3 poems by Ileana Gherghina

Ileana Gherghina


I cried reading Artaud
 I cried looking out the window,
The world
Loaded with veils 
Decomposed veils,
I get close to the window to see
The window bites my face
I am terrified
Now everybody can see through my conscience,
Five drops of liquid fall on my face
Where did they come from? 
From the inside space, 
I look out the window again
 I can see babies and they are 9
They are living in a wet house, on the first floor and second floor
With 4 windows and a door,
Hades was in the back of the house,
Their mothers are not home 
Stranger women are looking after them,
Little babies you will grow foreigners to your mothers
I cried reading Antonine today.

The bird

I was sleeping on a branded sofa,
Next to me was an angel
He was breathing
Air from a lemon tree,
While I was wrestling with my dreams
He was lying peacefully with a sugary face
Sucking all the power for the following days.
I was trying to mend the furies within my blood stream
By seizing the flow from brain to below,
When all of a sudden
A bird very strange
With an incredible song
Flew at my window
To make us feel present,
Not miss the world…
I’ve tried to awake the angel
For him to hear the trill
But I didn’t go on
He was sleeping too deeply.

Children know

Children know everything
They have eyes everywhere
On Jupiter,
On Mars,
On the Milky Way,
Back Home,
In the top of the tree,
In the back of my life,
In the hen house,
In the cell,
In my heart,
In my memories,
In the plum stone,
In your flesh,
In my smile,
In my hand,
In your sight.
But the language
We adults teach them
Can’t express
The vastness they know.
And we adults

Ileana Gherghina Bio:

I trained as a theatre actor and director but have drifted towards performance art and live art in the past seven years. I have founded a company that produces theatrical work with a strong performance art, video and visual art influence (Nu Nu Theatre). I also work with poetry, photography,video and dramatic texts. I am part of LAPER (Live Art and Performance Group) Oxford.  

 I have presented my pieces in the UK (where I live and work) and across Europe.

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Swimming for Safety. A poem by Sage Tyrtle


Swimming for Safety

pregnant, I watched this tv show on Wednesdays
in the opening credits this crying toddler would run
into his mother's arms like people swim for lifeboats

and I knew that would be us

but I am the crying toddler chasing after the cat
the cat who is you, who loathes hugs
who yowls when I hold you like a baby

sometimes when you are asleep I perch
gingerly petting your back, smelling your hair
reminding myself you like me, just not hugs

when you are six you run into a metal pole
you are silent for a moment and then a fire engine wail
you run to me the way people swim to lifeboats

tomorrow you will be curled up inside yourself again
purring to yourself in solitary contentment
but, just once, my arms were your safe haven

Sage Tyrtle’s stories have been featured on NPR, CBC, and PBS. She is a
Moth GrandSLAM winner. When she was five she wanted to be a princess
until her dad explained that princesses live in a dystopian patriarchy,
so she switched to being a writer instead. Twitter: @sagetyrtle

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The Day After the Day of Mother Love. A poem by Anne Sorbie

photo by Monique de St-Croix
The Day After the Day of Mother Love

Your knife digs in 
to the bleat of cheese
I add to the morning bread

Soft as a prayer
revering love 
the day after the day 
of mother love

The ceramic jug 
you filled with milk
I use for water
and your name sings
on my daughter’s lips
when she sees it

The two cut glass vases
you gave me
one day before you left your home
I fill with tulips
like the ones 
I photographed for you

I gently removed those images
from the hall wall
as I packed your home
into bankers’ boxes
that are still stacked
four high and eight long

It’s nigh on nine years now
since you ascended
By the tenth I’m told
those remains too 
should be buried
or burned

Burned or turned
which is the right way
the way you’d prefer?

I ask 
as I stand 
near your name
etched in igneous rock
you snug below
The Eriskay Love Lilt
couching the back
of the granite:
soft words for our missing 

You loved deeply
cared widely
spoke freely
chose wisely 
stood tall
and still
your truth
is a truth
we may never know

We come to visit from time to time
romanticizing in all ways
the vibrant stone
               of your life

Anne Sorbie is a Calgary writer whose third book, Falling Backwards Into Mirrors, was released by Inanna Publications In October 2019. Most recently she performed, “This Is A Prayer For You,” for The Indie YYC and published a piece in YYC POP (Frontenac, July 2020) edited by Sheri-D Wilson.  photo (credit Monique de St. Croix)

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Transplanted. Flash fiction by Mansour Noorbakhsh


Agitated, my wife came to the bedroom and called me behind the curtain. “She came again”, my wife said. “She said it makes more gardening work for her. What gardening work might it cause for her?”

My wife was talking about a Persian Walnut tree that a friend brought us from Niagara Falls some years ago. Four or five years ago on a spring afternoon, a wet and rainy day, he came to our backyard, laughing happily. He was coming back from Niagara Falls with two tiny branches in his car.

“Persian Walnut, you see…one for you and one for me… I bought them from a garden in Niagara Falls” our friend said while planting that tiny branch in the corner of our backyard. We used to watch it while seated at the kitchen table, watching it grow and spread attractions to the scrolls that were claiming its branches, chewing its leaves, and scrunching, until  it became tall enough to peep over the fence.

Then two weeks ago our backyard neighbour called my wife at the door and said, “Cut this tree down, it is making more gardening work for me”. She is the wife of an old, retired policeman.

My wife tried to convince her. “We will take care of everything and it will not bother you at all”, she said, but her words had no success We sat at the kitchen table thinking about what we could do.

Later, while I was cutting two branches which were closest to the neighbour’s fence, my wife was talking almost to herself. “I teach the children in kindergarten about how we should respect Mother Earth, the beauty of nature…what work does it make for her?”

After the second warning from the neighbour lady, we became more desperate. We couldn’t even sit at the kitchen table. My wife rushed to the garage and came back with a shovel. She started digging fast, beating, and hitting the ground with mincing words. I tried to take the shovel from her hand.

“We will transplant it”, my wife said. So, we extracted the plant from the backyard. We had to cut some roots and we cut off some branches and leaves to fit it in the trunk.

“I will keep these branches and leaves for the art activity of my students”, my wife said again mincing her words without looking at me.

My wife drove faster than normal and honked her horn, something that normally she did not do. We drove north to the summer house of our friend.

Hesitantly, with some unreasonable shame, we approached our friend. He laughed and joked as if he wanted to smooth the air. My wife wouldn´t let me take the shovel. She shovelled the ground, beating and hitting it and we transplanted the Persian Walnut tree that late October. We poured plenty of water onto it and added vitamin pills to its injured roots before we went home.

One day when we were seated at the kitchen table, drinking our coffee, my wife asked, “Will it survive?” while staring out into nowhere. “Ye…yes…it…wi…will,” I answered. “Yes it will.”

