eventually earned you your first literary prize — was inspired by our Newfoundland honeymoon. The poem was titled “Gift.” It was long, but I still remember the bewildering final line. We had arrived in St. John’s on a radiant fall afternoon, rented a convertible, and the setting sun, you later wrote, had turned my head into a gorgeous wound. “Oh!” was all I could say on first reading it. A wound?!

 Years went by. I finally published my first short story, written when our son was born, extracted with flashing forceps from my howling flesh. You were in the delivery room with me, but somehow managed not to throw up or faint. Your growing reputation seemed to be strengthening your resolve. It was odd how exquisitely you wrote about our marriage, considering that you never seemed to pay much attention. You had become a university professor, busy with papers, exams, departmental meetings.

I learned to talk in questions, note the distances between embraces, mark the intervals between your occasional escapades with some avid student. Each time the scalpel cut a little deeper, flooding my mouth with blood, and drowning words.

You wrote about that too. Your reputation grew. You dedicated a book to me, your eternal muse, your inscription said. I knew you would never leave me. My blood had become your ink. The more you wrote about us, the more redundant my own words became.

Perhaps to compensate, you took to complimenting me extravagantly in front of colleagues and dinner guests. We learned to praise each other, the way others might praise a holiday resort, each vacation perfect as only photographs can make it. But in the distance, beyond the camera’s eye, lay vast, murmuring forests, a tundra of pulsating silence broken only by one of your dazzling stanzas. For years, that was how you communicated your innermost feelings. And now, four and a half decades since our hands met over a purring cat’s back, it is all I have left of you: nothing but your incandescent words to illuminate the thickening darkness.

Both my vision and my hearing are starting to fade. My voice, too, seems to be changing. Five years after your death, I still catch myself adopting your speech patterns, your facial calligraphy. Some nights, I drift off recalling the glint of silver at the back of your mouth whenever you laughed, and how the moon would shape your knotted, nocturnal smile.

For mysterious reasons, I seem to dream more vividly these days. Even after all these years, you still surface in my sleep, sometimes surprising me with your words or actions. One night, you and I have the following exchange.

“I’m getting drunk,” I say in my dream.

“Drink,” you say, “and pretend to be drunker than you are.”

Did this weird conversation ever take place? Is it something I’ve read somewhere? I don’t recall our having this exchange, but it sounds vaguely familiar and this worries me. Is my mind, too, out to betray me now?
I ask myself this question virtually every day, feeling myself being robbed of my only weapons, my dwindling cache of words, minted long before my neurons began to show signs of entanglement.

So here I am, writing to you on this bittersweet anniversary: words meant to punch you like a marble fist, to rouse your ashen heart like a child’s caress.

A few days ago, after granting permission to reprint one of your poems, I wept in my sleep, mentally towed toward a private family dance where our cellist son kept playing the same mournful tune, and our daughter’s limbs helplessly swayed to our own doomed refrain.

And that’s how it had been in the early years. But slowly, slowly, my watchful eyes grew dull with the veil of indifference. You had gradually grown so cunning. Your aging legs kept retreating, then coming back, always coming back, kicking their way into a storm of indignant protests, until one day there could be no more denials. Much too late, you clasped my hands — my innocent, spurned hands — and begged my forgiveness.

It was too late. Instead of offering forgiveness, I wrote my first short story in years. In the story, my mind tossed up the memory of a blind cat I’d spotted outside a Greek taverna. We had flown to Athens to celebrate our thirtieth anniversary and stopped to have lunch around the Acropolis. We ordered a huge platter of seafood and ate it outdoors, on a flower-festooned terrace, surrounded by jolly diners. It was a fine, extravagant lunch. The sun was so dazzling I almost forgot that, in recent months, I’d come close to telling you I was planning to leave you. I couldn’t muster the courage, but as we were walking away from the restaurant, I saw the sightless cat pause, sniffing, outside the hectic entrance, trembling with apprehension. The stray was sluggish with hunger and blind with mucus, but both the smell of grilled fish and sound of waiters’ boots came from the same direction.

The story was published in a national magazine, the year I reached menopause. It was also the year you found yourself for the first time unable to write a single stanza and blamed it on me. My censorious eyes, you claimed, robbed you of the peace of mind you needed to do your work.

My story eventually won a prestigious award. Of course, you congratulated me.  You bought me an expensive gift. But when I finally told you I’d decided to leave you, you looked like a child whose cookie had been snatched away just as he was about to bite into it.

You said, “But why? I mean, after all these years?”

“After all these years,” I echoed. A year had gone by since you begged for forgiveness, promising change. You hadn’t kept your promise. I made no reference to this. “I’ve decided to give myself a special gift this year,” I said, and achieved a smile.

“Very funny,” you said.

And then you spun around and went into your study and slammed the door. I thought you were probably struggling with a poem. As it turned out, you did not write a single line, but all the same managed to have the last word. When the ambulance came, you had been gone for hours, hunched over your desk, your head resting on a blank sheet of paper.

I’ll never know what it was your wayward heart could not withstand: my decision to leave, or your own failure to shape your rage into beguiling words. The truth is, your reputation was on the wane. Unlike some of your colleagues, you had never taken to the bottle but had, in recent years, begun to swallow a multitude of prescription pills.

Of course, I wept. Everyone assumed it was wifely grief.

I thought my heart was too atrophied for that. But then, just last night, you surfaced again, repeating your tearful apology, your pores oozing blood. The dream must have been triggered by the Labour Day anniversary, but perhaps, too, by a magazine article, from which I learned that some quantum physicists had advanced a theory of backward-flowing time. Though I did not really understand physics, the idea of defying time has taken hold of my imagination. What if…?

Hence this long letter; hence a preposterous question I suddenly find myself compelled to ask on this solitary holiday weekend. If there really were such a thing as backward-flowing time, and you could see your memory-smitten widow burning your poems on her rooftop terrace, would you hasten to return from your bitter exile; would you try to rewrite all those gouging poems?

No answer. I am still lucid enough to know there will be no answer between now and the ultimate silence. How exquisite, though, are autumn’s dying trees; how wounding the setting sun.

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Irena Karafilly is a Canadian writer, poet, and aphorist. She is the author of several acclaimed books and of numerous stories, poems, and articles, published in both literary and consumer magazines, as well as in various North American newspapers, including the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune. Her short stories have been widely published, anthologized, and broadcast, winning literary prizes such as the National Magazine Award and the CBC Literary Award. Her latest novel, Arrested Song, will be published in the UK in March, 2023.  She currently divides her time between Montreal and Athens.  For more information, please visit: irenakarafilly.com

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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Morning Star. fiction by Chantel Lavoie

ChantelleL

Morning Star

Caked in rich mud, it lies in the husband’s gloved hand, plucked from the garden with an accidental carrot and a deliberate handful of weeds. It smells green. He hoses it off at the side of the house and carries it into the kitchen. He hands it to her, her own hand coming out of the dishwater to take it. The blue-grey stone is vaguely egg-shaped and egg-sized.

