Welcome to WordCity Literary Journal’s November 2021 issue. If you visit this space often, you will have noticed that our back issues, which first appeared on Time of the Poet Republic, are being reproduced here, on our dedicated site. We hope that Mbizo Chirasha is soon able to safely resume his work at Time of the Poet, but assure all of our WCLA contributors that the final four issues from there will arrive here soon. It’s slow and painstaking work, but work to which I am devoted.
Meanwhile, here in Canada’s Northern Rockies, winter has arrived, even if not on the calendar. Snow is softly falling, and there’s a quiet that makes the world feel softened. It makes it easy to forget so many things, like the Covid-19 wave cresting in Europe, or the lack of available vaccines in developing nations. In British Columbia, the westernmost province of my home country, where I lived for 25 years, there is massive flooding, which follow a summer of wildfires, both caused by climate change.
A few weeks ago, I was able to spend time with family here in Canada, where we are fortunate to have enough vaccines for everyone. And yet, while anti-vaxx beliefs are not as rampant here as in some other places, I found myself sitting outside with many of my loved ones, trying to keep a distance, in sorrowful deference to their choice to remain unvaccinated.
At the time, hospitals in my home province were overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients. Surgeries and other life-changing and life-saving procedures had been postponed indefinitely. The Alberta government had acted too slowly and too reluctantly to curb the disease. People were dying, and misinformation was as much to blame as the virus itself. I’m not afraid to say that I worry my loved ones will be next.
Here in the snow, in the quiet, it’s easy to forget, even if just for a moment.
Reading can be a similar type of escape. Even reading this issue, which importantly and necessarily features so much else of the human experience.
In this moment, however, I’m going to ask us all to remember. Remember our neighbours and loved ones who have been lost in these last many months. Remember the ones still with us, especially those most vulnerable. Remember climate change is already here and needs to be slowed. Remember to act and vote for change. Remember to get vaccinated. Remember the gatherings we’ve missed and may miss again these coming holidays. Remember ourselves and all the life we have yet to live. Remember, please, to take care of each other, and not let fear or denial take away anyone or anything else.
Now, though, I turn the rest of this space and its accompanying pages over to WordCity Literary Journal’s editors and contributors, and I do so with gratitude for their work and their trust in this publication.
Thank you for reading.
Darcie Friesen Hossack
Fiction. Edited by Sylvia Petter
A theme that has appeared for this issue that winds up 2021 is a certain nostalgia, with the past always sneaking into the present in the work of writers from a variety of backgrounds expressing their individual empathies.
First up is a piece of flash fiction by Annie Bien, Before I see You Again, which is an excerpt from her upcoming flash novel, Rain at Fragrant Harbour.
Then we have a longer piece by Dave Kavanagh, Walking My Father Home, in which a father is remembered not without an element of surprise.
A father also figures in Pat Jourdan´s Salad Days with a roast that binds families and neighbourhoods.
A past love returns, as memory wobbles in Marcelo Medone´s story, Cobalt Blue Eyes.
Paul Germano´s story, Erie Boulevard, left me wondering why we often fail to learn from the past.
Transcendence by André Narbonne deals with the tricks memory can play, while in Douglas Mallon´s Gone a past love hallucinates far beyond the flesh.
Finally, a piece of flash fiction entitled Wolves by Olga Stein, juxtaposing past and present “human” interactions, yet ending with a glimmer of hope.
Before I See You Again
He ran—on the loudspeaker, “SQ 63, gate E7, now open for boarding”—his shoes tapped the floor—not her flight, there’s still security—an old couple appeared in his path, the husband helping his wife into a wheelchair, dim sum pastry bags swinging on handles—the older man’s eyes widened seeing him, would he knock them over?—he swerved, the scent of mothballs rose from the couple’s rarely worn wool suits—an image appeared of his mother handing him folded maroon cloth for his new monastic life, her hands cradling his face, Ama-la, I promise—the old woman shouted just as he passed, her wheelchair rolling away, he grabbed her before she fell. “Ai-ya, so strong! Just like you were once, husband, this good boy!” Cold hands patted his cheeks. He lifted her into the wheelchair as Husband nodded, “Ho! Ho!” crying out in Cantonese, they praised him mixing languages, “Good! Good! Strong young man,” “Handsome like you once, Husband!”, “Haha! Ho! Ho! Thank you! Faidi, Faidi, hurry, don’t miss your plane—”
Walking my father home
I have cousins who hated their fathers, I never did. I never went hungry because my old man had spent a week’s wages in the pub on a Friday night. I was never belted for looking at my Dad the wrong way when he was pissed, but I did live close to those realities.
