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Letter from the Editor. Darcie Friesen Hossack
Even as we present this, our Pandemic Issue, the attention of WordCity Literary Journal’s editors is very much turned towards Ukraine. Our hearts are with her people and her president, united in hope for peace, freedom and continued democracy. Our May 2022 issue, featuring a human rights theme, will be presented in honour of Ukraine. Our call for manuscripts may be found Here. Please join us as we stand in solidarity as a creative community of writers and readers.
Until then, in this issue, we look at the first two years of the Covid-19 pandemic and offer our gratitude to contributing writer and poet Anjum Wasim Dar for suggesting it was time.
In two years, we have seen the world unite and divide. We have seen lost lives and livelihoods. The loss of common ground and the relationships that once stood upon it. We’ve seen life-saving vaccines and truck drivers storm Capital cities in protest against them.
One of our poems this month is from Bob Rae, Canada’s Ambassador to the United Nations, who speaks directly to those drivers and the horns they blared for three weeks in our Capital, Ottawa. A short story by Sylvia Petter, meanwhile, gets in the middle of a group of protestors, and Olga Stein examines how WordCity Literary Journal came to exist just months after Covid-19 circumnavigated the globe.
In our Literary Spotlight, although not directly about the virus, we find Sue Burge in conversation about Poetic Prescriptions for what ails us, and I hope you find, as I did, that it is a salve for our times.
All three of the above women are editors here at WCLJ, and together with Clara Burghelea, Nancy Ndeke, Geraldine Sinyuy, Lori Roadhouse and myself, the issues we’ve created so far have been our way of pouring light and literature into the darkness that has been the world’s collective experience these last two years. I am grateful the time, talent and friendship of every one of them, and for every single contributor and reader who has made WordCity their literary home.
Fiction. Edited by Sylvia Petter
Prelude for pandemic stories
This month there are two longer stories, and two pieces of flash fiction, one by yours truly that I felt would be a good fit, and a very short one.
Things are not always as they seem, or are they?
Cath Barton’s short story ‘Picture Perfect’, although not strictly about the pandemic, is infused with an atmosphere of frustration with those who are there, and he who is not, recalling perhaps the constraints of quarantine.
Debra Kennedy’s story, ‘The Marriage of True Minds’ is a tongue-in cheek story with perhaps telepathy as a possible long-term effect of the pandemic, and its consequences.
Sylvia Petter’s flash fiction ‘Bussing for Your Lives’ deals with anti-vax demonstrators bussing beyond national borders in the guise of latter-day missionaries.
Finally, a clever jibe flash by Doug Jacquier entitled ‘Shock and Denial’ rounds of this fiction issue. ~Sylvia Petter
The gîte looks exactly as advertised in the brochure: Blue pool, shady terrace (for long, lazy lunches), vineyards dripping with ripening grapes stretching into the distance. Three spacious double bedrooms. Peace and absolutely quiet. Perfect for a relaxing family holiday.
The only thing it doesn’t say in the brochure is that it’s a long way to the nearest shops, but for the moment Nina, newly arrived with husband Ed, isn’t worried about that. She’s floating in the blue pool. The trilling of her phone on a lounger by the pool pulls her back to reality. It’s her daughter Alice, calling from the airport back in England to say she will be late getting there, she doesn’t know how bloody late, and she could do without this after the term she’s had. Nina makes soothing noises. She’s looking forward to having the family together again after Alice’s first year away at university.
The Marriage of True Minds
We sleep in separate bedrooms now and text to communicate. I won’t get within six feet of him, but I’m not leaving, nor is he, now that we both know our true minds.
It started with an earworm. A couple of weeks ago I was weeding one of the flowerbeds when my husband sat down on the gravel driveway a few feet away from me and started digging dandelions out with a trowel.
“I’ve had this stupid song going through my head all morning,” I said. “You know, that one about Sylvia’s mother.”
He looked up sharply as I went on. “It keeps going along until I get to the part that says Please, Mrs…… and I can’t remember the name. Mrs. Who?”
“Mrs. Avery,” he said bluntly. “I’ve had the same song in my head all morning.”
Bussing for Your Lives
I’d been to visit a cousin on Lake Constance close to the Austrian border. He was an anti-vaxxer. My best friend had also gone down the rabbit hole. Part of me wanted to understand. Another part didn’t.
“I’ll drive you to the border,” he said. “There´s a bus going straight to Vienna. I’ve booked you on it. You´ll get to see another viewpoint.”
“No borders in the EU,” I said.
“Only for Switzerland,” he said. “The bus will be waiting on the other side,” he added.
I wave goodbye and get into line. I’m a bit nervous. I usually take the train, but this was a direct Friday bus to Vienna, and it was free.
