Thursday, 31 October 2013

The Word-a-day Writing Challenge

Day Thirty-Eight: Resilience

Everything I know
I learned on the edge of a river.

It was early spring
and the Skeena was a snaking wall of muscle—

miles of shimmering silver backs
and a thousand-year-old body memory
ploughing through the impossible.

No one told me anything;
No one said a word.

There was only
the deafening weight of water
and the glean of resilience.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The Word-a-day Writing Challenge

Day Thirty-Seven: Infestation

My father was a cabinet maker, among other things. Woodworking was his vocation, his purpose. He built tables and chairs, chests and chiffoniers, bureaus and buffets. It seemed to me, he built everything. Before he died, he made a set of wooden benches for the museum in Saint John, and in the following years, when his absence overtook our house like an infestation, I went, on foggy summer mornings, to sit for hours on those benches—staring into wildlife exhibits and colonial re-creations—and to run my fingers over the tight, oaky grain. I wanted to be close to something, you see, to understand it, to point at something tangible and say, This is my father; I come from this. I wanted to absorb the solace of their gentle edges, the symmetry, and gaze into the grey-white glare of the harbour—it's dense emptiness, it's inscrutable answers.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

The Word-a-day Writing Challenge

Day Thirty-Six: Booty

you wake up
under a bicycle.

This is not a metaphor.
This is real life. This is HD,

Sometimes you find yourself
on the ground one night
on the edge of someone's lawn
with a bicycle strewn across your chest,
staring up at the night sky shaking its weary head
at the whole world on a slant, in a tangle
of tequila and regret.

Then you think of Stephanie,
who is no one
you know—just
a friend
of a friend
you saw in some pictures

Stephanie, from what little you can tell,
is a casual woman at a party, holding
a glass of something,
wearing a sweater, smiling
at whoever
stands behind the lens. She is also
a serious woman at a cafe in a city
where brick buildings tower
outside leaded glass windows. Neither photo
is in colour so Stephanie
is all black
and white
and grey.

So simple, isn't it?

This is how Hollywood works, except it's not just
Hollywood anymore. This is how everything works.

It isn't about the booty—
call it treasure, call it ass.
It's about how everything looks better
from far away and
everyone's more beautiful
when they can't look you in the eye

or find you staked to reality
under an impossible cluster of stars,
cheap tequila, and
a bike.

Monday, 28 October 2013

The Word-a-day Writing Challenge

Day Thirty-Five: Enlivened

The wind,

enlivened by the thought of itself,
dressed sharply and awake for hours now,
hurtles into windows and doors, growling
at corners and bullying
the quiet whispers of morning
into silence.

The neighbour’s dog, excited
be the urgency of it, barks and barks
with torrential fervour—

What! What!

Meanwhile, the trees murmur
in creaks more subdued
but with, I think,
the same question.
Waving and crackling,
peeling back
the night sky, they collapse
into each other’s arms
while dawn,
unfurling like fire,
rolls over
and over itself.

I stand behind the glass
with nothing to offer
but affinity, a beating heart, 
and wonder.

the world comes to us
with such power and orchestration,
such devastating grace.

We need only open the door.

The Word-a-day Writing Challenge

Day Thirty-Four: Instigate

I have been told
that I have a very strong heart.

Look, there it is, said the technician
pointing at a hazy doppler image.
Your heart.
I watched as the obscure, boulder-like replica bleated
in gritty streams of red and yellow light, and wondered
if something instigated this strengthening
or if maybe

I'm just lucky.

And, did you know, by the way,
that if you ever cross a desert
you will carry it with you
for the rest of your life?
It's tiniest pieces become

from your own 
tiniest pieces.

Microscopic bits of glass
burry themselves deep in your ears
your eyes
your skin
your hair—

in everything you are.

It has taken some time

but, finally, I can say
that I no longer feel
that scrubbing
of the past against my skin.

I can sit
relatively near to you

and if we just keep talking,
if I don't stop to think of it,
then there is nothing at all between us
but time

and maybe, a little bit,
the small damp paws of attraction,
a puppy-teethed tug
on somewhere I once

The Word-a-day Writing Challenge

Day Thirty-Three: Gullible

In the summer of 1936, writer and journalist James Agee and photographer Walker Evans were sent, by the editors of Fortune, to Alabama to get the story on the conditions of tenant farmers and landowners in the throes of Roosevelt's New Deal. Whether Agee was gullible enough from the outset to believe this was even possible is uncertain. Nonetheless, he returned to New York after eight weeks in the South with nothing less than thirty-thousand words of material and, after refusing to clip it's edges in any manageable sense, stalwartly presented Fortune with an unpublishable article. It was impossible, he argued, to convey with any degree of accuracy, the lives of his subjects within the parameters suggested by the magazine. Fortune refused to publish the work and he was dismissed. Ultimately, Agee wished to create a trilogy (though only the first book was ever written) entitled Three Tenant Families. The first instalment, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, was published in 1941. In his introduction, Agee asks, with some degree of resentment and hostility, what right he, or anyone, has to write the story he has written, and then later, what right we have to read it. His defence of the families and his initial frustration with the arrogance of the project and its inciters, never abated., looking thus into your eyes and seeing thus, how each of you is a creature which has never in all time existed before and which shall never in all time exist again and which is not quite like any other and which has the grand stature and natural warmth of every other and whose existence is all measured upon a still mad and incurable time; how am I to speak of you as 'tenant' 'farmers,' as 'representatives' of your 'class,' as social integers in a criminal economy, or as individuals, fathers, wives, sons, daughters, and as my friends and as I 'know' you?

