About the Author

Genni Gunn

Genni Gunn is a writer, musician and translator. Born in Trieste, Italy, she came to Canada when she was eleven. She has published nine books: three novels – Solitaria, Tracing Iris and Thrice Upon a Time, two short story collections – Hungers and On The Road, two poetry collections – Faceless and Mating in Captivity, and translated from the Italian two collections of poems. Two of her books have also been translated into Italian. Her work has been shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, the John Glassco Translation Award and the Gerald Lampert Award, and her novel Tracing Iris is being made into a feature film. Her opera Alternate Visions premiered in 2007. Before she turned to writing full-time, Genni toured Canada extensively with a variety of bands (bass guitar, piano and vocals). Since then, she has performed at hundreds of readings and writers’ festivals. She lives in Vancouver, where she teaches half-time at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

Books by this Author

Like Ruins

Three weeks they prod calibrate x-ray bones muscles gauge seismic signatures

delicate and black like ruins rows of stones radiating from a cairn

When I hear the word I imagine The Tropic of Cancer your body stretched around

the earth your body the earth Mexico Egypt India Saudi Arabia China

the sun in June directly overhead You are cut-away in profile an exotic terrain

faults a sediment of sentiments layers of lovers the youngest lying between

rivers in the high plateau of the Italian Murge the oldest leaning against Vancouver sky

You are landscape a place to point to YOU ARE HERE like the red dot on a mall schematic

boxed in by lines and squares the earth suddenly flat a constellation a crab in the northern hemisphere

clawing the night sky YOU ARE HERE an X ray irradiating fear

you push us away take solace in your solo dance your breast a thermal aureole a tropic

of cancer while we arc low in the sky Druids used stones surgeons a knife

rituals to spur the sun to burn stave off light




In crowds strangers jostle against her arms and legs In lineups people elbow

in front of her In bars men stare past her She spends a quarter of her pay

on cosmetics – eye shadows liners blushes foundations glows – the rainbow captive

in small compacts And still she is


A quarrel rising counterpoint the girls shrill demand to the mother's martyred sobs

bickers pleas pouts banal exchanges all shout ultimtums the girls slam into the night

thirteen fifteen their bodies high-risk machines the mother calls but they don't veer

the dog barks twice then settles on the rug the woman slumps in front of her TV

today she lost her job her husband gone and now her girls she reaches in her purse

draws out the vial of pills she'll sleep tonight no matter what she'll sleep and show them all


Her dog is a loyal creature He ogles her through one slit eye

Dogs are heroic They dive underwater off 80-foot cliffs to save people from drowning

they climb mountains and dig for avalanche victims one dog waited twelve years for his master

in the lobby of a hospital where he had last seen him This woman's dog at first is not perturbed by her

lying on the couch accustomed to her sluggish ruts Reality TV but as the hours lapse

and the woman doesn't stir he licks her hand and face still no response he licks and licks her mouth and nose

his paws now claw her chin he panics nips at her lifeless lips she finally hears the whine struggles a resurrection

He saved her life her daughters say this dog who mauled their mother's face



3. Animations

Not so different from what happens in the middle years you fall in love again

stupidly like the first time only you're afraid to let yourself be drawn in frame by frame

remembering your past imperfect tracings of a lover's pencil how his animation

created static movements your hair a spider's web your mouth a Venus flytrap

and he always the fly and when you said I love you he sketched a hand in farewell

perhaps it's better left to computer morphing less margin for error just key in first meeting

and render the final kiss embrace the random graphics in between

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from Chapter Two

Three days later, David and his mother Clarissa land at Fiumicino Airport just before noon, exhausted by the nine-hour flight from Vancouver to Heathrow, the three-hour wait, and the two-hour flight to Rome. They stand by the luggage carousel, dully watching bags slide down the ramp, bags that appear uniformly black, bags that belong to everyone but them. Soon, Clarissa gathers a crowd of admirers, begging for autographs. She is a diva, a soprano who has sung in every opera house in the world, with every tenor of renown. She is revered here in Italy. "Piacere," she says, signing tickets and itineraries, until their bags are loaded into a taxi, and soon they are on a train, heading to Belisolano, to her mother's hometown.

"Do you miss it all?" David asks her when they're settled in their seats. Clarissa retired five years ago, and now gives private voice lessons to protégés, and does the odd TV appearance and recital. "The fans, the glory?" David spent his childhood with nannies backstage, in hotel rooms, while they travelled the globe. Then came boarding school, and later university. By then, Clarissa was so well-buffered by handlers, the only fans and glory he saw were on TV. Clarissa smiles. Ageless, her beauty natural -- the smooth olive skin, the large sparkling eyes, her full lips. She has her hair streaked to hide the grey, and is not an ounce above her normal weight. Of course, she also has a personal trainer, and a room full of cosmetics. "Sometimes," she says. "Other times, I wish I could be anonymous."

The train pulls out of Roma Termini, crosses the city through backstreet railyards surrounded by graffitied walls and buildings: THAT'S AMORE! WELCOME TO ROMAYORK! A universal language of exaggerated puffy lettering, three-dimensional words crying out anti-everything slogans, gang signatures leaving their mark. Here and there, even advertisements are graffitied onto stone walls, an infiltration, like buying nose-rings at The Bay. "It's changed," Clarissa says, "yet still the same. I love this city. This country. Home." She sighs. "This is your motherland." David stares out at the Roman walls, the archways; ruins sweep past quicker than he can fathom. Six rows of pines, low buildings in yellows and reds, the roofs warm terracotta. Then suddenly, five minutes out of Rome, the city gives way to open fields, vineyards, olive groves, an expanse of green.

