Sunday, Childhood by Alexandria Garcia
Insomnia by Claire Battershill
My Grad Year by Colin Chapin
Impala by Leah Baade
Cygnet by Maggie Reagan (2010 lst Prize for Poetry)
Hunger by Lyn Li Che
Disobedience by Ben Morton-Coray
The Stammer by Cliona Quail Bradley
Philemon by Nick Melling
by Alexandria Garcia
A bucket of figs, plucked
in late August,
left to warm under summer sun
beneath Father's bent ladder,
the ones we skinned with our fingers,
ate slowly, straight from the peel,
sweet strings of fruit
dangling from our mouths.
My mother's jewelry box
carved from oak
and lined with green satin
where she keeps
the Celtic key to her journal
and Grandmother's gold earrings.
The waft of heat
from our stainless steel oven
to check on the firming peaks
of Aunt Dora's almond meringues.
It's that freckled egg
taken from the kitchen fridge,
placed in a nest of heated towels
folded inside Tupperware
in hopes that it would hatch.
The street lamps, winding
through a wooded night,
illuminating the fresh birth of a fawn
slumped tender in the weeds
by the road.
by Claire Battershill
You're folding dish towels
at three in the morning,
pressing the linen's sharp
creases to the rhythm of
some campfire song
you haven't heard in years.
It's stuck in your mind like
a penny in tar.
You've tried everything.
woolly masses hurtling
over your bed.
You cannot picture them
landing safely on their
You name countries
In the ravaged quiet
you notice things:
The way darkness pulls
at the road.
You think about
the insides of your eyelids,
conscious of their pinkness,
the way they flutter
with the passing of cars.
with your fingers.
all the way to
but there is no country
as far away as sleep.
MY GRAD YEAR
by Colin Chapin
I'll sit at your table
But I won't laugh at your jokes.
I'm only here for a place to eat,
A vague acquaintance.
I don't even belong to your world.
You disgust me.
But I'm finished anyway.
I'll be off to pace the hallways once more
Where I will have to steel myself for the lounge,
That miasma of backward caps and baggy jeans,
The scent of cigarettes and perfume.
Where everyone talks of drugs, of fights,
Of "rap" music or "metal"
Or whatever the hell it is you people listen to.
I'm used to the snide comments.
My habit of pacing always incites derision.
Sure I don't have two hundred friends like you,
(God knows at this rate I'll never know what a date is like)
Sure I've had twelve years
Of clumsy attempts at meeting people.
I've got the wit of a gas chamber
And the conversational skills of Harpo Marx,
And sometimes I wish one of you cowards,
You barbarous cretins
Would make good on one of your threats to "kick my ass"
That stupid phrase I've heard too often.
After the lounge I think of after school,
Jutting out of Observatory Hill
Like the middle finger of a schoolboy.
Where to go for today's walk.
That cliff I've visited so often,
I've never seen it without a shroud of mist,
A curtain of promise
Where one step will lead me out of this force-fed hell.
I was suicidal in grade eleven but not now,
Not when I've come so far,
Not in my grad year.
by Leah Baade
The boy pumping gas
mutters, "Nice car,"
doesn't think a girl
should drive anything
but a second-hand Volkswagen.
You drive it
for the dirty old men
who think girls don`t know enough,
for the cops
on the boulevard,
daring you to speed.
You pay the boy,
peel out of the station
leaving two strips of rubber
thick as snake skins
for your grandmother
who told you
show them what you got.
by Maggie Reagan
- After a photograph
Two girls in pale dresses stand on the damp
strip of sand between beach and lake, holding
their skirts above the water. One is delicate,
a few fingers plucking at the edge of her dress
so it drapes elegantly at her knees, her neck bowed gracefully
as she eyes the light waves. The other clutches
bunches of fabric in two fists. Her spine bends as she
stands with heels together and shoulders
thrown back boyishly, her head turned skywards.
Her mouth is opened in a wide laugh.
This girl will turn from the shore, later she will
go home, she will look at herself in the mirror
for a long moment, deciding that the white dress
makes her hips seem too big, makes her body swell
like a woman on the cusp of giving birth.
She will take it off and slip into a worn, familiar
pair of blue jeans and go downstairs, she will
fight with her mother, say things that
she will later regret. Her father will slap her,
and out of the corner of her eye she will see her sister,
oblivious in a side room, still in that white dress,
practicing her ballet turns and spinning effortlessly
like a dandelion seed on the breeze.