Sunday, 27 October 2013

The Word-a-day Writing Challenge

Day Thirty-Two: Make Believe

Your caution and my desire maintain a steady gait. 

There is something behind the words I love you, when I say them to you, that even I don't understand. Woven into the nuances of gesture and tone, inflection and accent, there is a story, having less to do with you and more to do with the abiding emptiness within me. I want to call, but I don't know what to say. Call anyway, says my friend, with the answer I want to hear. So I do. Into awkwardness, make believe, and the busy-ness that is your life. I wonder where I stand, lay, fit. into you. We carry out the uncomfortable phone custom of both trying to speak at the same time, leaning into the distance between our quiet breath, listening. You call me Sweet—Hello, Sweet—so I know you are happy to hear from me, but after four minutes and fifty-four seconds you say I love you, I echo, and we hang up. I wanted to say something more, I tell my friend. I wanted there to be something more to say.

Friday, 25 October 2013

The Word-a-day Writing Challenge

Day Thirty-One: Harangue

This. Standing in her pyjamas with a neatly folded stack of material resting like a platter in her left hand. She points at a piece of green fabric with white polka dots. Is a piece of my grandmother's dress, that my aunt Maureen gave me. Maureen from our quilting group is in her sixties and cracked us all up last week by exclaiming, over a meandering conversation about relationships, that she hasn't a horny bone in her body. Anymore. Giggling over her new suitor, the first in eight years since her husband died.

Quilting is Natt's Thursday afternoon ritual. Regardless of the state of her house, her life, her love, or her mind, every Thursday is about quilting with her aunts. They don't use machines. In place of the whir and hum of mechanical assembly, the room is filled with stories, history, laughter. Every quilt is sewn by hand. Her latest project is in it's third year. I balk at this and tell her I wouldn't have the patience. What's the rush? she shrugs, loading a wicker basket full of supplies into the back seat of her Jetta. She means it isn't about finishing, not entirely. It's about the gathering. Collecting. The practice. Stitch by stitch she harnesses the power of the past—the strength, courage, and fortitude of the women of her family. Their undying ability to put up with husbands, for example, and after everything—after a lifetime of haranguing and heartache, babies and bathwater—to love them.

She wore this dress, she says, pointing still, her eyes radiating the significance of it. She wore it, she says. And I'll stitch it into a quilt one day, and I will carry it with me till the day I die.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

The Word-a-day Writing Challenge

Day Thirty: Pina Colada

We begin with Tanya Tucker and pina coladas.

He leaves for Florida in the morning, snow-birding. During dinner—halibut in cream sauce and an assortment of parboiled vegetables (prepared from scratch)—we are serenaded by The Village People's Y-M-C-A! Over another glass of wine he guides us into Country Hits of the Seventies. I imagine his wife, dead fifteen years now, permed hair and a pack a day, cocktail in hand, playing cards on a Saturday night with her husband and some of their friends. She drank too much, he tells us later. Too, too much. She was sad. I didn't know how sad. And then she was gone. Killed herself with the drinking.

He shuffles from the kitchen with a copper-edged tray. Cognac and coffee. He is eighty-one and does not want to die alone. He's offered us each a seat in his sedan, Florida bound. It won't cost you a penny. He grins, arms wide above his head. laughing now, This could all be yours. By which he means the bungalow, circa 1976, furnishings and all. Shag, wicker, hanging plants. Dropped in some township or other east of Montreal. Either of you. You wouldn't have to worry about a thing for the rest of your life. Except fashion, perhaps. And being married to a geriatric Quebecois. To our thanks-but-let's-be-honest expressions, he sighs. Sacrement, he adds, turning to the record player. 

Upon my request, he retrieves Nana Mouskouri from the depths of his vinyl. Nanna who? Natt asks. —Mouskouri, he calls from the living room, beyond his James Bond bar, unfolding as it does from the mantle above a gas fireplace. She's greek. My wife bought this album. I only know really that one song. You know. About the roses I think it is. I know nothing about Nana Mouskouri, except that someone once told me my father loved her. My beer drinking, grade nine educated, waterskiing, cabinetmaker father. Loved her, apparently, along with opera and Johnny Cash. Full of surprises you are, I say as he folds up the bar. Ah oui, he grins. Aren't we all.

The Word-a-day Writing Challenge

Day Twenty-Nine: Salal

It's beginning to snow. Winter licks at the windows. Loose Tyvek on the southeast side retaliates in loud snaps against the sky. Time passes. Through CBC Radio Two's Classical Morning, in an attic in the woods, I trim the leaves no one will smoke and contemplate. I take breaks for water, juggling and to look through the window at bald maples and birch, rock and cliff, violin and piano, woodsmoke. Get more of what you need, the flyer by the stove reads, but I don't think it's available in an aerosol spray or fat free and carb conscious. Mozart. Bach. Pine. Tamarac. A dusting of snow. Traci saying, I hope you find what you're looking for out there, and wondering what that is. The sound of footsteps on a country road, snow-packed and creaking, far from cedar and salal and the silence of fog. Here, it's another kind of silence, an unfamiliar one. Foxes and star-shine. A moon that lights up the whole pass, and barely another person for miles. It makes me think of Rumi. Forty early mornings. More of what I need.