I have cousins who knew the humiliation of both hunger and abuse, and at one time, I envied them. I was jealous because their parents laughed or roared or raged. My father did none of those things; he simply got on quietly with the business of living and eventually the business of dying.
Da came from a family that were either staunch pioneers or belligerent alcoholics. Of eleven brothers and two sisters, he was the only one who seemed capable of indifference to drink;
Lettuce leaves, like cockle shells layered on each other, circled the edges of the plate. Coming round from the opposite direction were slices of ham. Tomatoes, beetroots, and cucumber slices filled in the middle space. Sometimes there were also halves of boiled egg. It was all held together by large dollops of thick Heinz salad cream. A glass bowl of onion rings in vinegar (mother’s favourite touch) stood in the centre of the table to add at will. A fleet of bread and butter spread across a large plate.
But Sundays were different. We had a proper roast.
Cobalt Blue Eyes
The afternoon has cleared up at last
And the rain is thoroughly falling
Or maybe it fell. Rain is a thing
That indeed happens in the past.
Jorge Luis Borges, The Rain
It had been a long time since I went to parties. I secluded myself in my beach house and took up painting, a hobby that I had neglected for decades because of my job as a literature teacher. For years, I tried to imbue my students with the benefits of critical reading of universal classics and the correct use of metaphors, oxymora, pleonasms, hyperboles and the flow of consciousness in monologues.
Most of them were excited to hear me talk about Hemingway’s iceberg theory, which says that a good writer should not show or explain absolutely everything, as happens with that semi-submerged ice mountain that leaves only a part of the whole in view, with most of its volume hidden below the surface of the water. I even drew the iceberg floating on the ocean, as if it were stalking the Titanic.
After celebrating their sixth anniversary with a hearty meal at the Denny’s over on Erie Boulevard, Ed Pruitt is behind the wheel of his Honda Civic with his wife Bonnie at his side, driving on the boulevard at a furious speed, with blaring sirens in fast pursuit.
“What’s wrong with you? Slow down!” Bonnie shouts in a panic.
Ed laughs and scratches at the side of his face. “Cops can’t give me a speeding ticket if they can’t catch me.”
“Speeding ticket? I’m not worried about a damn speeding ticket!” Bonnie shouts, her voice still in a panic. “Stop the car! Please Ed, just stop the damn car before you kill us both!”
“That’s the plan sweetie, that’s the plan,” Ed says, a bitter smirk spreading across his long narrow face.
Erie is no joke. A Janus lake—calm and tempestuous, wildly unpredictable—it was the lake that gave me the story I’ve been telling myself for years in defence of my otherwise lifelong pursuit of complacency.
For three summers I traveled the Great Lakes to the sort of backwaters tourists don’t mark on maps. I worked on shoebox ships for poor wages as an engine room cadet. On graduation from a satellite college with a degree in marine engineering, I went to the M.O.T and wrote my ticket, but I knew I’d never hack it. A career in seasickness is no life. Instead, I took a position offered by an uncle in a Toronto bank. And when it was over—my fling with the romantic life—I couldn’t say I missed any of it except Erie, and not for the lake itself but for a woman who’d seen something in me.
Got the rent – thank God. Just paid it. Eighty bucks left over to last me until next payday. My soul was smiling as I walked to the bank to get the cashier’s check that would keep the roof over my head for another thirty days. Life ain’t so bad, you know? I mean yeah, I’m broke— what’s new? But I’m here in sunny Southern California, on this beautiful day, with palm trees towering over in all their splendor.
About half a block ahead an attractive thirty-something couple walk arm-in-arm. The guy’s massaging the girl’s back. As always, I try to assess, based on their body language, whether or not they’ve fucked yet. He’s got his arm tightly around her shoulder, but she isn’t leaning into him. Hmmm.
“The better to eat you with,” the man replied after I told him that he had nice teeth. This surprised me. He didn’t look like one of the hunter types, the regulars I’d been seeing in the bar. I had noticed while making small talk with him that he didn’t have their hard look, their obvious piercing need. I said nothing, didn’t smile. I wasn’t obligated in any way, as far as I was concerned. Anyway, what would be the point of performing any part of the usual ritual. Anyone could see that I wasn’t young. Besides, it was clear to me that he wasn’t trying to chat me up for the usual reasons. He was too tame, I decided.
