Nicole Haldoupis & Stephanie McKechnie
You know when you’re at a reading and someone performs a piece about what it’s like to live as a particular kind of human and the audience gives a resounding “mmmm,” that means, “yes, I hear you, I’ve been there, that’s so true.” This is how we felt while reading many of the pieces included in this issue. Like when Auclair’s speaker says, “I fed you chunks of never-enough / my second-guessing, your nectar” in “Too Vocal a Squatter,” or when Desforges’ writes, “She’d like to have a political opinion / but instead she cores apples by hand” in “Crabapples.”
When we sat down to organize the pieces in this issue, the work demanded a particular order. The pieces seemed to naturally flow into one another. Besides the issue’s effortless momentum, we noticed another strength tying the pieces together—people in transition. In these fraught times, some days bring revolution while others the subtraction of basic human rights. Now is at once a time of protest, grief, change and discovery. The pieces we have chosen for this issue represent the layered and complicated place in which we live in 2018. We, like the characters and voices in these poems and stories, are in mourning, in fear, in joy, in search of more. Some are even brave enough to inhabit the unknown, nuanced, in-between.
Perhaps as editors we were drawn to these pieces because of our own life circumstances, caught in transitional phases ourselves. We identified with the struggles to make meaning when life seems unstable and is constantly shifting, like the protagonists in “Malcontent,” and “Projectionist19.” We hope readers will be delighted, as we were, in finding the parallels between pieces as each page is turned, and that this issue can help make sense of any transitions our readers find themselves navigating.
Valerie was already planning her next few paintings as she watched Mal sleeping. They would be paintings of the places he used to be—his chair, his desk, the top step of the porch—portraits of Mal’s absence, presuming she got the house. She thought she could cover the mortgage. Mal wanted something different than the house they had been living in for the past eight years anyway. Something less eccentric and rickety. Or maybe Mal just wanted something younger.
Mal has been Valerie’s muse since she met him in grad school. Back then, she painted him smoking cigarettes and drinking beer. The most acclaimed piece from that time is him in the bath, cigarette in his hand, limp-dicked, reading Proust. Val painted Mal and Mal performed for her. Would he have been reading Proust in the bath if he wasn’t creating a scene for Val? She often wondered. Perhaps without her to document him in deep thought or deep lust or deep drunkenness he wouldn’t have bothered to live so intensely back then. Mal could have gone to bed early after an evening of watching sitcoms instead of plowing through dense and translated texts late into the night. They had fuelled each other to work harder. She painted and Mal read, talked, and philosophized.
As they got older, Val painted Mal working at his desk, painted him painting the living room blue, leaning against their mantle, mouth open with laughter. She painted him teaching his classes, reading again but, this time, at the kitchen table and it was Don DeLillo. She painted the domestic rites, so rare when they were younger, that had come to represent their life: Mal stirring spaghetti at the stove, shovelling out his car, shaving with a towel around his waist. She painted Mal crying after she’d lost the second baby. She painted him at his father’s funeral. When Valerie came home from teaching her evening drawing class and found Mal reading by the light of one lamp with their aged cat on his lap and a glass of wine in his hand, she wondered if he was waiting for her. Would he have used that glass or worn that particular sweater, the creamy cable knit with the wool unravelling at the sleeve, if she hadn’t been coming home? Of course she would sketch him, with deep shadows under his eyes, at the end of the day.
Too Vocal a Squatter
Robert Creely: “Inside my head a common room,”
a common room
where you moved in rent free
settled before I settled
you, a word, a look
scarred with narrow grooves
thirsty like leeches.
This done to skin
zillions nano cuts
life slips away.
I shared space
slipped into your habits
kept a caustic watch
guilt prod in one hand
shame stun-gun in the other.
Didn’t I adopt you, your concerns
bow to your admonitions?
I fed you chunks of never-enough
my second-guessing, your nectar
my hesitations, your pride.
Your voice, my voice, a twined duet
you, conductor, soloist
But the baton is mine
leading my aria
—my grace notes,
and my forced and sour ones too.
Silence now is your part.
November 8, 2016: Election results on boarding a plane
My pantsuit is wrinkled
and my feet drag.
I board the plane,
with a red stripe.
this future and the past
at me from the emergency exit row.
It is just a man,
my cousin’s curly-haired rapist
or her brother,
My gaze redirects
to my shoes,
the flight attendant,
another emergency exit,
anyone else I know.
I’m assigned a window seat.
boxed in I sit
for an hour
wondering which he is.
The captain announces
low visibility and turns us back.
I lose again,
with this maybe man
for another lifetime.
We only have so many years for bedtime stories
I enter the water slowly and swim
of the bus
into thin air. I swim
To Bed, to
Bed with Sleepyhead
so say your prayers
and when the time is right,
Say goodbye to
the moon and
Just give me a minute to catch my breath.
The weather changed so quickly, temperatures rising and falling in a way they never did back home. The fog was beginning to burn off—just as she said it would—and gulls screeched above us. Beside the wharf, the sea floor was covered in cod head-and-spine combos—tossed aside after filleting. At the little hut clearly set up just for the summer season, I could see Billie. She was talking with The Skipper. His arms were crossed, one hand holding his chin, and when he gestured toward Billie she patted herself all over, then gave a little shrug. The Skipper’s mouth, just for a second, became a straight line. His nod toward the boat was almost imperceptible. Billie touched his shoulder before she turned and walked toward me.
“Told you,” she said.
She crossed her eyes and stuck out her tongue. “Come on,” she said. “Let’s get a seat at the front. I wanna not be able to get a comb through my hair for a week.”
“The bow,” I said.
“The front of a boat is called the bow.”
“You should be bowing to me right now for getting us a free boat tour. You ready to see some whales or what?”
And that was how it started with Billie
I offer myself – inhale perfumes
of burning wood
yield my ribs, my hips, to fire
bend before it like a sapling
as it draws the toxins from me
all that is latent, the injuries I’ve kept
close, feeding them like organs
as it devours the carapace
grown over me, as it nourishes
this pupating form
I lean into its skin of light
and know that nothing can be kept
Contributors in this issue: Lisa Alward, Marie-Andrée Auclair, Manahil Bandukwala, Frances Boyle, Cory Contardi, Holly Day, Jaclyn Desforges, Terry Doyle, Josh Edgar, Maryam Gowralli, Gordon Lonethunder, Mike Madill, Allison McFarland, Nick Mehalick, Jason Paradiso, Autumn Richarson, Melinda Roy, Michael Russel, Hannah Senicar, Susie Taylor, Christine H. Tran, Daniel Scott Tysdal, Erin Emily Ann Vance, Mirjana Villeneuve, and Jade Wallace. Artwork by Lesley Kenny.