Mansour Noorbakhsh writes and translates poems in both English and Farsi, his first language. He tries to be a voice for freedom, human rights and environment in his writings. He believes a dialog between people around the world is an essential need for developing a peaceful world, and poetry helps this dialog echoes the human rights. Currently he is featuring The Contemporary Canadian Poets in a weekly Persian radio program https://persianradio.net/. The poet’s bio and poems are translated into Farsi and read to the Persian-Canadian audiences. Both English (by the poets) and Farsi (by him) readings are on air. This is a project of his to build bridges between the Persian-Canadian communities by way of introducing them to contemporary Canadian poets. His book about the life and work of Sohrab Sepehri entitled, “Be Soragh e Man Agar Miaeed” (trans. “If you come to visit me”) is published in 1997 in Iran. And his English book length poem; “In Search of Shared Wishes” is published in 2017 in Canada. His English poems are published in “WordCity monthly” and “Infinite Passages” (anthology 2020 by The Ontario Poetry Society). He is a member of The Ontario Poetry Society and he is an Electrical Engineer, P.Eng. He lives with his wife, his daughter and his son in Toronto, Canada.

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Let’s Pretend it Never Happened. Memoir by Sally Krusing


Let’s Pretend it Never Happened


I know that I got pregnant in February, 1965. I recall the Knight of Nights dance—our high school prom. I wore a long home-made dress made of burgundy velvet, in the empire style. A pink ribbon encircled my body below the bodice, and a wrist corsage of red and pink carnations completed the ensemble. David wore a rented tuxedo.

            We attended Robinson High School in Tampa, Florida, and our mascot was The Knights of the Realm. Before the dance ended we snuck out to David’s car, a Nash Rambler with front seats that folded down flat. We had started dating at the beginning of our senior year, and had sex several times to satisfy our raging hormones. David always insisted on not wearing a condom; he called it a prophylactic and said it didn’t feel good. He promised to withdraw so there wouldn’t be a problem. I trusted him. Today I can’t believe we never discussed the risks of pregnancy or its consequences.


Two months later, by the end of April, Mother suspected I was pregnant. We went to the doctor and had our fears confirmed. Distraught, my mother talked with the doctor and they decided without speaking to me that I would go to the Florence Crittenton Home for Unwed Mothers in St. Petersburg, Florida. I never saw my mother cry, but noticed the trash can in her bathroom full of used Kleenex. My father, in his usual non-communicative way, didn’t talk to me. 

            Soon we told David’s parents and his father asked if I would consider an abortion. My stomach churned and I instantly said, “No.”  In 1965 the procedure was illegal, and the horror stories of botched abortions filled my mind with images of dirty backrooms and metal coat hangers used by someone who may or may not be a doctor. 

            The one time David visited me at home he was greeted by my father, who threatened to pound David into the ground. We continued to see each other only at school, which added pressure. I felt a lead weight on my head. Luckily for me, the dress style of the time was the bag, and since my mother made my clothes, she made them extra loose. Maybe I could finish high school and no one would notice. Our friends never suspected. I was even voted most sincere in our senior class.

            I knew my parents would never accept my baby. I believed that David and I were too young, uneducated, and ill-prepared for parenting to even think about rearing a child. Instinct also told me that I couldn’t handle David’s parents rearing my child. I had an uneasy feeling about his father. Or perhaps, it wasn’t him but the possibility that I might see my baby regularly and have to confront my feelings.

            I believed that giving up my baby for adoption would be best for him or her. I wanted my child to have a loving Christian family. I hadn’t given any thought to how this would affect my life. I shut down my feelings about the decision I was about to make .

             Two weeks after high school graduation, Mother drove me to St. Petersburg, across the Gandy Bridge to my new Home. I saw a beautiful three-story house with white shutters. It was older, made of brick, and in a neighborhood that was well established.  It reminded me of my grandparents’ home and the love I experienced there. The first floor contained the offices, kitchen, dining room, reception rooms for visitors, a bathroom, and a living room. The second floor consisted of three bathrooms and two dormitory-style bedrooms with six beds in each. The attic had been converted into one bedroom with two single beds and a bathroom. 

            As the newest occupant with the most distant due date, I was given the attic. Talking about my situation with the other girls didn’t seem important at the time. I told myself that the three flights of stairs would be good exercise. The sleeping arrangements involved gradually moving girls downstairs from the attic as beds became available. I wasn’t able to move downstairs until about three weeks before my due date.

            I didn’t mind being alone. Sleeping in the attic by myself all that time, and working the breakfast job alone, prevented me from forming friends and talking about my feelings.

            We had chores to do, and I did breakfast duty that had me rising before everyone except the kitchen staff. Stored in the large, ornately carved antique buffet in the enormous high-ceilinged dining room were placemats, napkins, utensils and salt and pepper shakers used to set the table. The room had beautiful but well-worn wooden floors with tables, each seating four. 

            After about a month, I was moved to another chore. The girl who replaced me said it was too much work for her, so two girls were assigned breakfast duty. I never complained because preparing the dining room never felt like hard work. That had been one of my chores at home. After breakfast, I’d trudge back up three flights of stairs to the attic for a much-needed nap. Between lunch and dinner, I usually walked around the perimeter of the large asphalt parking lot behind the Home. It was enclosed by tall untrimmed oleander bushes, offering the privacy we needed when outside. The rest of the day I spent doing needlepoint or reading books mother brought. Ceramic classes were the only organized activity available. There was no library.

            During the day, the Home had staffed administration offices that included a general counselor and representatives from two adoption agencies. One was Catholic Charities. I chose the other one, but don’t remember their name. The Home employed two or three women, grand-motherly and traditional in appearance(in 1965 terms), who took turns spending the night as Home Supervisors.  Even though I didn’t know how to play bridge, I enjoyed watching as one of them regularly played with three of the residents. It allowed me to have a bit of vicarious companionship.

            The haze, my feelings of numbness, and my lapses of memory are likely a result of my unwillingness to discuss this trauma for about 30 years. I do remember that my mother dutifully came to visit once per week and stayed the allotted thirty minutes. We talked about the weather and what she was doing. She never asked if I needed anything. I once asked if she would take me out. She replied, “No. I don’t want anyone I know to see me.”

            I’ll never know whether she felt shame for thinking she failed as a mother, or blamed me for bringing shame on her. My father never visited. At the time, I didn’t think it unusual because he only visited me twice when I was in the hospital for two months with a broken leg. I was thirteen. No one else from my family visited, but I don’t remember it bothering me at the time. 

            When I was about forty-five years old, I asked my brother and sister why they didn’t visit me when I was pregnant. They both said that they didn’t remember because it was so long ago. I still wonder whether my mother ever told them why I wasn’t at home that summer.