“Is this your first time?” The young woman behind me with a toddler on her hip asks.
I nod and turn around to face her. She has red, curly hair, a dusting of freckles on her nose and cheeks. Wholesome.
“You’ll see. It´s great. Everyone together. United in a cause. All types. All ages,” she says, scratching her nose.
Shock and denial
Rufus Hornblower, the ‘it’s only the flu’, ‘it’s your sovereign right not to wear a mask’, ‘vaccination’s a plot’ shock jock, was bewildered when he woke up on a hospital trolley in a warehouse, after he’d gone to ER about his severe breathing difficulties.
A doctor wearing full PPE was observing him closely and taking copious notes before noticing Rufus was awake.
Non-Fiction. Edited by Olga Stein
Women’s Happiness: Linking Writing with Well-being: An Editorial
A recent trip to my doctor’s office yielded something I value greatly — an article that could prompt me to start writing. I had been mulling over how to address one of the main themes of WordCity’s March 2022 edition: living and writing during the pandemic. It was pure luck that while waiting for my appointment I had picked up an issue of Elle Canada from June, 2017 (there was nothing more current, perhaps unsurprisingly). Flipping through this bit of fashion’s old news, I found it: Sarah Laing’s “What A Girl Wants: Could prioritizing the happiness of women save world?” It’s one of those well thought out articles that ladies’ fashion magazines make a point of including because they reflect the fact that women who look at fashion mags are neither ditzy nor frivolous. As it happens, the article’s contents were not outdated in any shape or form.
Creating the Pandemic
It has been a time. My little family weathered the first part of the 2020 Pandemic year hunkered down in a run-down log cabin on a tiny, socially insular island in the north Pacific. My daughter, called back from Oxford (UK) after our federal government warned us all to come home, spent most of her time in her dark bedroom finishing her 2nd year archeology degree, and trying to make sense of the senseless. Meanwhile, my spouse, furloughed from the film industry, began a series of videos of his singing and playing guitar in order to entertain friends and family, as well as himself. I quietly sunk into a creative stupor and binged on endless repeats of Shtisel, Schitz Creek, and Kim’s Convenience. Only now as I read this do I realize that all three series were about complex, beguiling, and often humorous family situations, and all these families were in part similar to my own, a family I missed very much.
The ‘Jaws’ of Victory
That spring of 1988 was a spring like no other. At the end of March, the elderly Minister of Defense issued his bi-annual decommissioning order. It was published in all the major newspapers — a small and inconspicuous looking item at the bottom of the back page of the Izvestia or Pravda, or that idiotic army paper that we loved to mock (the Red Star?). However, for those of us who had been drafted in the Spring of 1986, it wasn’t so ‘small’. My best friend and fellow infantry sergeant, Yurik, used his connections outside the base to procure multiple copies of the papers carrying the order that heralded our freedom. We then carved out the tiny squares — to be ironed into plastic sheaths and carried around in the breast pockets of our fatigues, a symbol of our enhanced social standing, and a memento to be preserved for future generations.
Yes, technically we were still soldiers but only barely; we were more like civilians in waiting. Even the officers, especially the young lieutenants, began to treat us with certain respect and consideration. We were дембеля, the ones on the brink of discharge, inhabiting a liminal space between serfdom and emancipation. The ambiguity of this status was a source of both excitement and anxiety. The days dragged on. We smoked a great deal in silence. We tried to read but couldn’t. We hung around with the Uzbek kitchen cohort at the canteen. In the after hours, the Uzbeks grilled pork. Makhsudbek, the head chef, assured us that it was lamb. Not pork, no. Pork was not halal and he would never touch it. Only he did, of course. Yurik delighted in observing Makhsudbek’s contortions and played along, praising his magic culinary touch and the delicious ‘lamb’. I remember thinking how easy it was to manufacture one’s own truth, to turn fiction into reality by giving it a name.
I heard what sounded like a bird struggling inside one of the aluminum pillars on my porch. I knew there was no way for a bird to extend its wings and fly out of such a narrow space, so I went back to the garage to grab the thin plastic tube of a shop vacuum and run it down the hollow part inside the pillar, hoping the bird would use it to find its way to daylight.
I thought the bird, or what I imagined was a trapped bird, could scrabble up the grooved plastic. It wasn’t a rat. A rat would’ve simply clawed its way up and out and scurried off or chewed a hole in the bottom of the pillar. A rat would’ve needed no help. There was a chance this bird could be nesting in there, assembling material—chaff and weeds and string—it had scavenged on recent flights around our neighbourhood. There was a chance it knew perfectly well what it was doing and its peril was all in my head.