Her face stinging from the slap, she will retreat
to her room and curl into a ball, her cheeks chapped
and hair tangled. She will doze, and wake to the smell
of her favorite stew, she will slip down for dinner,
to see what has been forgiven and what is still
too fresh to forget. She will tiptoe forward,
not realizing that even as she rubs the salt from
her eyes some part of her is elegized in ink
and the memory of a flashbulb, that even now
she is curved like the wind and laughing
at the sky. She can't see it, not yet.
by Lyn Li Che
these hands, as if to conduct an aria,
clasp a pair of chopsticks,
direct instead a symphony of quivering noodles and fat dumplings
into my mouth
how I long for the clamorous conversation
that drifted over plates of steaming siew yoke and pickled acar
I never touched,
for the glistening fat that dripped from Aunty Man Khim’s mouth
like liquid gold,
for my grandfather’s drunken outbursts
between each alternating bite of steamed chicken rice,
for the laughter and the love that dissipated
in wafts of steam
over our traditional Sunday meal
how I long to satiate my hunger
but, alas, the wok is cold
and there is only sweet and sour chicken,
tasteless fried tofu and a Panda Express fortune cookie
that tells me my lucky numbers:
1, 12 and 54.
by Ben Morton-Coray
Not quite silence, but quiet enough
to hear snowflakes hit the bank.
Each step a slow crunch,
street lamps drop stars over me.
You’d think stars falling would be loud,
but they settle on my shoes like feathers.
I step on stars that grow dim and fade through the fabric,
soaking my socks, forcing me inside.
by Cliona Quail-Bradley
You are an exercise in pronunciation,
an obstacle to the clarity of my
sibilants and fricatives.
Once I thought I`d conquered my impediment
with “the quick brown fox”
and that mysterious woman selling seashells.
They filled the gap in my teeth,
and steadied the twitch in my jaw.
My voice was as smooth as linoleum,
until you, the carpenter of doubt,
undermined my foundation,
Now words race away from me,
one long pause until the next,
breathless, catches up.
So much time for you
to insert the things
I do not want to hear.
by Nick Melling
The family is sitting at the kitchen table. For the most part, they are motionless. Certainly they are silent. The chamber has the air of a hospital waiting room, both in the grimness of its inhabitants and the sterility of their surrounds.
They have almost finished their dinner: meat loaf and mashed potatoes. It has been Tuesday's fare as long as anyone can remember. By now the family sees the meal as a perennial menace, like the weekly visits of Jehovah's Witness ambassadors. But changing the routine would mean inventing a replacement, so they stoically consume the dismal food without leaving too much on their plates.
There are three of them at the table tonight. There have been three since the departure of Joanna, who fled for a land where meat loaf does not come back to haunt the house every Tuesday. There is also a dog, a black lab who lies under the table. He has been with them for many years, and no longer hopes for edible gifts to come his way.
The father of the house is a squat man with large glasses encircling small piggy eyes. He is the only member of the family still eating: a task which he does with great speed and skill, having had much practice.
His companion is sitting across the table from him. It is she who has concoted the meat loaf, though she has eaten little of it. She sits with her elbow on the table and her chin in her hand, regarding the rest of the family impassively.
Their son is half-sitting, half-lying in his chair. His feet rest on the body of the dog under him. He is waiting for the word of dismissal from either of his parents, one of the few disciplinary habits that has stood the rest of time. No one can leave the table until everyone is finished eating. In the meantime, he amuses himself by tossing peas one by one into a water glass. Although this task requires more athletic effort than the son is usually willing to exert, it has the pleasant side effect of annoying his father, who regards all games involving food as sacrilegious.
Discerning his son's intent, the father retaliates by slowing his pace of eating. He begins to chew his food with feline care, leaving long pauses between each swallow.
During one of these breaks, he asks his son, "Do you want any more meat loaf?" There is a gloating gleam in his eye.
The son turns the glass on its side, presenting a horizontal target. He is now flicking the peas into it. "I think your need is greater than mine, Dad."
"Then I'll have another piece. And could you pass the peas?" There is triumph in the father's tone.
Undaunted, the son begins to pass the peas, one at a time, to his father. Most do land on his plate: the son has become an expert.
Abruptly, the silent mother speaks. "You can go." Her husband bestows on her the look of a betrayed child. Their son gives them both a warm smile, a victorious general accepting surrender. He slides off his chair and out of the room, Followed by the black lab.
The father puts the meat loaf he has taken back onto the serving plate. He and his wife sit in silence.
"Cliff Allen's father died today," he ventures at last. "He had a heart attack, and died."
"He was in his nineties," his wife observes.
"In fifty years, we'll be in our nineties."
The wife is silent. She cannot argue with this.
"In forty years, we'll be in our eighties." The husband has found a reliable vehicle for conversation.
The wife stands up. Left without an audience for his predictions, her husband does the same. Dinner is over.
* * *
The son is in his room. He is reading a book. This is an unusual pastime for him, especially in summer when he regards every academic activity as a waste of time. There are very few activities, in fact, that he does not see in this light. His dog is sitting beside him on the bed. The dog views sedentary activity as a waste of time, but is far too polite to tell this to the boy. They waste twenty minutes together, in silence.
The phone rings. The boy waits until the third tone, then answers.
"Speaking," he says.
"What?" says his caller.
There is a pause.
"Is your mom or dad home?" the caller asks.
"I don't know."
"Maybe I'll call back later," the caller says at last.
"Maybe you will," the boy agrees. The caller hangs up.