            David’s parents and two older sisters, Kathy and Judy, visited several times and once took me out to a restaurant for ice cream. Judy asked, “Aren’t you concerned people will see that you aren’t married?” I responded by holding up my left hand, smiling, and showing the silver ring. She looked embarrassed and her reaction amused me.

            Mother told no one in her family, not even her beloved younger sister. The only person she told about my pregnancy was Mrs. Morelock, our neighbor across the street. Thirty years later, I visited Mrs. Morelock, and she recalled that mother told everyone else that Sally was visiting family in Pennsylvania for the summer. My grandparents always came over for Christmas, and mother was afraid that Mrs. Morelock might say something about how nice it must have been to have Sally stay with them for the summer.

            Like most pregnant women in the 1960s, I was told that a pregnant woman shouldn’t gain more than two pounds per month. I worked hard and succeeded in gaining only eighteen pounds. To this day, I don’t like going to bed hungry. Apart from using the stairs many times a day, walking the perimeter of the parking lot behind the home was the only opportunity to exercise that I had. I looked forward to the periodic walk of a few blocks to the hospital for regular physical exams. I always wondered what people thought when they saw so many pregnant girls together.

            The exams are a blur now except for one. I was on the exam table and the young handsome doctor said something that suggested I was naïve and gullible. I believed he was trying to be friendly and light-hearted. I’ve blocked out exactly what he said, but I do remember looking down at my big belly and saying,  “Yea, I’ve been told that.”  He looked embarrassed.

            October 4 was the big day. I assume that I was taken to the hospital in a car as I don’t remember an ambulance. Previously, the doctor had asked if I wanted to see and hold my baby, and I said that I didn’t. He and the nurses had strange expressions on their faces when they looked at me, and I guessed that my answer was most unusual. I believe now that I feared I would bond with the baby and that my emotional detachment would be breached. When I awoke they told me that I had a girl. They never asked again whether I wanted to see my daughter.

            Many years later, my mother called and said, “Your past is catching up with you.” She had never changed her phone number, so the adoption agency made one phone call to reach her. My daughter wanted to meet me and I was ready to meet her.

Sally Krusing calls herself a budding author and is pleased and grateful to be included in this Anthology.  She published a poem, I Am From and Have Become, in Oasis Journal 2017; Stories, Poems, Essays by Writers over Fifty.

After growing up in Florida, Sally lived in Alaska, Minnesota, Georgia, Greece and Germany.  She retired from IBM and lives in Tucson, Arizona, spending her time cycling, reading, writing, traveling and supporting a local theatre.  Despite several traumas as a child she has a zest for living.

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How to Mother a Woman. Memoir by by Teresa Callihoo

How to Mother a Woman

My daughter became a woman on a Thursday. I was just finishing my first semester teaching at a local college, busy giving last lectures and frantically marking student papers. Many of my students, overly vocal about their marks, were emailing me several times a day before their grades were finalized. Everything felt urgent.

For several years I had imagined this day. I thought that somehow, from my own inner resources, I would spearhead this transition. I envisioned an eclectic mix of red tent and tradition. I imagined friends and family offering their wisdom and perspective. I imagined women gathering. But when my daughter let me know it was time, my first thoughts were how inconvenient. I knew we were supposed to pause for ceremony for four days, and frankly, I didn’t have the time or inclination to do so.

Did I mention she became a woman during a pandemic?

Did I mention we were all living with my ex-husband at the time? It was something I swore I’d never do again, but when we found ourselves in between places it became necessary. We were family after all, and in the disruption of the pandemic, coming together as a family felt like a relief. Actually, it had been a fine two months. All of us had managed to get along. But the girls and I were only a week away from getting the keys to our new place. Didn’t my daughter’s body know that we were right at the cusp of a move and a new life?

If it had happened a week from now, I told myself, I’d be in control. Things would be rolling out in my house. Being at my ex’s house meant that I didn’t feel completely free to run things my way. Actually, I didn’t feel that I was able to run them at all. In addition, the pandemic was new; rules, restrictions, and people’s own sense of safety had kicked in, and I was hesitant to invite people other than family over. 

I called my ex to inform him about the turn of events, only half-knowing what it meant for us. Within an hour, my mother-in-law and two of my sisters-in-law were at the house. They brought all the necessary supplies and made sure my daughter was going to be prepared for this time. I became a bystander. I watched as my girl’s hair was braided, and I listened as her aunties told stories. A sewing machine and small desk were installed in her room. I let my mother-in-law take over. Thankfully, she was open to a modern interpretation of what the next few days would look like.

My daughter was overwhelmed. She needs her own space on the best of days, and as I watched her trying to take in her aunt’s stories, along with the rules she had to follow for the next few days, I saw her reduced to tears. Technically, tears weren’t allowed. I gently escorted the aunties out.

I listened to the instructions directed at me—things about cooking, cleaning, and sewing. We would have a feast on the final day, and thankfully most of the food preparation would be looked after. I listened to the expectations, many of which I thought were archaic, and I felt mad. I was angry at this disruption in my life and the poor timing of it all. I felt as if I was in some foreign country. I wanted to embrace this ceremony, these teachings, and the whole process, yet I found myself seething with anger.

Didn’t everyone know that I was a fucking college professor? Okay, a sessional professor, really a one-session professor. But still. I was too important to do “women’s work,” and wasn’t women’s work well beyond washing the floor? Shouldn’t we protest or do something else that is meaningful? 

I also felt territorial over my daughter. If anyone was prepared to guide her into womanhood it was me. But I had no knowledge of this ceremony and I wanted to honour it.

On day one I was largely recalcitrant. I had things to do and I refused to disrupt my life. I told my ex-husband that this was inconvenient for me, and he reminded me that ceremony, especially this one, was not observed for my convenience.

On day two I stewed in my own anger as I answered emails from whiney, undeserving students, asking for their marks to be increased.

On day three, I shut my computer off, and I shut my work down. I informed my students that I was unavailable, and I committed half-heartedly to the ceremony. I started cooking and cleaning in preparation for the feast on day four. Also, I got curious about my anger. Instead of telling myself to feel better or to do better, I just let it be. I wondered why I was so angry.

I reflected on my own coming of age—at how little fanfare there was. It was the summer before grade eight. We had been camping that week, and I had spent the day boating, tubing, and learning how to kneeboard. It was a day I had enjoyed thoroughly. When we got back to our trailer, I made the discovery as I changed out of my swimsuit.

Fuck, there is blood in my swimsuit. I had waited for this moment, compared stories with friends. I had desperately wanted to be a part of this club. And here it was: dark blood stains on my swimsuit. All of a sudden, I didn’t want this anymore.

But there was no denying it. I was a woman. I felt a shift. I was actually scared of disappointing my dad. I was never overly girly; I think I had tried to hide any form of femininity from him. Maybe, I had hoped that he would like me more, but at that moment there was no denying that I was a woman. I felt disappointed—in myself, my body, the whole process.