Anjum Wasim Dar
“Mama, do you know what happened to you, a few minutes ago ?”
Speechless and numb, I stared at my elder daughter Sara. Her pale face, reflected grave concern. Something had happened, for I felt my clothes were wet. I was sitting on the edge of the bed, in a daze, my mind foggy. I didn’t answer as I couldn’t speak. I just saw my daughter’s face, white as a sheet. I noticed that she was perched on the stool beside the bed, and was bending a little towards me.
I was thoughtless, unconscious of the time. In the small hours of the night, a severe cramp in my left leg woke me up. A loud cry of pain sent my daughter running to my room.
“What happened to me Sara?” My mind totally blank.
Essay Title: Q & A with WordCity’s editors regarding the Pandemic,
Or: This could have been an ACCUTE Conference Paper on New Intimacies: Literary Communities in the Aftermath
The list of literary magazines still in existence worldwide found in Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia is just under 400. Thirty-eight of the listed mags declare that they’re being published online. Seven of these have ‘print’ added in parentheses. I take it that many of these have digital editions in addition to being printed. There are 22 Canadian magazines on the list, and I know for a fact that some, like WordCity (which isn’t listed), were started by an all-woman crew of editors and writers, and were committed to women’s issues. For instance, Room (formerly Room of One’s Own), which published its first issue in 1975, is described as a West Coast Feminist Literary magazine. Another magazine, Fireweed: A Feminist Quarterly of Writing, Politics, Art & Culture, which was originally called Fireweed: A Women’s Literary and Cultural Journal, was founded in 1978 by a collective of 24 women. Both magazines aimed to represent women and diversity even among and within communities of women writers/creators. Race, class, and sexuality were concerns for both publications. Both aimed to encourage women who were new to writing and publishing. Furthermore, Fireweed, like WordCity, included fiction, poetry, reviews, essays, photographs, and drawings from women around the world. Like WordCity, it also made sure to examine women’s experience of violence and fear.
Anjum Wasim Dar
A Spark in the Ashes
“From the ashes a fire shall be woken” — J.R.Tolkien.
J.R.Tolkien’s poetic expression stirred the ashes in the sorrowful soul, blew them away a bit, and began to awaken the saddened muse, still in shock from the killing wave of Covid -19. It had struck harshly, crashing like a hurricane and suffocating like thick smog, taking our son-in-law to the land of No Return.
Death was striking all over the planet.
Books and Reviews. Edited by Geraldine Sinyuy
While Lillian Necakov’s, il virus, an intimate, surreal journal of 78 days during, was first out of the gate in these turbulent times, Apart, a large anthology of over 200 pages and 70 contributors, chockfull of poetry, essays, memoirs and fiction, is the first Canadian literary production of this scope reflecting the years of the virus panic now seemingly drawing to a whimpering close. You can bet it won’t be the last. A more predictable agreed-upon theme would be hard to find. And with such a large crew of writers and modes of expression there will inevitably be highs and lows, with each reader finding their likes and dislikes as they progress through “the year”. My own peaks would be the essays by Sharon Butala and dee Hobsbawn-Smith.
It’s a touchy, tendentious topic and one expects frayed nerves and overwrought reactions rendered in tones of rage and sadness, but they are held in check here. Perhaps by editors smoothing out the rougher edges and perhaps by writers censoring themselves. After all, aren’t we the polite Canadians showing the world the efficacy of apologetics? I imagine a US or UK equivalent would be riper with rage, but time, as they say, will tell.
Literary Spotlight. Poetry Pharmacy: Deb Alma in Conversation with Sue Burge
My interviewee for this issue seems very apt. In these troubled times I am turning more and more to words to provide solace and so am thrilled to be chatting to Deb Alma. It’s not often you meet someone who has made her belief in the therapeutic power of poetry her life’s work, and in such engaging and creative ways too.
Deb, I first knew of you as The Emergency Poet. Could you tell us a little bit about your life behind the wheel of a converted ambulance?! What was your mission? Where did you go?
Sue, thank you so much for this opportunity to sit back and reflect on what I do.
I set-up Emergency Poet in 2011, travelling in my vintage ambulance to offer poetry on prescription. The idea was to explicitly mimic a Quack Doctor piece of theatre; to be a little ridiculous, and fun and free to whoever wandered in. I felt it had something in common with gypsy fortune tellers and palm-readers and that it was connected to magic and not to be taken too seriously. It came directly from an evangelical zeal to share poetry with people who were frightened of it, because in the UK I think something happens in our secondary schools. Pupils are asked to examine texts as though they are forensic scientists, prising out the meaning and the poet’s intention, and in the process being thoroughly put off. Most people in the UK do not read poetry. I wanted to literally go out on the road and try to change that.
