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Table of Contents
Letter from the Editor. Darcie Friesen Hossack
From the beginning, the success of WordCity Literary Journal has been something of a miracle. We didn’t know if it was too much to hope that writers from around the world would find and trust us with their work. Or if readers would follow. But you did.
On this, our third January issue, we thank everyone who has submitted writing and visual art, and everyone who visits and follows this global collection of voices and editors. We are truly grateful.
Fiction. Edited by Sylvia Petter
The stories in this issue deal with relationships and their perceptions – past, present, what could have been and what was, sometimes combining viewpoints.
“Faculty Lounge” by Paul Germano introduces an array of characters, each struggling with their own human condition.
“How the Tree Leaves Helped the Poet” by Dilan Qadir is a gentle story evoking the cyclical, in which things do not turn out as expected.
“The Clockwork Trinity” by Brian Hughes recounts how a boy‘s Christmas gifts finally miss their mark.
“Finding Transcendence into an Upside-Down World” by Marzia Rahman affords another way of looking at things.
Olga Stein’s story “Couples,” about various creative relationships — some symbiotic, others not — echoes one of this issue’s prominent themes. What do writers and other artists gain from intimacy with one another, and is there a tendency for one side of such an arrangement to benefit, even exploit the other — that is, as we see in Stein’s story “Couples,” to syphon off the creative élan of a partner? Certainly, this is what Irena Karafilli’s story “A Poet’s Widow Writes to Her Late Husband” suggests.
Finally, “Morning Star” by Chantel Lavoie recounts how an aging couple oscillates between emotions marked by their perceptions of a lodestone, an egg in a dish sharing their rooms, to finally through their pain find to each other again. ~ Sylvia
Blue-eyed social studies teacher Claire Peabody pushes open the door to the faculty lounge, letting herself in and shutting out the sweaty stink of youth that permeates the middle school’s hallways.
Inside the lounge, the air smells inviting, thanks to an autumn breeze blowing through a propped-open window that intermingles with the rugged woodsy scent of a colleague’s cologne and a freshly brewed pot of Hazel Nut coffee.
Two of the three tables, each smallish and round, are occupied. Claire says her “hellos” to three teachers sharing a table near the door, then nods at Alex Fuentes, the colleague wearing the woodsy cologne. Alex, who teaches Spanish, is sitting alone at the table by the propped-open window, munching on a Bartlett pear and going over his notes for an upcoming lesson. Alex looks up, pushes his wavy hair away from his face and gestures for Claire to join him. “What a happy coincidence that you’re taking your break now too,” he says, flashing his pearly whites and feigning surprise, even though there’s nothing surprising to him about her arrival.
Claire fixes herself a cup of coffee, grabs her lunch from the refrigerator, crinkles her button nose at something funky inside and slams the door shut. “Why do people leave their old lunches behind in the fridge like that?” she grumbles with true irritation. But her mood shifts to sheer delight as soon as she settles herself in at the table with Alex. She takes a small bite of her Anjou pear and a big bite of her turkey sub, then sips at her coffee. Under the table, she rubs her foot against Alex’s leg.
How the Tree Leaves Helped the Poet
He gladly told everyone—sometimes volunteered unsolicited—of the first time he met her at a poetry reading. It was the evening of March 21st, International Poetry Day. He was invited to a reading at a neighbourhood library in North Vancouver. Back then he was working at a clothing store as a shop assistant, but he was also trying to make a name for himself as a poet. He often told his friends that he wished he had time to write as many poems as the many shirts and pants he folded each day at his job.
He read a few poems in Sorani—a Kurdish dialect—and at the end of the reading a girl walked up to him and introduced herself. She had attractive lips that deftly pronounced all the labial consonants, sharp inner eye corners, long black silky hair, and a graceful body that she was blessed with because—he thought—she was one of God’s favourites. She was, in one word, beautiful.
Her name was Mila. She was born and raised in Vancouver, but parents were from northern Iraq, the poet’s home region.
“Your Kurdish was impeccable!” Mila told him, her eyes wide open with delight. It was not clear to him if she meant the choice of words in his poems, or, more likely, that she was fascinated that he spoke a second language fluently. Which he did, but not in the way she assumed; Kurdish was his first language.
