About the Author

Laisha Rosnau

Laisha Rosnau is the author of The Sudden Weight of Snow (McClelland and Stewart, 2002), which was an honourable mention for the Amazon/Books in Canada First Novel Award. Rosnau’s first collection of poetry, Notes on Leaving (Nightwood, 2004), won the 2005 Acorn-Plantos People’s Poetry Award. Her second, Lousy Explorers (Nightwood, 2009), was a finalist for the Pat Lowther Award for best book of poetry by a Canadian woman. Her most recent book of poetry, Pluck (Nightwood, 2014), was nominated for the national Raymond Souster Award. Rosnau teaches fiction and poetry at UBC, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver Film School and Okanagan College. She and her family are the resident caretakers of Bishop Wild Bird Sanctuary in Coldstream, BC.

Books by this Author
Lousy Explorers

Lousy Explorers

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Notes on Leaving

Notes on Leaving

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She pretends to read in the back of the car,
Disney books, thin and coded with colour -
the white of milk-sweet girls, true love
in a bead of crimson blood. She stares down
pictures until they blur: fairies become smudged
bugs on the windshield, a prince morphs
into a twisted plastic bag, tumbles
along the side of the highway. She listens
to taped voices, turns pages when she hears
the sound of a tinkling waterfall (hand
clamped between her legs when
she has to pee.)

These books are not full of the words
she finally learns to read. Instead,
somewhere on the prairies, she looks
out the window and understands the sign.
Understands that the backwards 3 is an E,
that, with the curl of two snakes
and a circle moon, this spells ESSO.
She holds the knowledge in her mouth,
releases the shapes of words to the reflection
of her lips in the car window.

She will tell you this story later,
the back seat thick with baggage, the dog
stinking in the heat. She will tell you one
too many times as your road trips blur together,
the lights on the signs in each new small town
no longer winking like bright promises.
When you pull over at gas station restrooms,
you will light a cigarette while she goes, spell
her name on air with the cherry, stamp
it under foot when she gets back into the car.


what is lost? How much am I responsible
for giving away? Yes, I followed him
down trails, beside rivers, up slopes,
strained each muscle that moved
me. I followed, feet pounding
a rhythm with his, a series
of spent breaths that would
eventually lead us back
to the place where
we had started.

I know what I wanted. Air thrust in and out
of lungs like blows, that pure physicality,
shortness of breath, chests rising, pupils
engorged to take in the peaks
around us. Fine lick of sweat,
taste of salt on mouths, we
would always lead ourselves
back to where
we started.

To where he would leave one morning
in a sports car that denied his life
story with its two seats, not able
to carry the plot of his wife, their
children, mortgage, employment
so secure it had taken years.
My station wagon lied too,
hoodwinked at things
that weren't there.

I gear down to slow my departure
from this place. When I think
I have found the base of these
mountains, I'll stop and weep,
smarting with my own drama.
What is taken then, what is
given away, how much
am I responsible for
losing when I knew

every run through the woods would bring us
back. In my mind, he is perpetually
returning - an open door, a wife
balancing children on hip, in hand.
In my mind, I am always looking
for places where I can sleep
in the back of the car
alone, doors locked
so I will be safe.

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Our Familiar Hunger

Our Familiar Hunger

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The Sudden Weight of Snow

The story goes something like this: girl meets boy. Something sears inside her. Something empties. The ground freezes. A building catches fire. Things come tumbling down. This story begins before you arrive, and it will end after you are gone. Perhaps it begins even before I start to tell it, when we leave my father – a move that can only be followed by more leave-taking, more absence. Things fall away, leave. I try to use words to bring them back.


I am seventeen, and until this year I have lived in the centre of a triangle formed by the almighty church, my mother’s regret, and the vague idea of what my father may have been like. There she is, my mother, always in the middle of things. She constantly interrupts this story, imposes her own. There are no fathers in this story, although I will write them in. I may try to fill my own father’s absence with other men as I have been assured I will always be compelled to do.

I still catch myself praying, although I try not to. This is what I once prayed for: a way out, hips, breasts, hair so short I could feel air moving on my scalp, love, sex that would split me open gently and then let me go, a large hand cupping the back of my head. I got almost all of those things.

