Creating the Pandemic. non-fiction by Suzanne Steele

Suzanne Steele

Creating the Pandemic

It has been a time. My little family weathered the first part of the 2020 Pandemic year hunkered down in a run-down log cabin on a tiny, socially insular island in the north Pacific. My daughter, called back from Oxford (UK) after our federal government warned us all to come home, spent most of her time in her dark bedroom finishing her 2nd year archeology degree, and trying to make sense of the senseless. Meanwhile, my spouse, furloughed from the film industry, began a series of videos of his singing and playing guitar in order to entertain friends and family, as well as himself. I quietly sunk into a creative stupor and binged on endless repeats of Shtisel, Schitz Creek, and Kim’s Convenience. Only now as I read this do I realize that all three series were about complex, beguiling, and often humorous family situations, and all these families were in part similar to my own, a family I missed very much.

As the Pandemic settled in, I was forced by deadline to return to my work. In late 2020 I finished my new opera on Louis Riel (that has subsequently been cancelled three times because of C-19) and produced a series of podcasts on the project while mentoring two young research assistants. Eventually, my spouse returned to work in the film industry, and my daughter returned to the UK to finish her degree in a bedroom in north Oxford. Life seemed to resume, sort of. In fact, I felt so depleted that when I finished the opera I turned to my spouse and said, “That just about killed me.” Little did I know how accurate that statement was.

I was okay. Until I was not. Late in 2020, I could not climb a few stairs without being out of breath. I was misdiagnosed for four months until in late April, after agonizingly painful procedures and waiting times, I was told I had Stage IV lymphoma. In 2021, I endured a year of isolation, fear, pain, agony, doubt — all beyond what I could have imagined. My treatments landed me in hospital three times, once for 10 days on the acute care ward for lung transplants (they didn’t know where else to put me). I spent months in bed looking out at the mountains, filled with grief that I might never hike them again.

All summer I heard from friends and family about reunions. I saw photos of holidays. My social life consisted of seeing people — lovely, kind nurses and specialists — who needed to do unpleasant, painful things to my body. The loneliness continued because due to C-19, even the comradery of the ill was denied us; all of us were all separated, even as we received the powerful infusions, the poisons that would save our lives. To be gravely ill during C-19 is a loneliness beyond loneliness. But for the mercy of a loving spouse, who never lost his faith (despite him being one who does not overtly profess faith), I could not have survived. I survived and they tell me they cured me.

One thing I observed during 2021, my ‘lost year’, when I could only observe and not create, was that the world’s enforced stillness seemed to provoke extreme reactions in creatives, a binary of sorts; some artists rejoiced and created wildly, while others froze. I belonged to the latter group and froze mentally, then physically. Do I feel anything ‘good’ will come, artistically, of my experience? I sincerely doubt it. I have no desire to revisit 2020-21. They were a wasteland, and somebody has already written a definitive version of this, The Wasteland.

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Dr SM Steele is an award-winning poet, installation artist, and librettist. Steele is Métis from the Gaudry/Fayant families, families that trace their roots to the first families (Anishinaabe and French) of our nation of nations, Canada. Her work is broadcast internationally, studied, and presented internationally (Oxford and London, UK; St Andrews, Scotland; Amiens, France; Germany; Belgium; China, and across Canada). Steele is an Senior Honorary Fellow of the University of Exeter, has a PhD (University of Exeter, UK), a BMus (voice) from UBC, and a Master of Library and Information Science from the University of Western Ontario. Steele has managed several large projects and is currently a co-director of a SSHRC research project on the aesthetic translation of Indigenous languages. She is the author of Li Keur, Riel’s Heart of the North, with music by composers Neil Weisensel and Alex Kustoruk, premiering in 2022-23 with the Winnipeg Symphony. From 2008-10 Dr Steele was a Canadian War artist and accompanied an infantry battalion to war and back, an experience reflected in her and composer Jeff Ryan’s war requiem, Afghanistan:Requiem for a Generation, last performed at Roy Thompson Hall with the Toronto Symphony and a stellar cast of world class performers, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and the Calgary Philharmonic. 

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This could have been an ACCUTE Conference Paper: Part 1. by Olga Stein

OLGA STEIN89

 

Essay Title: Q & A with WordCity’s editors regarding the Pandemic,

Or: This could have been an ACCUTE Conference Paper on New Intimacies: Literary Communities in the Aftermath

by Olga Stein

The list of literary magazines still in existence worldwide found in Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia is just under 400. Thirty-eight of the listed mags declare that they’re being published online. Seven of these have ‘print’ added in parentheses. I take it that many of these have digital editions in addition to being printed. There are 22 Canadian magazines on the list, and I know for a fact that some, like WordCity (which isn’t listed), were started by an all-woman crew of editors and writers, and were committed to women’s issues. For instance, Room (formerly Room of One’s Own), which published its first issue in 1975, is described as a West Coast Feminist Literary magazine. Another magazine, Fireweed: A Feminist Quarterly of Writing, Politics, Art & Culture, which was originally called Fireweed: A Women’s Literary and Cultural Journal, was founded in 1978 by a collective of 24 women. Both magazines aimed to represent women and diversity even among and within communities of women writers/creators. Race, class, and sexuality were concerns for both publications. Both aimed to encourage women who were new to writing and publishing. Furthermore, Fireweed, like WordCity, included fiction, poetry, reviews, essays, photographs, and drawings from women around the world. Like WordCity, it also made sure to examine women’s experience of violence and fear.