The Clockwork Trinity
Michael had a box of parts that he had bought and salvaged with the idea of building a remote control car. That box was as far as the project got. Some of the pieces had cost him a lot of money but most of them had been bought at garage sales, from projects like his that had never gone ahead. His friend Sam suggested that he take them to a hobby store on north Main Street by Cathedral Avenue, they might buy them.
He phoned the store and after explaining it all he was transferred to the owner and he explained it all over again. The owner said, “Bring them down, but I have to warn you, some will be worthless, some a little, and the very best is only going to go at fifty cents on the dollar.”
He took the bus downtown and transferred to the North Main route. It was cold, cold enough to make the snow squeak higher than you could whistle, he had to curl his hands into fists inside the palms of his gloves to keep his fingers from freezing, and there was a wind blowing. Once he got on the bus it took five minutes for his hands and thighs and ears to go from numb to aching and to something like normal.
When he got to the store the owner looked in the box, “Like I said, most of this is junk.” He pulled a model airplane engine out, “This is old, and maybe worth something just for that.” He pulled a control transmitter, then a receiver and he sorted through the servos, “This is the only stuff I can sell, sixty-five bucks.”
“Can you chuck the rest of it, I don’t want to carry it back.”
Finding Transcendence into an Upside-Down World
When I woke up this morning, I looked out of the window and found the world upside down. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t think much of it. I didn’t want to puzzle myself. I carried on making breakfast; I made toasts and scrambled eggs and a cup of tea with one spoon of milk and half-spoon of honey and tried very hard not to peek outside.
When my husband woke up, I watched him keenly. He walked to the window with newspaper on one hand and reading glasses on the other. He threw a brief look outside; his expression didn’t change a bit. He had the same grumpy look he’d been carrying since his boss caught him with his secretary, cheating. On papers. Some kind of financial fraudulence. The office made an outcry, called it an ‘outrageous’ act, sacked the secretary and hushed the whole thing.
After an hour or so, I blurted out, “Have you seen the view?”
“What view?” he said.
“Haven’t you looked outside?”
He looked puzzled and said nothing.
“It’s different.” I said.
I shrugged and sighed. There was no point talking to him. Had we ever agreed on anything? Ever reached a consensus. And then again, we were the strong believers of science and physics, we worshipped them, but we never analyzed them.
Did I see it wrong? I looked out again.
More than a decade has passed since the events I’m about to recount took place. It’s important to state this at the outset because the early 2000s seem like a different world. It was possible then not to know things. It was conceivable that a writer could ‘borrow’—ideas, even characters—without committing a theft, and without stepping uninvited into another person’s life. The world has changed.
We often hear that a bit of distance from one’s work is necessary for any writer. Some reflection or rethinking of what a story was meant to do—all that tends to be beneficial. Perhaps I’m doing it here. On the other hand, I’m still convinced that my intention was to write fiction. No amount of self-questioning would change that, and after all this time, and a whole lot of distance, I am both without guilt and satisfied with the story I told.
When I cribbed Henry Webster from Jason, a fiction writer and my ex-partner, Henry had only a fragmentary existence in a green leather-bound notebook. Jason wasn’t aware of my occasional forays into his notes, although I doubt he’d have minded then. He wasn’t vain. Some artists are careful to let others see only their finished work. Not Jason. He simply thought the notes wouldn’t be of interest to anyone. He wrote them out by hand, and kept them on top of his writing table as if he had nothing to hide. They were, in his words, “just bits and pieces, scattered thoughts on characters and plot lines.” They helped him get started. Or else he’d work out problems, hurdles that would be there during a period of incubation. Sometimes a solution to a problem would just present itself, seemingly out of nowhere, but more often he’d have to word hard, searching for it along diverse lines of story and character development.
Henry Webster, when I first encountered him, was just an idea. Jason would return to him sporadically. There would be notes on other things Jason was working on, and then Henry would appear. Details were added each time. He was a composer, living in New York. He was married to a younger woman. His wife, a beauty, was involved with another man.
Caked in rich mud, it lies in the husband’s gloved hand, plucked from the garden with an accidental carrot and a deliberate handful of weeds. It smells green. He hoses it off at the side of the house and carries it into the kitchen. He hands it to her, her own hand coming out of the dishwater to take it. The blue-grey stone is vaguely egg-shaped and egg-sized.
“Not sure. Maybe. Sure was close to the surface.”
She sets it on the windowsill alongside a fragment of driftwood, shells they gathered with their grandchild, and a small alien made of Playdough with bent toothpicks for antennae.
