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Every so often, we leave our theme open to whatever may be on the minds and hearts (and also in the files) of writers and poets around the world. It feels important for us to not always plan ahead.
For this, our July 2022 issue, that decision has brought about a collection of work that together feels like a humming hive of connected and separate stories and ideas, people, images and laments.
Life happens both inside and outside of the news cycles.
Since our May issue, my own life has moved nearly 4,000kms east of where I was. From Canada’s Northern Alberta Rockies (where I spent three years after leaving the Sea to Sky region of British Columbia), Chefhusband and I drove to Southern Ontario, near the banks of one of the Great Lakes, well below the 49th parallel.
This is wine country. Culinary farms country. A sometimes progressive province. And it is also close enough to the Canadian-American border that I felt the ground move when our neighbour’s Supreme Court stripped away the reproductive rights of women, girls, trans men and non-binary people who can become pregnant.
It felt almost across the street when a ten-year-old Ohio rape survivor had to travel to another state for access to an abortion. (I hesitate to invoke her experience. Not because of the horror, to which we should all bear witness, but because a child becoming a lightening rod feels like a violation of its own).
For people who may be or become pregnant, and may need abortion care, it is a terrifying time.
Because of this, and because access to abortion care is not only an American, but a global, concern that affects millions of women every year, WordCity Literary Journal’s September issue will be dedicated to reproductive rights.
Beyond that, we will also focus on all other kinds of rights and experiences of women and girls, including those of trans women and girls, and people whose physical bodies are or were capable of pregnancy or who couldn’t conceive. The voices of all allies will be welcome, as well.
If you write, or are a visual artist, we hope you will consider adding your voice. If you read, we hope you will watch for us in September.
Surrey Muse Arts Society Awards for Fiction, Non-Fiction, Poetry, Visual and Musical Arts
Fiction. Edited by Sylvia Petter
This month, we have some strange and stunning stories.
First there is an atmospheric and imaginative piece, “Silent Bleat”, full of balloons and rainbows by Mehreen Ahmed, a Bangladesh-born Australian.
Then there is a story by Canadian Mitchell Toews with ruminations on the role and essence of sanctuaries.
“The Rainbow in the Window” by Canadian Stacey Walz is her first short story and follows the heartbeat of a young girl at the end of her life journey in Pediatric Palliative Care.
From Thomas Paul Smith, an Englishman in Dubai, we have “Faithful”, a quirky story, engaging with the seasons and told from the point of view of a store mannequin, making me think of a myriad of AI possibilities.
Finally, “Powdery Wings”, a fiction piece by poet Mansour Noorbakhsh to reflect “the increased sense of despair felt by the young generation under the influence of dictatorship, which leads to illusions and crime in the younger generation, especially in potentially rich countries such as Iran.” No rainbows, but there are butterflies.
The sheep floated on the blue, etched on the cloud’s sphere. In the short time that I wrote my story in the sky, they had reshaped into vapour, then pelted down. The rain fell over a garbage dump of a used plastic pond. Children of the narrow alley played in the rain as they crossed it precariously over the wavering surface. The only way to decipher a pond underneath, was by the liquid walks of the nimble feet.
Eight, seven, and nine, the children tiptoed. Only their parents knew their names. They were headed towards a destination—a balloon factory. Hired to make party balloons of many colours, blue, yellow, pink, and red, they made a rainbow of balloons and stacked them up in a corner. Balloons, to be used for birthday parties.
When I was quite young, I read somewhere that all places of worship are sanctuaries. Literally.
I took it upon my bored, 1963 Saturday morning self to investigate. Empirically.
I reasoned that if they were to offer sanctuary, churches would have to be open. Unlocked, so that anyone who sought sanctuary would be able to enter and be protected. My litmus test would be to see if the churches of Hartplatz were indeed open.
Our small prairie town was well-equipped to test my theory. In an easy one-hour stroll, I could check the status of a dozen churches.
“Mitchell! Waut jefft?” Mr. Vogel said, his big bass booming. “What gets you up so early on a Saturday?”