The Word-a-day Writing Challenge

Day Twenty-Eight: Flexibility

She is the kind of woman you stand up to meet
The kind of woman you look in the eye
The kind of woman who makes you want to buy a juicer
Be nicer to cats
Smile in the rain
Improve your posture (and flexibility).

She is the kind of woman you do not interrupt
The kind of woman you ask to kiss.

She is the kind of woman who inspires you to use recipes
Throw out your pyjama pants and

Get a job.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The Word-a-day Writing Challenge

Day Twenty-Seven: Branding

Leggo. Winnie-the-Pooh. Disney, Disney, Disney. Transformers. GI Joe. Cabbage Patch Kids. Upper Deck, Fleer, Topps. Atari, Nintendo, Sega. Red Sox. Blue Jays. Canadians. Leafs. Sweet Valley High. Degrassi Junior High—Wheels; Joey Jerimiah, Snake. Hot Wheels. Tonka. Osh Kosh. Barbie. Crayola. Reese. Cadbury. LL Bean. Coke. Hostess. Jiffy-Pop. Nike. UBC. BMW. Calvin Klein. Wusthof. Blundstone. Apple.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

The Word-a-day Writing Challenge

Day Twenty-Six: Incline

We pitched ourselves up the stairs with confidence. Remember you never get too drunk, just drunk enough, someone shouted. I leaned forward to speak into your ear, taking your arm in mine and keeping half a step behind because the stairs were narrow and the incline steep. Single file to the third story, as rock star as we'd ever be, you leading the way with casual determination, an elegant strut, and ulterior motives. At the top of the stairs you broke away from me into the crowd, through cocktail trays and a curtain of smoke. Gusts of laughter spilling over the balcony. Your smile striding through bass lines onto the dance floor. My heart, dropped mid-beat, skipping like a broken— like a broken— like a broken—


The Word-a-day Writing Challenge

Day Twenty-Five: Reverence

Lenny wobbles across the lawn towards his father, thrusting his short legs in front of him, dragging a length of orange skipping rope behind. He has been holding the rope since he found it hanging by the door three hours ago. He sucks and drools on the green plastic handles, trips repeatedly over the part that gets caught up under his feet, and squeals with glee as he flaps his arms and rolls it through the air. His most pressing dilemma thus far has been how to eat snacks and still hold both ends of the rope.

His mother has fitted him with boots for the occasion of a cool, fall evening fire, but the extra three-quarters of an inch in height is cumbersome for him and he falls often. He grunts, huffs, sighs, and coos his way back to his standing height of 25 inches and trundles on. Finally, after detouring around the dog and a brief sojourn under the legs of a lawn chair, he has arrived at John's side by the campfire. Heiss, John says, pointing at the fire. Kerstin, Lenny's mother, is German, and they speak to him in both languages. We are all brushing up on our German this week. Lenny smiles at his father and repeats the action, Heiss. 

Last night, just after they'd arrived, his reverence for degrees of temperature spiked dramatically when, despite repeated warning from us all, he touched the wood stove accidentally. It was a minor burn with a quick recovery, but now each time he passes the danger zone, he veers back a little and whispers, heiss under his breath. He looks at the fire again, watches the flames flick and climb over one another, points to the smoke rising through curling heat waves and says again, quietly and unsmiling this time, Heissssss, Papa. Then he turns back to the dog, flaps his arms, spits out a shrill squeak and a foot stomp, and adds, Woo-woof, before barrelling towards her with both arms out, gripping the green handles of the skipping rope with his tiny tight fists. 

Friday, 18 October 2013

The Word-a-day Writing Challenge

Day Twenty-Four: Sacrifice

My grandmother has fallen into the sea.

We stand helplessly safe on shore and watch as she is tossed under, churning through waves of dementia. She reaches for words as if for a life raft or a paddle, a buoy, debris from the wreckage of her memory, demanding coherence...or at least to be right.

I left when I was 80, she said this afternoon. We were waiting in the car outside the St. George Pharma-Save while my mother picked up more prescriptions. From across the parking lot she spotted the garage where she used to take her car for oil changes and tire rotations. She didn't remember that. Or what driving is called. Or a car. And she didn't leave when she was 80. What she meant is that she stopped driving when she was 80, but the phrasing was out of reach. She is very close on many things. Earlier she'd said the weather would be soft today. She meant mild, or fine, or nice. Push the box and he'll tell us, she'd said, meaning, Turn on the TV and see what the Weather Network says. But as long as we can follow the logic it means there still is some. And anyway, why not soft? It's a soft day out there, Kay, you're right. But I think we're in for an angry night. Probably a bit of a crumbly morning. She reaches for the words she can't find, hand in the air pulling at the sky, the sunlight, the living room ceiling. Where do words go when they are gone? Who keeps them safe for us? And then who steals them? Who hides them in the night?