The next day she sets it on the piano between a family photo and a potted plant. An hour later she moves it to their bedroom, alongside her jewellery box on the pine dresser. Then it’s a paperweight in the small office, holding the month’s receipts against the desk. This position doesn’t last the day before she picks it up again.
The doorbell sounds while she deliberates. She shoves her hand into the pocket of her embroidered woolen vest. She answers the door to so-and-so selling this-or-that. When she removes her hand from her pocket, the egg stays behind.
Over the course of the day, despite its weight, she feels lighter. She wipes out the spice drawer, empties the toaster tray of crumbs and makes it shine with vinegar and newspaper. He comes in from walking the dog to find her on her knees scrubbing the floor. For years they have used a mop.
“My fingers are doing great,” she says, holding her hands up and wiggling the digits. “The glucosamine must finally be working.” But the next day, she notices her kneecaps aching once more, and she has to ask him to open the jar of jam.
Non-Fiction. Edited by Olga Stein
There was an unusual mix of submissions for the non-fiction section of the Jan 2023 edition. Two pieces came from men who have lived through traumatic circumstances in their native countries. The psychological dimensions of trauma are so palpable in Diary Marif’s “My battle scars,” that I doubt there’s any need to point out the double meaning of the title. Afghanistani photojournalist Ahmad Fadakar’s description of Kabul’s fall to the Taliban is equally distressing, with its emotional response — personal and collective — to the withdrawal of Western forces plainly yet eloquently communicated. We are beyond grateful for these contributions.
A very different kind of theme is developed with pieces by Eva Salzman’s, “Writers’ Wives,” and Suzanne M. Steele’s “If She Must Be a Myth.” While Salzman’s essay comments incisively and with great wit on the hazards of being a woman writer in a marriage with another writer, Steele’s piece functions as both a review of Heather Clark’s Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath, and a memoir of Steele’s introduction in Mallorca to — coincidentally —the wife of a writer, the very accomplished poet, Ruth Fainlight. Steele’s very smart piece is a meditation on the all-too-easy assumptions we tend to make about creative women labouring, often entirely unjustly, under the shadows of their celebrated husbands. I will it to readers to note how simpatico these pieces are, but I would also like to draw readers to two short stories that likewise zoom in on the dynamics of relationships involving two creative people. Irena Karafilly’s “A Poet’s Widow Writes to Her Late Husband,” literally (and poetically) explodes a relationship. My own story, “Couples,” also explores the pros and cons of creative couplings.
It’s a joy for an editor to watch as a theme is developed across a number of submissions and across genres. I hope you enjoy this through line as much as we have at WordCity.
My battle scars
A scar the size of a small spider mars the left side of my head. It holds the memory of a four-year-old boy, who only knew war for the first four years of his life. His playground was an empty field and his toys were cannonballs, found among the ruins.
One day, the boy fell into a deep sewer and slit the left side of his face. He cried hysterically while his mother frantically searched for him. When she finally found him at the bottom of the hole, he was unconscious, severely hurt, with a deep cut that required stitching.
I was that boy, and I have the scar to prove it. It looks menacing, with a tail like a scorpion, full of poison. It earned me stares, cruelty from the kids at school, and eventually the nickname Scorpion.
Every scar that mars my body tells a similar story. I am a child of war, born in the middle of the eight-year Iraq-Iran war, which lasted from 1980 to 1988. My family had to move from one place to another since we lived at the epicentre of the war. Additionally, the Kurds tried to hide the identity of their males to avoid them being forced to join the Iraqi army. Being born as an unidentified person, coupled with the battle scars I had collected, traumatized me.
Barbarity and brutality became a routine part of the life of the country; people, including children, turned against each other. Most of my generation has several battle scars. The scars are so clearly visible that I’m still embarrassed by them after three decades. I counted the spots: one, two, and three… I found ten. Each scar represents war and has a deep tragic memory.
Ahmad Ali Fadakar
15 August, Kabul Falls.
I don’t see Kabul anymore. Kabul doesn’t have its own blue sky anymore. And the girls of this city can no longer wear their flowery dresses and skirts. They’ve forgotten their laughter.
It was a dark day for Kabul and its people. I didn’t think at all that the Taliban would take over Kabul, and it was hard for me to even imagine it. Unfortunately, this is what happened. On Sunday morning, August 15th, I went to the German-language class as usual, and I didn’t suspect at all that the Taliban would arrive.