            I don’t mean to suggest that WordCity should be compared with Room or Fireweed (or at least not yet). These and some of the other Canadian journals started before the arrival of the new century were and continue to be monumental literary and social projects that deserve serious scholarly attention, not to mention deep respect and gratitude from readers and contributors. WordCity published its first issue in the fall of 2020; it’s an infant publication, and nothing yet guarantees that it’ll survive to adulthood. However, I have good reasons for mentioning literary magazines in general, and Canadian journals with a feminist perspective in particular. First, I wish to acknowledge the fact that women’s literary magazines existed in Canada since the mid-1970s, and their all-woman editorial boards were committed to making space for women’s collective and individual voices. In effect, publications like Room (with us still) and Fireweed helped in forging a tradition in Canada of writing and magazine publishing by women about women. In some important ways, then, WordCity, a female-headed publication that draws on women’s cultural labour, is not something novel. However, it’s also by no means insignificant that WordCity has co-opted aspects of this trajectory, especially since it began publication mere months after the onset of a worldwide pandemic — a pandemic that has in a myriad ways exposed and exacerbated the challenges faced by those, mostly women, who are charged with the greater share of domestic chores, or those who may be subject to domestic violence.

            This brings me to the second reason for scouring lists of extant literary magazines. I hope to highlight the relatively new space occupied by online literary magazines, those that do not piggyback on hardcopy editions. Another Wikipedia page devoted to online publications lists 65 magazines created within the last two decades, but none of them are literary. For example, the Atlantic, founded in 1857 in Boston, debuted as The Atlantic Monthly. It is now strictly an online mag. Its content is intellectual to be sure, but arts and culture is only part of its overall purview. More or less the same can be said of Mother Jones, New York Magazine, and TIME. No doubt, there are countless large and small online publications currently being produced the world over, but I confess that I don’t know how to get hold of information that would shed sufficient light on the number of such journals, or on their editorial mandates. My hunch is that WordCity, with women editors from Canada, the USA, Europe, and countries in sub-Saharan Africa, constitutes a unique literary space. Moreover, WordCity is literally and figuratively a node for one or several wide-ranging and transnational networks of writers of fiction and literary non-fiction, as well as poets, translators, creative and intellectual types, activists and defenders of human rights (for instance, the mag has linked up with 100 Thousand Poets for Change). I look more closely at the ‘network’ dimension of WordCity below.

            It appears that there are currently three strictly online publications in Canada with a feminist focus: Understorey, Guts, Canthius.[i] Again, this means that what WordCity is doing isn’t entirely new or different (which is not to say that novelty is the only measure by which to gauge the cultural value of any publication). Nevertheless, given what I could find about the above-mentioned online journals, it’s entirely reasonable to posit that WordCity is unlike any other current online publication in Canada. This is largely due to its multinational editorial board, and its transcultural mission to accept any English-language contribution of good literary quality. While the other three magazines are unmistakably Canadian in focus (though all three undoubtedly support diversity), WordCity is transnational in scope. One might look to the journal Transnational Literature (described in this essay’s Endnotes) for an approximation of its mission and editorial practices, though the latter publication’s obvious ties to academe and its peer-review structure do complicate any comparison.[ii]

 

The preceding is admittedly a lengthy preamble, but I hope the argument that I’m making is otherwise cogent. WordCity may be new on the Canadian online publishing scene, and it still has the flavour of an experiment about it. Yet the timing of its founding, the constitution of its editorial board, the theming of its issues (the current one, number 14, is on COVID), and its commitment to publishing contributors from any place in the world, furnishes WordCity with the status of witness to some of the current-day tumult, injustice, and suffering experienced globally. Needless to say, all of these circumstances have rendered WordCity a sui generis literary venue, and a kind of refuge from the troubles and worries that have increasingly assailed us all.

            Incidentally, I had hoped to discuss WordCity at the 2022 Conference organized by ACCUTE (Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English) — specifically as part of a panel titled, “New Intimacies: Literary Communities in the Aftermath.” Among other things, the panel in-the-making had asked those who wished to participate to think about the following: “What is the shape of the new intimacies that we inhabit in the aftermaths of the individual and collective griefs that have unfolded in the last several months? How can feminist friendships be the ground upon which these new intimacies form? What texts and ways of thinking will help us mourn together, and mend, the losses that we have endured?”[iii] The panel was conceived and is led by two extraordinary scholars, and I have enormous admiration for both. For this reason, and because of the unique space I believe WordCity represents, I wanted to be a member of this particular panel. I was truly disappointed when the proposal I submitted was rejected. Yet the theoretical and research directions I had read into the panel’s questions remained valid and compelling. They framed in ways I hadn’t yet considered the work WordCity’s editorsa number of whom are scholars in their own right — were doing, and the ways WordCity has been serving the literary community (readers who are curious about the proposed paper can check out the abstract portion).[iv]          