My birds, she said, looking for a series of misplaced photographs after we'd returned from our errands. She was an avid bird watcher all her life, and these, the Grand Manan puffins, are her favourites. After an hour of frenetic searching, she found them at the bottom of a candy dish that has been sitting on the coffee table all my life and hasn't held candy for half that time, but which remains there nonetheless, keeping its place—holding all our lives together for all I know—and providing a haven for rare and wayward birds. She held the photographs in both her shaking hands for just a moment saying, over and over, My birds. My birds...., before looking up at me with such incongruous clarity and saying, Oh good, there you are. I wanted to show you these pictures. Look here. These are my birds. Colin took them when he was know, with those other people...

Later, my mother escaped to the kitchen under the guise of boiling water for tea, and Uncle Danny wandered back in, drunk again. Evening slipped in through the curtains behind me. The photographs lied abandoned on an end table. My grandmother thumbed silently through The St. Croix Courier, sighing as the local news flooded past her—nothing important to her, really, just the usual stories of theft and car accidents, charities and fund raisers. Further proof of a complicated world, that no one is ever wrong, or right, and the only true story is the one not told—the one about our inescapable tenderness swimming like mad through circumstance and sacrifice.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

The Word-a-day Writing Challenge

Day Twenty-Three: Suffocate

Jiffy marker graffiti on pizza box lids tacked to the wall; records; snowboards—his true love; a rack of skate shoes; Lucky boxes; cold concrete under chipped grey paint; empty Gatorade jugs; dirty dishes, always; toy trucks and skate ramps for the boy—five years old, three days a week—his other true love; a growing number of origami cranes—his peace project; vinyl sofa, graffitied; baggy jeans and over-sized shirts; turntables and a mixer; Bashar; chi; Bruce Lee; wednesday night martial arts classes; Diggable Planets; eye contact; the welcoming smile of a good man; dirty towel soaking up the bathroom floor, graffitied; Gemini—oh yeah, there's at least two of me, he said one night; forced-air furnace, suffocating if you stand beneath it; and the postcards we made with old photographs and a couple of typewriters, still pinned on the wall. We each chose one we thought appropriate and Scott drove. Was that the three day night? We were inspiration itself, then, a fire that wouldn't go out. We were something important, something that mattered—we were art. Typewriters and passion; beer and cigarettes. Cocaine.

I scream, you scream, we all scream for garbage— A landscape shot. A lake maybe. Something forested and ironic. That one was yours.

I take liberties—Top of a ski hill. Chair lift to the right. Enormous, heaping piles of snow. That one was mine.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

The Word-a-day Writing Challenge

Day Twenty-Two: Momentum


This is what she tells herself—uphill, downhill, on the homestretch, in the snow, in the rain, in the too hot sun:

You don’t have to be a runner. You just have to run.

Past sunlight dazzled and splayed out across windows. Down those long country roads in Eastern Quebec. The days of wearing two pairs of everything: long underwear, a hoody, a jacket, a hat, a scarf caked in frosted breath. All the way home, back to the farm, back to the horse. His warm breath on her cheek every morning and every night. The sweet aroma of hay and grain. His lean and mighty power, his smooth canter alongside the fence as she first set out, day after day, with the dog by her side. A good dog. He was not a runner either, but got a handle on it quickly. The necessity of pace. Momentum. Never breaking stride. No pull, no lag. Step in step.

In this way they kept each other all winter long. Her goal and his proud working body. This is my job, he’d say as mid-morning sun bled through lines of birch and maple, spilling over snow-crusted fields. His tight circles at the front door, nosing at his leash. Go, he’d say. We have work to do. Go. Ears kicking back as she met his stare. Up that first infernal hill, tearing her chest open to the urgency of raw cold. Then down. Up again. Fields unfurling like a dinner napkin. Snap of cloth, crunch of snow. Scuttle of toenails over ice. Foot fall beating out a bass line through ear buds. Every cell and every ion reaching for the unstoppable smile of that last downhill. Map of the day unfolding in her mind. Roads in every direction. Red lines, black lines. Anything is possible. Just go.

Monday, 14 October 2013

The Word-a-day Writing Challenge

Day Twenty-One: Sunrise

Through a veil of cool morning light
I watch the sunrise in your eyes
as they open and reach for my love.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

The Word-a-day Writing Challenge

Day Twenty: Simmer

On the Downtown East Side for a Research Project with Mike D:

the first thing I notice is


late afternoon sun warm on my legs as it breaks over a jagged shore of glass and concrete. a pattison billboard advertising 3.5% interest rates on home equity lines of credit from the royal bank. the wincing. the stares. who we are, what are we doing here. another project? another reporter/filmmaker/documentarian? another outsider looking in, looking for—       what? everybody wants something. down here. quick-paced shuffle/stagger/strut, hand/head/torso wobble, with conversation thrown like punches: I'll get you back tomorrow with juice. yeah that's what he said man that's what he said. seething, steaming simmer of traffic. aggressive horns, hiss and whine of busses. across the street: pho, pharmacy, and the united church—close to amenities. the parking lot view from our room at the patricia hotel: a man in a track suit jumping out of a dumpster with a decal that reads: enjoy denial and behind it a banksy-style image of a kid with a paint can spraying:
everything is ok