I let my mom know. Maybe I cried. I don’t remember.

When I stepped out of the trailer, my dad said, “Sounds like we need to buy some kotex.”

I was mortified and betrayed all at once. How could my mother tell him?!

And here I am now with my own daughter, and we’ve told the whole family. And it’s a really big deal. My mother-in-law comes by every day to check on things. My daughter is following half of the rules. She’s on her phone and computer, though I do ask her to maybe hide the evidence when her kokum comes over. She won’t keep her hair in braids either, and she keeps crying. I can see the defiance in her.

I try to remind her that someday she will reflect on this time and be grateful. She just can’t see it yet. I also give her a lot of space.

I hunker down to clean the house. Did I mention my ex’s house is clutter central and I hate cleaning there? I simmer in my own anger as I cook a lasagna, my girl’s favourite, for the feast.

My ex has told me many times to relax, but my anger radiates towards him as well, as he has largely been off the hook for this entire thing. He was told to stay out of the house. I think about how easy it is for him to tell me to chill when I’m expected to do my share of the women’s work. I have a dress to sew, food to cook, and giveaway items to prepare. 

My anger wont simmer down. Instead, it keeps growing and it’s out of proportion with what’s being asked of me. My mother-in-law has been nothing but gracious. And, after all, I’ve hosted dinners that I didn’t want to host. I’ve done things out of a sense of duty, but for some reason my anger won’t stop. I continue to wonder about this. Why am I so fucking angry?

Here’s what I won’t admit about cleaning and cooking. Sometimes, when I clean it’s like meditation. I don’t know why, but as I sweep the floor or wash dishes, I feel inspired. It somehow opens up a channel for Divine inspiration, and I am able to—clear as day—receive some sort of guidance.

On day three, somewhere between getting the lasagna in the oven, scrubbing the toilets, and sewing a ribbon skirt for my younger daughter, I sense a shift. In the quiet of this “women’s work” my anger starts to make sense. I’m not mad about cleaning. I’m not mad at my mother-in-law, or my sisters-in-law, or my daughter, or even my ex-husband.

This anger I feel, it’s like an awakening. I start to reflect on what this ceremony means for me. What does it mean to be the mother of a woman? My early motherhood days have passed, my role is changing, and I wonder if I’m ready to take it on.

As I reflect on how I can be a mother to a young woman, I realize that this ceremony, this time is calling me deeper into my own womanhood. It’s calling me to stand more firmly in my own power—in my own knowing. Being a mother to a woman is a transformation for me as well.

This anger, this angst I feel, is perhaps one part worry and one part an awakening. I am embracing myself in new ways. Deeper ways. I am embracing my own knowledge. I am embracing my own path. I am embracing my own deep desires as a woman. I am being called on to move into this next phase of my life and I can feel it. It’s palpable. How do I mother a woman?

Rising. I am a mother to a woman now and my own womanhood is calling to me, telling me to go deeper.

My anger was masking my own discomfort—my own call to personal transformation. I could have missed it completely. I could have complained about my mother-in-law, or about the ceremony, and how it failed to grasp modernity. I could have refused to do work I considered beneath me.

Instead, I sat, questioned, and got curious. It opened the door for new understanding. It opened the door to my new power. It opened the door to my own fears because I knew I wasn’t fully been living as a woman myself. Despite my marriage and the birth of my two children, I had missed some of the transition to my own womanhood. I had yet to fully embrace myself as a mother, and as a leader. I still played daughter and I knew this had to change. I knew that in order to fully embrace this role, this deeper role of motherhood, I had to relinquish my role as daughter. I had to release any expectations or roles that didn’t let me fully be me.

I had to stand fully present in the ever-changing landscape of the person I was, be a pillar for my own daughters, and witness their unfolding.

Being a mother to a woman was a deepening of my role. My daughter was no longer a girl, and neither was I.

On day four, several of our family members gathered in our living room for prayers and food. I watched as my daughter’s grandfather prayed for her. Openly. I watched as he embraced her. Openly. I watched as she was celebrated for the transition she had made. Openly. I listened as her grandfather explained to her that he had prayed every day for her for the past four days. He prayed for her wellbeing, prayed for her transition, prayed for her future.

I watched as she was embraced. I felt the prayers of every family member present, and of the ancestors who gathered to witness this moment. This was a historic moment right there in our living room.

I looked at the faces of every one of our family members. I watched as she was honoured by her aunties and her cousins. I watched in awe as she was celebrated.

No hiding, no shame. It was a celebration.

I watched as this kid I birthed was embraced by many. I felt love, support, and prayers surround all of us.

I didn’t cry until everyone left. And now still, as I write this, my tears flow in gratitude, and in awe. I feel the energy, the prayers, and the intent of that moment rise up to meet me.

I laugh at my own self; I had kicked and screamed, and rebelled like a child. I laugh at myself for thinking, when the time came, I would somehow know what to do, and then realizing that I needed support.

I am eternally grateful to the family that embraced me despite my marital status, to the teachings, and to old-school womans work, which gave me the space and quiet solitude to grow.

Teresa Callihoo is an Energy Healer and Storyteller living in Wetaskiwin, Alberta. My Dad is a member of the Michel Band and I feel grateful to live in Treaty 6 Territory. I  believe sharing our stories helps us connect to one another, reflect on our experiences and write our next best chapter. 

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Doll. Mother’s Love. By Nina Kossman



“Mama,” said Jemina. “Look, Mama.”

“What is it, Baby?”

“The doll, Mama.”

“The doll? What happened to the doll? Ah, its head. You’ve broken off the doll’s head.”

“Mama, I didn’t. It fell off by itself. I picked it up and it was like this already.”

“It’s okay, Baby. I’m not blaming you.”

“But you said that I…”

“That was just a way of speaking, Baby. When I saw that the doll’s head was broken, I commented on it to myself. It doesn’t matter who broke it, or whether it just happened by itself.”

“But Mama—”

“What we have to think about, Baby, is how to fix it. Do you think we can fix it?”

“Yes!” Jemina gave a little jump. “We can glue it back together, so it’ll be back like before!”

“It might not be so easy, Baby. You see, regular glue is not going to work here. It’s not strong enough. Let me think. We have to find a better solution, don’t we, Baby, because I know how you love this doll.”

Mother sat for a few minutes, holding the doll’s body and head on her lap, saying nothing, just sitting and looking at the doll.

“Are you thinking, Mama?”

“I’m thinking, Baby.”

A few more minutes passed, with the mother still sitting and looking.

“Are you still thinking, Mama?”

“Yes, Baby. I’m still thinking.”

Jemina was becoming impatient. She was sure that Mother knew how to fix the doll, and if she didn’t know how to, then what was the use of thinking for so long?”

“I’m thinking,” the Mother explained, “about the past.”