 

            Crucially, the two years of serving as the non-fiction editor of WordCity after completing an interdisciplinary PhD on literary prizes and cultural institutions (not to mention the eight years of writing and editing I had invested from 2000 – 2008 as chief editor of the national literary review, Books in Canada), made me realized that I was quite capable of determining for myself whether or not an online literary publication like WordCity merited serious, even scholarly, consideration. Furthermore, my editorship and relationships with fellow editors helped me to an awareness that I’d have privileged access to potentially valuable data that could be collected via Q&As (note that one editor is from Kenya, another from Cameroon, and both came to WordCity well equipped with their own networks of literary contacts, associations, and literary credentials). Therefore, the rejection I received from the review committee of the aforementioned panel did little to discourage me from forging ahead with research that is opportune, ethnographic, and material; in its own way, it did the opposite, as I go on to explain.

            I’ll present some of the findings gleaned from the completed Q&A in the second half of this essay. For now, suffice it to say that in addition to the information I collected, the review committee’s rejection prompted me to rethink the relevance of two important theoretical frameworks: the first organizes concepts of networks, especially the literary and scholarly kinds, and the ways these function or fail to produce new literatures, knowledge, and new digital cultural practices; the second emerged from a related field of “trust networks,” also referred to as non-market decision-making, pioneered by Janet Landa.[v] I rely on Landa’s foundational research and theories of the economics of trust and economics of identity. As mentioned in my editorial, I assert that non-economics of trust or “non-market decision-making” are exemplified by WordCity and its female-led, volunteer group of editors. Are large-scale events such as the COVID pandemic or other calamities absolutely essential to the creation or bolstering of social networks? That isn’t my argument. However, I do assert that large-scale crises tend to instrumentalize existing networks, and they do tend to foster new ones that address needs to which emergencies or disaster-type situations give rise. I also assert that WordCity is an instance of what Armando Gnisci, in his “Littérature Globale et Littérature Des Mondes” (“Globalized Literature and World Literature,” 2002) formulates as “a planetary network of knowledge and acknowledgements,…multiple reciprocities … [and part of a literature] that is diverse…[and] has barely commenced” (Gnisci 114).[vi]

 

To be continued

[i]Thanks go to the Women and Books Org, a collective of “librarians, educators, editors, publishers, enthusiastic readers,” for this valuable data. For more information on Women and Books Org., see https://www.womenandbooks.org/about-wb.html. See too the relevant page on journals with a feminist agenda: https://www.womenandbooks.org/journals–magazines.html.

[ii]Transnational Literature is an open access, peer-reviewed, international journal published online by the Research Centre for Transcultural Creativity and Education (TRACE) at Bath Spa University. The journals is published twice per year, with Summer and Winter issues. The journal’s official site offers the following description of its history and mandate: “The journal has a long and evolving history of supporting the study and writing of literature. It emerged from the journal Quodlibet: the Australian Journal of Trans-national Literature, and before that the print CRNLE Reviews Journal, published by the Centre for Research in New Literatures in English. CRNLE was founded in 1977 by Dr Syd Harrex and was based in the Department of English at Flinders University, South Australia. The Centre promoted research into the literatures of India, Africa, the Caribbean, Canada and Australia, and all parts of the world where literature in English has been written. The Centre had a world-wide list of associates and a long list of publications, and organised and supported a number of conferences involved in the scholarly investigation of the role of new literatures throughout the world. Dr Gillian Dooley, prolific scholar and Research Fellow in English, developed the journal over the next decade with a hard-working, volunteer Editorial Team and the support of senior scholars on an Advisory Board drawn from institutions around the world.” See https://transnationalliterature.org/about/history/.

[iii] This ACCUTE panel and its selected papers can be found here: https://accute.ca/2021/11/23/new-accute-cfp-new-intimacies-literary-communities-in-the-aftermath-deadline-22-december-2021/

[iv]From the CFP abstract I submitted: WordCity presents itself an “internationally acclaimed, multi-genre monthly, publishing flash fiction, poetry, short fiction, folktales, book reviews, interviews, literary arts news and global opportunities.” The project “is founded on the values of promoting writing, diversity, dialogue, literary arts exchange and global tolerance.” The magazine was launched during the pandemic and has been attentive to contributors’ lived experience as well as to the pandemic’s impact on their writing. Moreover, in line with this panel’s concerns, the magazine’s editors are women, who have forged an intellectual and creative association that transcends even the magazine itself — drawing into its orbit young and well established writers, academics, and human rights advocates from around the world (and irrespective of ethnic or religious distinctions). Magazines like WordCity are quickly becoming influential transnational literary spaces. This phenomena is worth examining in itself. Also worth examining is the fact that such spaces are shaped by women who volunteer their time, and are therefore subject to their creative choices, their preferences for inclusion, as well as their sympathies.