He has no sense of Italy as a motherland or fatherland, although he spent many summers here as a child. "Your motherland, you mean," he says. Clarissa waves her hand in circular motions, dismissing his statement. "Inside," she says, tapping her chest, "don't you feel the pull of your roots?" He smiles. Now that she's here, Italy is home, though she hasn't touched ground in this place herself for years. In Canada, her version of Italy is one of colours and shapes, one that lacks the stories of human interaction, the past being something she does not discuss. Clarissa lives in the present and the future. She ignores the past, not through any conscious denial, but simply through neglect. How is it possible that she had no feelings for all she left behind? How could she not speak about her own mother and father, her own brothers and sisters and friends in Italy? David used to wonder. How could she not think of his father -- of the nebulous affair that produced David, and that she has always refused to discuss?

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Journeys in Time and Place
also available: Paperback
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Two men spring from the shadows, gather our bags and flip-flop around the building. We follow, shivering, our sandals hollow on the wooden planks, until a bare bulb at the rear haloes the shallow draft, the pointed prow -- a flat-bottomed boat against a makeshift wharf. The boatmen toss our bags into the skiff, cage them beneath a net as if they might escape. Inside the boat, four wooden chairs await, each with seat cushion and life jacket. Our driver gestures us into the chairs, nodding, his Myanma words soft and encouraging. The boat sways madly with every footfall. Waves slap wood. When we are settled in, our driver smiles, then turns and walks into the dark.

The boatmen squatting at stern and bow push us off the wharf. The bulb shuts off. Such darkness. The only sound is the splash of oars, the sweep of ironwood, our own elated breaths. And soon our pupils widen to contain the narrow channel cut between mist and tall silhouettes of homes on stilts, night flowing beneath them. The motor sputters into motion. We skim black water, black night, only the sky a brilliant 3-D tapestry. Now and then, another engine grumbles. Our boatman flicks a flashlight once, twice, three times, catches the eerie shape of a boat ahead or to the side of us. I wonder how we manage not to collide. No one speaks. The air is cold on our bare arms, our thin T-shirts. I carefully pull the life jacket from the back of my seat and use it as a shield against the wind.

I could talk about our destination, the flicker of lights in the distance, the stilt Paradise Hotel in the middle of the lake -- the thatched-roof huts connected by a boardwalk; our three days here; the pale-blue, plate-glass lake at 6:00 a.m.; the elephant-grass mats staked into rows in the middle of the lake, bobbing with vegetables, flowers; the magenta hyacinth blossoms drifting languidly in the swishing waves; the floating islands of sugar cane wafting in sun; the woman singing in her house; the narrow waterways between rows of tomato plants; the floating markets of jade, tin, iron, silver; the scent of lavender; the crooked fingers of mountains falling into the lake; the famed Intha leg-rowing fishermen, their cone-shaped nets; the various villages around the lake -- these water people: the lotus weavers of Inpawkhon, rhythmic, to the sound of clack, clack, clack; the five blacksmiths of Selkowouen pounding mallets against red-hot metal, while an old man fans the fire with chicken feathers; the girls of Nanpan village rolling cheroots below clear plastic bags of water hanging from the rafters to fool mosquitoes or flies into seeing insects larger than themselves; the delicate women in traditional silk or cotton dress -- long fitted skirts and tops with modest three-quarter sleeves, rowing boats laden with rice bags, sitting cross-legged, separating threads of lotus, tending the floating gardens; the Phaung Daw Oo pagoda monastery, home to the five miraculous Buddha heads; the Padaung women wearing neck rings which crush and deform their shoulder bones; Ywama, the largest floating village on the lake -- a tropical Venice with its web of canals connecting boardwalks and bridges, splendid teak houses atop large wooden pylons driven into the lake bed; the potted orchids hanging from window-sills; flat boats everywhere: bulging with monks in brick-red robes, laden with fertile mud dredged from the bottom of the lake, brimming with bamboo poles; Indein Creek, which twists and turns under wooden bridges, cuts through sugar cane plantations and rice paddies, its clay banks reinforced with sticks; villagers ploughing, harrowing behind water buffalo, carrying hoes, scythes and baskets; the dirt path past market stalls, past circles of men squatting, up to the ancient stupas, trees growing out of their sides, roots clawing their walls; the small boy who kept us from stepping on poisonous snakes; and back on the lake, the flocks of whistling ducks, the white egrets, the dozens of species of birds, jacanas; floating villages, water people, water.

But what I most recall from this journey comes before all this. We're back in that shallow draft at night, skimming the narrow channel. Suddenly, the sides fall away, and we're out in the lake, travelling swiftly in total darkness, under a dazzling sky. Mist swirls in the air. Here and there, dark clumps of vegetation hover in front of us, beside us, in hazy sculptures the boatmen skirt around. I am thrilled by this remoteness, this total loss of anything familiar, this growing sense of singleness, everything new, all that I know falling away second by second, so that I am simply experiencing the moment, without expectations, abandoned to the mystery unfolding. I wonder if this is how the early explorers felt, their hearts fluttering, their eyes and ears open to the unknown. And as we progress -- across the water in the black, black night, I also think about Conrad, and Heart of Darkness, and how this journey is a literal journey into darkness, but I have no foreboding, no fear. I am exhilarated by the wind, by the spray of water at our sides, by the brilliant sky and by the darkness itself, which envelops me, ushering me forward.

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Text Me

Text Me

Dimmelo per SMS
by Corrado Calabro
translated by Genni Gunn
also available: Paperback
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IntervalsThere are no noteswithout silencestrains without stationsflights without landingswords of lovewithout white spaces.

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