“The past?”

“You see, Baby, this doll… it’s not like the other toys you have. All your other toys we bought especially for you. But this doll used to be mine. I played with it when I was little. And before that, it was my mother’s. So you see, it’s a very, very old little doll.”

“I see…” It was Jemina’s turn to be quiet and thoughtful. She was thinking of Mother as a little girl, Mother playing with this doll. It was hard to imagine Mother being a little girl. It was the kind of thing one just knows but doesn’t think about, because thinking about it made you feel uncertain about everything. It was like trying to imagine the universe. How immense it was and how terribly small we were by comparison. Jemina’s mother was not a large woman; she was actually quite small, not much taller than Jemina, and she often did un-grownup kinds of things, like riding her bicycle to a store instead of driving a family car, the way other children’s mothers did. But to Jemina she was as grown up as anyone. Therefore, Jemina had to concentrate really hard and think of an old photo of her mother as a little girl, with pig tails sticking out like two little horns, tucking in Jemina’s doll in a little doll bed, just like she tucked in Jemina. Whenever Jemina concentrated like this, she narrowed her eyes, which was something her mother knew about her. Seeing her daughter narrow her eyes again, the mother asked her what she was thinking about so hard. This time they were both thinking about the same thing, only for the mother it was something she had really known, and for Jemina it was something she tried to imagine.

“Will you tell me more about it?” Jemina asked.

“More about what?”

“You as a little girl. Your childhood.”

“Maybe, but first we’ll fix this doll’s head, Baby. I think we’ll use epoxy for glue; it works wonders. Speaking of my childhood, that’s the glue I used for my sculptures.”

“The root thingies in the backyard?”

“Well, once upon a time, before they became root thingies in our back yard, they had been root thingies in a forest. When I was a little girl, I’d bring them from a forest, glue several roots together to make them look like creatures, and I’d paint them. I thought I’d become famous—the first ever sculptor of roots! Now wasn’t that silly, Baby?”

“Not at all, Mama! They look like—”

“Like what, Baby?”

“Like something from a dream that I once had, Mama. It was one of those thingies from the backyard, one of your root sculptures. It looked huge and it was… I knew, and everyone knew that it was…a king or some kind of a powerful…monster. Whatever it was, it used to rule the world. But then its head fell off. All its strength was in its head, and it couldn’t rule the world anymore. And it wanted somebody to find its head and to put it back on, you know? Back on its neck? And it pointed at me and said that I was that somebody. That I had to find the head and glue it back on. And I didn’t know why me. Why me, I kept saying, why me? And it didn’t answer. It just pointed at me, that’s all. It’s like I was assigned to do this thing that no one had ever done before, to find the ruler’s head and to glue it back on. It was like this doll, you know. Only in the dream the head wasn’t lying next to the king’s body. You had to go looking for it, and it was scary.”

Mother was looking at Jemina with an odd expression. It could have been pity, or it could have been love. But no matter whether it was love or pity, it was so intense, it made Jemina a little uncomfortable.

“So what did you do?” asked Mother. “Did you find the head? Did you glue it on the thingie’s neck?”

“I don’t remember,” said Jemina. “I woke up. But I thought of this dream for many days. It wasn’t like my other dreams. It was like… I knew it was just a dream, but it was more real than real things, you know?”

“Come here,” said Mother. She put Jemina on her lap as though Jemina was still a baby and not a big girl of ten going on eleven. And she kissed Jemina’s eyes and nose and cheeks and sang to her one of the Russian lullabies Jemina heard Mother sing to her before she had even learned to walk or talk. She still didn’t know what the words meant, and now she wondered how come she never asked Mother about it.

“What does it mean?”

“What? Your dream?”

“No. This song. You always sang it to me. When I was little, you always sang it.”

“Ah, it just means…fall asleep, my baby. My brave little girl. Fall asleep and don’t worry about monsters without heads.”

“Is that what it says?”


“I thought…”


“Nothing. I just thought it meant something else. You know, something more.”

And so they sat and held each other, mother and daughter, while the doll with the broken head lay on the floor at their feet, forgotten.


They passed the first streetlamp. Now they were walking past a neighbor’s house. He said he was driving, but where was his car? Perhaps behind the corner. But they continued walking straight ahead, into the park.

She stood and looked at the two figures, one short, the other tall, receding into the distance. Every time she parted from her daughter, beginning with that first time she left her at daycare when Jemina was 12 months old, this is how she stood and looked. That time, nine years ago, the door that separated them seemed to heave with her baby’s cries. It was the first time she had been left alone with strangers—a baby who was used to being carried in a snuggly, her cheek resting on the mother’s chest, her little bare feet dangling at the mother’s thighs. The day of their first separation, she had been taken out of the snuggly and handed over to the daycare attendant.
“I’m sorry, Baby, but I can’t take you to the doctor’s office. I have to go there alone. I’ll be back in three hours. Please don’t cry, please…”

But Baby didn’t listen, and kept reaching its little arms after her, the tiny body trying to break free from the hold of the daycare worker. Three hours later, the mother was back, standing behind the same door for a moment before walking in, listening to the same hopeless cry.

“She never stopped crying,” reported the daycare worker, handing Jemina back to the mother. Jemina put her head on the mother’s left shoulder and instantly fell asleep.

Until Jemina becomes a mother herself, she will never know what it was like—being with her, parting from her. When she was little, being with her was work, constant, unrelenting. The work itself may have been easy, but because it was around the clock, day and night, without a break, it seemed hard, harder than anything she had done before. Being there for Jemina meant not being for herself anymore. During the first year, when Jemina’s  body was glued to hers, she stopped dreaming, because even in sleep she had to be there for her daughter. That first parting was a relief because for a few hours she had her own body back, and her own thoughts, but it was also a pain because the daughter’s cries reverberated through the mother’s body, no matter how far away the mother went.

As months went by, the partings became easier, and then there came a time when the child looked forward to her time in daycare. Daycare had more toys; it had children her own age; it had singing and dancing. And the mother got her days back to herself, and when the daughter started sleeping through the night in her own room, the mother started dreaming again.

The daughter started first grade, and every morning after she left, the mother stood and looked at her disappearing figure happily hopping away. The distance between their two bodies was growing each day, but the daughter didn’t notice it. The mother did. During the daughter’s first year on earth, her clinging was a heavy burden for the mother who felt that she had lost her freedom forever. Now the daughter was a carefree child, and the mother missed the old clinging, the stretched-out arms that said pick me up, and the small round head snuffling quietly on the mother’s left shoulder.

Now the mother was standing, as she stood every weekday morning for the last nine years, following with her eyes as her child was swallowed up by the distance. Only this time, she knew she was not going to see the child at the end of a day or a week or a year. This was the final separation. If everything went well, and her daughter stayed safe from all danger, they might be reunited in a year, maybe two. The daughter would be all grown up then, the mother thought. They would be strangers; two women with nothing to talk about.