[v]C. K. Rowley wrote a fascinating article on the violation of what I term ‘scholarly trust’ by Avner Greif, with citation practices that obscure his intellectual debt to Janet Landa. See Rowley, C. K. “The Curious Citation Practices of Avner Greif: Janet Landa Comes to Grief.” Public Choice, vol. 140, no. 3/4, Springer, 2009, pp. 275–85, http://www.jstor.org/stable/40270923. As well, see Landa’s numerous publications in Rowley’s References, including: Landa, J. T. (1981). A theory of the ethnically homogeneous middleman group: an institutional alternative to contract law. The Journal of Legal Studies, 10, 349-362. Also: Landa, J. T. (1994). Trust, ethnicity, and identity: The new institutional economics of ethnic trading networks, contract law, and gift-exchange. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

[vi] See Armando Gnisci’s “Littérature Globale et Littérature Des Mondes.” Neohelicon (Budapest), vol. 29, no. 1, Springer Nature B.V, 2002, p. 113–122, https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1015695312787.

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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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A Bird-While. non-ficton by Cal Freeman

Cal Freeman-Photo credit Shadia Amen

A Bird-While

I heard what sounded like a bird struggling inside one of the aluminum pillars on my porch. I knew there was no way for a bird to extend its wings and fly out of such a narrow space, so I went back to the garage to grab the thin plastic tube of a shop vacuum and run it down the hollow part inside the pillar, hoping the bird would use it to find its way to daylight.

I thought the bird, or what I imagined was a trapped bird, could scrabble up the grooved plastic. It wasn’t a rat. A rat would’ve simply clawed its way up and out and scurried off or chewed a hole in the bottom of the pillar. A rat would’ve needed no help. There was a chance this bird could be nesting in there, assembling material—chaff and weeds and string—it had scavenged on recent flights around our neighbourhood. There was a chance it knew perfectly well what it was doing and its peril was all in my head.

It was the first decent April day we’d had after being cooped up in the house all winter, and I was planning on walking down to the creek. As I walked away from the porch, it kept scratching. I had no idea how long a creature could survive by itself in such a spot without sustenance. Maybe its maw and belly were full of suet gleaned from nascent germinating plants, the fruit of little seedlings that had flown down there as the bird had flown down there, which is to say mistakenly or drunkenly, or perhaps haphazardly is the right sense given that germinating plants don’t get drunk as we know the state, but get us drunk when their putrefying matter ferments. The only perceived danger to the bird were my footfalls thrumming in its hollow bones. This was not “A Tell Tale Heart.” The bird was real, no figment of my psyche, its scratching real.

It was tantamount to civic duty to be alone that spring. Most couldn’t stand it. We were hearing stories of secret gatherings, gatherings with guitars and whiskey and shared microphones in tiny bars whose windows had been darkened, but we didn’t attend any. We were hearing stories of people dying. We didn’t know any of them personally, mercifully. Stories of charnel tents with humming generators in city parks went around. I was wrapped up in the fate of a bird. I was trying to figure if I took a half hour walk and got away from the pillar, it would be more likely to climb out and fly off. I had a bottle of white wine with lunch. We were encouraged to get drunk alone and maintain zero points of contact, at least that’s how I’d chosen to interpret the guidance. We were encouraged to concern ourselves with fomites, but soon that guidance would be updated.

Our street dead-ends at a creek whose temperament and constitution changes depending on the season. There had been a few good rainfalls recently, and as I walked south I envisioned dark green water flooding the meadow of Heather Lane Park. Water was up to the railings of the pedestrian bridge that connects the park to the working class post-war neighborhood. It’s a good walk on a sunny day, one foot in front of the other, bill of baseball cap slanted down over the eyebrows to block the sun, sun slicing off the shiny paint of parked cars. Down past the small ranch house with the beware of dog sign in the window where the little old lady lives with her grandson who’s fresh off a stint in Jackson State Pen for God knows what (I’d talk to him occasionally; he’d be seated in a lawn chair in the driveway drinking a 24-oz. Budweiser and shouting across the road about the weather); then past Pat Jones’ colonial where I used to stop to chat and drink a beer myself. (Pat Jones was staying at his Lake House in Ludington, riding out the mess; this was technically against the rules.)

Once I was into the riparian zone of this river, colloquially called a creek due to the way it desiccates and recedes to nothing each August after its springtime swell, when it reveals a sandy bed of flotsam, I called my father. I was thinking about a childhood friend who became a Detroit cop and the recent illness of the Detroit police chief. I reminded my father about a rainout we attended at Tiger Stadium in 1987 with the shortstop of our little league team, the friend who would go on to become the Detroit cop. I asked if he’d spoken to the family recently, but my father hadn’t kept up with anybody from that old neighbourhood. I have no recollection of when the Tigers replayed that rained-out game or whether we went back to the old ballpark at Michigan and Trumbull for the occasion. Rainouts are expected, built into the baseball schedule. Every year these spring and summer skies open up, and we huddle beneath umbrellas, wearing ponchos in stadiums that smell of petrichor and beer, quizzing ourselves on how long we’re willing to wait it out. We consider what seems reasonable based on the radar echoes, our level of fandom, and how wet our clothes have gotten. Flags above the right field porch blow in beneath the floodlights. You can see the droplets misting down toward the ivy-green grass and blue tarps.