He returns to his book. Rarely does the boy read in a linear fashion; he chooses paragraphs at random from various pages. Right now, he is reading from somewhere in the middle of the book:
July 17th today we went to see egerdon castle which doesn't actually exist anymore but is still a great tourist attraction and it's really quite comical to see these crowds of people gaping in awe at the grassy hill on which egerdon castle used to stand before it was destroyed by thoughtless barbarians a thousand years ago but i guess it wasn't too funny because my whole goddam family was there gaping with the best of them actually i lied when i said the castle doesn't exist anymore because it does in part there's almost three feet of wall still standing and they've encircled it with a chain link fence just in case the thoughtless barbarians might be lurking outside waiting for a chance to finish the job anyway after we'd finished staring reverently at the wall inside the chain link fence we got in the car and drove away the way we'd came and that pretty much sums up my day.
It is not the first time the boy has indulged in perusing Joanna's journal. It is more interesting than most of the other books he reads, although he himself is rarely mentioned in it as any more than a part of Joanna's goddam family.
* * *
The boy's parents are washing the dishes. Such grim work invariably breeds grim conversation.
"I think I'm going to die before I reach my nineties," the husband confesses.
"Probably," agrees his wife.
"I think you will too," he adds sharply. Even prophets are not always compassionate.
"Perhaps we'll die at the same time," his wife suggests.
The husband contemplates this notion for a while. Sadly, his meditation distracts him from his earthly duty of drying dishes, and the drying process grinds to a halt.
"No," he says at last. "I don't think that will happen." He does not explain his reasoning. Prophecies rarely come with explanations.
"We might both turn into trees at the same time," proposes his wife. "we might be suddenly changed into trees by a benevolent god."
"Or we might die of heart attacks. Lots of people die of heart attacks these days."
"It isn't impossible to suddenly turn into a tree. It has been known to happen."
"And there's always cancer. You'll probably die of cancer if you don't die of a heart attack."
"What was the guy's name? The guy who got turned into a tree with his wife?'
"You know, I think I'm going to get cancer and a heart attack. I'll have cancer for a while and bam! Heart attack will get me."
"Philemon and Baucis. Neither one wanted to die before the other, so some god turned them into trees."
"Into dead trees?"
"No, living trees."
"So they would still have to die of something. And one would probably die before the other. The god didn't really solve their problem." There is a pause. Such canny observations do not often originate from the husband.
"They were probably chain sawed to pieces in a most painful manner," says the wife. "The god probably turned them into trees, and then took a chain saw to them for fun."
"I'll bet he didn't cut both of them down at once, either," says the husband. "I bet he cut down one, and then waited, and then cut down the other one."
"Probably," the wife agrees.
The son has entered the kitchen. He has advanced quietly, and only now do his parents become aware of him.
"Why don't you help us with the dishes?" his mother asks. The question is meant to be rhetorical.
"Because I'm allergic to water," the son replies. The father stops drying. He is contemplating his son's comment.
"Then why are you always taking showers?' demands his father triumphantly, returning to his drying.
"Because I am a masochist." The drying stops again. The mother, used to such contradictions, continues washing.
"Do you remember Egerdon Castle?" the son asks suddenly.
The parents are somewhat taken aback. Their son has always carried himself with a studied indifference toward all things, making his asking of a question quite startling. "Not specifically," says his mother. "We saw some castles when we were in England."
"Why?" asks his father.
The son's interest in the matter is abruptly extinguished. "Nothing, I was just reading something . . . it mentioned Egerdon Castle."
The fact that the son has asked a question is a surprise to his parents. But the shock of knowing that this question stemmed from something he read: this is a blow that threatens to drive the father to the heart attack he has prophesied.
"What did you read?" his father shouts. A book with the ability to arouse interest in his son is surely a book possessing supernatural powers.
The son decides not to tell his parents. He is given to such arbitrary witholding of information, especially when it serves to annoy his father. Instead, he opts for a chance of subject.
"Some called just now. They wanted to know if either of you were home."
"I imagine you told them we weren't, says his mother.
"I didn't say one way or the other. But they didn't seem to want to talk to you. They just wanted to know if you were home."
"That could have been an important call!" shouts the father, bent on defeating his son in a battle of decibels.
"Should I call the person back and assure them that both of you are, indeed, safe and sound at home?"
The father has become enraged. His state of mind is having a happy effect upon the dishes, which he is drying furiously.
The phone rings. The father charges to the cordless on the table.
"What?" he yells into the receiver.
"Why can't anyone in your family just say hello?"
"My father died today, and all you people do is torment me.
The father is baffled. He remains silent.
"You were home all along, weren't you? You prick!"
The father continues his silence. The caller hangs up.
It is then that the father receives the heart attack he has been expecting all evening.
* * *
The mother will say later that the evening's misfortunes were brought about by unhappy circumstance. The father, from his bed in the hospital, will blame his son. The son, who is immune to guilt, will blame his father's diet. But no one will think to blame the god, chain saw in hand, who has been biding his time for just such an opportunity.