The mother could not stop the daughter from going away. But she had to do something, although she didn’t know yet what it would be, what she should do, so the bond between them would not break completely. She waved at the vanishing figures one last time and ran back home. Suddenly she knew what she had to do. She would write a book. She would record everything she remembered, from the daughter’s first day of life up to now. She would describe her first year as a mother, especially the first months: the wrapping and unwrapping of the tiny body, the first baths in a kitchen sink, the feeding routine which went on with intervals, all day and all night; the changing of nappies at night, and the crying, the crying…

When the daughter returns, the mother thought, she will have this testament to my love. This is how I loved you. You don’t owe me anything for it. It was a huge love and a huge burden. Now that your life has separated from mine, now that you tower over me, and I look small next to you, I just want you to know how it was.

Moscow born, Nina Kossman is a bilingual writer, poet, translator of Russian poetry, painter, and playwright. Her English short stories and poems have been published in US, Canadian and British journal. Her Russian poems and short stories have been published in major Russian literary journals. Among her published works are two books of poems in Russian and English, two volumes of translations of Marina Tsvetaeva’s poems, two collections of short stories, an anthology, Gods and Mortals: Modern Poems on Classical Myth, published by Oxford University Press, and a novel. Her new book of poems and translations has just been published. Her work has been translated into Greek, Japanese, Dutch, Russian, and Spanish. She received a UNESCO/PEN Short Story Award, an NEA fellowship, and grants from Foundation for Hellenic Culture, the Onassis Public Benefit Foundation, and Fundacion Valparaiso. She lives in New York.

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Letter(s) from the Editor(s). Mothering Issue

Letter(s) from the Editor(s):
Darcie Friesen Hossack
with guest editors Anne Sorbie and Heidi Grogan

darcie friesen hossack


Dear Readers,

This month is special for a number of reasons.

Spring has finally arrived in the Northern Rockies climate I call home. It is also the month of Mothering, or Mother’s Day, in certain parts of the world. And now, we at WordCity Literary Journal are also celebrating two more things: our new, dedicated website, and this month’s collaboration with the editors of (M)othering Anthology (Inanna Publications, Spring 2022), Anne Sorbie and Heidi Grogan.

“Wonder, wildness and kindness, beauty and grief inform the witty, the raw and the real in the work of 56 writers and artists who explore how mothering transforms and others us.

The (M)othering Anthology is a collection of writing and art that reflects the universality of our most human characteristic, one that applies to and identifies all of us.

The pages of this book embrace the work of Governor General’s Award winners, recipients of the Order of Canada, locally and internationally renowned visual artists; poet laureates, award winning journalists, translators, essayists, playwrights, and spoken word artists, who are not all or always mothers. They’ve won Alberta Book Awards and Pushcart Prizes, IPPY’s, and been recognized in Commonwealth, national, and regional magazine competitions.

These writers and artists inhabit mothering as becoming.

Their work expresses and illuminates the kind of body, mind, and soul search that only the mothering myth can evoke.”

This issue of WordCity Literary Journal comes alongside the anthology, honouring its theme, its editors, publisher and its writers and poets.

From here, I’m going to give space to the voices of these two amazing women, themselves gifted poets and writers, and thank you all for joining us here to celebrate the diversity of ideas and experiences you’ll find as you read.


Darcie Friesen Hossack, Managing Editor, WordCity Literary Journal


Welcome to the May issue of Word City Literary Journal!  

As the editors of the upcoming book, The (M)othering Anthology, (Inanna Publications, Spring 2022) we were thrilled to be asked by Darcie Friesen Hossack to consider collaborating with her and the WCLJ editorial team on the topic of mothering.

And! Together, our hopes of featuring poetry and prose and visual art from around the world, from as many perspectives as possible have been surpassed.

The issue encompasses a broad spectrum of the human experience as it relates to mothering or being mothered.

Thirty-six writers and artists have considered the act of mothering literally, figuratively, and metaphorically. Their work provokes thought about how mothering shapes and transforms our identity, how it makes and grows us. Each written and visual contribution shows us where mothering has taken its creator: to joy, to dark places, to ache, to freedom and its opposites, to confusion, to wonder, to grief, to hope.

The submissions are real, wild, and beautiful.  One after the other they are heartbreaking, devastating, and vulnerable. Together, the contributors’ work illuminates a variety of beliefs and backgrounds, genders, sexual orientation(s), identities, cultures and peoples, origins and birthplaces

These poems, fiction, non-fiction, visual art and book reviews demonstrate a universal collaboration, a coming together. And we, along with the editors of this journal have joined the contributors; all of us uniting in action, at a time when the people in our world need the compassion and understanding of each other.

The creative act is a political act, a call to action, one that supports those who are willing to stand in their truth. For in doing so, they carry out at the deepest of levels, the act of what we know and recognize as mothering. Conceiving and carrying. Birthing a bloody mess. Nurturing, protecting, giving, staying, letting go and holding on.

What follows, is exquisitely beautiful, funny, painful even disturbing. Our contributors inhabit mothering as becoming, as knowing, as expression, as trans-generational.

These individuals speak to the practise of what it means to create, to love, to be devastated, and to share truths about who they / we are. They stand in the belly of her/their/his/story.

They are where they come from, what they’ve experienced, what they’ve created.

Their work expresses and illuminates the kind of body, mind, and soul search that only the mothering myth can evoke. ~ Anne Sorbie and Heidi Grogan

Inanna Publications  on Facebook,  and Twitter and Instagram @InannaPub

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Shtisel’s Heart. An essay by Olga Stein


Shtisel’s Heart

True love is not for the faint of heart. This may sound like a tired cliché, or else too vague to be of much use to anyone looking to be enlightened. A reader may see it as just a figure of speech—hackneyed and dull in a world teeming with eloquent, pithy sayings that jostle for our attention and seize us with their fidelity. And yet, the adage and figure it evokes of the burdened heart—a reference to the risks we run when we allow ourselves to care deeply—are poignant truths. In fact, the issue with this maxim is not that there is anything doubtful about it, but that it is too slight and perfunctory for the gravity it was meant to convey.

Love is a universal and preoccupying theme of poetry, song lyrics, long and short fiction, films, and now series viewable on Netflix or Crave TV. The latest season of Shtisel is no exception, despite the fact that ideas associated with romantic or physical love are not spoken of within the pious community the series purports to be about. Such ideas are intentionally buried in references to spiritual unions or the notion of beshert, which means finding one’s destined-for spouse/companion. Nevertheless, love’s ineluctable connection to the heart is the main motif in the third season, and it is developed along many lines, a number of which are exceptionally affecting and thought-provoking.