The Rainbow in the Window
35 days before Abby died, her family brought her to the children’s hospice in a pain crisis. She wanted to stay at home. It was the only place she wanted to be. In her own bed, in her own room. But this morning her head had started to hurt in a new way. Instead of the usual dull pressure she had become used to, the pain came sharp and fast. Her parents called the palliative doctors and gave her the new dose of pain medication as directed. But when Abby couldn’t keep the medicine down, they decided as a family to go in for help. Abby squinted at the light as her mom pushed her wheelchair towards the building. She was having a hard time focusing but she was relieved to see the building looked like a large colorful house and had plenty of windows. If she had to be here, at least she could still have her rainbows.
33 days before Abby died, she took an amazing bath. With the help of the doctors and nurses she had come out the other side of her pain crisis and could no longer stand the way she smelled. Yes she was sick, but she didn’t want to look sick. Her nurse and her health care aide for the day pushed her bed to the room with the big bathtub while her mom followed close behind. Her nurse turned on her favorite music. The health care aide asked how many bubbles she wanted. Abby said, “All of them!” and her mom helped her get undressed. This wasn’t like her bathtub at home. She could stretch her arms and legs out completely and the tension that had been in her neck and shoulders for weeks, ebbed. She could float. She decided it was wonderful. She stayed in the water until her fingers and toes pruned and her mom made her get out.
Thomas Paul Smith
new year’s eve
Sometime before midnight, he walks out onto a balcony. He climbs onto the ledge and stands there — on the tails of an old year, inching precariously toward the new. He spots me below, on the other side of the street. He stops. It has been raining all night. The road holds reflections of the city skyline on the ground, like a dazzling kaleidoscopic painting on a wet canvas. Water drips into the drains, reflecting lights like electric fire. He climbs off the ledge; his eyes remain fixed on me. He smiles but looks embarrassed. Across the road from me, he is two floors up from a tree-lined boulevard. He disappears back into his apartment. I return my attention to the street again. Most of the snow has melted during the day, and now a glossy sheen covers the roads. A small group of revellers come into view, giggling and swigging drinks. They kick and throw what’s left of the snow at one another. Later on it becomes busy. People are rushing hither-thither, I guess from one party to another, before the midnight hour strikes. He has returned to the balcony, now brandishing a flute of champagne in his hand. As the clock strikes midnight, I hear cheering from the cafes and bars. He raises his glass to me and mouths “Happy New Year”. Somewhere fireworks go off. I watch their dazzling colours reflect in the apartment windows in front of me. I scan from window to window, stealing delight from celebrations never intended for me. He remains out in the cold for another hour or so before waving goodbye and returning to his apartment.
Perhaps, I have already told you that some years ago I used to work in a small factory located in the south of Tehran. It was close to a large oil refinery plant, and a large cemetery, too. My home was uptown, in a wealthy neighborhood. Unfortunately, the neighborhood of that small factory and refinery and cemetery, so called south-town was poor. The streets were not very different to those of the north-town, but the lifestyle was.
I used to call a taxi for commuting to my workplace every day. You know I am not very fond of driving especially for such long distances. I called an agency close to my home every morning to take me to my workplace and, at the end of day, I called another agency close to that factory to take me back. Uber or Snap and such virtual agencies were not established in those days. A whole year long, I repeatedly made this trip, and experienced a recurring pain, every day.
Non-Fiction. Edited by Olga Stein
Networks: Sublime Omnipresence
July 8 was a type of freaky Friday. Rogers’ communications networks went down across the country, which meant that on the morning of July 8 no Rogers customer could use their cell phones, computers, or watch TV anywhere in Canada. But that was just the beginning. Currently, I’m not a Rogers customer (at home we’ve switched from Bell to Rogers and back, depending on who frustrated us least), but when, after a tiring 40-minute walk in the heat, I couldn’t use my debit card to pay for a small, cold bottle of Perrier at our local Fortinos, I realized—damn it!—that I am in fact shackled to Rogers. My bank, it turns out, relies on Rogers to process purchase transactions.