always the heavy breath of traffic                                always the clammer of voices, shouting,         and the invasive needs of seagulls, demanding, posturing                                               everybody wants something
we take our chances, she said, cast in amber streetlight, money in hand, eyes darting. ...I have to go now.
we take our
       we all do 
3.5%                    equity
for sale on the corner of carol:
Weed! Rocks! H! vitamins, a vacuum, a vcr, dvds, canned cat                                                          food, baby clothes, toothbrushes, hand soap, rubber boots,                                                       whores, and hoodies, all laid out on blankets by the curb. we take                                                              our—
 patio tables in gastown looking up at a big screen
           beach volley ball match, more tits and ass than 
you'd ever find on hastings. nonchalant yawn, 
             I'm sooooo starving! All I had to eat today was 
a smoothie. —ugh. god. I know, right? summer.  I just can't eat 
in this heeeeat.
     we take our            3.5%
we take our             busses            we take our      denial
our vitamins     our rocks in hand 
 we take our        parking lot view        we take our
pho.   our banksy.    our steady breath of
demure disapproval—

ugh. god.
I just can't...

Friday, 11 October 2013

The Word-a-day Writing Challenge

Day Nineteen: Worthy

On Trying to Write a Comparative Analysis of Neoclassicism and The Restoration:

Where's the spark? The fire? The passion? The sweet rush of flooding words, purposeless and without direction. The just go of a good stream-of-consciousness.

You don't have to be a runner to run, you just have to—                                           Run.

Certainly there are things to say about it. But where the hell is Mike D when you need him? He and his whiskey. He and his bass guitar. His microphone. His meaning. Sweat. Biting. At the corners of our poems. The grit and tarnish of keeping it real. Shy grin behind a curtain of match smoke. Inhale. Exhale. I am waiting for someone to share all this with, he said. His microphone. His meaning.

Aren't we all? I thought.
And aren't we always? Like Ferlinghetti.

For a rebirth of wonder.


The eggs fry
The toast pops
The butter—oh the butter! Are we even worthy? 

The sun gets lost in your hair 
The dust settles 
The sheets wrinkle 

The wind


Neoclassicism, if you must know, needn't be so formal. Grab a beer; pull up a stool; picture it: late 17th century England. France too. And the colonies to a lesser extent, yes, of course. A sort of frantic obsession with order. Aristotle's Poetics becomes the baseline for what art ought to be, skewed by a gripping fear of chaos following years of bloodshed and political turmoil. The Restoration was Charles the Second, restored to the throne; and Neoclassicism was what he brought with him. Fuelled by a general weariness for war, he returned from France with peace, a monarchy, and a flair for foreign style, albeit a formal one.

Literature, theatre, architecture and a stifling sense of order—that was about the gist of it—along with concentration, economy, utility, logic, restrained emotion, accuracy, correctness, "good" taste (whatever that might mean), and decorum. All this was complicated by religion—Protestants and Catholics, still at each other's throats—social position, gender, and differing points of view in general. But all's well if you follow along.

The birth...perhaps not of wonder exactly, but at least of libraries and literacy at large. The birth of the information exchange, macro- and micro-scopic research, investigation. Without all that warring and hating, one could think. One could observe.  One could study. Perfect. Create. The wait 

was over.

The Word-a-day Writing Challenge

Day Eighteen: Hand(s)

It snowed heavily that year, and early. By halloween we had waist-high snowbanks and salt-crusted boots, city wide. Little Ninja Turtles in snow suits and little princesses in parkas scrambled up slippery steps with bags full of loot as snowballs whizzed towards unsuspecting targets.

We received the most snow days on record that winter, and hardly a week went by without one. I could tell from the light sneaking in through the blinds if I was going to school or not, the orange glow of the street lamps gleaming off a blanket of road. If the plough had already gone by, it could go still either way and the only thing to do was wait for Donny. I would leap out of bed, race down the hall, and, with a sock-footed sliding turn at the pantry, saddle up next to the old radio that lived on top of the microwave, its bent antenna reaching vaguely towards space while black electrical tape held shut the door of the tape deck.

Donny-in-the-morning did the drumroll at precisely five to seven. I remember meeting him once at The Empty Stocking Fund pledge drive where all the grade school kids and all the choirs had to sing Christmas carols to raise money for the Salvation Army. Afterwards they gave you candy canes and sometimes you got to meet famous people like Donny.

I couldn't believe the size of him. He lumbered through the studio like a bear through a backyard, except with a lot more wheezing and sweat. Everything about him overflowed—his neck over his shirt, his shirt over his pants, his ankles over his shoes. His great, thick hand swallowed mine whole when he reached out with the widest, most genuine grin in Saint John, and shook it. On the radio though, he was spry and weightless, and his dexterous drumroll brought every child in the city to the edge of their seats.

GEEEEEEeeeet yer sleds out kids and BUUUUuundle up, his thundering voice would call out. It's another white and wonderful day in the port city this morning! You could feel the cheers erupting from one corner of the city to the other, behind double-paned windows and tightly shut doors. District seven, district nine, district eleven—you know who you are—you're staying home today. District five, down Pennfield way, you're in on this one too. You been down there lately, Jack? I was down in the summer with the missus, down to Hawkins blueberry farm there, just off the highway at Pennfield Corner, and if they don't have the best blueberries for a pie, I don't know who does. District sixteen! District twenty-one, get out there and build me a snowman. Best snowman I see on the way home gets a shout out tomorrow morning. Heh-heh-heh, eh Jack?—

Thursday, 10 October 2013

The Word-a-day Writing Challenge

Day Seventeen: Root

Sunday afternoon, early April. Stark bright light against a white-blue sky and barely a bud in sight to slow down the glare, all the sun turned up a bit too loud. Across the parking lot, a gust of laughter burst through the doors of Tim Horton's as two elderly couples bustled toward their cars, parked side by side in the same direction. The two women held onto each other, arm in arm, squealing like children, as the two men strolled half a pace behind shaking there heads.