A reader might wonder why I selected Shtisel instead of writing about other serials, like The Good Wife, or Ozark, or Homeland, or Outlander, or even Peaky Blinders. All of them, it is true, do a fine job of depicting love and its hazards—as irresistible, even dangerous attraction, constancy, and as unrelenting grief at the loss of one’s beloved. Even so, in this long-awaited third season, Shtisel’s achievement is singular in its identification of love figuratively and literally with the delicate organ that’s at the centre of life itself. Additionally, it subtly sets up the heart-mind opposition, and proceeds to demonstrate the transformative role that love can play in changing attitudes, especially in regard to the Hasidic community’s collective fear and repudiation of mental illness. The mind, even in the broadest sense, is no match for the percipience of the heart, which can intuit, empathize, and love others truly and deeply, their fallibilities and foibles notwithstanding.

Shtisel is primarily about a quirky Orthodox family that resides in Geula, a Hasidic neighbourhood in Jerusalem. The series’ main focus, therefore, are familial relations—at times stressed and strained—between wives and husbands, parents and grown children. These may sound like conventional storylines, and some are. Still, the fine writing that made Season 3 possible must be given a great deal of credit for its brilliant treatment of love: here love is rendered as an objet d’art that is turned and turned until made visible from every angle. This is literally the case with the bereaved Akiva Shtisel. A brilliant painter who is devastated after the loss of his beloved wife, Akiva obsessively paints portraits of Libbi in various guises (as a bride, wife, mother to a newborn—always the beguiling subject of his enamoured eye). When an art dealer stages an exhibition for these portraits in his gallery we see all the portraits displayed—each a unique and stunning testament to Libbi’s multifaceted beauty and Akiva’s abiding love.

Numerous variations are spun on the central and animating theme of love’s figurative and literal connections to the heart. Some depict the effects of love’s absence. An anxious Shulem, the widowed patriarch of the Shtisel family, makes an emergency appointment for himself with a cardiologist, who tells him that he should have a girlfriend or a close companion at the very least because loneliness “is the number one cause of heart attacks.”

Other threads are concerned with love between prospective brides and grooms (men and women of marriageable age, or widowed and looking to remarry). In one instance, Akiva’s sister, the domineering matron, Giti Weiss, decides that it is time for her 19-year-old son, the studious Yosa’le, to marry. Once a suitable match materializes, Giti commands her reluctant son to meet the young lady. At the hotel, where all such formal interactions take place, Yosa’le introduces himself to Shira Levi instead of Shira Levinson, the young lady the matchmaker had arranged for him to meet. Yosa’le and the young lady are instantly drawn to one another. She, it turns out, is a university student with an interest in entomology, and Yosa’le has always been fascinated by insects. That his potential bride might share his interests is of consequence to him. However, when Giti learns of the mixup, she won’t countenance Shira Levi and her family as in-laws. Although they too are Orthodox, they are Sephardi Algerian, and Giti, whose family is of Ashkenazi (white European) descent, is too set in her prejudices to even consider the possibility of such a union. Giti puts an end to Yosa’le’s innermost hopes by forcing him to follow through with the other Shira, and soon Yosa’le agrees to get engaged rather than defy his parents.

Here the narrative thread twists away from the anticipated—conventional and dour representations of this insular, tradition-bound communityand arrives at a literary space where the mix of drama and humour are reminiscent of the tragicomic (“laughter through tears”) stories and plays of Sholem Aleichem and Isaac Bashevis Singer (as it happens, sly references are made to both authors in one episode). For neither Yosa’le nor the dejected Shira Levi can defy their hearts despite the prohibition on any contact between them once their relationship fails to win parental approval. Shira is unable to cut the proverbial cord between herself and Yosa’le. She begins a seemingly foolish campaign of calling Yosa’le’s kollel (where he’s a full-time student of the Talmud). Day after day, she calls, asks for him, and then hangs up just as he is handed the receiver. In other words, Shira tugs on that figurative string which, as she intuits, still connects her to Yosa’le’s heart.

Eventually, Yosa’le concedes his deepening interest in Shira Levi—as well as an attraction that, strictly speaking, he’s not supposed to acknowledge either to himself or others. He breaks the news of his decision to end his engagement to Shira Levinson by telling his mother, “To be honest, I’m not into her.” Giti is both taken aback and furious by this statement, and what she believes to be its import—for her a shocking and shameful capitulation to secular notions of physical passion and love that she refuses to accept as necessary in an Orthodox marriage. Shtisel’s acknowledgment of, perhaps even advocacy for greater openness concerning such feelings is commendable in my view.

Giti’s behaviour toward her son, her refusal to accept less than what she considers to be an ideal or advantageous match for him, is love depicted as parental concern, pride, vanity, but also as overweening interference in a grown child’s life. Shulem likewise attempts to intervene in Kiva’s blossoming relationship with the kind but psychologically fragile Racheli. When Racheli opens up to Shulelm about her bipolar disorder, the elder Shtisel becomes unreceptive to her efforts to befriend him, as well as openly dismayed by the prospect of a serious relationship with his son. But Akiva himself remains steadfast. He has made up his mind to love Racheli despite her condition. He arrives at her place with his infant daughter Dvora’le, and assures Racheli that he and Dvora’le “are home.” Being at home with another is also a facet of love, since it signifies in spiritual and material terms a mutual commitment to shelter, nurture, and provide for each other. The love Racheli offers Akiva goes especially deep because her embrace of Akiva is an undertaking to be a mother to his child.

Indeed, at the core of Season 3, is the theme of maternal love––for me, the coup de coeur of the series. In other words, love is developed as a yearning for motherhood, the unique relationship between mother and child, as well as the selflessness it entails. Moreover, maternal love is extended to the very corporeality of the heart in the person of young Ruchami, Giti’s married daughter, Shulem’s grand-daughter. Ruchami has been expressly forbidden by her physician to attempt conception. A serious heart condition was discovered during a previous pregnancy. That ended in emergency surgery and the loss of her unborn child, a tragedy that neither Ruchami nor her husband Chananya can completely put behind them. Neither are able to adjust fully to a life without children, but for Ruchami the desire for a baby is particularly acute. Her heart is not able to withstand the physical burden of a pregnancy, and yet, she is overwhelmed by her longing to be mother, and she is willing to risk her life for it.

Somewhat recklessly, and without telling Chananya, Ruchami has her IUD removed. She gets pregnant, but goes to great lengths to conceal it. She knows that everyone who cares for her would be aghast at the risk she’s taking, especially her mother Giti. Toward the end of final episode, just days before Ruchami collapses and is rushed to the hospital, Giti awakes from a terrifying dream. She had felt everything around her convulse as if she had been in an earthquake. This is not the first time that we see an element of the surreal in Shtisel. It drew on Eastern-European Jewish folklore and its mystical precedents in Hasidic literature in previous seasons as well. Here, however, the meaning is unmistakable: Giti has had a premonition. Her maternal intuition or sixth sense—either way, a love that begets a constant vigilance—convinces her that she has erred, and will somehow pay the price.