Continue Reading and to photo gallery
The Victorian writer’s equivalent of a Reader’s Wife photo might resemble Coventry Patmore’s homage to his first wife, Emily, that “Angel in the House”, which is also the title of a work for which he should surely be remembered. Men like Millais, Ruskin (who was shocked on this wedding night by his wife’s pubic hair), and Tennyson all shared Patmore’s enthusiasm for a particular kind of wife. According to Katherine Moore, author of Victorian Wives, she had to be “without self-pity or rebellion or reproach or any hint of ugliness or failure. She did not have much sense of humour perhaps, but this was not required of her.” However, adds Moore, Milton’s “He for God only, she for God in him” didn’t really work in Eden either.
Patmore had two more wives (the first one died decorously young and beautiful). Then, at the age of 70, he fell in love with a poetess — an intellectual who was totally unsuited to domesticity and wife-hood, as he and a whole lot of Victorian stuffed shirts understood those terms. Shame.
Coleridge married Sarah, but Asra was his muse. H.G. Wells stayed good and married even while falling in love with and carrying on his affair with the more literary and, no doubt, altogether more challenging Rebecca West. Boswell, in search of a wife, discounted some who yet did splendidly as mistresses.
Dr. Suzanne M. Steele
‘If She Must Be a Myth’. a review of Heather Clark’s Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath. by Dr. Susanne M. Steele
The old comparisons to Medea and Electra no longer hold. If she [Plath] must be a myth, let her be Ariadne, laying down the threads, leading us out from the centre of the labyrinth. Let us not desert her.
~ Heather Clark, Red Comet (937)
I’m just finishing this brilliant yet very heavy (literally at 1100 pages, and figuratively) biography of Sylvia Plath by the American biographer, Heather Clark. To say it is a tour-de-force is an understatement. And yes, it does what Clark sets out to do, and that is shift the focus from her death, despite its ever-presence in the collective literary conscious, to a rich, rich life filled with good and loyal friends, people who cared for her deeply with friendship (and financial assistance), even to her final days/hours. The carefully detailed description of this care certainly corrected my previous understanding of Plath as a woman I had been under the impression had been left wholly abandoned, sick, to die alone; many people were absolutely present for her, even hours before her death 24/7, and this speaks of how worthy people felt she was.
The miracle of Plath, I realize as I read this 1100-page hard cover book (ouch, I had to use a pillow on my lap), is that she wrote anything lasting at all, never mind what many believe to be the very best of 20th century poetry, given the circumstances of her post-marriage, quotidian life and her times as a woman of the 1950s – early 60s. And of this poetry — the very best of her best— she wrote while weighted down by tremendous grief and loss at her husband’s desertion and the knowledge of his comparatively breezy life with another woman/women, coupled with his increasing fame and rising financial fortune. And oh, the irony that a woman’s best work comes from a man’s absence.
A Poet’s Widow Writes to Her Late Husband
What I remember most vividly is the scent of dying chrysanthemums. It was Labour Day weekend. We sat together on the sundeck steps, in that nameless season between seasons, breathing in the piercing smells of rain-soaked earth and stunted vegetation. After a while, a beautiful grey cat padded out of the night and settled between our thighs. That seemed wonderful for some reason.
You were still a virtual stranger. One of my creative writing profs had been granted tenure and decided to throw a party. The McGill Ghetto House was too small for so many guests: faculty and students, neighbours and relatives.
You were my prof’s cousin, an English graduate student. Everyone seemed to be drinking too much, talking at the same time. We decided to stay outdoors, smoking and chatting, idly stroking the wantonly purring cat. You’d just had two poems published and were in high spirits. Remember?
I recall being hugely impressed. When I told you I hoped to have my work published some day, you asked whether you could read my stories, and I blushed and said, “Sure. Though I’ve barely written half a dozen. I’m too obsessive to be prolific.”
I gave you my phone number, which you wrote on the flap of your cigarette box, and also on the back of a bookstore receipt — just in case, you said. At that moment, a gust of wind rose from the river and the cat bolted, vanishing among the shuddering trees, as if pursued by malevolent spirits. We both burst out laughing, like doting parents over a toddler’s caper.