“I’m not here to get acquainted,” I said. “I came down for a drink. I live in one of the burrows upstairs. You should try your luck with someone else.”
Non-fiction. Edited by Olga Stein
Toads on Lily Pads
Our house was situated on a hill known as the Dev Pahar in Chittagong. There was a pond next to our house down by the valley. I would often go out for walks for fresh air each afternoon; my favourite trail was around this pond.
The pond was surrounded by tall trees and bamboo tresses. A great many toads sat on innumerable lily pads on the surface of the pond. They leapt sprightly in and out of the water, legs splayed, and sat back upon the lily pads. The greenery around the pond was spectacular, especially on a rainy day. The leaves trembled, as the rain dribbled over. It was a summer’s rain. Raindrops also dribbled over the lily pads, where the toads had sat. They sang, serenading the rain. The rain responded. Then it performed a dance — the rain and the pond together, nuanced, choreographed. The pond dimpled, chuffed by this delightful duet. Nature woke up in a festive moment. The leaves of the bamboo shone in the rain, as did the young shoots beginning to open up.
Books and Reviews. Edited by Geraldine Sinyuy
Often, as readers, we can be disappointed in the film adaptations of fine literary texts. The compromises necessary to the genre switch can easily upset the apple cart of our language centered pleasures, replacing them with rapid fire imagery unsuited to our own imaginings. Of course, there are cases where the opposite is true: low brow fictions transformed into art by inspired script writers and passionate directors.
This season I was fortunate to uncover two examples of great art brought forth from fine literary endeavours. John Preston’s The Dig, a short but penetrating novel from 2007 retelling the details of the famous Sutton Hoo archeological discoveries in the Norfolk England of 1939. With Ralph Fiennes and Carey Mulligan leading a well oiled ensemble through the character conflicts and power struggles over the almost perfect though skeletal thousand-year-old remains of an Anglo-Saxon burial ship, the evocation of a well trodden era of British history is as good as can be expected, given the previous cliches of brave Brits facing the dark onslaught of ruthless Nazi power.
Literary Spotlight and Editorial Epiphanies. By Sue Burge
Literary Spotlight. Featuring Mona Arshi
This month I am absolutely delighted to have the opportunity for a conversation with Mona Arshi, a highly respected UK poet, novelist and Human Rights lawyer. I was so excited when I read that Mona was to have a poetry residency with the Norfolk Wildlife Trust at Cley-next-to-Sea, a wild and windswept nature reserve amidst the saltmarshes on the North Norfolk coast in the UK. You can find out more about this very special environment here:
It’s a place I have known for decades so I couldn’t wait to see Mona’s take on it. I wasn’t disappointed! The poems she has created for Shifting Lines, a multimedia installation situated both at Cley and on-line, are extraordinary. They are full of delicacy, echoing the fragile landscape, but also contain some robust yet subtle statements about climate change. Mona, how did this project come about?
Hello and thank you! I feel so very fortunate to have been commissioned for this really unique project. My link to Norfolk is through my master’s in creative writing which I studied 10 years ago at the University of East Anglia. The team at UEA decided to celebrate 50 years of the creative writing MA by creating a project called Future and Form. The idea was that former UEA alumni, (including novelists, short story writers and poets) were paired with a digital team and with a venue partner. I was designated as writer in residence at Cley and worked with the team called Mutiny. I have to say that I didn’t know Cley at all and was not familiar with the landscape. It’s also the first time I’ve collaborated with other artists in such a far-reaching project. I’ve worked with dancers and musicians for one-off pieces but this was very different. When I confirmed the residency it was before Covid. The idea was that I would spend as much time as possible on the marshes and speak to visitors and those who knew the landscape like the back of their hand. The Project began in March 2020 but with Covid and the lockdowns the reserve was out of bounds for months.