“A fossil?”

“Not sure. Maybe. Sure was close to the surface.”

She sets it on the windowsill alongside a fragment of driftwood, shells they gathered with their grandchild, and a small alien made of Playdough with bent toothpicks for antennae.

The next day she sets it on the piano between a family photo and a potted plant. An hour later she moves it to their bedroom, alongside her jewellery box on the pine dresser. Then it’s a paperweight in the small office, holding the month’s receipts against the desk. This position doesn’t last the day before she picks it up again.

The doorbell sounds while she deliberates. She shoves her hand into the pocket of her embroidered woolen vest. She answers the door to so-and-so selling this-or-that. When she removes her hand from her pocket, the egg stays behind.

Over the course of the day, despite its weight, she feels lighter. She wipes out the spice drawer, empties the toaster tray of crumbs and makes it shine with vinegar and newspaper.  He comes in from walking the dog to find her on her knees scrubbing the floor. For years they have used a mop.

“My fingers are doing great,” she says, holding her hands up and wiggling the digits. “The glucosamine must finally be working.” But the next day, she notices her kneecaps aching once more, and she has to ask him to open the jar of jam.

Her vest hangs in the closet for ten days before she wears it again. She doesn’t remember the egg in the pocket until the evening, when it’s been there all day—another easy day in which her body creaks less and she stands up from her chair without a groan. The line between her eyes that comes from slight grimaces of pain seems less noticeable when she looks in the mirror. She takes the stone outside that evening, places it on the back porch railing, and considers adding it to the pebbles that keep the weeds in front of the shed at bay. It sits on the rail as she clips coupons the next morning, holding her cup of coffee with fingers that cramp and swell, veins like twisted rivers threatening to overwhelm their banks.

She finds excuses to have it nearby. She wears the vest most days, puts the egg in the pocket of loose slacks at other times, or the pocket of an apron when she decides to make a pie. For two weeks each day, she holds a store of energy, almost youth.  Walking the dog is no longer a chore, and she is faster than he is now.

One night he kisses the top of her head, setting a cup of tea beside the computer where she types an email to their daughter.

“I’m glad you’re doing so well, sweetheart.” The cup, in its saucer, rattles a little as he sets it down. He turns to pick up a tea towel, wincing from the pivot to his hip.

“So, this is going to sound odd . . .” she begins, drawing it out of her pocket.

He listens and smiles. At her urging, he keeps the stone in his own pocket the next day, and the next.

On the third, he loops a leather thong around the stone and knots the ends together so that it can be worn around the neck. They take turns—one day on, one day off.  It remains close against their skin, under their shirts, warm when the air is chilled, cool when the air is humid. Sometimes one has the greater need.

“You wear it today, sweetheart. You tossed and turned all night.”

“No, love. Your knees have been bad. And I wore it yesterday.”

It has no effect at night. Only once the sun is rising does it begin to do the wearer good, calming the blood pressure, easing joint pain. They set their alarm to the next day’s sunrise.  She gives it a name. Morning Star.

While they stretch, creak, and rise from the flowered sheets, they start to eye the stone in the copper dish on her dressing table, sun-bright. The egg grows smoother, polished by their skin.

In the fall, bulbs; in the spring, seeds, and squirrels digging to gnaw at the bulbs. Another summer brings sweltering and swelling. The dog, vomiting and whining, has to be put down. Even sharing the stone back and forth, they feel the stoneless days more deeply as seasons elapse.

Their flesh and its weakness distract them from kindness.

They begin to start their day with lists of pain: her lower back (since pregnancy and childbirth); his neck (rear-ended by a texting driver); her swollen knuckles (genetic); his knee (hockey in his forties); his right testicle; her scalp sore from hair elastics.

They almost compare. They almost compete.

One morning—his morning—he looks smug, sitting across from her on the edge of the bed. She sees his hand resting against his chest, curved around the slight bulge under the shirt he has just put on, as though his were a sacred heart. They had both awoken in pain. She stands up and fumbles to zip up her pants, shaky, humiliated.

The air around her awkward movements is tense, visible in her shoulders. She does not say good morning, and neither does he. Instead, he walks (spry, she thinks) out the door and down the stairs. The roots of her hair hurt when she runs the brush through the white strands. Her gnarled fingers hurt, and her wrists. He is pouring coffee by the time she joins him in the kitchen. She lifts the cup without thanking him and sets it down untasted.

“When I found the stone—” she begins. She can see it clearly, before she hosed it off and brought it into the house. Her muddy gloves. Her fingers wrapped around it.

“Then you must have handed it to me,” he retorts. “Is that how it happened?” His wife’s pinched face, the aggrieved eyes now above the rim of the cup, hold no memory of beauty.  What did he ever see in her? Why didn’t he leave years ago?

Other calculations: his eight more years on Earth; her caring for his mother in those months while their daughter was young, money was scarce, and the office wouldn’t let him go before nightfall. The potatoes, finger-peeled in cold water. The mowed lawns and strained shoulders. The sleepless nights. The fall on the stairs. The surgery. The other man she might have married. The offer once made to him at a conference. Come hither.

If the egg in the dish were not sharing their room, one of them would move out, polite as a guest. Instead, they lie awake in the minutes before the alarm clock on the bedside table rings, before the sun through the curtained window illuminates the tiny golden flowers on the curtains. Tears stream down into pillows at night, and no words are spoken across the wide bed in the morning as someone reaches for the egg.

Until one night, something stronger than proud pain. One of them moves to the centre and puts a warm hand on the other’s hip. They remember, upon waking, that bodily pain is not always the worst thing. She kisses his shoulder; his hand brushes her hair behind her ear. Eyes meet and forgive.

They are aging more slowly than their friends, who die one by one until those who remain are all a decade younger. Their skin is lined, but not as it might be. Their movements are slow, except on days when they are not. The wearer, kind on his or her day, does most of the chores and speaks softly, while the other, heart pumping in a chest protected by nothing but cloth, walks slowly and rests often. They take turns with buttons and watch straps, afternoon tea, and reading fine print. They are never well together, never weak at the same time in the day.

At night, pain comes to bedevil the soft and hard parts of them both, chips its teeth on their bones. At night, they are weak together.