Marthese Fenech in conversation with Sue Burge
LITERARY SPOTLIGHT: MARTHESE FENECH – STORYTELLING HISTORY
For this issue I was lucky enough to hook up with Marthese Fenech, who writes historical fiction, a genre I devour and admire! I love all of Mar’s answers below, she answers my questions as a true and natural storyteller and is the polar opposite of the stereotypes relating to historical researchers – there’s not a mote of dry academic dustiness here but instead an endlessly curious, lively and engaging mind. If you’ve ever wondered how historical novelists manage to breathe life into their chosen eras and characters, read on!
Mar, lovely to meet you! You are most well-known for your epic historical novels set in sixteenth century Malta and Turkiye. Both your parents are Maltese, although you grew up in Toronto. Did you have a strong sense of your heritage from very early on or was this interest something that came to you as an adult?
From the time I was three months old until well into my late teens, I spent more summers in Malta than at home in Canada. I grew up with one foot firmly planted in each country. In fact, I spoke fluent Maltese before English. Frequent visits to the island piqued my interest in its opulent history (and its delectable ice cream).
Life under the rule of the Knights of St John fascinated me most. The Maltese Islands lend themselves very well to literary descriptions—gifted with four compass points of natural beauty, the smell of the sea constant no matter how far inland one might venture, ancient temples that predate the pyramids of Egypt. It’s easy to find oneself swept up in its architecture and narrow lanes.
In July 2000, I travelled to Malta for a pre-college vacation. I intended to spend my days at the beach, my nights bar-hopping, and every second belly-laughing with old friends. I checked off every box, every day.
But that particular trip became so much more when my Dutch friend suggested we go to the capital city Valletta to check out the Malta Experience, an audio-visual masterpiece that showcases the island’s incredible seven-thousand-year history. The moment the Great Siege of 1565 played out on the screen, everything changed. Suddenly, the battle I’d heard so much about came to life for me as never before.
The Siege tested the resilience and fortitude of this little island and its people in ways I could hardly comprehend. It’s an underdog story for the ages. And just like that, the idea to write a novel based on this epic battle took root. Only it turned into a trilogy because there was far too much to pack into a single book.
Books and Reviews. Edited by Geraldine Sinyuy
Green Horses on the Walls by Cristina A. Bejan. Finishing Line Press, May 27, 2020. 46 pp
Cristina A. Bejan’s debut collection, Green Horses on the Walls (Finishing Line Press, 2020), is a 2021 Independent Press Book Award Winner and the 2021 Colorado Authors’ League Book Award for cover design which is also the author’s creation.
A spoken-word poet named Lady Godiva, Cristina A. Bejan, confers her collection the rhythm and beat of her performative act. Her reading at the Romanian Cultural Institute in March 2022 was an enthusiastic tour de force where Cristina A. Bejan’s acting skills complemented her poetry. Despite the easiness of her performative body language and enunciation, Cristina A. Bejan’s poems require a vulnerable and open heart since they address uncomfortable topics such as the crimes of communist Romania, mental health, and sexual assault. Blending Romanian, French and English, the author portrays the immigrant story of her family and through extraordinary acts of rebuilding, celebration and longing, her hyphenated identity reveals its richness.
Filled with visual and narrative streaks, her poems illustrate figments of a life that was shaped by immigration, separation, communism, trauma, while constantly negotiating the much-needed space to find balance. In her poem, “A Tricky Diaspora”, there is an accumulation of such earnest pieces that pull into forging the joint American-Romanian identity:
I’m from a tricky Diaspora
Coasting Through Winter
This Is Assisted Dying, Stephanie Green (Scribner 2022)
The Philosophy of Modern Song, Bob Dylan (Simon & Schuster 2022)
Gangsters of Capitalism, Jonathan M. Katz (St. Martin’s Press 2021)
They Knew, Sarah Kendzior (Flatiron Books 2022)
Untold Stories: How The Light Gets In, Michael Posner (Simon & Schuster 2022)
The Animals, Cary Fagan (Book*Hug 2022)
A Factotum in The Book Trade, Marius Kociejowski (Biblioasis 2022)
Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart, Beatriz Hausner (Book*Hug 2020)
Shadow Blight, Annick MacAskill (Gaspereau Press 2022)
When a friend recently recommended Dr. Stephanie Green’s very personal account
of her interest in, and commitment to, medically assisted dying, I knew I had to get my hands on it.
