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Letter from the Editor. Darcie Friesen Hossack
In February 2012, just more than a year after the publication of my first collection of short stories, I broke my back.
That is the easiest way to say it.
Except that the break wasn’t a fracture.
Instead, the bilateral rupture of my sacroiliac joints was due to adenomyosis, a gynecological condition that goes undiagnosed in far too many women, and often takes decades to finally name and treat.
Gradually, and then all at once, the stress from my uterine ligament twisted my sacrum like a jam jar until the joints, finally had to give.
I can say that my doctor at the time tried to manage my pain. I can say that he sent me to see every possible specialist while tossing out diagnostic darts at my chart.
I can also say that the prescriptions he gave me, both discrete and combined, were a sustained act of malpractice. There is a consensus that my brain should have stopped telling my lungs to breathe.
After two years, much of it spend on my hands and knees, silent screaming into the carpet on my bedroom floor, a pain specialist in Vancouver diagnosed and began to knit my joints back together with prolotherapy. A gynecologist performed a complete hysterectomy.
I tapered off the fentanyl. Off Dilauded, Ativan and Zopiclone.
I tapered off Cyclobenzaprine and Lyrica, too, while prescription NSAIDs left my stomach lining damaged, resulting in a year in spasms, while vomiting my way in and out of emergency rooms.
I’m telling you this because of Kirstie Millar’s The Strange Egg, and the review written for this issue by our own contributing editor, Sue Burge.
Fiction. edited by Sylvia Petter
April, rebirth, restart, Spring ~ Sylvia Petter
The Fig Tree
The view is all fig trees. No figs yet, but very soon. I can smell it when figs are on the trees.
A man stumbles out of the public house. I see that he is the gaslight man. Soon he will begin his shift.
The fig trees have spread so much just this summer alone. We’re in the middle of Camden but there are more leaves than sash windows. I can’t see Camden from this square at all, even from a second floor balcony.
Today, the sun is bright. It penetrates even the densest foliage. On a day like this, it feels warm. But you know that if you stand in the shade, you’d freeze. The intensity of the sun makes you look hard, the other way, towards the shade. Even the pavement is pink from the light.
THE BELL WAR
TWO SCREECHING CATS slice the late morning silence. They circle each other, backs hunched. Chickens scatter to safer pecking grounds.
A priest approaches. Sunlight on his black robe bastes his body. His sandaled feet kick up dust as he rushes past the beige stucco house with faded blue wooden shutters. They open. A stream of water douses the priest and cats.
“Oh! Père Chaumont,” Madame Bonnet says. One spotted hand holds a rusted pail. The other covers her mouth.
The wet cats slink away.
“I’ll dry quickly in this heat.” He wants to call her stupid. Instead, he makes the sign of the cross and hurries off. He must be at his church by noon. He almost runs down rue Jean Jaures, up Avenue de la République and past the two angels flanking the church entrance.
The Last First Friday
Brandt Colson watches his frenetic daughter as she flits around the room in her usual style. She is talking about ten different things at once, fussing over details and generally majoring in the minor. Brandt notices the bored and frowning, mostly grown grandson as he leans against the wall at the apartment entry. The boy takes no pains to hide his brooding impatience.
The daughter stops talking and pauses in front of the chair. Brandt looks up. “There is plenty to eat and all laid out. Your list is on the counter. Are you sure you feel up to it, Dad?”
“I feel fine,” he says. The stroke is a jumbled memory now.
She looks doubtful, “don’t over-do.”
This daughter is an impulsive, disorganized and frenzied worrier. The years of West Coast living, three husbands and many fiancés, has not changed that about her. Now she is back, living in his house, free of charge, with her son and a new husband. She is here to bring a whirlwind of fuss and worry over her sick old man.