Poetry. Edited by Clara Burghelea
Messenger 4.10 a.m. I'm not looking for someone awake, just saw you on line, don't really know you. We met, I found you cold. My wife tells me you are warm, kind; maybe it was me, full of himself, il poeta,
Sonnet for Floating I was between the diamonds of the earth’s moisture floating on a raft on a lake and I had fallen into a dream where everything kept disappearing until I was surrounded by nothing but sky and then in my dream I realized that the sky was in fact a mirror image of some other sky or some other bluenes
a bad case of the asymmetrical blues or how to survive a pandemic a cracking, thrumming, vibrating, anxious heart beating, rising, throttling, digging deeper into paranoia, drifting into illness, echoes around the world. body counts, pieces of humanity strewn across the sky, hidden in the Duomo tattered and weary, the end of the world. the end of time. then suddenly space – everywhere,
What Hunger Costs I. All every creature wants is to survive virus or human, bat or pangolin - though in this case we may resent its drive life’s just cells mutating from within. That’s why we like to pillage habitats not ours, arboreal or aquatic, looking for stuff to use. We don’t care that the earth is damaged or that it makes us sick, or not enough to stop; we are the best at consuming every resource in our path. Ominivores? No, we’re omnivoracious,
Musa Aruna Chemnchu
VILE BUG A virus from the subcontinent, well populated, transformed all other regions into sub regions. Of course, it suits the apocalyptic prophesies, and does it all, to undermine forewarnings. It sole course is the new order. It targets figures to look impetuous. But the upcoming must not undermine its rage. It does not spare he who dares challenge its might. Quarantined! Stay safe! Stay home! Save lives! It comes with songs.
Household Mirages In an alternate universe, we painted this wall yellow— goldenrod like a kitchen should be. I see our shadows cross entryways and hover over the wall by the stove. Your hands were the setting sun, bringing down the hanging plants for thirst. In another universe, the two-bedroom is a three-bedroom, or only a one-bedroom. It is sunny outside, or rainy. Here sirens are going by again. I hear two discrete wails moving in different directions. In that other life, our life continues. I see the doors of that apartment opening and closing. Shoes by the door,
A truck is not a speech. A horn is not a voice. An occupation is not a protest. A blockade is not freedom, it blocks the liberty for all. A demand to overthrow the government is not a dialogue
Sorin Smărăndescu. Translated by Iulia Stoichit
adagietto breathe this cheap reproduction hanged on the wall Venetian map for the straightening of the surrounding house I am breathe stick your closed eye to the window my isolated smell of raw printed sheet count the wood splinters from inside out I am
Virus We are all having the same nightmare, overcome by an invisible, relentless enemy completely unable to protect ourselves. People are dying by the dozens doing the work, we take for granted. Undervalued, often underpaid labour suddenly something we can't live without. People are dying alone in soiled beds made up of despair. They lie along walls wailing prayers wishing they could say their last goodbyes.
Rough Living He’s been “rough living” as they call it. Skin over bones, frost-bitten hands. “How’re the kids?” he asks, like it matters now. “They’ve got me quarantined, top of the shelter. Might have the virus. Might not.” The words blur; rearrange themselves. “You shouldn’t have left. I’m going to die and it’s your fault.”
The invisible masks Unpeopled streets for days, weeks and months toss my mind into a time warp - a winter of earth's discontent with frozen memories snowballing, and pounding me into a strange oblivion. In the park outside my window birds touch down, chirp in the trees. After sundown a bevy of shy deers appears ambling around,
Abuelita There was never a television in her house. Just an old radio that ran off a battery. She was always averse to plugging things in. La sala was lined with photographs in descending order, from her stern mother and father, to one of her wedding day, down to my sister and myself. With every generation, the smiles grew wider, though, as her stories told it, the happiness from first to last was unvarying. She read little, only left the house to shop, or see old sick friends,
Gather Two long years. Covid still dictates where we can gather and when, how many and who. I don’t begrudge that. I march forward with the majority. I don’t heed the call of the convoy to disobey.
Anjum Wasim Dar
a whatsapp birthday, virtual cake, no hugs, gifts, sad joy, safe distance.
THE NEW NORMAL We used to wish for adventure nights, wild urban neon, rebel tales told in vodka language, beer songs spilling from summer windows. Now we long for safe country sleep. But still. There is simmering and fierce desire. I’m in slow boil, my heart a rogue’s apothecary of forbidden medicine.
It’s not too late “I could tell the color of her lipstick just by feeling the wind. Now I can taste nothing,” this is what my uncle told me when I called him to inquire about his coronavirus recovery. I said don’t worry, you will be fine soon and hung up the phone.