My father was working on an essay about Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven,” wherein he cited Poe’s “The Philosophy of Composition” to argue that Poe is perhaps the earliest practitioner of object-oriented programming (OOP), also called code poetry. The prosodic techniques Poe employs in the poem and their deterministic outcomes are analogous to a computer code, and Poe’s essay functions as a computer programmer’s guide to the poem. It’s Poe’s very own hypertext mark-up language. Nothing is more clear than that every plot, worth the name, must be elaborated to its denouement before anything be attempted with the pen, Poe postulates. The foreknowledge of denouement necessitates the program. This is the anti-romantic approach, antithetical to any notion of writing as an exploratory act. I think again of the ostensible bird, hungry and scrabbling in the hollow of the pillar. Poe characterizes the raven as “the bird of ill-omen.” The bird of ill-omen. Definitive article. The bird I’m imagining in that pillar is a speculative bird of an undetermined species—undetermined, not indeterminate. I promise myself to look at its plumage when it emerges and check it against the pictures in Stan Tekiela’s Birds of Michigan field guide. If I get a decent look, I should be able to identify it. Birders refer to this as a “bird-while,” which is the window of time where one can watch an avian before it is startled by the human presence and darts away.  

The pedestrian bridge at the end of the street wasn’t submerged. I walked over it and entered the park. Three wood ducks plashed the creek water as they arrowed off. The high water made a racket washing over a dam of fallen poplar boles. I was a bore coming down to this riverain every day without finding new ways of describing anything I saw. My father asked me why I was bringing up Johnny Tafelski. I repeated how I thought of him suddenly when I heard about the police chief’s illness and recovery. I have no affinity for the police chief, quite the contrary, but I do have an affinity for Johnny Tafelski. Last time I saw him, he was at a union meeting in the hall of an Irish bar where I sometimes played music. He reminded me that his dad had been a United Auto Workers man who always emphasized the importance of unions. “It’s for something I’m writing,” I told my father. 

I tried to explain what the piece was about—Johnny Tafelski and a rained-out Tigers game from 1987. It’s about the way the stadium looked in the rain and the way Virginia Woolf described what was putatively St. Ives Bay in Cornwall, England, the setting of her childhood summers. I was trying to write about how the field comes to look like St. Ives Bay in memory. There was also this business of my former neighbor sniffing around to figure out who called child protective services on him for neglecting his son. “That’s what we’re seeing,” my father said, “with the things people are writing during this. They tend to make these sorts of strolling connections. We’re spending lots of time in our own heads.” It was unclear to him what the former neighbour’s gold Mustang had to do with St. Ives Bay, Virginia Woolf, or a rained-out baseball game.

I surveyed the damp prairie of Heather Lane Park. The tennis courts without nets, the slides and swings draped in caution tape. A Cooper’s Hawk sliced above the poplars, and the smaller birds began to chatter. I lost sight of the raptor in the tree line to the east. Tomorrow someone would see a shock of feathers stuck in burdock, and they wouldn’t wonder what committed the predation, whether it was a coyote, fox, or raptor. They’d simply register a swath of color in the periphery and continue walking. I regretted not being less observant. I hung up with my father and wandered westward along the shoreline. The ducks didn’t fly off this time; I was water off a duck’s back, a negligible man shuffling over a disused tennis court. The graffiti on the cement was inscrutable beneath the weeds, which was much better than knowing what it said.

I took a different route back, the one that follows Grindley Road past the dive bar on the corner, a small brick building with chipping blue paint. If it’d been open, I’d have popped in for a Miller High Life and a shot of Canadian Club whiskey. I liked to sit by myself in one of the stools riddled with cigarette burns to watch the afternoon light wash through while half-heartedly reading a book of poems and listening to the beered-up palaver of bar patrons. I hope the place makes it, survives the pandemic. A few blocks ahead Nowlin Elementary School was silent, the LED screen beneath its sign flashing with events that were long past or canceled. Two walkers made use of the track. I waved to them as I followed Princeton Road back to my street, thinking of all they missed in confining themselves to the quarter-mile oval—the swollen creek, the arcing hawk, the startled wood ducks in their splendor. 

When I got home I approached the porch. A small blue-grey bird with a white throat and white breast feathers was perched on the vacuum tube. It flexed its wings as though testing them. It jabbed the uropygial gland on its rump and applied a sheen of oil to its dusty feathers with beak and claw, slicking the barbules to zip them up in preparation. It had sensed me before I was there, but once I stepped up on the stoop it chirped, a digital beeping sound, and swooped below the awning, flying over the asphalt road into a crown of maple trees. It was a tree swallow, I’d learn from Tekiela’s trusty field guide, fresh off a winter’s peregrinations in the forests of southern Mexico. Its presence, an outcome of an atavistic compulsion to return embedded in phylogenetic memory, which is composed of both inveterate instinct and rapid senescence in the face of trauma. Its flight, the kind that’s as close to being in the moment as a sentient creature can get.