As I stood at the counter, thirsty and unable to buy a drink, it dawned on me that I was lucky to be relatively close to home, unlike many of the folks who drove to work that morning. They could find themselves stranded because they wouldn’t be able to pay for gas—never mind that they’d have to go without a Starbucks or meal the whole day. Nowadays, do people normally carry cash in their wallets? We’re always being reminded not to leave home without it. Is that cash or a card we’re supposed to have with us at all times?
For me, that July 8 Friday was like a day spent in an alternate reality. Rogers went down and consequently I experienced what is known in literary studies as “defamiliarization,” which produces a feeling of estrangement from our daily lives and the larger world. My world felt different; going anywhere now required some planning because I too could be stranded by an empty gas tank, or have our car locked behind the gates of a lot where I couldn’t pay the parking fee. I was also troubled by a frightening, nagging suspicion that something truly awful must have happened to have caused this nation-wide network outage (surely, it wasn’t due to plain old incompetence on Rogers’ part?!). Were we hacked by the Russians, I asked myself, my neighbours, and random people on the street? Haven’t we been warned by experts that we’re all in for a big shock, and that the veneer of smooth, reliable functionality, with all of the conveniences and comforts we’ve come to expect in our lives thanks to a plethora of technologies, was going to be disrupted and we’d get a taste of apocalyptic times or a crisis on a very large scale? What would that look like? I’d wager it would start with us being disconnected, cut off, and unable to perform the many tasks we’ve come to think of as utterly routine.
As you can see, we had reasons for suggesting networks as a theme for our July 2022 issue of WordCity. It’s also possible that no reason was necessary since we also invited readers to be creative, go ahead and interpret the term and idea of networks in the most broad-minded, freewheeling manner. Our reasoning was that any slant or twist, not to mention wholesale reconceptualization, would do because when one stops to think about it, networks are ubiquitous. What’s worth thinking about too is that they epitomize our present way of life much more than was the case even a generation ago. Almost all of our everyday routines, tasks, and even our attempts at rest (now often dubbed ‘unplugging’) involve one or several kinds networks. Moreover, networks have a way of shaping our personal — individual and family lives — as well as our careers in ways many people probably don’t view as salutary but can’t avoid.
My wife Leslie wanted to tour the Biltmore, but I said we should get a guide and go fly fishing because of the adventure, the natural beauty, and to learn something new. In all my years fishing in lakes and ponds with a rod and reel or a cane pole, I hadn’t attempted my bucket list item of learning to fly fish. I certainly didn’t want any more decorating ideas from a place like the Biltmore for our twice renovated bungalow.
For our guide, we landed an Asheville college student named Blake who was majoring in Recreation. Normally, two people are hired as guides, particularly if a boat is used, but since he understood my wife wasn’t overly interested, and since our son and daughter were teens, he felt he could handle the family by himself. We did pay him extra, however, for gear rental. I knew at some point the teens would be bored and find a place near the visitor’s center to get a signal for their phones. When they were younger and we went to Disney. They enjoyed the pool more than the rides in the theme park or the life-sized characters, which made me feel we could have saved that money for another household honey-do list. When we visited the Grand Canyon, they stood against the fence, gazed into the canyon, and exclaimed, “It’s just a big crater.” I had faith that our fly-fishing excursion might be a bit different.
I Like the Shades
The world is filled with advice on how to deal with one of its most common events: death. The advice is meant to tell you how you should feel, and what will happen. From the funeral home, I received The Reality of Grief, I Know Someone Who Died colouring book, and Thoughts for the Lonely Nights, among others that I can’t remember. I found the whole recommended process of processing loss a bit stifling, a bit cold, a bit black and white. These well-wishers, experts, people at the grocery store, and others — they were all missing one very key component: that they weren’t my dad and therefore couldn’t possibly know what he would’ve said, or what he’d have wanted.
I smiled and nodded and accepted all the sympathy and support with the gratitude these deserved. I glazed that smile, tuning out whenever the sympathy and support tried to morph into a lesson, a lecture. But then one of these conversations took a different turn, when a pair of kind old eyes looked at me and told me a story about their own journey in such a way that I didn’t feel I had to act a certain way. I could just take their offering of humanity, of caring, and put it in my box of things that comfort me. This box was one I pulled out frequently during this time, as I tried to piece together all the parts of my dad without him there to confer with. These eyes created such a shift in perspective that I began to document similar instances to tuck away alongside.