When he is diagnosed, the turn-taking stops. He lies in their room on the flowered sheets and breathes in, breathes out. The doctor is impressed he can manage at home with how seldom he refills the prescription. The nurse on the phone tells his wife to get enough rest herself, assumes unabated care. But days are quite peaceful, largely spent in sleep for them both, apart from her pushing his chair up the ramp to a door, holding his hand in a waiting room. There is pain, but it abates.

The Morning Star is always around his neck, and at night too, albeit useless, so as not to miss a second of the morning. Except for a few minutes. After the sun goes down and before they sleep, she boils water, steeps the stone egg as though into a broth or an elixir, clear as water. Dutifully, he lifts the cup in both hands, the porcelain chattering against his teeth as he swallows. There is nothing silly to their way of thinking, nothing they would call impossible.

But the nights are hard. They curl up together beneath the sheet garden, watch the moonlight through the opening in the curtains, carefully touching fingers, toes in their stockings, under the golden flowers.

“I love you,” they say, without knowing which one of them spoke; they say it so often. Her body is still breaking down, as is his, while the growth inside him expands. Sometimes they speak of it as the dark star, the black hole. The momentous and the mundane, it turns out, are much the same.

It is he who wakes. She is cold beside him.

There is air moving in the room, dust motes in the sunshine, and air too floating in and out of him. He buries his face in the crook of her neck, smells her powder, faint on top of no pulse.

His hand fumbles to press the egg into her palm, and curves her fingers around it, now that the sun has come again.

Return to Journal

Chantel Lavoie lives in Kingston, Ontario, where she is Associate Professor in the Department of English, Culture, and Communication at the Royal Military College. In addition to having work in journals like Arc and Prairie Fire, she has published three collections of verse, Where the Terror Lies (2012), This is about Angels, Women, and Men (2021) and (with Meg Freer) Serve the Sorrowing World with Joy (Woodpecker Lane, 2021). “Morning Star” was previously published as the Humber Literary Review Spotlight piece in March, 2022.

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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Couples. fiction by Olga Stein

olga-stein89

COUPLES

More than a decade has passed since the events I’m about to recount took place. It’s important to state this at the outset because the early 2000s seem like a different world. It was possible then not to know things. It was conceivable that a writer could ‘borrow’—ideas, even characters—without committing a theft, and without stepping uninvited into another person’s life. The world has changed.

We often hear that a bit of distance from one’s work is necessary for any writer. Some reflection or rethinking of what a story was meant to do—all that tends to be beneficial. Perhaps I’m doing it here. On the other hand, I’m still convinced that my intention was to write fiction. No amount of self-questioning would change that, and after all this time, and a whole lot of distance, I am both without guilt and satisfied with the story I told.

When I cribbed Henry Webster from Jason, a fiction writer and my ex-partner, Henry had only a fragmentary existence in a green leather-bound notebook. Jason wasn’t aware of my occasional forays into his notes, although I doubt he’d have minded then. He wasn’t vain. Some artists are careful to let others see only their finished work. Not Jason. He simply thought the notes wouldn’t be of interest to anyone. He wrote them out by hand, and kept them on top of his writing table as if he had nothing to hide. They were, in his words, “just bits and pieces, scattered thoughts on characters and plot lines.” They helped him get started. Or else he’d work out problems, hurdles that would be there during a period of incubation. Sometimes a solution to a problem would just present itself, seemingly out of nowhere, but more often he’d have to word hard, searching for it along diverse lines of story and character development.

Henry Webster, when I first encountered him, was just an idea. Jason would return to him sporadically. There would be notes on other things Jason was working on, and then Henry would appear. Details were added each time. He was a composer, living in New York. He was married to a younger woman. His wife, a beauty, was involved with another man.

Henry Webster was slowly being coaxed out of nothingness, drawn into life with copious notes on his and his wife’s apartment in Manhattan’s East Village, on the new work he had been commissioned to compose in celebration of a prestigious music hall’s centenary, and on the reasons for his wife’s unfaithfulness. I read these sketches, at first mainly because Jason and I were heading for a breakup. I was curious to see whether Jason was projecting what he surmised about my feelings onto Henry’s wife. But there was nothing like that, I soon realized. Beautiful Liudmilla, a red-head born in St. Petersburg, Russia, wasn’t at all like me. She had immigrated to America as a 10-year-old in the 80s. Her parents, both engineers, found work quickly, and since she was an only child, they indulged and encouraged her. She studied piano, took dance and singing lessons.

By the time Liudmilla turned twenty-eight, she was a jazz singer à la Diana Krall, with a career about to take off. Jason described her as being involved with an unnamed writer. They had met at an airport in Los Angeles. She had been on her way to an audition, and he had just finished a book promotion tour.

The Websters’ situation was altogether different from ours. After five years of living together, Jason and I were winding down without drama or resentment. We had always been good friends. At some point we simply conceded that there would never be more to our relationship. Jason had been passionate towards me at the start. He would rev me up, he promised, and I agreed to move in with him. He tried. But finally, it was as if he himself had caught my sangfroid, my inability to unwind and focus on the personal instead of everything else.

We had known all along that it might not work. Jason grasped that I wasn’t drawn to him physically. I acceded to his request to live together because I cared for him—not romantically so much, but in other ways I believed mattered. Most importantly, there was his writing, his remarkable inventiveness, and while I feared that I myself wasn’t capable of such work, his achievements never failed to make me proud—of him, and of us. This is what it means to be a couple, I told myself. We share the pain and the glory.

Jason was good natured, considerate, always tactful and soft spoken. The old-fashioned word, gentleman, was a fitting description of him, I thought. Being with a successful writer had other perks. It guaranteed a certain amount of excitement in my otherwise uneventful life. I sensed in him a creative urgency that stimulated and cheered me. I also savoured the company of his literary friends, the joyful, snappy banter of our get-togethers. There were soirées with novelists and poets, visual artists, musicians, intellectuals of all stripes. We talked, drank great wine, martinis, and liqueurs, ate copious amounts of hors d’oeuvres. Afterwards, Jason and I made the kind of love we should have been making whenever we made love. Such nights, and the quiet, softly lit ones, when Jason read drafts of his work to me, were the highlights of our life together.

I was an editor, mostly of biographies and memoirs. I had never attempted to write fiction. At the time I was working on my own manuscript, a biography of Michel Arpant, the illegitimate son of Auguste Rodin. His story should be vaguely familiar to most people. It isn’t hard to summarize. Although the famous French sculptor would visit Michel and his mother throughout his childhood and youth, Michel never suspected Rodin was his father. His mother was from a sprawling, well-to-do merchant family. There were many cousins and Michel saw them often. He had thought of Auguste as a distant, kindly relative. He learned the truth just before he turned forty.