Featuring the editors of WordCity Literary Journal
The first piece of advice comes from Managing Editor Darcie Friesen Hossack and is a fascinating take on structure:
My first writing teacher was Giller-finalist Sandra Birdsell. After a desperate struggle with my short stories, Sandra told me to look at everyone and everything contained in them like a lawyer seeking truth at trial (or at least like a lawyer seeking a version of the truth!). She instructed me to cross-examine each character, each scene, action, item and colour until I understood how and why they all belonged. It was the beginning of an awakening for me, because after a few successful stories, and not knowing how I had made them work, I now had a method to understand what I had done and needed to do again. I still use Sandra’s advice, although instead of a legal framework, I tend to look at storytelling through the lens of a journalist, asking Who, Where, What, When and Why as I write. Why is always my favourite, and the deepest, well to draw from.
Poetry. Edited by Clara Burghelea
Pollinators there's widespread interest in my flowerbed as long summer days unfold black and yellow swallowtails hover around dill orange and black monarchs embrace milkweed their respective caterpillars munch and move on to chrysalise and metamorphose while pullulating swarms of bees teem around calendula and zinnia dive into welcoming mouths of aubergine and courgette blossom
Talaria I Then he fitted me with talaria, :: Mercury’s sandals, – straps made of iron and copper, rust dispersing quietly over wings. Wings made from fragments of small birds – their heads, bones, feathers, severed aimlessly :: faint morning whistling and songs, ruptured, trickling, amid drops of blood, over my ankles. As I moved. But what is movement made of?
DIVINITY in our innocence we prayed wrapped our words in mystic cloaks yearned to open ourselves to something greater something more our words were not enough so we invented languages cut back the branches of the forest and set them ablaze body to body mind to mind we learned to fuse the corn syrup, the egg whites
TO CREATION Creation gave us the eagle and the snake. From myths, celestial waters mingling with the oceans of the Earth. Evaporation happens between worlds, leaves the flowers stiffened and the clouds drooping. Some drops stay behind in tiny rock-bound wells. The eagle can take wing and quickly disappear. The snake slithers beneath heaps of stones. Ascent is answered by descent. Moss-pocked trees provide shelter from sun-fire. Fields flutter like green handkerchiefs. Wind is a scented gift. The grass plays like children.
Power Kernels Break down the elements, split them To non-existence; Then shatter all solidity’s illusions, Free impulses Beyond the viscous mind, still feeling hard By vanity's gas upholstered. And then, for happiness’s definition, Shut the door; Relax, and don't be squeamish; For every grit of teeth, a pull of trigger, A sear, a cloud . . .
a poem for this very place and this very day
(In protest of the law restricting Internet access and cyberspace in Iran)
and who knows how many times every day i come to visit this “electronic” virtual page. and I look again and again. i look at the screenshots of a book you’ve posted or the photo or the text or a smiley face bursting into tears from harsh laughter. and this silence that can only be clearly heard in this click click. and this distance that can be shortened only on this dim screen of my cellphone. let aside that now is the end of sunset. and the last rays of a cloudy day are going to become a memory of these days. people have taken refuge in the land of their own loneliness. like that long time ago, and maybe not so long ago when we were students in university. not so long ago, because how long are we supposed to live? and it seems we still belong to the previous two or three generations. the ones who, when their first child was dying, had been told that the first child is the share of a crow
Musa Aruna Chemnchu
HALF A LIFE For we first came with facts, And swapped with artefacts. As recorded in arts, and spreaded in parts, Around the globe in oratures, as testified, by men of arts with sculptures. Some fully terrified. And others with the blue moon, to seek harmony and bloom the light of love, to be spread about by the Dove.
the smell of sawdust the smell of sawdust on his clothes and in his hair and in his pores the roughness of his hands the breadth of his suntanned back the darkness of his eyes under lashes thick she pale and fair—hazel eyes, auburn hair he profound, his proclamations meant to be absolute she shrill and reigning over us nonetheless the bathroom he built in the basement of our three-storey house where so many rooms were just for company, just for show he, my father, a deep pool she a rushing torrent, a thunderstorm
The Colour of Me The identity spectrum... I am woman still sporting traditional pink I am mother shedding crystal clear tears of joy I am immigrant blue collar background I am teacher white collar dream I am Canadian waving the red and white I am alone feeling blue I am only human hiding the black and blue bruises disguising the fading brown scars
AUTUMN The summer scent was born from autumn leaves - it was spring, summer, winter next to the free autumn. Its posters were being arranged and they immersed the sleepy river in a disorderly image.
Thanks to the Punk Thanks to the punk who bothered to do a bit of neat graffiti by the bank. You changed my life, stripped away all that flim flam about democracy. Your neat row of Xs showed our ration of the stuff. “Your entire life’s share” it said
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