The issue had been of great interest to me over the years of terminal patients petitioning the authorities to change the rules and being refused, on through those with sufficient funds travelling to Switzerland where the procedure had long been legal and thence to Oregon where the north American ice had been broken, while those without that recourse settled for anonymous local assistance groups to provide the helium regularly used for party balloons to ease the transition. That and the likes of Jack Kevorkian, Dr. Death as he a came to be known, following their vision and finding themselves in the legal spotlight. Having some measure of dignified control over your death as well as your life seemed a primary human civil right to me, one from which all others sprang.
Of course this is a very contentious issue for many, perhaps even eclipsing the abortion debate, and its legalisation in Canada, 2016, was a triumphant celebration for some and an ethical disaster for others. But for the early adopters, as we like to say, the clinicians who felt the call, there were the far more practical matters of studying the government’s guidelines on eligibility and proper procedure. Dr. Green, it should be noted, had been a maternity nurse for nigh on twenty years and was beginning to wonder what other opportunities might be beckoning from around the corner when the choice presented itself.
Based in Victoria on Vancouver Island on Canada’s west coast, where it turns out, the highest number of requests for end-of-life services has now been noted, she began accepting referrals from doctors whose patients were at the end of their ropes and more than ready to take advantage of the new federal legislation of that spring. Her memoir of that first year, This Is Assisted Dying, is a remarkable document, and will, I predict, be seen someday as a landmark in Canadian medical history. She carefully illustrates the variety of family situations she encountered in her quest to aid the eligible to end the anguish of incapacitation and suffering that their conditions remorselessly dictated, whether fading away in hospice or home. While the decision to bring their suffering to a halt, under Canada’s new law, rested entirely with the patient, spouses and adult children often pushed for a last minute reversal, pleading and sometimes bullying for what they thought was sensible and ethically defensible, with the patient’s agonies somehow kicked to the bottom of the list of priorities. All the patients, I might add, were unconditionally grateful to have their wishes finally acknowledged by the system in which the doctors operated, some going as far as demanding the outraged promptly remove their passionate declarations of faith from the room.
Love Letters to Water.
excerpts from an anthology by Claudiu Murgan
The global importance of water to human life cannot be overstated and it is my hope that you,
the reader, will gain further insight into this essential life force via the shared thoughts of our impressive list of expert writers from around the world.
Continue to Excerpts
Poetry. Edited by Clara Burghelea
YOU ARE NOT A BIRD Sorry but your bones aren’t air-pockets. You’ve no beak, no claws, No wings or feathers. A leap of three feet in the air is followed by a similar drop. You’ve not the lightness to keep your ascent going. And your descent is like your life. It will never break with gravity.
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Orison our memories spread across uneven eons a second-hand tapestry of woes naked shame clothe thy name genuine prayer can drill a sacred screw into the poisoned blood like viscous iron smelting the night between the eyes it climbs a fence like caged ivy on Vena Cava Lane even Joey Gentile drops her digital pacifier awakened we charge thee with apocryphal bible belt bullshit in the south rumor consumer ads squirt like fish through an endless stream of consciousness heading north
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gabor g gyukics
in the swimming pool he jumped headfirst but before each length he read a stanza from a poem and during each fifty meters he engraved each stanza in his brain as many stanzas as many lengths when he finished he recited the poem to those present at the pool’s cafeteria he left damp pages from his notebook in the locker room trashcan
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Requiem for Edwin Chiloba Some whom he loved banished him for years. Do they think of him now with tears? Petals spread before smashed to ground. For hideous reason his body was found. Yes, his body was found in a metal box, dumped like trash on a Kenyan road by a sick mind to implode. He was born the son of LGBTQ mirth. He found a family by fashioning earth.
left or right it doesn't really matter which side of the circus we each choose to stand on because either way, the donkeys and elephants will just end up trampling over everyone.
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CATALYTIC Swimming upstream is a talent. Movement abstracted from a particular situation is an exercise and not a particularly useful one. For instance, when I was born , a man leaned over me with a silver dollar on his chest. It gleamed with possibility, I was told. Intention counted for something then. His disappointment shone brighter than currency, which my mother tried to temper. She waved her hands as if shooing a flock of jewel –like birds , which had nothing better to do than flap wildly with bird-like exclamation. My father dozed with his eyes at half-mast, a characteristic we’d become used to and for which he was known. The blood red Trillium along the border of the narrow house, he’d cultivated for two generations. If he was lucky, there would be a third. Even pre-cognitive, the smell of death wafted my way. It would always be like this. I could discern the timing of things. They called it a gift. The variables were always shifting, but I managed to find the right angle to things. That egress window was a portal to safety or it was nothing at all. Decorative was not in our nature. I would have given my life for the idle abstractions of my own family history, a way to do it properly, or just end it all together, but the story dictates we were always ever on our own. Assurances sucked noisily on a wayward breast. There is a ghostly foreshadowing linked forever to the the knife that is sharp, but destined to rest in the linoleum lined drawer, no matter what it is capable of.