Farley Creighton had been working far too hard. Tax accounting could be a real bitch in April. While most people welcome spring with open arms and a certain sense of renewal, not so with Farley. It was the time of year when he could expect clients like Mike Marashenko, who ran his own small contracting firm, to walk through the front door with a large cardboard box brimming with everything from receipts to bills both paid and unpaid and copies of invoices either sent or not. It was poor Farley’s job to straighten out the whole mess and make sure, at risk of certain reproach, that Mike didn’t pay a cent more income tax than he had the previous year. And it would have probably been okay with the beleaguered accountant had Marashenko Contracting Ltd. been a one-off, but no, he was pretty much typical of Creighton Tax Service’s entire client base. In the early years he’d felt thankful the larger firms in town had referred clients to him, but after a few years he realized that they were simply offloading their dregs on him.
By the end of June, Farley could look forward to a break in the pressure cooker tedium and start sending out a few invoices of his own. But now it was mid-April, just weeks from tax filing deadlines, and he tanked, bottomed out, flatlined. Call it what you will but Farley was done. Fourteen tax seasons in this dispiriting business that had promised big rewards never realized. In that time, Farley had seen clients start with nothing and end up millionaires while his business floundered, just shy of being a certifiable failure. Farley was an okay tax accountant, but a terrible businessman. He had grown silently bitter with those who’d “outgrown” his services and moved on, seeking the advanced resources of big firms with initials like “LLP” behind their names, retaining those pricey lawyers whose singular purpose in life was to ferret out loopholes in the tax laws.
Non-Fiction. Edited by Olga Stein
Two Readings, Three Authors: On the Pleasures of Listening to Women Talking
I haven’t attended a lecture or author reading since COVID. The pandemic was reason enough not to go anywhere crowded, and since — well, since then I’ve had to overcome certain habits of mind, as well as a tendency to prioritize tasks that invariably arise from my work as an instructor at two postsecondary institutions. As I approached the end of the Winter 2023 term and shifted to marking mostly, I decided to treat myself at last to two author readings. The first took place at York University’s Glendon campus on April 11, under the auspices of the Department of Hispanic Studies. The second reading and Q&A was held at the Keele Campus on April 17, the fruit of the Department of English and its inaugural Writer-in-Residence program. The two presentations were one week apart, and so I still had a vivid recollection of the first talk, given by Spanish philologist and novelist Irene Vallejo, when I attended the second. At the latter event, I listened to Miriam Toews read a segment from her latest novel, Fight Night (2021), and then field questions from Karen Solie, York University’s first writer-in-residence, a renowned poet and recently named recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship. These were different presentations in terms of the subject matter and authorial aims: the first was delivered by a historian in the capacity of a scholar, a native of Spain; the second featured a celebrated Canadian writer of fiction, known for drawing profusely on her own lived experience as a woman who once belonged to a Steinbach Mennonite community in southern Manitoba. I’ll say right now that both readings were marvellous; they were thought-provoking and moving. They were dissimilar nearly in every way, and yet, afterwards, once I contemplated the subtler leitmotifs and implications of things said or divulged on a personal note, I was struck by how much these talks had in common.
Risking Life to Earn Crust
On the last day of my final exams in the third grade, I excitedly anticipated joining my father, a courier and a Kulbar (porter). This is someone who takes items across the Iran-Iraq border, thereby putting themselves at great risk. Kulbars have little means of survival other than depending entirely on transporting a variety of items across the borders to support their families.
On holidays, we had nothing to do in the village as we had no electricity with which to watch TV, and no playground or a centre that held activities. I begged my father to let me travel to help him. At first, he said that the journey of more than eight hours was too risky for a child, but he later agreed, and I was overjoyed. For me, it was the beginning of several years of living dangerously. There were several reasons. Scores of people were killed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards; people were tortured by Kurdish militias, looted by robbers, or even mauled by wild animals. Couriers also frequently had to endure the harsh weather.
Literary Spotlight with Sue Burge: Poet Roy McFarlane Leads Us through Troubled Waters
Sue Burge: I’m very excited to be interviewing Roy McFarlane for this issue of WordCity Literary Journal. Roy is primarily a poet, although he turns his considerable talents to other genres too. He is a spellbinding performer of his poetry and uses his wordsmithery to explore the big issues of our time to great effect.