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Cal Freeman was born and raised in Detroit, MI. He is the author of the books Fight Songs and Poolside at the Dearborn Inn. His writing has appeared in many journals including The Cortland Review, Sugar House Review, River Styx, The Oxford-American, Commonweal, PANK, and Hippocampus. He is the recipient of the Devine Poetry Fellowship (judged by Terrance Hayes) and Passages North’s Neutrino Prize. He currently teaches at Oakland University and serves as music editor for The Museum of Americana: A Literary Review.

 

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Messenger. a poem by John Eliot

John Eliot

Messenger
 
4.10 a.m. I'm not looking for someone awake,
just saw you on line, don't really know you. We met,
I found you cold. My wife tells me you are warm, kind;
maybe it was me, full of himself, il poeta,
the concert. Signed a lot of books that night in
late sun and beauty of small Italian town.
Now you, me, are both awake, afraid of the unknown.
Guns and terrorist belong somewhere else;
soldiers defend us, us against them.
But this. We lie separate in our beds in the dark, waiting.
The air we breathe may be deadly.
For me. For you. For those we love.
There is no reply. Are you the next victim?
 
(For Daria)
March 2020

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As well as reviewing for Welsh Connections, John Eliot has published four collections of poetry with Mosaïque Press: Ssh!, Don’t Go, Turn on the Dark, and Canzoni del Venerdì Sera, a translation of his work into Italian. John is now poetry editor for Mosaïque Press and with Italian and Romanian universities is editing translation anthologies.

 

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Sonnet for Floating. by Paul Ilechko

Paul Ilechko

Sonnet for Floating

I was between the diamonds of the earth’s moisture 
floating on a raft     on a lake     and I had fallen
into a dream where everything kept disappearing 
until I was surrounded by nothing but sky     and then
in my dream     I realized that the sky was in fact 
a mirror image of some other sky     or some other 
blueness     everything was so pure     and I kept floating
through the pureness     I knew that I was only a visitor
here     and up ahead was a rocky shoreline     it was
almost like the beginning of a new religion     I felt
the need to burn candles     forcing their waxen shafts
into the smooth forgiving soil to hold them upright
waiting for the sadness of the time to lead me on     lead me
into a new day     into that particular specificity of light. 

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Poet and songwriter Paul Ilechko lives with his partner in Lambertville, NJ. He is the author of several chapbooks. His work has appeared in a variety of journals, including The Night Heron Barks, Feral Journal, K’in, Gargoyle Magazine, and Book of Matches. His first album, “Meeting Points”, was released in 2021.  

 

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2 poems by Debra Black

Debra Black

a bad case of the asymmetrical blues 
or how to survive a pandemic

a cracking, thrumming, vibrating, anxious heart
beating, 
rising,
throttling,
digging deeper into paranoia,
drifting into illness,
echoes around the world.
body counts,
pieces of humanity strewn 
across the sky,
hidden in the Duomo
tattered and weary,
the end of the world.
the end of time.
then suddenly space – 

everywhere, 
                                                                            
                               anywhere,

                                                         nowhere.
                                                                                                                      

space on a page 


and in the sky.
luminescent, transcendental.
nothingness, emptiness, stillness.
no sound; no waves;
no footsteps.
just the grass greening,
birds singing,
clouds clouding; sun sunning.
awareness in this vast space – the horizon-less horizon.
before me the empty sky.
and then I hear it
your soft heart beating – beat, beat, beat --
against mine. 

 


teddy and the whale

staring into the abyss
as death sits on my shoulder,
stars dancing on a tapestry of golden snowdrops.
how precious this life – edgeless, limitless, expansive.
a new generation, melting into the now-ness of now. 
the spaciousness of birth and death,
the coming and going of time. 
a gasp, silence, grief, joy
seeping into the night sky,
opening to the wonder. 
an explosion of the before and the after – the big bang.
together and gone
into the land of the long white cloud,
as teddy and the whale play on.

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Debra Black is a former feature writer and news reporter with the Toronto Star, Canada’s largest newspaper. Over her 28 plus year career there she won a number of national awards for her journalism, including the National Newspaper Award. She also has won a number of awards for magazine writing prior to her working at the Star. Her poems were first published in University of Toronto literary magazines in the mid-1970s when she was a student. The magazines have long gone, but her love of the written word and poetry has not disappeared. Her most recent work appears on the prestigious literary website the Queen’s Mob Teahouse. To view those poems go to this link: https://queenmobs.com/2019/10/poems-debra-black/

Throughout her career as a journalist, she covered public policy issues such as education and immigration and diversity and has interviewed some of Canada’s leading politicians, writers and thinkers. She has travelled extensively and taught journalism in Rwanda and covered the HIV crisis in South Africa and Swaziland for the Star. While working and raising a child, she continued to write poetry for herself and others. Having left the Star, she now teaches yin yoga and meditation and spends many an hour writing and polishing her poetry, exploring the human condition and themes of love and existence.

 

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What Hunger Costs. a poem by Susan Glickman

Susan Glickman

What Hunger Costs

I.


