Letter from the Editor: Darcie Friesen Hossack
On my desk is a copy of D-L Nelson’s coat hangers & knitting needles, Tragedies of Abortion in America Before Roe v. Wade.
The book is heavy for its size—not for the weight of its bindings—and has been accompanying me from room to room since it arrived here last week.
Having corresponded with the author since September, since the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I knew what to expect. And yet, there’s a whole human history’s worth of more, including this from a doctor, on the horrors women faced before the landmark ruling in that country, which secured a woman’s right to her own reproductive decisions:
The hospital kept 32 beds on the fourth floor for patients who had botched abortions. Knitting needles, bicycle spokes, anything metal might have been used, he said.
Ages of patients varied from teenagers to women in their forties.
Women tried potassium permanganate tablets, he said. “It was a strong oxidizing agent and it burns the tissue. We would see these women with a black hole in the front and the back of the vagina… If the woman was lucky, it didn’t burn through into the rectum or bladder.”
Tissue would be so damaged it couldn’t be sutured. “It was like trying to suture butter. Awful,” he added.
With the loss of Justice Ginsburg, a return to these days appears to be a realistic possibility in the United States. Already, in countries such as El Salvador, women who miscarry are imprisoned under suspicion of having had abortions.
More on Donna-lane Nelson’s book is coming up. Due to the urgency now felt by the author and the editorial board at WordCity, however, the publication in its entirety has been made available by the author, as free as Amazon will permit: $0.73 USD for a Kindle download, for the month of October. It is also available in hardcopy. With this, and other pieces you’ll find throughout our issue, we at WordCity Monthly honour the life and work of the Notorious RBG. May her memory be a blessing, , and may we collectively carry the torch she left us.
Of our fiction this month, Sylvia Petter, our Contributing Editor of Fiction, writes:
This month we travel from Africa to Canada via novel excerpts from Farida Somjee’s prize winning indie novel,The Beggar’s Dance and Doreen van der Stoop’s cli-fi novel Watershed. Also on board is a piece of political satire by Bernard Gabriel Okurut and a story debut by Nightingale Jennings in which women in a painting come to life.
October’s poetry, too, circumvents the globe, taking us from a Kenyan call to action in the name of RBG, to an Iranian-Canadian lament at the putting to death of a political dissident. Beauty and ashes are both well represented, and we count ourselves blessed to present to you each and every poem in this collection.
Olga Stein, Contributing Editor of Non-fiction, offers this primer before inviting you to delve into the Russian-themed pieces you’ll find as you read:
This issue of WordCity has autobiographical stories by Alta Ifland and Katia Kapovich, as well as an interview with Erma Odrach regarding Wave of Terror, which she translated from Ukrainian to honour her father, Theodore Odrach, the novel’s author. All three pieces, although dealing with the past, appear timely, given the current focus on Russia’s and Belarus’s regimes, and their dictator presidents. Recently in the news is the poisoning of Alexei Anatolievich Navalny, a Russian politician, jurist, and anti-corruption activist, who appears to be head of the only party capable of threatening Vladimir Putin’s 20-year reign as the most powerful man—literally, strongman—in Russia.
Also happening now are the mass protests in Belarus in defiance of President Alexander Lukashenko, who has served as the country’s first and only president for 26 years. Like Putin, but on a smaller scale, Lukashenko has reprised the role of Russia’s KGB-era autocrat, and seems bent on digging in his vote-rigging heels come hell, high water, or the more than 100,000 Belarusians who want him gone as their country’s head of state. Ukraine and its conflict with Russia over the Crimean peninsula, and Ukraine’s independence in general, have also been in the news in the past few years.
All this is to say that Russia’s totalitarian imperialism, historically a behemoth, continues to threaten the present with its spawn and an impetus that just won’t dissipate. Moreover, anyone who was born in Communist Russia or one of its satellite states, and who was there as an adult, would have a permanent memory of what it’s like to live in a police state and experience Russia’s brand of Communism on a daily basis. It’s an understanding that comes from deep down. It’s felt in the bones, and it undoubtedly shapes the creative output of authors and artists who managed to emigrate to the West. The stories contributed by Ifland and Kapovich, and the conversation with Erma Odrach about Wave of Terror are very different; they represent different lived experiences, in different countries, and even different eras. Yet all are marked by the encounter with Communism and its political, social, and economic repercussions. Consequently, all three offer thoughts and observations whose relevance is all too obvious.