I ran from the car into the pet food store. There's only so much Sunday to go around and mine was half wasted on errands. Inside, Woofy's was in no such rush. People meandered, blocking aisles and thumbing through chew toys, while the cashier chattered at a woman and young girl at the till. I shifted the weight of a dog food bag from arm to arm. Did I bring the punch card? And how close was I too a free bag? I'd forgotten to go to the pharmacy. Damnit. Now I would have to go back through town instead of around to the highway.

The young girl at the till kept her head bowed and kicked at the floor tiles with pink rubber boots while the cashier cackled with far more glee than was warranted. Her many bracelets rattled; her roots continued to grow in. Finally, and with some degree of reluctance, the girl took the woman's hand and stepped away from the counter. Thank you so much, the woman said as she edged towards the door. We'll let you know how it turns out. The cashier slapped her hands together and wrung them against her chest violently, then bounced on her tiptoes and squeaked, Oh please do!!!

I sighed a shade too audibly, dumped my Orijen Six Fish onto the counter, and dug into my pocket for cash. Iiiiiii'm sooooorry, the cashier drawled, black and blonde strands bobbing haphazardly around her face. That little girl is going to look at a horse. Her first horse! But they don't know if they're going to get him. Horses are expensive, you know, and the little girl is so worried it won't happen.

Renewed impatience flashed through me, this time for myself. Oh, I said. That's fine. That's fine. I'm not in a hurry.

The cashier heaved her breath in and out. Iiiiiiiii had a horse when I was her age. I was just telling her. I was six. Harlow was his name. We were best friends. He was my only friend, actually. But when my parents separated, we moved and we had to get rid of him. I came home from school one day and he was gone. Gone! My mother sold him. Just like that.... That kind of thing... Well. It was hard. That's all. And you know—I'm 32 now—we were in California last year having a big family reunion and my mother and I had it out. Right there in the hotel. It wasn't just the horse. You know. Just. Everything. And we were both yelling and crying and she finally. FINALLY—At this her arms shot above her head like Astro Boy—listened to me!! For the first time in my life. And I told her how devastated I was. Losing Harlow. And when we came home. Oh, I don't know, about three weeks later, didn't she go out and buy me a damn horse. Just exactly like Harlow. Exactly. I can't afford a horse. Look at me. I work at a pet store. And she said, "Don't you worry about it, honey. I'll take care of everything. He's yours."

There were tears in her eyes now and I noticed what perfect teeth she had. Her whole smile was incongruously beautiful. She continued on. I said to that little girl just there, I said, you know what sweetie? Dreams come true! They really do! Sometimes it takes awhile, but don't you ever, ever give up.

I stood perfectly still and tried to catch my breath. The dog food and the cashier's beaming victory stared at me. Wow. Thank you, I said quietly, at which she laughed. For what, darlin'? I shook my head and looked out through the heavy storefront window. On the other side of the glass, an obese, middle-aged woman struggled with an overstuffed shopping cart as two boys, probably five or six years old, danced around it firing fake pistols at each other. The woman scowled and barked at them, pausing momentarily to wipe at her forehead with a handkerchief before shoving off again on teetering legs.

Just. Thank you, I smiled.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

The Word-a-day Writing Challenge

Day Sixteen: Poise

On a cut block in the mid-day sun, through crackling brush and snaking heat waves, sweat bites at the corners of my eyes. Overhead a bird hovers—a hawk, maybe—coasting on some warm current come halfway around the world, building momentum, shedding geography like a skin. Wide-winged and haunting, he is an ellipsis paused between prey and prayer, a secret he shares with the sky. Both of us are miles from where we started, tentatively poised on the edge of our lives.

Dirt, mud, blisters, strains, sprains, ice packs, ibuprofen, muscle aches, joint aches, tendonitis, somewhere between sixty and six hundred dollars a day, cuts, scrapes, rolling Drum tobacco in the rain, uphill, downhill, forty pounds on your hips, laundry that never really gets clean, holes in your boots, broken laces, torn rain gear, cheap motels, chicken wings, The Planter's Ball. Some of us will travel after this, some will go back to another year at school, some have families, some a mortgage. We work hard; we play hard; we go home.

Tonight we were greeted in the parking lot by our supervisor's smile and several flats of cold beer. Even though the only redeeming quality of days like these is that they are over, it is evident that we're all grateful to be here. Other than beer and this parking lot, the things we share are mostly intangible: relief, pride, determination, a respectable balance between the joys and frustrations of this job. Things exist in this camaraderie that could not anywhere else—the lovers we take, the parties we have, the money we bring home—and it's worth the filth and ache and gristle of it. Tree planting is not so much a seasonal job but a way of life, hemmed in by unspoken rules and the echo of lives beyond this evening, beyond long truck rides on dusty roads and the penetrating smell of pine.