Michel’s mother had been suffering from a devastating illness. She wished to unburden her conscience before dying. She wrote him a long letter, explaining that her parents had known from the start, but agreed to not tell anyone, including Michel, out of reluctance to cause harm to Auguste’s reputation. Auguste, in turn, accepted his obligations towards his son and his former mistress, Michel’s mother, without any lack of enthusiasm. He loved the boy, but could do nothing else in the way of public acknowledgement. Auguste had a terribly jealous companion, Rose Beuret, and there were other relationship problems with another woman, the artist Camille Claudel.

Camille Claudel had been institutionalized in an asylum. She had met Rodin in her late adolescence in the studio of Alfred Boucher. She became Rodin’s student and model, and then his mistress. Camille learned a great deal from Rodin. An artistic Eve, she siphoned off some of his creative élan, and used it to turn herself into a sculptress in her own right. It goes without saying that she didn’t get the attention she deserved as an artist during her lifetime, but the tragedy of her life went deeper than that. She never managed to separate herself emotionally from Rodin. They were involved for nearly twenty years, but Rodin wouldn’t leave Rose to marry her, and Camille, neglected and brokenhearted, fell ill. Her brother and mother committed her to a psychiatric hospital. She remained in an asylum for 30 years. It’s unclear that her condition justified her being institutionalized in the first place.

Michel’s story is a happier one. By the time he discovered his real connection to Rodin, he was already a well-respected surgeon. He was known in the medical community for his excellent hands and sharp eyes. He had drawn well in his youth, but was encouraged by his mother, her kind but stern father, and by Auguste himself, to study medicine. When the truth was finally spoken, and after his mother died, Michel stopped practicing medicine and began to sculpt. Auguste was furious until he realized that like him, his son had extraordinary talent. Even though he had started too late to make a reputation for himself, Rodin was satisfied that it wasn’t a waste of time, and that in any event, his son’s creativity couldn’t be suppressed. He was even flattered by a certain imitative streak in Michel’s work.

There was nothing shabby about either Auguste or Michel. Why, then, was I drawn so irresistibly to Henry? I still ask myself this question because for a long time Henry was insubstantial—a mere idea. He was an outline I decided had to be filled in.

As Jason described him, Henry was fifteen years Liudmilla’s senior. He was serious, dedicated to his work. He was also self-centred, with a limited interest in other people. He loved his wife, but his work and his routine were important to him. The composition of music, particularly in the competitive world of New York’s music industry, required focus, stamina, and above all, lots of quiet time for experimentation — for trying, scrapping, then trying again.

Liudmilla had been in awe of Henry when she met him at 23 years of age. At 28, she was growing frustrated with Henry’s reluctance to go out or entertain friends. Now that Liudmilla had the chance, she wanted to see Manhattan’s nightlife from the glamorous vantage points of the music business. She wanted to experience what others like her, her immigrant girlfriends for one, could only dream of, or glimpse on Start TV, or Entertainment Tonight. This was the real beginning of her life she thought, and Henry, she realized with growing disappointment, wasn’t going to be there with her — or never willingly. He was digging in his heels already, and here she was only at the starting point of her career.

Soon after noticing Jason’s notes on Henry, I felt I could elaborate on the basic profile. Jason, as usual, had drawn faint portraits of a man and a woman. He had sketched in some personality traits, but it was impossible to say how he felt about either of them. By contrast, I liked Henry from the start. He was someone I recognized, like a familiar figure glimpsed from a distance. My own musician father had been similarly involved with his work. He had a way of gently ignoring people around him. As I matured, I understood that my father was immensely gifted, and, moreover, that he had the steely discipline to succeed as both performer and composer. He was also confident and assertive in a way that drew people to him. Henry, as I imagined him, was my kind of man: independent, retiring, set in his ways, but full of deep, nuanced emotions that he could channel brilliantly into his compositions.

And that is why I decided to appropriate him, to use him as a character in the novel I’d always hoped to write. It was a kind of theft, and I knew it. No matter how sketchy and tentative a life he had in Jason’s notes, Henry was Jason’s. Yet it was me Henry charmed — more like seduced with possibilities. He was an artist. There was his artist’s life, with his wife and her tryst, her final departure, and its impact on Henry and his music. I could imagine all of it, especially Henry’s resolve to keep working despite the rupture. The resulting music would polygraph his feelings with meandering, discordant melodies, abrupt pauses, or sudden noisy cacophonies of sound, ending with an indecipherable, reverberating crash. There would be a prolonged silence after, and then a new, delicate melody would emerge like the budding of a leaf.

I was intrigued by the problem of the main theme. How would I describe it in order to make it work on both musical and narrative levels? How would it have to be developed to mirror the spirit of a contemporary artist like Henry, with a fondness for unconventional forms, elusive patterns, and dissonant arrangements that were intellectually challenging, emotionally remote? It took a while to figure it out, but nine months after Jason and I separated, Henry was alive and kicking in my half-finished manuscript. He spoke to me in my dreams, played his compositions for me, and I responded with unqualified praise for his music.

My publisher, Sandra Birk, was reluctant to entertain my idea for the novel. “You’re a biographer,” she said bluntly. You’re fortunate. You have readers. Why confuse them with fiction? And why would you want to wade into all that, seriously.”

“It’s stuck in me,” I explained. “I can’t get past it, and I won’t be able to write anything else until I get it out of my system.” Besides, I told myself, it’s not just a story about a couple that comes apart. It’s also a paean to what Jason and I had together, our slightly odd relationship, one that was actually happy in its own way. Ultimately, Sandra agreed to read the completed first draft, and afterwards she was excited for me. She even admitted that with the right kind of marketing and cover design the book would sell and more than cover the cost of publication.

All things considered, there’s nothing extraordinary in this small tale of genesis. A writer takes an idea from another writer, runs with it in a whole new direction, develops it into something it never was at conception. Is it theft or inspiration? Whatever it is, in the literary world it happens often. Why make a scene of it? So here is where we come to the important part, that bizarre twist where life outpaces fiction.

Jason and I had stayed in touch. We spoke on the phone regularly, and got together for coffee every few months. I mentioned that I was working on a book, but told him it was my usual kind of project. I was silent about the rest. Then, nearly two years after moving out of our apartment, I found myself back there one afternoon, knocking at Jason’s door. I was overcome with a desire to confess in advance and apologize before my publicist said something to his publicist at some literary fest.

Jason let me in, looking a little discomforted. He had company. A woman with golden-red hair was stretched out with a book on his sofa. She stood up when I came in.

“Hello,” I said, “Sorry to barge in like this. I’m Jason’s ex, Rachel.”

“Rita,” she held out her hand, “a friend from New York.”

“Are you crashing here Rita?”