Also in non-fiction, Olga Stein has given us literary journalism with a retrospective of Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale, as made for television. Gary Fowlie has graced us with important and gripping journal entries of his having lived in New York during the worst of its Covid-19 outbreak. His account will continue beyond this issue.
And now, with a slightly different format that September, which allows readers to jump to stand-alone pages that feature several of October’s longer pieces, and then back to this page, we begin by presenting Faleeha Hassan, in Conversation with WordCity’s own Jane SpokenWord.
In this month’s podcast we introduce you to Ms. Faleeha Hassan. A portrait of strength in the face of dire circumstances, she invites us to feel the fire of a heart that refuses to accept defeat. Sharing her personal insight of life as a single mother, refugee and educator, she teaches us that although we cannot control the pain and anguish that comes with tragedy, we can determine our response to rise above the challenges. ~ Jane SpokenWord, WordCity’s Contributing Editor of Interviews and Podcasts
Faleeha Hassan, in Conversation with Jane SpokenWord
Fiction. Edited by Sylvia Petter
Excerpt from Watershed (Freehand Books, 2020)
Written by Doreen Vanderstoop and reprinted with permission from Freehand Books
The faint hiss of airbrakes sounded above the wind. Willa Van Bruggen looked eastward and shielded her eyes against the May morning light. The sun lay low in the sky—a beautiful, terrible, celestial raspberry coloured by dust and by smoke drifting in from forest fires in Northern Washington State and British Columbia.
Crystel Canada’s double water-tanker hove into view at the top of the hill, the shine of its silver barrels dulled by the dusty air. Airbrakes again—intermittent now, like sharp intakes of breath—as the rig inched down toward the Van Bruggen farm. Drivers had to keep their speed in check, so water surges didn’t send the vehicles careening out of control.
Last night’s conversation with her only son had been running through Willa’s mind all morning. Daniel had video-called her to share the news about getting an interview with Crystel Canada.
“I’ll be working for the federal Crown corporation keeping Southern Alberta from turning into Death Valley,” he said. Daniel shook his head as if his point were obvious and he didn’t understand why she wasn’t getting it. She wasn’t. She wanted him back. Needed him to help them keep the farm afloat. Daniel tried again. “It’s like a banker getting a job with the Bank of Canada or an art dealer with the National Gallery of Canada. Crystel operates for profit at arms’ length from government, but the feds guarantee the cash flow in case of financial trouble. They won’t let the water pipeline fail.”
Three excerpts from The Beggar’s Dance, a novel, CreateSpace, 2015.
Africa 1977. Age 11.
I drift away and start dreaming of such a life.
Mama yangu, my mother, frowns at me, squinting with intense effort. “Stop dreaming, you maskini boy.” The anger in her voice reminds me that I am a maskini, a beggar, and I am not allowed to dream.
“Slouch and sit like a maskini, Juma,” she whispers when an expensive car approaches the parking spot. Mama likes us begging on the footpath next to the ice cream parlour, a paradise for Muzungu, European children, where their reality becomes my dream. Mama tells me, dreams waste our time and poison our souls. Dreams do not feed us. Seated against the wall of the ice cream parlour, I cup my palm and wait in anticipation. Coins drop, though not enough for a meal. Mama is still hopeful.
Children gather outside and lick different flavours of ice cream cones. They are lost in joyful conversation and laughter. Some of them sing to the music playing inside the parlour. I do not understand the words, but the voice is almost magical, the magic that I see through the eyes of these privileged children.
Once again, I drift away and start dreaming of such a life.
Bernard Gabriel Okurut
LEGALIZE EMBEZZLEMENT TO ALIENATE POVERTY.
A PRAGMATIC REMEDY TO THE ENDEMIC POVERTY IN UGANDA
We live in a jungle and man has to be a lion in order to survive in this hostile universe. Man is an accident in nature and has to struggle to be identified in a meaningless world. It doesn’t matter whether he steals, kills, robs or cheats on his way to the top of the ladder.