Fast moving lines along broad shouldered highways will soon carry us all back home—to Montreal, to Pemberton and Whistler, to Toronto, to Vancouver Island. But for now we are together, coasting between who we were and what we will become—a secret we share with the sky.

Monday, 7 October 2013

The Word-a-day Writing Challenge

Day Fifteen: Harbinger

We were hiking up to Copper Bluffs, out ahead of the others who were waiting for the little one. He wanted to lead the way, just a few feet in front would do. His "sword"—a branch of some sort, or a stalk—slashed violently at ferns and other low-lying obstacles. He moved with an erratic and eager authority that even the dog respected. Nonetheless, there was a brief conversation, less than twenty minutes in, about my knowledge of this route. Specifically, What if we got lost? I appreciated his use of the past tense to put a little safe distance between himself and the idea. Hypothetics.

We won't get lost. I've hiked this trail quite a lot. Don't worry. 

Well no. I'm not worried. But. Like. How many times?

Enough to know exactly where it goes and how to get back.

He hacked and tugged at an unlucky salal bush, then scuffed at the tattered leaves. But what if those guys got lost back there? My mom doesn't know this trail; we've never done it.

I'm pretty sure they'll have it figured out. There's only one trail to follow. Christi's with her. And Mckenna. She's done this trail too. She knows the way.

His friend of all eight years. Then it was ok. No one was going to get lost, and so he carried on ahead of me, slashing and leaping, a harbinger of our arrival into the belly of the forrest.

He stopped at a moss covered rock face and combed his fingers through the dense, damp hairs. In the winter, I told him, this whole rock is like a waterfall, so much water pours down it.

Yup. Cool, heh?
But not now?
No. It takes a lot of rain for that to happen.
Yea, he said, seeming to agree, but you know what would be really cool is if there was gold dust buried in this rock. He punched at it with his sword. Or drawings. That would be cool too.

I had to admit, That would be cool.

And then he was off, careening from one stump to another, scrambling along logs, flinging himself from small boulders, both arms bravely swinging through the summer evening air. He tripped once but quickly recovered. I'm ok. I'm ok. He smeared at his pants with muddy hands, huffing, but with no quiver in his voice. I'm good.

The Word-a-day Writing Challenge

Day Fourteen: Honour

Through beach fire smoke
and flames that lick at the night sky,

I remember to honour the silence between us
by noting the sting in my chest 

as I watch the wings of the ocean
open and close around your silhouette

walking away.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

The Word-a-day Writing Challenge

Day Thirteen: Scorched

We stopped by a friend's birthday party last night, early and on our way out of town. I'd wanted to give her a hug at least and wish her well, even though we couldn't stay. Themed Dirty Thirties, it was bound to be an event to remember, complete with martini bar and sushi appetizers. Not to be missed. She met us in the driveway in a dress that fit the part—both sleek and frilled, with feathers in her hair to match, eyes sparkling in the evening light, the soft edges of her hips receding into the warmth of the doorway. On the way up the driveway, Christi said, Who's Sophie again?

Aaaaah...I started. Well, one of my exes, I guess.

Strawberry blonde and glasses? Christi added.

Yup, that's the one.

She made us each a martini while we nibbled at tempura, Billie Holliday's sultry voice smoothing out the wrinkles. There is nothing but ease between us now, thanks mostly to Sophie, but standing in her living room I remembered the Christmas we should have stayed apart and didn't. I thought of how easy it is to be reckless, especially when you think you're trying not to be. We joked about a four foot rule. We kept trying to break up but she was too hopeful and I was too...what? Bored? Drunk? Lonely? It wouldn't have been the first time. She was in love with me and eventually I couldn't stand the guilt of it reaching for my hand every time I rounded a corner towards her or passed her a coffee cup. When I think of us then, I think of Sophie sitting at Traci's kitchen table on Christmas Eve. I was dog-sitting while they were in Montreal visiting Jim's family—Never again, Traci had said when they returned. So much cheese and cream. My god. How do they live like that? I want nothing but broth for a month.

I wouldn't sit. I paced around repositioning salt and pepper shakers and tucking unnecessary condiments away in the fridge. It was probably close to midnight and I was hell-bent on waking up alone on Christmas morning. I've never done that before, I'd told her. By which I meant, I don't have it in me to pretend. Not tonight. Not on Christmas. She sat at the table with her coat on, watching me, waiting, tugging at the scorched red scarf still bundled around her slender neck, trying to decide if she should bowl me over with her passion—which she could have—or just leave quietly through the side door. The tension made me less drunk and more angry. We went for a walk in the snow and held hands. I wanted her to know I loved her as much as I could, but not as much as I should. How do you say that to someone who sees only the possibility of what will surely happen if only—

We sat in the lounge and sipped our martinis. She passed them to us apologetically but without hesitation. I've never actually made a martini, so... We chatted and mingled as she went over the list of preparations that still needed attention: a cheese and cracker tray, a disco ball, her makeup. I looked at her then and I wanted all at once for someone to come to her with their whole heart on a stake and say, take it; take it all. Or maybe that's just the remnants of indiscretion. If only we could go back, all of us. If only we could live a hundred lives with a thousand outcomes and no one ever got left behind. Is there a card for that? Happy Birthday! I wish I'd had the guts to love you properly. You deserved it. Maybe it's enough to know that now, to feel the tender burning in my heart, to say thank you for the drink, to get in the car and drive away.