“Yes, and I’m so thankful. I’m booked for singing gigs in Toronto. Jason invited me to stay. Otherwise, I’d be at a hotel now. There have been way too many of them lately for me.”

Rita had a barely perceptible Russian accent. She appeared to be still in her twenties and striking. I noticed that she looked at home on Jason’s couch. “So you travel often?” I asked.

“Aha! All the time now. I’m touring, trying to promote my first CD. I’m really tired of it. It’s been five months already. I love the work of course, and I feel super lucky to do it.”

“That can’t be easy.” As if in a trance, I motioned to the wedding band on her finger. “What about your partner? Doesn’t he miss you?”

“I don’t think so,” she said pouting a little, and with a dismissive waive added: “Perhaps after we split up. That was last December. Maybe then, sure, for a while. But now he’s probably at his computer screen, working. He’s a composer, a very good one actually.”

“Oh? Is he well known?” I hoped I wasn’t sounding too eager or coming across as strange. “So much is being done with electronic composition these days. I’m interested in this stuff. ”

Rita nodded. “You might have heard of him. He’s famous in certain circles. Harold Wexler.” She shrugged. “He’s phenomenal really, and so original. Everyone who knows him says so.”

“He sounds inspiring. Don’t you miss him?”

“Sure, a little. But I have to tell you, it wasn’t easy living with him.” She looked  at me intently, then rolled her eyes up. “He’s a workaholic. No one knows what it’s like being married to someone like that. He wasn’t into any of the usual things people do. I gave up a lot when we were together.”

“Oh? If you don’t mind me asking, what do you mean?” I realized that I was prying. Normally, I wouldn’t ask a stranger about her private life, but I couldn’t stop myself.

“He didn’t like socializing—you know, going out for dinner, drinks with friends, going on trips. I nearly went koo-koo in our apartment with him.” She made a small circular motion with her index finger at the side of her head. “It felt like a cage. Anyway, Harold likes being alone, doing his work.”

I must have looked puzzled. “But surely he realized how lucky he was to have you. He must be devastated.”

Rita smiled. “Rachel, every man wants an attractive wife, but not all of them know what to do with one.” She winked at Jason. “When you’ve been married for a while, things change. Sorry, I know that’s a cliché.”

She lowered herself back onto the couch, and continued, “Harold wanted me to listen to his stuff, sure, to cook meals, do laundry, keep our place tidy. But when things started getting serious with my singing — well, then, suddenly I was causing problems, as he saw it. I’d be on the phone with my agent, and he’d start shouting, ‘Rita, get off the phone. I’m hungry.’ Can you imagine it? I was trying to build my career.” She turned to Jason, “Sorry sweetheart, you’ve heard this a million times.” Then looking at me and shaking her head she said, “I was supposed to accept that — being there for him, his work, not mine. I decided, no way. And here I am.” She looked satisfied with herself, maybe even gleeful.

“Yes, here you are.” I smiled back at her. “Rita, I get it, and I’m happy for you. By the way, Jason is the best, and he’s a great writer.”

“I know.” She looked over at Jason with a tender smile.

My own smile at that moment wasn’t the least bit forced. I felt elated. I wished Rita luck with her singing career, hugged and said goodbye to Jason without giving anything away. Then I walked home, feeling entirely guilt-free. I hadn’t felt as serene in a long time. My thoughts were already on my manuscript, on the final changes I’d have to make to names and settings, and the need for a disclaimer.

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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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Finding Transcendence in an Upside-Down World. fiction by Marzia Rahman

Marzia Profile Pic

Finding Transcendence into an Upside-Down World

When I woke up this morning, I looked out of the window and found the world upside down. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t think much of it. I didn’t want to puzzle myself. I carried on making breakfast; I made toasts and scrambled eggs and a cup of tea with one spoon of milk and half-spoon of honey and tried very hard not to peek outside.

When my husband woke up, I watched him keenly. He walked to the window with newspaper on one hand and reading glasses on the other. He threw a brief look outside; his expression didn’t change a bit. He had the same grumpy look he’d been carrying since his boss caught him with his secretary, cheating. On papers. Some kind of financial fraudulence. The office made an outcry, called it an ‘outrageous’ act, sacked the secretary and hushed the whole thing.

After an hour or so, I blurted out, “Have you seen the view?”

“What view?” he said.

“Haven’t you looked outside?”

He looked puzzled and said nothing.

“It’s different.” I said.

“What’s different?”

I shrugged and sighed. There was no point talking to him. Had we ever agreed on anything? Ever reached a consensus. And then again, we were the strong believers of science and physics, we worshipped them, but we never analyzed them.

Did I see it wrong? I looked out again.

It was still topsy-turvy: the sky was down, the land up and the upside-down trees dangling its upside-down leaves. And the road running between the trees looked like a grey tiled roof. Where would we put out feet now? How would we walk, or should we learn to fly now?

I thought it would soon pass. Maybe it was just a phase, a cycle. Or maybe, it was a new abstract sphere where everything would be same, and everything would be different.

As time went on, it began to seem normal. A distinctive rhythm began to take shape. I even enjoyed having the sky closer, just across my window, the clouds moving and tossing gingerly. Trying to enter the living room. Sometimes I kept the windows open and let the clouds seep in, filling the room with wet dreams.

Sometimes, I forgot that I was in my living room. In a way, I was no longer here. I took respite from my body and disappear. And this was how, I found transcendence.

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Marzia Rahman is a Bangladeshi writer and translator. Her flashes have appeared in 101 Words, Postcard Shorts, Five of the Fifth, The Voices Project, Fewerthan500.com, WordCity Literary Journal, Red Fern Review, Dribble Drabble Review, Paragraph Planet, Six Sentences, Academy of the Heart and Mind, Potato Soup Journal, Borderless Journal, The Antonym, Flash Fiction Festival Four and Writing Places Anthology UK. Her novella-in-flash If Dreams had wings and Houses were built on clouds was longlisted in the Bath Novella in Flash Award Competition in 2022. Her translations have appeared in a number of anthologies. She is currently working on a novella.

Twitter account: @MarziaR57167805

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The Clockwork Trinity. fiction by Brian Hughes

Brian Huges

The Clockwork Trinity

Michael had a box of parts that he had bought and salvaged with the idea of building a remote control car. That box was as far as the project got. Some of the pieces had cost him a lot of money but most of them had been bought at garage sales, from projects like his that had never gone ahead. His friend Sam suggested that he take them to a hobby store on north Main Street by Cathedral Avenue, they might buy them.

He phoned the store and after explaining it all he was transferred to the owner and he explained it all over again. The owner said, “Bring them down, but I have to warn you, some will be worthless, some a little, and the very best is only going to go at fifty cents on the dollar.”