It is a very bad sin and a moral crime if a public servant had the chance of stealing public funds and does not use the opportunity. A public servant who does not use his position to earn wealth by hook or crook does not deserve a decent burial. Imagine a traffic officer working all day under the hot sun on busy roads yet he does not even own a wheelbarrow! Police and army officers spend sleepless nights and endure bad weather guarding the nation from possible danger yet when it comes to being paid, they are rewarded with ‘bitter leaf’ soup while the people they guard are busy enjoying ‘nyama choma’ and drinking cold Nile beer. Their families sleep like refugees back at the barracks while their bosses snore in air-conditioned storied houses. The question is, why not legalize embezzlement to save such hardworking and patriotic civil servants? If corruption, bribery and embezzlement were legalized, traffic officers, policemen and soldiers would be able to build nice houses, by new cars and afford to take their children to better schools.
Conversation with a Painting
A long frame, 90 x 40 inches, is suspended from just below the ceiling at the far right-hand corner of the living room. The colours match the pastel background of a painting on thin canvas. It is an overwhelming montage of an entire city under construction.
Walattaa’s eyes zone in and out of focus through the detailed, multiple, construction sites that are packed with mountains of steel, cement piles, rocks, boulders, cranes, crates, rubble, trucks, cars, workmen, people, mud and streets that neither resemble squares nor roads but are clearly market places and bus terminals. She is drawn to the detail and loses herself in hours of brooding over impact and change in neighbourhoods and slums. Aspects of life and its extremes flash through her mind offering new meaning in words that suddenly hold magical significance – transformation and change. The whole that is never the sum of its parts makes sense and, in this painting, breaking apart and coming back together appears relevant to things wonderfully both great and small.
She has a fantasy about interactive paintings . . . that they come alive and respond to the thoughts and feelings of the admirer . . . it’s an absurd idea that sends Walattaa off into loud giggles – it sets her adrenalin going and lights up her face in a sparkling smile. The smile lingers in memory of the work of great artists some of which she has heard about and others she has experienced first-hand. They proved that interactivity is limited only by the boundaries of the imagination.
Non-Fiction. Edited by Olga Stein
On Justice Ginsburg’s Passing, and Why I’m Seeing Red
As I started to write this, I kept an eye on the live broadcast of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Lying in State ceremony. Justice Ginsburg, who died on September 18, is only the 35th individual to be granted this honour since 1852. Holding the ceremony in the grand Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol requires approval of a resolution passed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate. After all, it’s meant to mark the passing of an exceptional individual—one whose service has had a transformative effect on the nation. Taking gender out of the equation, we can see that a Lying in State happens, on average, once every half decade. Yet Justice Ginsburg is also the first woman ever to be paid this tribute. It’s fair to compare this occasion and Ginsburg herself, it seems to me, to some rare celestial event—kind of like the passing of Halley’s Comet, only far more rare.
A Covid Recovery Road Trip
I’m sharing this with you because as a member of your family, or your friend, or fellow Covid ‘Long Hauler’, I want to thank you for your support during the past pandemic months. Obviously, Covid didn’t kill me. Not so obviously, I wasn’t able to escape its clutch.
My last dispatch from New York, the pandemic epicenter, was sent on Easter Weekend, a day or two before Covid and I had our rendezvous. That dispatch went like this:
May Easter bring strength to the young couple upstairs fighting Covid; peace to a friend whose mother passed and he couldn’t be with her; thanks for the health care workers fighting for us; courage for family and friends facing financial challenges; selfless leadership and protective equipment for all.
Count your blessings and stay safe.
We are; XO G&K
At the time, it was heartfelt. Today it sounds sanctimonious. I stand by the missive to count your blessings and stay safe, but the morally superior tone of we are—that should definitely have been changed to we are trying to.
If you read beyond this, you’ll find out that no matter how hard you try to avoid this insidious illness, it can sneak up and attack you despite your best efforts.
I’ve called this chronology of events a recovery road trip, in hopes that the journey to our cottage in Canada would do just that. It began on June 5, 2020, when we were able to rescue our car from its isolation in Yonkers and load it up in Manhattan. But to do this tale justice, I need to go back to early March, when we were unloading the same car in the same spot, after a winter road trip to the south.
What follows are the events which marked mileposts on the Covid expressway.