To avoid an impending disaster that Giti fears she herself may have brought on, Giti changes her mind about Yosa’le’s Shira. She now recognizes that rejecting Shira Levi was both cruel and unjustified. Giti and her softie husband Lippe, who had been advocating for his son all along, quickly make the necessary arrangements with the Levis, and when we see the young couple next, they are happily standing together on the balcony of the Levis’ home. Unfortunately, this gesture on Giti’s part is not enough to avoid the crisis that overtakes her daughter Ruchami. Giti hadn’t been able to reach Ruchami all day. When she finally gets hold of Chananya, she discovers that her daughter was admitted to hospital, and is in a critical state. “Pray for her,” Chananya tells Giti.

“Love is faith and faith is love,” the pious say, however they may conceive of their religion. I would go further and say that love is tantamount to agency because it is a source of courage and motivation. As the final episode draws to a close, Shulem is about to be abandoned in his apartment. He has angered both Akiva and Nuchem, Shulem’s younger brother, who is also a widower. Shulem has acted selfishly and tactlessly, and both Akiva and Nuchem are in the process of moving out and moving on as a result of taking a chance on love. Before they depart, Shulem convinces them to sit down and have one last drink together so as to dispel any hard feelings. As the trio sits, the space around them is filled with the spirits of family members—living and deceased. They crowd around the table as they used to during the Sabbath and other holidays when Shulem’s beloved mother and wife were alive. At the same time, we hear Shulem reciting the words of Bashevis Singer: “The dead don’t go anywhere. They’re all here. Each man is a cemetery. An actual cemetery, in which lie all our grandmothers and grandfathers, the father and mother, the wife, the child. Everyone is here all the time.”

The words may be Singer’s, but the scene just as surely hearkens back to the last story in James Joyce’s collection, The Dead. The dead—those we loved, and whose lives were once intertwined with ours—never leave us. They remain part of us, we’re made to understand. In this, and in countless other ways, the themes at the heart of Shitsel are as universal, as worldly and transcendent, as love itself.

Olga Stein holds a PhD in English, and is a university and college instructor. She has taught writing, communications, modern and contemporary Canadian and American literature. Her research focuses on the sociology of literary prizes. A manuscript of her book, The Scotiabank Giller Prize: How Canadian is now with Wilfrid Laurier University Press. Stein is working on her next book, tentatively titled, Wordly Fiction: Literary Transnationalism in Canada. Before embarking on a PhD, Stein served as the chief editor of the literary review magazine, Books in Canada, and from 2001 to 2008 managed the amazon.com-Books in Canada First Novel Award (now administered by Walrus magazine). Stein herself contributed some 150 reviews, 60 editorials, and numerous author interviews to Books in Canada (the online version is available at http://www.booksincanada.com). A literary editor and academic, Stein has relationships with writers and scholars from diverse communities across Canada, as well as in the US. Stein is interested in World Literature, and authors who address the concerns that are now central to this literary category: the plight of migrants, exiles, and the displaced, and the ‘unbelonging’ of Indigenous peoples and immigrants. More specifically, Stein is interested in literary dissidents, and the voices of dissent, those who challenge the current political, social, and economic status quo. Stein is the editor of the memoir, Playing Under The Gun: An Athlete’s Tale of Survival in 1970s Chile by Hernán E. Humaña.

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Fairy Tale. A prose poem by Heather Birrell


Fairy Tale

The light was harsh and clear, and the sea was near, but desert plants
grew outside my window. At night, I played Scrabble with the other
residents, then copied the words we had placed on the board into
my notebook. Crowing roosters and circling, stray dogs woke me

every morning. For breakfast, I ate fresh, fatty yogurt from the milk
of the goats that lived on a nearby patch of scrubby land, sweetened
with honey from a local hive. It was like nothing I had ever tasted
before or have ever tasted since. Why am I telling you all this? Because

last night, and most nights when I wake to my own heart’s desolate
cries, I make myself a snack of plain yogurt with honey, swirling
the spoon fervently around the inner circumference of the bowl
while I worry for my children’s present and future. Also, because

there was an artist there – a painter from New York City – who became
my friend. She fetched me clay from the hillside and helped me make
a pinch pot, misshapen and dear. Then she told me how
she had photographed Madonna as a fledgling dancer in her studio; that

the not-yet-international-superstar was fierce and innocent and sat so still. And
when another artist – young and brazen as myself – asked if she would ever sell
the pictures, she stared back at us, surprised. And I felt shame and unexpected
elation that this had never once occurred to her. I want you to know that

my daughters are like princesses in a fairy tale, each other’s nemesis and opposite, one
dark, one fair, one sweet, one strong; that they cannot load the dishwasher without
entering into epic battles of such ire and venom that I wonder which spell or potion
I must procure through the sale of my soul or my meager fortune to somehow

heal their perpetually-picked-at wound. And I am borne back to that same
window of time, on the night when our benefactress, a woman of grace
and wealth and flowing white tunics, came to dinner and was seated
next to me, self-possessed as a mountain. The table was set with heavy

stoneware; there was rich Spanish wine in a carafe to be poured. I served
her by tipping the carafe and my palm open to the right, so the wine would flow
into her waiting glass. Gasps. Exclamations. Because it was bad luck, of course,
to pour in such a manner. And for such a person. I don’t put much stock

in superstitions, in fact very little at all. Still, I can count the curses I have
unwittingly brought upon myself, to be visited in turn on my children.
Does it do good to mix honey into yogurt, store bought and lightly
counterfeit, in the small hours of the night?

Yes, I believe it does. The smooth whiteness and the sour sweetness
tell me so. And the stirring, the stirring, the stirring.

Heather Birrell is the author of a collection of poetry, Float and Scurry (Anvil Press, 2019) which recently won the Gerald Lampert Award, and two story collections, both published by Coach House Books: Mad Hope (a Globe and Mail top fiction pick for 2012) and I know you are but what am I?. TheToronto Review of Books called Mad Hope “completely enthralling, and profoundly grounded in an empathy for the traumas and moments of relief of simply being human”. Heather’s work has been honoured with the Journey Prize for short fiction, the Edna Staebler Award for creative non-fiction, and ARC Magazine’s Reader’s Choice Award. She has been shortlisted for the KM Hunter Award and both National and Western Magazine Awards (Canada).

Heather’s essay about motherhood – its joys and discontents – appeared in The M Word, an anthology that broadens the conversation about what mothering means today, and her essay about post-partum depression, “Further Up and Further In: Re-reading C.S. Lewis in the Wake of Mental Illness” (Canadian Notes and Queries), was a notable mention in Best American Essays 2017.


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