He took the bus downtown and transferred to the North Main route. It was cold, cold enough to make the snow squeak higher than you could whistle, he had to curl his hands into fists inside the palms of his gloves to keep his fingers from freezing, and there was a wind blowing. Once he got on the bus it took five minutes for his hands and thighs and ears to go from numb to aching and to something like normal.

When he got to the store the owner looked in the box, “Like I said, most of this is junk.” He pulled a model airplane engine out, “This is old, and maybe worth something just for that.” He pulled a control transmitter, then a receiver and he sorted through the servos, “This is the only stuff I can sell, sixty-five bucks.”

“Can you chuck the rest of it, I don’t want to carry it back.”

“All right, seventy bucks.”

He stood at the bus stop for half an hour, the sun was setting and it was starting to get dark before he got on. When they passed under the CPR tracks, the Christmas lights, a procession of curlicues strung between the street light standards, came on. As they passed Logan Avenue the driver slammed on the brakes and the bus skidded to a slightly crooked stop.

A shirtless and shoe-less man had staggered oblivious to block the curb lane under the festive lights. There was blood running from his nose and he made threatening gestures to the bus driver and threw out flip-offs to the passing cars that dared to honk. A man in the seat across offered up an obscenity and a racial slur. The bus driver spoke without turning, “If you want to stay on the bus you better settle down.” A woman came and coaxed the shirtless man to the sidewalk and the bus moved on. Michael got off four stops later.

He walked to Arthur Street and found the little hole in the wall toy shop. He wandered in the narrow aisles among the science kits and magic tricks and the toys that would have been craved by children of a hundred years ago. He found a painted stamped metal clockwork mouse and a clockwork dog and cat that matched it. They were carefully constructed, with intricate motions and were not cheap. Three gifts and that covered the three gifts he wanted to offer to his obligations at Christmas; sister, mother and father, and all for $62.57, including taxes. It was his idea to buy these gifts, his thinking was that he old enough and he wanted to prove that he was.

He walked to Graham Avenue and caught his bus just before it pulled away and got home in time for dinner.

There was a small let down on Christmas day. His parents had only a few presents to open and opened his gifts right away. The idea behind the mechanical dog and cat was not understood. His two and a half year old sister had many gifts and when the mouse was unwrapped and wound up and let go, Caitlin ran screaming, convinced that it was attacking her. She was soon brought around and claimed all three wind up animals. She assigned a preciousness to them that was foreign to Michael. When he was that age he thought a good toy should be played with to the breaking point and beyond. They were placed on a high shelf and she liked to be lifted up to look. A glass fronted box was made for them so she could look on her own. The collection presented like a shrine, a sort of trinity for a family that never went to church.

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Brian Hughes was born in South Africa and came to Canada with his family as a young child. He has lived in Manitoba ever since.

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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How the Tree Leaves Helped the Poet. fiction by Dilan Qadir

Dilan

How the Tree Leaves Helped the Poet

He gladly told everyone—sometimes volunteered unsolicited—of the first time he met her at a poetry reading. It was the evening of March 21st, International Poetry Day. He was invited to a reading at a neighbourhood library in North Vancouver. Back then he was working at a clothing store as a shop assistant, but he was also trying to make a name for himself as a poet. He often told his friends that he wished he had time to write as many poems as the many shirts and pants he folded each day at his job.

He read a few poems in Sorani—a Kurdish dialect—and at the end of the reading a girl walked up to him and introduced herself. She had attractive lips that deftly pronounced all the labial consonants, sharp inner eye corners, long black silky hair, and a graceful body that she was blessed with because—he thought—she was one of God’s favourites. She was, in one word, beautiful.

Her name was Mila. She was born and raised in Vancouver, but parents were from northern Iraq, the poet’s home region.

“Your Kurdish was impeccable!” Mila told him, her eyes wide open with delight. It was not clear to him if she meant the choice of words in his poems, or, more likely, that she was fascinated that he spoke a second language fluently. Which he did, but not in the way she assumed; Kurdish was his first language.

“Thank you,” he said. “I guess practice never hurts.” In his mind, the reference was to honing poetic skills. By then it was apparent to her that he spoke English with an accent.

“Oh my god,” she said. “I thought you were from here!” She covered her mouth with one hand and placed her other hand on his shoulder, touching it lightly, as if asking for forgiveness. He felt like all her chakras opened right then and invited him inside. He prayed for his knees not to fail him. He was taken. If at that instant he was told the person in front of him had murdered his mother—who was still alive—he would have struck the gavel against the sound block and announced his decree.

Not guilty. Not this time. Not ever. Not in this life.

She was with two friends who had nicely done hair and were both wearing knee-length classic fit dresses and high heels. Mila was wearing a black backless dress. She had a tulip brooch—three tulips, red, yellow, and orange—pinned to her dress.

“Do people these days dress this fancy for a poetry reading?” he asked Mila with honest curiosity.

“Don’t be silly,” she said, a friendly tone in her voice. He loved how fast she befriended him; he felt ecstatic.

“It is Newroz,” she continued, referring to the first day of Kurdish and Iranian New Year. “My friends and I are going to a party. Would you like to come?”

He stalled for half a second, the length seeming appropriate to mask his eagerness.

“I would like to.”

“Great!” she almost exclaimed. “But you have to drop your formality with me.”

Who was this person, he wondered? Was she like that with everybody?

He saw Mila again after two weeks. Then the following weekend. And the weekend after that. By the time summer came it felt like they had been together for ages. They both liked to get tipsy on merlot and read poetry and nature books. They shared similar tastes in classical music and foreign movies. She wanted to “reconnect with her Kurdish roots”, which mostly meant picking up the language and cooking together: dolma, shiftah, biryani, kuba, et cetera. As for him, he wanted to go camping with her and savour maple-syrup-flavoured beans and bacon for breakfast with the same taste buds she had.

It was in the heat of all that when she mentioned The Society of Cyclic Citizens. She was a member and she invited him to join. Once he knew what the society was about—they worked to spread the wisdom that people were interwoven with the natural world and that it took courage to embrace that truth—it felt like a light bulb switched on in his head. Joining was straightforward: a symbolic subscription—donation included—gave him access to talks and social gathering invites, a monthly newsletter, and a seat at an annual conference. He joined at once and became a Cyclic Citizen.

As a Cyclic Citizen, he started organising his life around the principle that life happened in cycles. The four seasons became his spine. The society had a white flag with four circles in it: two on top and two at the bottom. He told random customers at the clothing store where he worked the trite fact that the Earth rotated and went around the Sun in a circle, and he then segued to the less-established fact that time and soul, as attested by religions for millennia, recurred, that science was inching closer to proving it.

Some customers—amused or annoyed, he could not tell—then asked the usual question: “But what does all that mean?”