Roy, in your bio you say that “in a former life” you were a Community Youth and Play Worker. How did you incorporate writing into this life and did your work influence your writing at this stage? I suppose what I’m asking is how you became a poet and at what point you thought “I’m a poet”!
Roy McFarlane: I’ve always been a holder/giver of words, from a young boy being led by my mother to read and recite Psalms, to a young man dabbling with love poems inspired by the lyrics of George Benson, to being a young minister of the gospel developing my craft by listening to recorded sermons and the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X. But the turning point of actually writing poetry was working with young people, who were excluded or on the point of joining local gangs, who lived and devoured the texts of Tupac and Biggie, who revelled in the misogynist and violent banter. In response to that schooling we encouraged them to write positive lyrics, write their lived reality through poetry and put music to it. This is where I began writing poetry. A few years later I was studying Black theology, or Black Liberation theology, famously coined by the African American theologian James H. Cone (simply put, whether God is on the side of the oppressed or the oppressor). In this sanctuary of studying, I wrote my first poem Are you looking at me? A normal day in the life of a black man who seemed to have people looking at him wherever he goes; a poem I later performed with the New October Poets, led by the enigmatic Dreadlock Alien where a band of diverse poets from Birmingham and the surrounding area formed a spoken word community, creating a space to hone our craft and opportunities to tour across the UK
This sounds like an amazing apprenticeship to becoming a wordsmith! What advice would you give to poets just starting out? Do you have a particular process when you write?
Write, write, write, sometimes the blank page can be so daunting, we overthink things, we imagine what we’re writing has no relevance, or, more damning, it’s no good, but until we put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard and release the words, we become captives to hesitation and doubt.
I write for the joy and love of it, the spark that troubles you in the midnight hour, the thought that follows you into a dream, the ache that wakes you up, the inspiration that makes you write on the margins of a newspaper.
Books and Reviews. Edited by Geraldine Sinyuy
The Strange Egg – Kirstie Millar
Illustrations by Hannah Mumby
(The Emma Press 2023)
Paperback ISBN: 9781915628022 £10
“’Doctor, I had a terrible dream. In my dream I saw my own body, and I saw what you will do to it.‘
A woman is faced, month after month, with the birth of a strange egg. Her doctor asks that she take notes on her symptoms, documenting black blood clots as big as pennies, winking stars in her eyes, and relentless pain. As the woman waits for aid from her doctor, she begins to have strange premonitions of what will be done to her body. The egg, meanwhile, is watchful and demanding. Impatient.
The Strange Egg is as gorgeous as it is horrifying. Highly original, it challenges long-held beliefs that people of marginalised genders are unreliable and irrational witnesses to our own bodies.”
Kirstie Millar’s surreal pamphlet-length prose poem is so much more than the sum of its parts; it is indefinable, genre defying. Hannah Mumby’s illustrations act as a powerful vehicle to both enhance and underpin Millar’s visceral prose.
In 2017 Millar founded Ache, an intersectional feminist press publishing writing and art on illness, health, bodies and pain. Millar has endometriosis and The Strange Egg is an innovative way of expressing this illness/diagnosis creatively. This surreal exploration of illness contrasts strongly with the everyday rationalism health professionals require from their patients. It took Millar nine years to get a diagnosis and this pamphlet, written after her third surgery, uses the idea of the strange egg as an allegorical presence. It is the elephant in the room, the accumulation of years of shame, pain, anger and trauma and a representation of how endometriosis can cause a disturbing, pregnancy-like stomach swelling. The structure of the piece cleverly reflects the content: it’s written in 28 sections, to imitate the menstrual cycle.
“Doctor: There’s a good girl. Now, would you like to see your egg?
Eva Tihanyi’s Circle Tour. by Anne Sorbie
Circle Tour is a like a reflection in lake water; something so beautiful that you wish you could hold on to it, mercurial as it may be.