My name is Sylvia Harper Kostak. I prefer to go by Harper. That was my father’s last name, probably still is. Once I was Sylvia Rose Harper. Then we left and my mother took back her name, clipped it to the end of mine. Something had to go and both of us agreed it should be the Rose. I have never liked the name Sylvia either – no one should have a name with two letters so close to the end of the alphabet in it like that. So, I go by Harper.


What else do you need to know? I am probably an unreliable witness. This all starts shortly before the first snowfall.


I marked my own leave-taking with footsteps, counted them from locker to door. Thirty­six. If anyone wanted to stop me, they could call, “Sylvia Kostak, where do you think you’re going? Aren’t you supposed to be in class?” But they never did, not at Sawmill Creek Secondary School.

Sawmill Creek is a small town in British Columbia in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, a clearing where several small valleys meet. It is five elementary schools, one high school, one mall, a 7-Eleven, a mill that goes through cycles of lay-offs like seasons and is always threatening closure, and too many churches. A place that hollowed out the pit of my stomach like hunger. People in Sawmill, as we called our town, had distinct values, a moral code that informed the whole community. Some of the things that people objected to were child abuse, homosexuality, vandalism, laziness, single moms, welfare moms, public nudity, lying, cheating, stealing, the decline of family values, zealous feminists, and most prominently, anyone who protested a man’s God-given right to make a living and support his family. The last mentioned were mainly the environmentalists from the city who knew nothing about the land or how to live off it honestly.

Even in a community as strong as Sawmill Creek, not everyone followed the code. There were old draft dodgers living in the hills with ham radios and Marxist manifestos, though the war they were running from had ended thirteen years before. There were those who stitched marijuana crops into the fabric of the forest and clerks at the health food store who claimed we could cure every ailment with the right herbs and tinctures. Somehow, we even had teachers infiltrate our secondary school who taught us about passive aggression, relaxation techniques, and conservationist forestry practices. These teachers were from other, bigger places – Vancouver, Calgary – and came to Sawmill Creek as student teachers, were lured to stay by the fruit-filled valley, the ski hill half an hour from town. We knew better than to tell our parents about what they taught us. We hung on to these glimpses of a larger world. Dreamed of ways to get there. People told us we’d want to return – This is such a good place to raise a family – but we’d been raised here and knew it wasn’t true.

I was not beautiful, not yet. My hair, dark and long, was not the blue-black of Archie’s Veronica but the dull brown of dug earth. Hazel eyes and olive skin, I liked to believe, were the dark Ukrainian in me. Physical reminders of the part of my mother’s family that had travelled across the Black Sea from Persia to Ukraine in boats carved out of single cedar trees, large enough to accommodate entire families. This imagined history was as exotic as I could pretend to be.

From the fifth grade until this story begins, I was a toothpick, a tomboy. Not everyone knows this, but when they first begin to rise up, breasts surface beneath the nipples, as hard as rocks trapped under that darker skin. Painful, too. One usually appears first. Just when you have reached the cusp of your fear, another appears. Before I understood what the “life skills” component of phys. ed. was in the fifth grade, I was seeing the uterus lit up on a chart. An upside-down pear, two dangling gloves. The elements the teacher told us about were eggs popping from sacs and travelling tubes, cells sloughing, blood flowing. Cramps. The important thing she ­didn’t tell us was that the firm bulbs of emergent breasts can easily be mistaken for cancer by the untrained eye and hand, under bedclothes in the dark, confused. My mother, Vera, to her credit, didn’t flinch or laugh when I told her about the cancer. She simply explained to me what was happening, then bought me a training bra as though to test the very name of the thing – a bra to train and coax the breasts along. Mine never did make it to the finish line.

My hips were two bones pushing against skin and my best friend, Krista, believed I could poke an eye out with them. I didn’t think that narrow space between bones could take sex into it. Sex was something thick and unknown, like beauty. My body ­wasn’t ready for either. Sometimes, I thought I could feel the promise of something – a pain, wound like a spring in my limbs, throbbing in my legs at night – and I would wake and pound my fists into my calves and thighs, trying to knock the ache out.


From the Hardcover edition.

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