“Since it is contrary to our natural inclination to be as active in fall and winter as we are in spring and summer,” he would reply, “we as Cyclic Citizens want fewer working hours and fewer days of work in the fall and the winter.”

On hearing this, some of the customers rolled their eyes. “Good for you,” they said as they pinched their card number at the register. Those were the nice folks.

The clothing store he worked at specialised in industrial and casual wear: blue-collar clothing products. Sometimes he would explain at checkout what it meant to be a Cyclic Citizen to the female customers, as they were the ones more interested to lend him their ears, and then their husbands or boyfriends—mostly grunts and roughnecks—would interject and say: “So when is your cycle?” They would then laugh at their own joke. If his sticker gun could print out words he would have discreetly labelled their bags: “Menstruation-obsessed Buffoon”!

Mila warned the poet of kibitzing on the job. She knew he could be sententious about things he cared about. “It could hurt your poetic disposition,” she said.

He had always felt at home in spring and summer. The first six months with Mila—which fell into spring and summer—felt like being in heaven. She was all joy. But then fall came and a gloominess crept in. First into the bed, and by winter into their meals. But then spring arrived and she was as aroused and as gluttonous as the first time he met her. As for him in fall and winter? He was the moodiest person you have ever seen. There were days when he considered ditching his new Canadian immigrant life to go back to work in oil and gas in Iraqi Kurdistan. Good money, but dehumanising work hours. No thank you, he would conclude.

There was something with Mila though that got under his skin. She was crazy about partying with her friends. She would go out and relish half the cocktails on the menu, dance to every rhythm, chat with every stranger who lent her a listening ear, and she would do it all over again in a few days. He reminded himself that she worked as an event organiser, that she was in her element partying. Then after spending an entire year together, seeing she was not exactly the same person in fall and winter, he felt less frustrated.

Both Mila and he were proud Cyclic Citizens. Among the Cyclic Citizens were the typical maple leaf Canadians—those with ruddy faces and smiles indicating high scores on the global happiness scale—, indigenous folks, and immigrants from all generations. People who have not swapped the liveliest years of their life for a wished-for, worry-free retirement. Those who have re-evaluated their North American dream and embraced Lao Tzu’s infinite wisdom of wu-wei: letting things happen, rather than striving for control and domination.

He kept falling in love with Mila. The fall was bottomless. Some mornings he would wake up before her and watch her breathe. He was rapt with her delicate and seemingly eternal beauty. He daydreamed about living together until the end: two old souls sitting on rocking chairs at the moment of their last departure, hand in hand, staring into each other’s eyes, saying their goodbyes, promising to meet again on the other side.

He moved in with her after two years. His life was finally taking shape. He planned to propose to her on the anniversary of their new life, March 21st, the following year.

He had an insatiable desire to know more about her. That kind of happens when couples live together day in, day out, but they were in their early thirties and had lived a good deal of their life apart. Since he believed they were meant for each other, it seemed natural to know more about her, including her past.

Mila was lovingly forthcoming and that fanned the embers of his curiosity. He would ask her about her previous relationships, what she liked about the guy and so forth, and her honesty was childlike. The only relationship she showed reservations about, though, was the last one. He finally found out the dude was an engineer, a handsome guy who taught Mila snowboarding and skiing. They were engaged. None of that helped his insecurities. To top it off, she said the guy had proposed to her on March 21st. That messed up the poet’s plan.

He felt—most likely unilaterally—that their relationship needed some healing and he proposed to her to go on a several-day hike.

Doing the West Coast Trail, they met a guy, a soldier who has been in the army for almost a decade. Out of the blue the soldier told them he was on a week-long hike suggested by his therapist because his last girlfriend had broken up with him the past Remembrance Day. That sounded to the poet like an apt definition of cruelty. How on earth could someone do that to a serviceman on Remembrance Day, he silently fumed to himself. The poet attached pivotal value to memorable days and he felt sympathetic.

The soldier then went on to say his ex had tried to break up with him multiple times, but he was not having it. He seemed to be the kind of man you would play poker with late at night and when you told him, “That’s it buddy, I need to call it a night,” he would reply, “Yeah right, one more or I will knock you out.” And he did boast about his collection of brass knuckles.

As the poet slowly understood, the soldier’s ex-girlfriend finally parted on a day she knew he would take things seriously, reverently, and with the resolve, honour, and pride of a soldier. Solemnity mattered, thought the poet. He wished the soldier best of luck and both Mila and he were relieved to break free of his company.

The poet’s hike-healing-trip kind of backfired. The encounter with the soldier made him feel apprehensive. What would he do if he ever experienced a split-up on a memorable day? No, it would not happen to him, not to them, he assured himself.

He started entertaining the idea that Mila still had feelings for her ex-fiancé, the snowboarder-skier engineer. Why was not he a boring backgammon player or a Monopoly champion, the irked poet asked himself? Mila loved snowboarding and skiing. The poet did try to learn to enjoy them, but his “poetic disposition”—as Mila put it—was against it. She was going with her friends, some of whom the poet had never met and she had not mentioned by name or features.

He was working fewer hours that winter. Along with some other Cyclic Citizens, he was diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder, which was the only way to convince the government he did not function well in fall and winter. He got on short-term disability and had ample time to wallow in self-doubt and second guesses.

He became inquisitive, which led to Mila becoming more reserved and distant, which made him more inquisitorial, which led to…yes. They had been together for three years by then. On the afternoon of March 21st they went out to celebrate the anniversary of their relationship without having made any plans. They came across a gelato store and Mila insipidly suggested going in. He sensed something was not right.

With gelato cones in hand, they walked around the Olympic Village, then sat on a bench overlooking the False Creek inlet. Two teenage couples were feeding rock pigeons on a nearby bench. The pigeons cooed while pecking at the seeds.

Mila sighed deeply before starting. Ten minutes into the talk, he knew it was over because he saw the teenage couples holding hands, crooning to each other, and he already missed having that.

Inside each circle on the society’s flag was a leaf. A small leaf, a large green leaf, a yellow leaf, and a brown, lifeless leaf. In the months that followed, the poet created four folders on his laptop, each for a season, and for an entire year filled them with pictures of tree leaves. Witnessing and watching the subtle, gradual changes of the leaves amounting to greater changes, motion, and rhythm was a revelation. It took him a whole year to recover, one full cycle to find his centre and to write poetry again.

Mila got engaged after two years and eventually married a doctor of some sort.

The poet no longer works at the clothing store. They were too nice to fire him, but management told him about some poor reviews online where customers had complained about a Cyclic Citizen staff who usually offered unbidden advice to them to observe nature and work less. The less people worked, the less wear and tear, and the less they would need to spend on clothing. Even as a poet he understood as much that that was bad for business, and he quit.