The Siren before the Storm
On arriving in our neighborhood in Upper Manhattan, we were greeted by police cars and emergency vehicles racing past us—an all too obvious omen of the steady stream of emergency vehicles to come. This noisy welcome turned out to be just some idiot on the next street with an attitude and access to a gun.
The first New Yorker with the virus had been confirmed five days earlier, and we would have the first Covid fatality in the city five days later. Less than two weeks after that, there would be 18,000 confirmed cases, and 200 New Yorkers would be dead. The infection rate was five times greater in New York than in the rest of the country, and it would still be five weeks before my own Covid symptoms appeared.
It is 1994, and after my first year in the MA program in French at one of Florida’s public universities, my English is good enough for me to attend classes in the English department. I had been eyeing classes in this department with envy because many of them include books and authors we never study in the French program, many of them French philosophers. It is the time of “French theory,” which, it turns out, in the States is being taught primarily in English departments, not in French or philosophy departments, as one would expect.
After three years of life in the US, I can’t shake off myself the smell of poverty. If there is something that defines poverty, it’s smell. In fact, I smell worse than ever—I stink. I live in a graduate student apartment complex twenty minutes away from campus, and my apartment has a stench that, for the life of me, I can’t identify. It is, clearly, a residual smell from the previous occupant, and it clings onto all my clothes, my hair, my skin. When I open the apartment door it hits me like an animal waiting for me—no, not a loving pet, but some wild monster lurking in a corner. (A year and half later, while living in a student dorm, this time in France, I would open a drawer with notebooks from Florida, and the odor would jump at me from the sheets of paper, grabbing me by the throat.) I wish I could move out, but there is a waiting list for student apartments, and I can’t afford to rent a place that is not part of the university.
From “Three Samizdat Winters” by Katia Kapovich, an autobiographical account in the style of a Künstlerroman of Kapovich’s youth in Russia’s former Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic
I entered the bedroom I that shared with Larissa, lay down on the plaid-covered low bed, and began to scrutinize the ceiling. As I did this, I asked myself what I was going to do about all of it: about love, and poetry, about my dad being in jail, mom’s heartaches, and the problems she was already having at work because of my reputation. Problems was putting it mildly. She had been summoned to the first section, a bureaucratic euphemism for the Soviet KGB department. But my mom is tough and does everything the right way. Eventually we would locate relatives in Israel and apply to emigrate. It was Eugene I mostly worried about. Were he to say to me, Katia, this is how it is, I love you, let’s do something about it—that would be one thing. But he wasn’t saying anything of the sort. Apart from the inopportune, out-of-place proposal to “get married,” he never mentioned “us.” I recalled the clichéd joke: “Not now, silly, we’re at war!” War indeed: à la guerre comme à la guerre. He’s only twenty, and frightening things are already happening to him, I thought to myself. He has no time for you and your love.
At that moment Andrei entered the room a second time with a summons to the table.
“Which table, the one in the kitchen?” I asked. He shrugged and exited.
Erma Odrach in Conversation with Olga Stein
photos: Erma Odrach and her father, Theodore Odrach
Interview with Erma Odrach, translator of Wave of Terror
heodore Odrach was born Theodore Sholomitsky on March 13th, 1912, near Pinsk, Belarus (the area was then a part of Czarist Russia; between 1921-39 it fell under Polish rule; and between 1939-41, it became part of Communist Russia). At age nine, guilty of some minor offense, and unbeknownst to his family, he was sentenced to a reform school in Vilnius, Lithuania (then a part of Poland). Released as a teenager, Odrach remained in Vilnius doing odd jobs around town, and put himself through university. He earned a degree in ancient history and philosophy. With the Soviet occupation of Vilnius in 1939, Odrach returned to Pinsk, and worked as a school teacher as well as an editor of an underground anti-Communist newspaper. Targeted by the Soviets, he fled to Ukraine. He changed his name from Sholomitsky to Odrach, acquired the necessary papers, and escaped through the Carpathian Mountains into Czechoslovakia, where he wound up getting married, and later divorced. He moved to England. There he married Klara Nagorski. In 1953, the couple immigrated to Canada and settled in Toronto’s west end. They had two daughters, Ruta and Erma.