Friday, 4 October 2013

The Word-a-day Writing Challenge

Day Twelve: Cat's paw

The aesthetics of function and livelihood:

A beige leather work pouch and orange suspenders; the way a Stiletto hammer creaks and buckles as it swaggers along in its holster; the slushing crunch of gravel and mud as well-worn boots track a path from truck to door; spruce sawdust on unfinished floors; the welcoming aroma of wood smoke as a fire begins to roll and toil within the belly of a stove, taking the edge off a sharp morning and warming cold coffee cups; screech of a chop saw, cacophony of a compressor, background drone of the CBC; roof top sunsets on February afternoons with coastal mountains stretched out like sheets in the wind; the reassurance of chalk lines and plumb bobs and formulaic rafters; the squaring of walls; a cat's paw for especially stubborn bits of nail, and the occasional cuss to help them along. The particulars of a life lived in earnest.

The Word-a-day Writing Challenge

Day Eleven: Invisible

There is a beautiful and gentle woman
living in a gallery around the corner
with an old black dog named

Today I stood in the rain and watched
as her ribbons of blue and yellow
spilled over each other
like a waterfall
or love

bold, consuming, and

My breath reached towards the canvas
as if to hold its hand or touch its shoulder
then shyly turned back at the glass
and disappeared into the fog

invisible and forgotten
once more

I envied her version
her story without words—
bright and confident

with Famous
keeping watch by the door
or curled into a corner
patiently painting himself grey.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

The Word-a-day Writing Challenge

Day Ten: Rain

Some people
move through their lives
like cats uncurling from a nap—
casual, refreshed
strewn over furniture.

Others are hurtled
like a prairie storm across the horizon, spat out
with a cackle in bullets of rain
churning through fields and fork lightening.

My mother grew up on a Sunday, typical
in most ways but one.
All at once, her husband was dead.

Her life split open like an egg against
the edge of an autumn afternoon, all things
tender and sacred gushing
over the teeth of a crumbling shell.

The sound it made was shrill
and widening, a scream full of everything
she'd never said nor would.
It tore through her body like an electrical current
wild and infinite, hell-bent and
racing out ahead of her whole life
to find him, to tell him every word
and every whisper—

the symphony of her love for him.

The Word-a-day Writing Challenge

Day Nine: Circumspect

Arnold Weiner was a gangly, buck-toothed boy with tortoise shell glasses and ill-fitting hand-me-downs that smelled like they'd been dry cleaned in Kraft Dinner and sour milk somewhere behind the meat department at Save-Easy. For the duration of his elementary school career, he was, quite obviously, punished without mercy. Even new children that moved to the neighbourhood got off easy. We already had the lowest man on our totem pole, and he wasn't going anywhere. If it had been up us, he would have stayed in grade four forever—a perpetually circumspect kick-bag cowering before our muddy and malnourished angst. Of which there was plenty. Blame it on the nuns, or the labyrinthian social structure of low-income housing, or older brothers, or the early 80s—we were a ramshackle bunch, and Arnie Weiner bore the brunt of our misfortune.

By grade six, just before we were shipped off to various middle school alternatives, hormones and tensions were at a high. Boys and girls no longer co-mingled, fights broke out regularly, and the overall social atmosphere was a hostile one. We were scrambling to find a foothold on ground we were about to lose. For those of us with older siblings, the prospect of moving schools was terrifying and intriguing by turns; but for all of us it was unnerving.

I don't remember the details of it now. Arnie had said something during class. Sneering feebly, pressing the center of his thick glasses back against that greasy forehead. Then at recess, Mitch Bastarache shouldered up to me in the street hockey pit. You gonna fight 'im? It had never occurred to me to fight anyone, ever, but this was more than a question. This was an offering. I was a girl, after all—something I was not particularly good at it—and Mitch Bastarache believed in me enough to suggest I could beat up someone, even if it was only Weiner. Probably he made some comment to Arnie—After school, you're dead, man—and gave the head's up to all the boys in sixth grade.

Great leaping strides tore loose Arnie's tucked-in cowboy shirt, exposing his pale, scrawny back as we sprinted down the hill and into the street. A sudden grace overtook him and he leapt like a gazelle over the fence he’d jumped a hundred times. In flashes of heat and breath, toes barely touching the pavement, I swung over the cold steel rail. Chips of rust and paint crumbled off under the weight of my palm as my other hand hooked onto Arnie's shoulder. We twisted and lurched with a symmetry that felt almost choreographed.

He didn't throw a single punch. His writhing stomach, his scrambling face. Not one. A pair of stingey forearms retreated to protect his glasses, but my fists, my fists that had never punched anything, nor felt the slippery resistance of bone beneath flesh, would not stop for him. Not for his squirming, not for his glasses, not for his whimpering cries.

Can’t kick ‘im while he’s down, man. Mitch’s warm and steady hand on my back. You’re okay. C’mon. Sweat and spit pooled inside my bottom lip. My knuckles burned as I stumbled back against the cold steel rail of the garden fence. Arnold Weiner crumpled over himself, and caught the red flood of his face in trembling hands.