On these pages Eva Tihanyi offers a bounteous continuation of the language and imagery of the Romantics; and hers is a potent lyrical poetry. At the same time, this collection, is quite literally, one woman’s observations and introspections during the pandemic.
We are shown histories, celebrations, the new normal. The darkness and the growing light that penetrates after it exhausts itself. Meditations, incantations, contemplations. Every one of them beyond wonderful. Each written in such a way that the book insists we hold it, consider its pages, and stay. Once I did close the covers, I felt a lingering desire to return to the words that are drawn so strikingly between them. I felt acutely, the pull and float of a spiral, its way of positioning us in that which is universal. Within hope. Within optimism. Within every aspect of love. Because, at the cellular level Tihanyi’s collection is experiential. Her language, precisely focused.
Gordon Phinn. a review of books
If Not for You & Other Stories, Niles Reddick (Big Table Publishing 2023)
Moon of the Crusted Snow, Waubgeshig Rice (ECW 2018)
Who by Fire, Matti Friedman (Penguin Random House 2022)
Inspiring Canadians, Mark Bulgutch (Douglas & MacIntyre 2022)
A Book of Days, Patti Smith (Knopf Canada, 2022)
Common Tones, Alan Licht, ed. (Blank Forms Editions 2021)
This Strange Invisible Air, Sharon Butala (Freehand Books 2021)
Unmask Alice, Rick Emerson (BenBella Books 2022)
A Lab of One’s Own, Rita Colwell (Simon & Shuster 2020)
Making History, Richard Cohen (Simon & Schuster, 2022)
Poetica Dystopia, Stephen Roxborough & Karl Blau (2022)
Report from The Betts Society/Report from The Reid Society
Report from The Ross Society/Report from The Brockwell Society/
Report from The Hall Society (above/ground press 2022)
There’s been a trend now for some seasons to slim down short stories to little more than postcards from vacation moments, where a brief series of events and interactions is presented as emblematic of life in general. Characters are called onto stage but given few lines. The complexities of conflict and collisions of ambition are mapped onto postage stamp collections to be flipped through admiringly at one’s armchair ease.
And one can certainly admire author Niles Reddick’s adoption of this literary mode. Not to put too fine a point on it, he makes it work for him. There is an admirable efficiency to the glimpses he gives of small town and rural life, usually of a blue collar hue, as they struggle with the apparent emptiness of their existence and the quiet traumas of decaying bodies and brains.
Time and again he manages to make his snapshots resound into the moments and days beyond reading, reaching the entangled empathy to which all fiction aspires with an ease that belies the myth of effort. These are fictions that can be accessed as the evening meal prepares itself elsewhere or in the many spare moments that parse out the day. As a collection it is as useful as it is pleasurable. A book for public transit as well as the private armchair.
Claudia Serea’s Self-Ironic Surrealism in Immigrant Sociopolitical Poetry
Writing on the Walls at Night (Unsolicited Press, 2022)
History is what we take in, Mom says, the small bites of the
present. Eat up, dear. It’s all on the table in front of you. (31)
Claudia Serea’s excellent new collection of poetry, Writing on the Walls at Night, showcases rich imagery, ever-surprising details from the everyday life, frank sociopolitical statements, and raw emotional honesty, in addition to an impressive stylistic freedom. The book includes prose poems, poems with very short lines, and even a few political jokes, ranging from naturalism to surrealism.
Moreover, its motto inscribes it under the sign of fairy tales and childhood innocence, which inform its vision and aesthetics: “You should never hesitate to trade your cow / for a handful of magic beans” (Tom Robbins). The “Prologue” places the readers in “Grandma’s kingdom,” where the blades of wheat and the sky beg the speaker to stop and listen to their stories until she agrees, only to discover that she has already passed grandma’s house. Poetry then replaces the magic beans, there are none, Serea warns us in the first section’s title, and leads us on a journey toward ourselves instead of the castle of an unfriendly giant. Indeed, the book’s final piece, “What Happens in the Poem / Stays in the Poem,” a surrealist letter to the readers, invites us to take “a dream vacation,” to our pain, a luxurious place with “five-star hotels, fine dining” and “penny slot machines” whose prizes are “pound after pound of shiny poems.”