Books and Reviews. Edited by Geraldine Sinyuy
Coat Hangers and Knitting Needles
Tragedies of Abortion in America Before Roe v Wade
The landmark US Supreme Court decision in favor of legal abortion did not affect the number of babies delivered in the years following; there was, however, a drastic decline in maternal mortality.
There has always been abortion on demand for those women who do not feel they can have a baby, either by do-it-yourself with drugs or by instrument self-inflicted or assisted. There always will be abortion on demand. If abortion becomes illegal again, women will once again seek the backrooms, the motels, the shacks, the coat hangers and knitting needles. The only difference will be when abortion is illegal, will the mother die too?
Based on extensive research, including interviews with documentary filmmakers and activists, D-L Nelson describes the crusade against botched illegal abortions through the personal stories of the women who suffered, those who preyed upon or vilified them, and doctors and clergy who cared enough to get the laws changed. From Sarah Grosvenor, at the center of one of the first abortion trials in the New World … to popular children’s TV star Miss Sherri … to Madame Restell (“the wickedest woman in New York”) … Anthony Comstock, Lawrence Lader, Bill Baird, Curtis Boyd, David Grimes, Henry Morgentaler … the Clergy Consultation Service and the Jane Collective … to Norma McCorvey, Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington, you’ll learn the backstories of men, women and organizations who were key players in the abortion and birth control debate across the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.
The book features a detailed timeline of abortion milestones from 3000 BC to the present, plus a bibliography of books, periodicals, films / videos and websites.
To purchase a Kindle or hard copy of D-L Nelson’s Coat Hangers and Knitting Needles, at a steeply discounted price (as low as Amazon would permit), reduced especially for WordCity Monthly readers in the month of October, please click on this hightlighted text, and consider adding copies for your family and friends, or to give when times seem right.
Laurel Deedrick-Mayne’s A Wake for the Dreamland
A note from the editor:
Laurel Deedrick-Mayne’s novel won first place in the Whistler Independent Book Awards in 2018, a year I was a judge. We’re pleased to bring you the short review that accompanied the announcement, along with a new poem that is a tribute to one of the characters, drawn from real life, in the book.
A Wake for the Dreamland review, by Darcie Friesen Hossack
A Wake for the Dreamland by Laurel Deedrick-Mayne is exquisite. With a voice that seems to echo straight from the heart of World War II, Deedrick-Mayne’s prose almost pleads to be read aloud. Often enough, I found myself whispering passages as I turned from page to page, just to hear the way they’d sound.
Contained within the achingly beautiful writing, however, is so much more.
It’s the summer of 1939, World War II is raging in Europe, and three friends are coming of age together in Edmonton, Alberta. Annie is a whip-smart young seamstress. William and Robert are students together at the music conservatory. Annie and Robert are in love, but so is William. Even before the boys join up, losses begin to mount. When they reach the devastation and death of war in Italy, the losses soon strain human ability to carry them any farther. And yet, the love (romantic, brotherly, erotic) that weaves the story together remains the strongest of the novel’s themes.
Poetry. Edited by Nancy Ndeke
FOR RUTH( A WOMAN OF SUBSTANCE) AND ALL THE 'RUTHERANS'. The swan sung, a quietude so plaintive, Oceans picked it up and whipped it to shores afar, Details of humility of a guarantee soldier, Robed in tons of tones of resilience, From ages of flower tribes peripheral tirades, Being seen and unheard, Toys for boys and casualties of love, To tangle with law, time spoke nefarious displeasure of elders, Didn't stop dear Ruth from toppling the dominant dominos of her time, Coming first didn't guarantee an easy entry into the sure herd of biased minds, But tutorials and homage to learning added a feather to an angel on a mission, A flower bloomed large and bright and hard as steel, An era made for a passionate advocacy of right light, Who can make music to a musician who sung, played and danced to a tune of chipping rocks to flatten old curves. Who can write an epitaph made from the stars before a baby was born. Who can light a candle on a soul who in life was the sun for an entire specie's. We mourn flesh as its meant to be, But a joy bubbles out from all the 'Rutherans' who with ease reach for the mellow fruits from an old gnarled tree, With trembling sorrow wrapped with praise we sigh with the wind of change now rested from a race well run, An epic soul floats in successive generations diploma papers and legal pads ready for war, For each battle Ruth fought and won, Is a marker and a tool to spur resilience and resolve ahead, So yes, this morning mourns as flesh must tend to do to flesh, But richer is the heritage that across the divide of living, A legacy stands tall and proud for the dare of a soul, That saw opportunity and not mountains, So go with a waltz into this goodnight sweet guardian angel, Our tears water the wind bearing you back to sunrise, Where wisdom of your birth and mission, Shall form the foundations of where tomorrow shall build its Castle. We are richer for the scars of your battles and wars. Adieu Ruth!