He now works at a hospital where he scrubs floors at night listening to podcasts and music on his headphones. In his free-time he has been working on four poetry volumes, each dealing with a season. He plans to dedicate each volume to the leaves of a tree. Maple, ivy, linden, ash.

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Dilan Qadir (he, him) writes poetry and fiction. He is a Kurdish Canadian, born and raised in northern Iraq. His poems have appeared in The Underground Literary Journal, The Lonely Whale Memoir Anthology, Wax Poetry and Art Magazine, and Culture Project. Dilan studied Creative Writing at Emerson College. He lives on xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) unceded territory, Vancouver, BC.

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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Faculty Lounge. fiction by Paul Germano

Paul Germano author's pic

FACULTY LOUNGE

Blue-eyed social studies teacher Claire Peabody pushes open the door to the faculty lounge, letting herself in and shutting out the sweaty stink of youth that permeates the middle school’s hallways.

Inside the lounge, the air smells inviting, thanks to an autumn breeze blowing through a propped-open window that intermingles with the rugged woodsy scent of a colleague’s cologne and a freshly brewed pot of Hazel Nut coffee.

Two of the three tables, each smallish and round, are occupied. Claire says her “hellos” to three teachers sharing a table near the door, then nods at Alex Fuentes, the colleague wearing the woodsy cologne. Alex, who teaches Spanish, is sitting alone at the table by the propped-open window, munching on a Bartlett pear and going over his notes for an upcoming lesson. Alex looks up, pushes his wavy hair away from his face and gestures for Claire to join him. “What a happy coincidence that you’re taking your break now too,” he says, flashing his pearly whites and feigning surprise, even though there’s nothing surprising to him about her arrival.

Claire fixes herself a cup of coffee, grabs her lunch from the refrigerator, crinkles her button nose at something funky inside and slams the door shut. “Why do people leave their old lunches behind in the fridge like that?” she grumbles with true irritation. But her mood shifts to sheer delight as soon as she settles herself in at the table with Alex. She takes a small bite of her Anjou pear and a big bite of her turkey sub, then sips at her coffee. Under the table, she rubs her foot against Alex’s leg.

Claire and Alex assume, incorrectly, that no one in the middle school knows about their romantic adventures. There’s no reason for secrecy; they’re both single. But they decided it would be better, professionally, to keep it private.

At the other table, lanky shaggy-haired English teacher Jason Stojanovic summons his colleagues’ attention and mouths the words “love is in the air.”

Short and wiry Russ Menendez, who teaches music at the school and on his own time plays upright bass in a local jazz band, smirks in utter amusement. Science teacher Trevor Ford, who has never fully mastered the skill of reading lips, leans in and whispers “what?” Jason mouths it a second time and gets another “what?” from Trevor. “I’ll tell you later,” Jason says.

Jason launches into a joke he promises will be “boffo,” but when he gets to the punch line, Russ snarls and Trevor groans. Trevor Ford, a robust man with graying hair and a grandfatherly voice, points a friendly finger at Jason. “Good Lord Jason! I’m the one who’s got the reputation for telling corny jokes, but your joke was cornball to the extreme.”

“Agreed,” Russ says. “Ah, fuck you both!” Jason shouts in a friendly huff. “Okay fellas, here’s another one,” Jason says, hoping for a chance at redemption. “What were Benito Mussolini’s famous last words?”

“Probably something in Italian,” Russ says, laughing at his own remark. “Don’t know,” Trevor says, “just tell us; what were Mussolini’s last words?”

Jason melodramatically thrusts his hands around his own neck, widens his eyes, droops his tongue out of the side of his mouth and makes choking noises.Trevor laughs, then Russ laughs louder.

At the other table, Claire Peabody clears her throat and loudly addresses her colleague. “Well Jason, that would be moderately funny,” she says in an arrogant tone, “if Mussolini had been hung by the neck. But he wasn’t. He and his mistress were shot to death. Their bloodied bodies were brutally dragged through the streets of Milan and then hung upside down by their feet, to the morbid delight of an angry mob; really quite horrific.”

“Hanged,” the English teacher says with his own fair amount of arrogance.

“Excuse me?” Claire utters in a testy voice.

“Hanged,” Jason says again. “Curtains are hung. Banners are hung. Wind chimes are hung and.” Jason pauses in mid-sentence, a smug smile spreads across his lean face. “And some men, men such as myself, are well-hung. But when it comes to executions, people are hanged, not hung. That’s the grammatically correct word, hanged, not hung.”

Claire glares at Jason, then turns away. She sips at her coffee, silently counting to ten. She pulls a pen and notepad from her handbag, writes down something, folds it into fours and passes it to Alex, who eagerly opens it expecting to read some lovey-dovey words. Instead, Claire’s written words say: “Jason Stojanovic is a jackass!!!”

Alex smiles, says “absolutely,” refolds the note and sticks it in his pocket.

At the other table, Russ Menendez, assuming it’s a love note, tingles at the thought of Alex and Claire’s secretive workplace romance. Russ can’t help but think what a dreamy couple they are; Claire, so beautiful; Alex, so handsome. Russ tells himself he’d like a crack at either one of them. Or maybe both of them in a kinky three-way. He takes a deep breath and pictures them naked. Russ Menendez is not the kind of guy who blushes. But he is fully aware that if he did possess that trait, he’d be blushing right now.

Russ is the only one who notices the note passing hands. Trevor is too busy devouring what’s left of his microwaved chili. Jason, tapping his long fingers against the table, is stewing over Claire’s put-down of his Mussolini joke. He punches the table to get Russ and Trevor’s attention, then mouths the words: “She is such a pompous ass.”

Russ, still daydreaming about Alex and Claire, plus https://wp.me/pd00Qs-1Zonow wondering if Jason’s claim to be well-hung is true, blurts out a half-laugh. Trevor sets down his spoon, leans in and
whispers “what?”

Jason mouths it again and Trevor whispers “what?” again. “I’ll have to tell you later,” Jason says in slight frustration, then checks the time. “Break’s over,” Jason says, rising from his chair, eager to get the hell out of there.

Return to Journal

Paul Germano lives, works and plays in Syracuse, smack dab in the center of New York State. Germano’s fiction has been published in roughly 50 print and online magazines including Boston Literary Magazine, Bright Flash Literary Review, The Drabble, The Fictional Café, Sledgehammer Literary Journal and Voices in Italian Americana. Twice previously, His writing has appeared twice previously in Word City Literary Journal with “All Shook Up” (creative nonfiction) in September 2021 and “Erie Boulevard” (flash fiction) in November 2021.

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