All every creature wants is to survive
virus or human, bat or pangolin -
though in this case we may resent its drive
life’s just cells mutating from within.
That’s why we like to pillage habitats
not ours, arboreal or aquatic,
looking for stuff to use. We don’t care that
the earth is damaged or that it makes us sick, 
or not enough to stop; we are the best
at consuming every resource in our path.
Ominivores? No, we’re omnivoracious,
our exponential growth a lethal math.
This is humanity’s original sin:
We don’t respect the world we’re living in.


II.


We don’t respect the world we’re living in
our dream of Eden safely in the past
or featured in a gardening magazine,
a project to accomplish at long last.
Buying the right equipment and some plans
persuades us that we’re doing rather well
reviving our own private piece of land -
it’s all about the individual.
The Enlightenment wasn’t so enlightened
when it came to imagining a future
of mutual trust. We’re still so frightened
of being overlooked or having fewer
possessions, no matter what they’re worth; 
no matter how we scar the patient earth.


III.


No matter how we scar the patient earth
we excuse our greed and nurse our vanity
trained to be oblivious from birth 
a grand collective kind of insanity
that keeps us wanting stuff that no one needs
and needing all the things we really want:
clean air, clean water, a future guaranteed
for our children. A green renaissance.
Time’s running out; Covid put it on pause
which may, perhaps, save more lives than are lost
if we can see that we are the true cause
of this disease. It’s what our hunger costs.
Embrace the silence. Listen to your heart.
This pain directs us where we have to start.

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Susan Glickman grew up in Montreal and lives in Toronto where she works as a freelance editor and is learning to paint. She is the author of seven books of poetry, most recently What We Carry (2019), four novels for adults, including The Tale-Teller (2012), a trilogy of middle-grade chapter books, a work of literary history, and a selection of essays, Artful Flight (2022).

 

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3 poems by Emily Hockaday

Emily Hockaday

Household Mirages

In an alternate universe, 
we painted this wall yellow—
goldenrod like a kitchen should be.
I see our shadows cross 
entryways and hover over the wall
by the stove. Your hands
were the setting sun, bringing down
the hanging plants for thirst.
In another universe, the two-bedroom
is a three-bedroom, or only 
a one-bedroom. It is sunny outside,
or rainy. Here sirens are going by
again. I hear two discrete
wails moving in different
directions. In that other life,
our life continues. I see the doors
of that apartment opening 
and closing. Shoes by the door,
shuffling back and forth
from the shoe rack
to the mat as we carelessly
move about in space. For the fifth
night, the death toll in New York
has been hovering at 800. Those two
sirens have faded, but a third now
comes closer and grows louder.
I focus hard on the other 
timelines. Here we are four
instead of three; here we 
are packing for vacation;
here our toddler surprises herself
with the cold splash of 
a playground fountain. In this
world, this now, this  city,
the roads are quiet. A roar
has become a hush. Another siren,
so remote it should be 
inaudible. I look away from 
the window and the howling 
EMS vehicles, I look away from
those alternate families. They are not
me or mine. We put the volume on
high. We hold hands and jump.
Curls freeze around my daughter’s
face. They bounce and bounce. 
The walls are lavender, and the sunset
turns them pink as cheeks.

 
 
Last Breath

I think of my own breath
and what would happen
if I exhaled in space. It is not
romantic, but I can’t help
feeling drawn to it. The inky dark,
the utter quiet, objects moving—
and me one of them. Out in
the Kuiper Belt, planetoids
school like fish. They glitter—
frozen ornaments moving 
in a loose, massive donut. 
Here at home, my orbit
is getting tighter, smaller, 
less important. Sixty-three days
of isolation, and I am hardening 
to ice. My atmosphere is thinning,
it is harder and harder
to draw breath. I am 
cold. My daughter places hot hands
on my cheeks. She says, 
I’m not sad. Every time she asks
if the germs are still out, 
if the playgrounds are closed,
I lose more heat. I don’t know
how to keep spinning. I’m losing sight
of what I should be orbiting. 
Which way is the Sun?


 
In the Pine Grove

I could almost forget that this is not the world
I was promised. The floor is springy; an owl hoots
above in the upper limbs of a white pine. I didn’t know
pines could grow this tall. What is missing is the dull roar
of traffic on the Jackie Robinson, the ice cream truck 
melody, the dinging of helado vendors, chatter 
from the blacktop and playground below the park, 
an easy breath, mindfulness, any number of ingredients
to keep my sanity. My daughter remains resilient. She flings
herself between the new, small pines, planted to replenish 
the unique habitat here in the middle of Queens. Her fingers
reach without worry. I try to locate the tree we planted 
three short years ago, my body already encumbered 
with pregnancy. It is now one tree among many, and who knows—
it may be one of those that has now died. I didn’t think 
about the ease in my life. This is what I know we have 
been doing wrong. And really: nothing was promised after all.

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Emily Hockaday’s first full-length collection, Naming the Ghost, will be out with Cornerstone Press in November 2022, and her fifth chapbook is releasing on March 31st, 2022, with Red Bird Chaps. Her poems have appeared in print and online journals, as well as with the Poets of Queens and Parks & Points’ Wayfinding anthologies. You can find Emily on the web at www.emilyhockaday.com or @E_Hockaday.