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Lost Poems I feel at peace among the thick woods, tall swirling ferns, the bird’s songs, and the humming creeks. Here in the secret of the forest I pinch myself to see if I am a human and then I hear myself humming an old pastoral song over and over again. The birds are wheeling all around the sky
Promise of Birch Below winter’s crust the earth gestates the kind of life we’ve come to expect of her We see her anticipation in the arms of trees reaching east and west embracing the most wuthering winds accepting their dull roar as they have for centuries Their roots umbilical by nature grow beneath the protection of ever greening cedars The birch knows birthing and rebirthing brings forth life in spite of difficulty or danger offers boughs of hope unfurling sweet buds of joy even though the danger of annihilation lurks The birch knows her most difficult challenge is living under the threat of blight climate change war And still she gives rise after birth to spectacular silver shimmer arrays of leaves that applaud her existence her resilience her bravery Her earthly bearing depends upon her steadfast vascular fan a subsurface braiding outspread and reaching for the circumference of her verdant crown and its otherworldly promise of spring’s delight
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Golden Paradise Golden birds ah! Flew above my head A golden ribbon Spreading out to me from the sky I saw the golden mountains Smiling at me in the distance The layers of airy pavilions and pagodas Standing in the purple-red clouds The gardens in the sky ah！ The exquisite pagodas The bridge of golds and gems ah！ Arched across the vast expanse of the Milky Way I saw a giant Waving to me in the sky Stood on the propitious clouds Shining millions of rays The huge figure ah! Like a high mountain The golden dragons! Fluttering around him A round of sun ah！ Shining above his head The golden robe ah! Burning in the halos
Birth of a Girl Among desert-roaming nomads one evening the downcast sickly-yellow Sun collected her wares, gathered her skirts and hurried towards the dark The tent was black, the woman in pain, her soul on fire, consumed, yet cold Once more, it’s a girl—What an end to nine months of fear and hope Not a gunshot to announce good news Nor a torch to grace the space The midwife—not rewarded— cast a shadow on her face I was that unwanted girl the disgrace of the tribe For my ancestor, the chief, a girl was cause for shame
The Meaning of Joints The night, grapples with the buttons of my garment in the repetition of a battle between the meaning of my fingers and the numbness of the cold. I am not afraid of death My fear is the repetition of death and its multiplication. I have died many times before in the teeth stained with blood and pain that have repeated a single word. Like the farewell kisses. Like chewing the cold and the tremble of numb fingers. That prevents recognition of the buttons from the night.
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Plaything Zip it! Don’t tell me that the world’s a hard place, man. I am the youngest of the Matryoshka clan. Don’t let no demon child dismantle, one by one The mother, daughter and the baby son. She sees, on my behalf, the dark, dark sky; She sees, on my behalf, how human beings cry. She dreams, on my behalf, of gee-gees whipped and drowned, Of chariots shattered, tumbled to the ground,
Forest Eulogy I choose a druid oak to oversee your journey, rest my back against its gravelled spine, sense its heartbeat syncopate with mine. A winter past, we savoured wine sparkled to rubies by flickers in the grate, crackling bark, guzzling logs, bone chips and ash silky as the apple blossom talc you loved. Next day, you watched me fork the log’s dregs beneath your favourite David Austen. Your last choice patience, you rest now beside the grate in a copper urn. Dawn sweeps away the night as I gather ash and flecks in a shovel arthritic with rust, cradle your pot, pad a Gretel trail of golden dapple to your guardian tree, sprinkle ash about its knuckley roots. Lift my head to the echo in a blackbird’s eulogy of your song.
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BOY MEETS GIRL AFTER BATTLE 1 Pretty in the morning Disfigured by afternoon, The girl lies under rubble Where a soldier spots her, Not realizing that three hours earlier Everything else being equal, He would have felt differently And their meeting, Crump-thuddy And shot-staccatoed, Would had led to something more, A sequel.
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Lake Huron. January 2023.