Kaite O’Reilly in Conversation with Sue Burge
For this issue of WordCity I’m beyond excited to be interviewing Kaite O’Reilly. Kaite is a multi award-winning writer and dramaturg. Her body of work includes, poetry, prose, radio drama, screen and theatre.
Kaite, I hardly know where to start, you are such a Renaissance woman and there are so many questions I’m desperate to ask! Maybe it’s best to start at the beginning. What drew you to the world of dialogue – scriptwriting, screenwriting, playwriting? Did you love role-playing as a child? Was this part and parcel of your studies?
Thank you for such a warm and lovely opening! I come from a family of storytellers – people who enjoy communicating and sharing experiences, the words alive in their mouths. Both of my parents were wonderfully entertaining and inventive with spoken language – they hadn’t received a huge amount of formal education, but like many Irish people, they were engaged and curious about the people and the world around them and were always talking, having a bit of craic. I learnt from them the richness and joy of communication. My mother and father were wonderful talkers. No wonder I became a playwright.
What a lovely way into this world of creativity!
I think many writers find dialogue quite tricky and in a play or film the characters’ speech is really exposed and has to be absolutely spot on. What advice would you give writers who want to improve their dialogue skills and find distinctive voices for their characters?
I think you have to love language and delight in paying attention to it in order to write good dialogue… listen to how people around you talk – what foibles, linguistic gymnastics or rhythms they use. Pay attention.
Read aloud any dialogue you write, noticing how it flows, where you may stumble because there’s a syllable too many, etc.
Books and Reviews. Edited by Geraldine Sinyuy
The Pitfalls and Pleasures of Summer Reading
No Escape, Nury Turkel (Hanover Square Press 2022)
Bad Trips, Slava Pastuk (Dundurn 2022)
Sea of Tranquility, Emily St. John Mandel (HarperCollins 2022)
Pure Colour, Shelia Heti (Anansi, 2022)
The Book of Smaller, Rob McClennan (University of Calgary Press 2022)
My Grief, the Sun, Sanna Wani (Anansi 2022)
Arborophobia, Nancy Holmes (University of Alberta Press 2022)
Beast At Every Threshold, Natalie Wee (Arsenal Pulp Press 2022)
The Butterfly Cemetery, Franca Mancinelli (Bitter Oleander Press 2022)
One of the reasons we regularly indulge in our literary pleasures is escape from the harsh realities of the world, those situations that oppress our sense of the sanctity and dignity of the individual citizen and their freedom from the unlawful activity of criminals or malign state apparatus. Obviously, the pleasures of the text itself cannot be denied or ignored, yet the escape mechanism is all too real. And it is daring, fearless reportage that often brings that harsh reality to our ken.
Poetry. Edited by Clara Burghelea
pj Yukon. Poet Laureate of the Yukon
Ribbon I've seen it, unexpectedly enough, a few times, as I've hurried through my day, hushed and losing things, everything really, that I've ever cherished, wanted to keep. Have you, from the window of your Uber, ever caught a glimpse of the foil paper, the need-me crimson ribbon with the ruffled bow? I don't go back. No. But there it will be, across the avenue, shining with rain. Once, dangerously close, I touched the tape, frayed, unstuck, like you'd also been right here, not peeling back the wrapping for a peek of the gift that's addressed to the two of us.
Small opportunities are often the beginning of great enterprises. After years of living on earth, searching for that next great enterprise, I gave up trying, deciding to wait my time until I entered the next phase of existence, whether it was Heaven or Hell, one of the last two opportunities in my next life, then begin the process all over again, and when that time comes, I will be rooting for heaven, dreaming of a second chance.
Charline Lambert. translated by John Taylor
Poetic Prose from Dialyzing
That woman, having sunk into what, from now on, is no longer her: a desire will deliver her into the world, through her membranes. Her birth will always be an injunction, a bleeding. An oedema on the sea.
By way of illustration, this is how desire overwhelms her. It calls her Aurore.