WordCity Literary Journal is provided free to readers from all around the world, and there is no cost to writers submitting their work. Substantial time and expertise goes into each issue, and if you would like to contribute to those efforts, and the costs associated with maintaining this site, we thank you for your support.

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3 poems by Patrick Connors

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is patrick-connors.jpg

Virus
 
We are all having
the same nightmare, overcome
by an invisible, relentless enemy
completely unable to protect ourselves.

People are dying by the dozens
doing the work, we take for granted.
Undervalued, often underpaid labour 
suddenly something we can't live without. 

People are dying alone
in soiled beds made up of despair.
They lie along walls wailing prayers 
wishing they could say their last goodbyes. 



New

Oh-one-oh-one twenty-twenty-one
the day we made sure 2020 hasn't won.

I woke up not quite right in the head
ready to shave last night off my tongue

unearth the mysteries of sweet gone bitter
wondering why I didn't expect this result.

The New Year has arrived
not fresh and clear as I would like 

but neither am I.
I will try to find

the light of calm inside the 
heavy darkness and go from there.



Vacation

Five days off work, but The Pandemic rages on.

I can't travel, seek new surroundings.
I can't go to a ballgame or concert.
I can't really leave the house. But
I must make the best of it.

I'm going to take a vacation
	from not being grateful
		for everything I have.
The alternative is becoming intolerable.

I'm going to take a vacation from bitterness.
I'm going to take the week off
from trying not to enjoy life
until I can change the world.

I'm going to take a vacation
from convincing everyone
that I am right or I am good
and not care too much what anyone thinks.

I suppose in a week I might feel better.                                   

Notes on Prior Publication

“Virus” was originally published in the Canadian Stories, October/November 2020 issue.
“New” was anthologized in In Silence We Wait, Hidden Brook Press, February 2021.
“Vacation” was originally published in the Canadian Stories, August/September 2021 issue.

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Pat Connors first chapbook, Scarborough Songs, was released by Lyricalmyrical Press in 2013, and charted on the Toronto Poetry Map. He contributed 18 poems to Bottom of the Wine Jar, published in 2017 by SandCrab Press, and launched in Gibara, Cuba.

He has had work printed in Belgium, India, and the United Kingdom, in addition to the United States and Canada.

Past publication credits include: Spadina Literary Review; Tamaracks; and Tending the Fire, released this spring by the League of Canadian Poets.

Recent publication credits include: Poetry and Covid; Devour; Lummox 9 Anthology; Canadian Stories; Harbinger Asylum; Silver Birch Press; Poetry Pause.

His first full collection, The Other Life, is forthcoming from Mosaic Press.  

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/patrick.j.connors.3

Twitter: https://twitter.com/81912CON

 

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3 poems by Sally Quon

Sally_Quon

Rough Living

He’s been “rough living”
as they call it.
Skin over bones,
frost-bitten hands.

“How’re the kids?” he asks,
like it matters now.

“They’ve got me quarantined,
 top of the shelter.
Might have the virus.
Might not.”

The words blur;
rearrange themselves.

“You shouldn’t have left.

I’m going to die and it’s your fault.”           

I have no reply.

File the email away with the others,
close the door.

I’ve been here before,
made the mistake of letting the door open.
A crack,

all he needed
to inflict the pain
of ice-cold fists and             

carcinogenic tongue.



 
Instructions for Starting Your Day During a Pandemic

1.	Open your eyes.  It was a rough night – breathing was shallow.  More than usual?  Less?
2.	Check for fever.  Is that a fever, or are you just warm from sleep?
3.	Take your morning meds.  Is your throat sore or is it just dry?
4.	Go to the washroom.  Wash your hands.  Use the toilet.  Wash your hands.
5.	Check your eyes.  Do they look normal?  Bloodshot?  Jaundiced?
6.	Wash your face, brush your teeth.  Wash your hands.
7.	Was that a cough right now?  Did you cough?  Did you cough into your sleeve?  Do you have a cold?  Wash your hands.
8.	Feed the cat.  Wash your hands.
9.	Disinfect anything and everything in the house that anyone may have touched in the last three to six hours.
10.	Call your best friend and cancel coffee… just in case.  Wash your hands.



 
home invasion

we locked our doors
hid ourselves away
tiptoeing quietly
through our days
until a blast of frosty air
through wind-shattered door 
brought the unwanted guest
holding us hostage
with threats and taunts
fever and chills
invading our home
bursting the iridescent bubble

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Sally Quon is a dirt-road diva and teller of tales, living and laughing on the traditional territories of the Syilx people in the Okanagan Valley. She has been shortlisted for Vallum Magazine’s Chapbook Prize two consecutive years and is an associate member of the League of Canadian Poets. Her personal blog, https://featherstone-creative.com is where she posts her back-country adventures and photos.

WordCity Literary Journal is provided free to readers from all around the world, and there is no cost to writers submitting their work. Substantial time and expertise goes into each issue, and if you would like to contribute to those efforts, and the costs associated with maintaining this site, we thank you for your support.

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