Poetry. Edited by Clara Burghelea
Children Look at Me
as if behind their eyes were mounted an ancient algorithm tickling testily for me to write my own microtonal subroutine of extinction. As if human life were not the larval stage of the evolution of intelligence in this universe. As if they’ve found the categorical torture in this pseudo-euphoria but cannot articulate through their newly minted syntax the absurdity of this squishy-sac glitch-life I inhabit. So, my cellular processors jump to the next energy level, instill their shrieking bullet train in the bucolic setting of this puff-pastry daze human love has disgorged. And yes, in its neonatal sanctuary the emptiness of infinity is unclothed, only to re-bundle in the clockish hum, the turning of a planet. Does the lightspeed rush of this face confirm its person? Optics bend the sourceless starlight of nostalgia, but the Proustian hot-fudge-sundae’s flavors draw toward the Big Crunch of spearmint wonder, organic sentience spilling out on the tongue. The fudge’s heat, the ice-cream’s cold, my quiescent polar selves meeting as strangers paddling the slow caramel of revelation. If only for a few trillion cesium-disintegrations longer, I could pretend the past is already here.
Nowruz 2023 For "Women, Life, Freedom" Hyacinths need the full Sun that comes late winter or early spring. What flowers will make this year attractive to Nowruz? Enshroud with the tattered leaves, clusters of fragrant, schooner stiff, upright stalks, as the growth of your hands. Your hands will bring Nowruz this year. You, who went to the street to bring the full Sun in a night that still wanders between its scarlet sky of sunset and dawn. The night that your blood uncovered it.
A dumpling does what a dumpling does It floats, it bobs, it tumbles to the floor. On the inside—hollow, nothing but air And some soft squishy dough Fill it with onion, chives, some minced pork; all mashed up in a thick filling, the same way Umma used to do.
Green lands of Nso Nature commemorates the advent of the dry season with extreme beauty in the green lands of Nso. As we wandered down the hills from Netnab, nature with extreme beauty humbled us with pump and pageantry. Was it a Biblical scene of prophets in the countryside or a paint of Jesus’ scenes in the salvation campaign? A tall silver-like cross on the top of the apex of the hill range A picturesque of windswept escarpments and gentle slopes, punctuated by U and V shaped valleys, drilled with interlocking spurs wired the white streams from the black walls down the vast basin Waterfalls from the sides on the steep slopes dropped silently to the pools
SEA PETALS Spring breath between sunsets by the heart a new verse blossoms between the waves of my gaze. Scent of whiteness I collect at the Horizon and dew of love from the ink by the sea plays beauty looks that gather elegance lappings of great hope. Petals of Love they dissolve terror disserting new Life: Infinite rebirth
Lakeside Bird Feeder, Squirrels Now if I had ambition I’d be this kung fu squirrel, this lighter one, this Jackie Chan, scaling stucco to ledge to chimney to the hovering skid of the evil whiz kid’s waffling chopper, perpetual motion my only gear, my sidekick wacky as this blacker one, who tries but can’t quite nab his half of the substantial stash. Their choreography is manic, their fight scenes replete with wall-walking, roof leaping, jumps across gaps and gorges—all their own improv’d stunts, every feat a fleeting, one-take opportunity. It’s those reflexes that make the difference:
A Place Inside There is a place inside that we keep secret. A place of darkness, bleakness And madness and leaden attitudes toward others, A place that feels like molten iron, Burning us inside, Crying to escape, A place that is desperately lonely, That wants the reassurance of mother’s milk.
A NEW SONG A horrifying THUNK. Like someone threw a bag of guts at the picture window. We peer out: it’s not pretty. A crumpled rag of a robin lies lifeless beside the house. We will have to fetch the shovel and throw him on the slop pile— that decomposing heap of the Unclean and Unwanted; the offal of our lives.