Here she is, in her soul, at the edge of a cliff;
Facing the ocean, standing there, at the brink of the sky.
An in-between moment.
She erects a membrane there.
Elegy for Goldfish II: A Failed Acrostic “…[M]ost errors consist only in our not rightly applying names to things.” Baruch Spinoza, The Ethics Stillness swam so uninformed! Obviously uniformed, Limit-touching creatures loved you. Oafish me; love’s interstate Mastered loss. The interest rate Operated on what loved you Nearly as long as the strife- Stricken striving in each life Held you. Ferruginous slush funds loved you, Extra sure and iron-rich. Frozen by reason’s heat: my sitch… Famous sylvan skylines loved you.
What is the Desert? It’s forgetfulness of trivia and noise: the city or ego Remembrance of essences: silence stillness and G_d. It’s the stormy story of the sea recollected in tranquility death and birth and death and transformation— a gift granted only to the patient who surrender.
Mary Alice Williams
The Ties That Bind I am of fieldstone walls, thundering seas. I am of salt air, of sand squeaking in summer heat, of snow squeaking in winter cold. I am of Tammany Hall and the chicken it put in my childhood pot. I am of urban grit, its attendant grind. I am of unskilled labor, of the guy who knows a guy who’ll fix your furnace when the landlord won’t and while he’s at it fix your parking tickets.
Jameson (Jason) Chee-Hing
Lament for America Jackboots on the ground! I hear jackboots on the ground That unmistakable sound Of black polished leather Smashing onto asphalt That thunderous thud of spit polished boots Striking the ground in unison Worn by young men Idealistic young men Who believe their cause to be true. In far away lands they dream One day they will live in America The American dream Free expression Rule of law Where no one is above the law.
along the glass door this poem is supposed to talk about your character but i don’t know you much it’s not true too if i say i don’t know you, since i know how much you have changed me if it talks about changes you made to me thus, it speaks about you
Unrelenting Word sentence stanza, Metaphor a portal To image and after, the form taking shape Despite incessant shifting, the delightfully imprecise Shaking free of perception, The writer being written Out of the narrative As the hat is fitted On the outgoing head, The rain unrelenting.
Yuan Hongri. translated by Yuanbing Zhang
Cherish The Memory of the Heaven Today I would like to thank the world that looks like the hell. It makes the fire that cherish the memory of the Heaven burning inside me; it reminds me of the precious fruit of the sweet golden tree. Those palaces and towers swirling music from outer space, those giants whose bodies are limpid and happy, those oceans are blue cocktails, those rivers are the nectar of the soul; However, those mountains float in the sky like clouds, layer upon layer. None of stone has no transparent smile. The wind pass through the body and sings mysterious words. None of flowers will wither, as if old sun is both eternal and young.
Anjum Wasim Dar
Tellus's Plea Call Cyclops! People with two eyes have become blind! Have lost their sane mind have lost the spirit of being kind. They lie, cheat, deceive and rob do not leave a single grain, on the cob Call Cyclops! for he may see the cruelty killing and rape the guilty making good their escape. Call Cyclops!
I Rise I rise above every sickness, I dwell in the realm of good health. I rise above every stagnation, I dwell in the realm of progress. I rise above every hatred, I dwell in the realm of love.
Float Bills change hands. The politician keeps a pen in his pocket for autographs a separate one for thorazine injections. Babies require handshakes. He has an unreasonable fear of bridges. Wind across the elms banks left, sends another flock of laws across the mall. Only in cherry blossom season is this kind of graft common, or even permitted. Two hunters in camouflage raise their twelve- gauges, gaze through scopes. Monkeys cling to the Jefferson Memorial.
The Defendant Say what you will. Swear by the lifted book. Slowly lift up your gentle face and look. There shall be no safe questions. I sit to trace Your life beyond the confines of the case. When all is said and done, there must remain Among the detritus of slipshod rain, Between the callous solace and the real, In fine, the fine print of the broken deal. Beyond the foofaraw of life spent in The fearful meditation on loss and ruin, There is a country where the trees all knot Into the stunned kinesics of a thought, And lift up crooked waftures to the sky — There shall you be exiled. To dream and die.
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