Poem Written During Australian Bushfires Treasure of the world, little animal boy, you and you and you, lone survivors, wombats and kangaroos, my love for you is so huge, let it revive you, let it give you rain, let it give you green leaves, thriving eucalyptus trees galore! Singed koalas and wallabies; although I rarely pray, I pray for you now, heal, breathe, eat, multiply, teach us how to save you, teach us how to live so no fires can harm you ever. Why should I belong to the species that multiplies at your expense, treasure of our world, marvel of the far-away continent, don’t die, little animal boy, stay, be, teach us,
7th St, Garden City, Starbucks Jeans and turtleneck, then lick cappuccino froth off a plastic lid. Watch the slick man by the door, cigarette hanging from pouting lips. Bask in the indulgence of a warm pretzel. Milk teeth clouds and a glitter sun glued to his hair. Mulch moist to instruct the senses. At the back of your mind, a poem ready to stain the page. Between the silent dahlias and hushed dust mote words, the day, as éventail plisse. Here we are, awake and awed. I haven’t thought about my mother in months
OK I give up ... here's ... My f*cking virus poem in the city of the undead 6 ft apart your cough I dread your breath where's your mask get the fuck away from me I'm busy not touching groceries locked down in my room as the hero’s work through doom and gloom in the city of the undead 6ft apart we wait instead
In Praise of Colour pink and red yellow and brown and inbetween, blue dark purple, pale green these are the colours we hurt in
Jerusha Kananu Marete
SALAAM MY MOTHERLAND AFRICA Last night I dreamed of arm stretched Africa Last night I dreamed of borderless Africa Last night I dreamed of brothers and sisters living in harmony I dreamed of thriving vitenge industries in Africa Salaam, Salaam my mother land Africa, Salaam Last night in Kenya I saw spears and arrows turned into farming hoes Last night cotton, coffee and tea industries steamed I saw genuine smiles with sparkling white teeth in Sudan
I Am Afrika I am the deep abyss of the dark continent the loneliness of the shifting Saharan sands the birth of the Nile and the pounding rhythm of the jungle I am the quiet heart of the elephant’s graveyard and the desperate thunder of vast grasslands I am the golden sun dripping into Atlantis and the burning rain of ancient blood
Trapped or Glowing (After execution of Navid Afkari another human rights activist in Iran) I saw dew drops on a spiderweb glowing, in this beautiful morning. Are they trapped, or it’s a place for them to glow? First thing as you woke up in the spiderweb of social media, was that another young brave man is executed, is killed because of rising his voice. He did nothing but cry out
Hunting knife While getting on the boat at Shangu river, The glaring of the olive dressed people toward us... At the opposite of a tempered sun Our shadow gets shaken, Then our hunting knives get sweated What if we got on the hand of spy After crossing the colorful Stone kingdom, We get stop at the last of a river in front of an amazing water fall The sky was getting red, it is evening
In Your Office You were my comfort, the warm arms I trusted, and willingly, I followed you into your trap. You held me close and breathed down my neck. Your hands travelled places forbidden to go. I ignored the red flags
She never knew she was beautiful. As a toddler and through adulthood her sister was cruel to her. She was bullied, humiliated, laughed at, and was told she was ugly and nasty. Her sister recruited others for the purpose of sniggering at and taunting her little sister.
She became a quiet child, perchance this is a signal to the unseemly and heartless ones.
Sexually assaulted by much elder brother when she was a small child. The secret was never revealed.
Up Until Then I hated my mother for being unwise, Uneducated, and under his thumb I compared her with my father Disliked more for not knowing Anything about my grades My mother said she was by herself In one corner of a dark room
Photo by Darcie Freisen Hossack
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