A patriot in a bulletproof vest Asian tigress, and a brave Kazakh kitty, purrs quietly sneak up, meanwhile fear of enemies as the holiday approaches. Body armor factory fragile girl built national glory and honor You, Madina, deserve it.
Boketto: The Act of Gazing Into the Distance tap-dancing into the sea, gazing into and between the here and there, the formless formlessness, the never-ending horizon, edgeless perfection of nothing and everything, perfect emptiness. floating into the timeless sky graced by a single lotus, white translucent pearls in the sky.
SWEETNESS OF LIFE I can taste the sweetness of life Just like the scent of the blooming lilac bushes decorating the sides of the roads I feel the warmth from within, Evoked by the generosity and kindness of people Just like the Oslo sun touching my skin after a long, cold winter I now hear the beauty of the world singing in my ears, Brought to me by the river flowing downstream while swirling around rocks, By the life-giving rain after a long period of drought, and by the melody chirped by the numerous birds of my neighbourhood
Michael Lee Johnson
I Age Arthritis and aging make it hard, I walk gingerly, with a cane, and walk slow, bent forward, fear threats, falls, fear denouement─ I turn pages, my family albums become a task. But I can still bake and shake, sugar cookies, sweet potato, lemon meringue pies. Alone, most of my time, but never on Sundays, friends and communion, United Church of Canada.
Found Poems --thanks to Leonard Cohen * so long, Marianne in February sunset Cohen dances to the end * take this waltz everyone knows first we take Manhattan * the slow thaw Lake Ontario echoes a thousand kisses deep * closing time tower of song happens to the heart * birds on the wire waiting for the miracle coming back to you * here it is the presence of you alive in the air
Infinity Reservoir each time a glass is raised to mouth & drank each time it’s clear water’s the last to go take a river under forever dry ground or a waterfall bounding from nothing if the sky was ocean we’d drink it falling filling another cup to restore our blood where to place this treasury as we live we break the faucet
MIRAGE OF GREATNESS Oh Putin, how sad you must feel, humiliated and beaten back in Kyiv, which you boasted would be taken in three days. The embarrassment of all those tanks, strung out, unable to move forward, unable to escape, all proudly marked with your own nazified Zed— how you must dread having to look at all those pictures of impotence and loss. Remember when you jovially counselled Ukraine to submit and enjoy what was about to take place, twinkly eyed boasting about a metaphorical rape that Ukraine might as well roll over and enjoy. And in your failure, you instead raped mothers, sometimes in front of their children, sometimes both at the same time. What are you? Are you the Devil?
Bhoj Kumar Dhamala
Floating Clouds One day I encountered The floating clouds Upon which they asked. “Your life Floats like ours Are you not furious? For the wind that sweeps you away.” I replied, “I love wandering As a voyager to see the world Changing shapes for my composure.”
Continue to Bio
LIFE This life is soaked with tears and the words are too small to pronounce all life in an instant and my love hidden in the corners of solitude. This life is soaked with tears and the pain of the past is stronger than the impending ecstasy in the kiss of the night and my escape is stronger then the strength of your will. This life is soaked with tears and the joy gets crushed by the sorrow of the desperate and disbelief in a new longing. This life is soaked with tears but today there is a smile in my eyes so don't walk away from my smile. Don't let the grief to put out these embers at least sometimes when I forget that this life is soaked with a tear.
I won’t give you pathos for flowers (For James Coburn, a tribute on his birthday) Steeped in the lost idyll of ancient times, The drumroll began to toll, As he sat withdrawn on a cobblestone, Beneath strokes from a belfry tower. "I won't give you pathos for flowers," A lad said to him. His gaze pierced the shroud of the ethereal, Like a spirit dallying across the great hinge. Desolate Coburn, weary from calling, Does the winding phase bring relief, Sequestered from the vale of grief? Echoed the prying lad.