Turnstone Press

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All That Belongs

It's my last day of work at the regional archives, just a few hours now before my colleagues whisk me away to a retirement dinner. An elderly couple from Australis stops by with a request. I have nothing to do--my desk is empty, files cleared--so I'm floating around the front of the place and I greet them and help them find evidence of a second cousin who apparently lived and died in Winnipeg. Not that it matters one way or the other, they say, but since we're travelling through Canada anyway.

They're delighted with what I discover: a mention in the finding aid, a short article about the cousin's appointment to a contractor's firm, the death notice. They tell me they've heard he was a scoundrel and the clap their hands and laugh, as if this paucity of information confirms their suspicions, The Australian woman is small and bony in appearance, clad in a flowing black dress too big for her. But she bubbles with eagerness and warmth and her personality swells into the garment. I'm drawn to her.

When we're done with the search, the woman and I discuss genealogy. I ask her how far back she can trace and she says, To the first fleet of them. To the first shipment of convicts.

Your forbearers were convicts? I've completely forgotten, in this moment, how that continent came to be populated with Europeans.

Oh yes, yes, convicts. There's a lilt in her voice, she says convict as easily as she said scoundrel. It may have been for something horribly horrible, she goes on, maybe slaying the master or a neighbour. Or as trivial as stealing a rabbit from a rich man's woods.

Her husband, who's been distracted by files unrelated to the second cousin, lifts his head and chips in with a bit of a speech. There was a patient of Carl Jung's, he says, who feared to accept things in his life lest they overpower him. His fear turned out not to be true. As he learned to be receptive to all that belonged to him, good and bad, light and night continuously alternating, his world came alive.

The woman touches his arm. Jung, Jung, she says, as if it's his name. yes, she tells me, Jung and his patient were right. This credo has served us well. She takes her husband's hand and begins to guide him out, the black dress undulating around her knobby knees like a wave goodbye.

She stops, turns, calls back. You've probably got embarrassment in your family tree too! Family trees are rarely reassuring! I smile and gesture indecisively and they carry on through the exit. I feel a sensation of judgment rising and pressing against my heart. It feels like the vague heaviness that used to oppress me during evangelistic meetings in my childhood church, an inchoate insistence to which I always responded with fresh avowals of surrender to God. My past might be unremarkable but I'm ashamed of it nevertheless. Yes. My odd Uncle Must. The whole lot of it, in fact, everything he drags in his wake, everything in my chronology, the choke and pother of my earlier self, the losses, my brother, that slight souring at the edge of every bite. Uncle--yes, and everything! Circumstance and disappointment that penetrate like yeast.

My assistant Joan is coming my way. She looks plump and superficial after the tiny woman in black. I pretend I don't see her and stride to the window, I'm caught up in the couple's words. In the personal history that weights me--suddenly, unexpectedly. The boulevard trees are almost bare, autumn light between branches weak and disconsolate, as if aching for green. That man and woman, it's like they caught me off guard. Caught me already out of here and retired, ready for something new.

The pressure of judgment yields, shifts to wonder, to questions that compel. Two boys outside, rolling by on their skateboards. Their shouts ribbon back to me, dare me to grab and hold. God they're young. So young and wonderful and round the corner already. Have I harboured shame too long? Been too fearful--of overpowerment?

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Yams do not exist

Amortization of the Amatory

Farinata clung to the darkling plain with all his might. He showed great determination not to be the highest wet point for a sliver of lightning. Supine and stricken with fright, he was amazed not to see a whit of life flash before his eyes. More of a blankety blank. Whatever had happened before his move to the "land of living skies" was incredibly obscure, as was his translation next door to the friendliest province in recent memory. That Latinate name was surely a giveaway that our friend laid claim to a literary bent. Poetic, if you must know. In fact, his fear of a fatal bolt from on high was matched only by a fear that his creative powers would fail him, should he try to recount his life.

To this end, Farinata pictured two pupae that were (securely or precariously) suspended from the top of a fence with a stony finish. Inside, the women were, wriggling with anticipation. Probably a common male fantasy, to bind them in leafy shells like that, hanging from a silken hook.
No, nature abhors nothing. The satin bowerbird spares no other bird when collecting feathers and other blue objects with which to design the entrance to its bower, cleverly designed to dazzle the azure eye of his prospective mate, she who promptly dispatches him for more blue buttons or bottlecaps. The shame arose from the fact there were two of them, dangling from the highest caste of beauties. To the best of his knowledge, Muses were single-spined, or went around in nines. Thus, his personal fortitude, his virtu, was called into question. Might as well cover them from head to heel, and protect himself from himself.

Yet the two ladies gave him pause for thought, wrapped in delicious colours that mimicked the dominant shades of the substrate with an air of Pre-Raphaelite grace. Naturally, there had been other scrapes with capable women (if the odd fumbling and even the odd fumbling of wedlock can be called a scrape), which he had categorized under the rubric of fleshy pursuits. As for the two delicious misses, neither would be caught dead wriggling in a chrysalis. One morning, they had broken free of those chitinous husks and had dried their sopping wings until they were ready to take flight for parts unknown. Poetic usage aside, one Muse was getting on with her decorous life in Queen City. The other, still waving in the foreground, was well on her way to a solid vocation, and had abandoned her former friends (and ours) to the social milieu in which they floundered. There is no need to exaggerate. Just a second ago, she had not actually waved, or for that matter, walked arm in arm with her usual chaperone with their steps keeping in perfect time with one of Schubert's dances (D.783 No. 7). No, she had mouthed a hello meaty enough to feed almost half a Paradiso, were there not the gristle of earthly concerns to clip his wings on the spot. Nor was she lording it over him on a minimalist-chic Scrooser, although that is how he always envisioned her. As for the
friendliness, that was already guaranteed on every provincial license plate.

We need not worry that no one else will turn up. Someone often does. Incidentally, this is known as foreshadowing. While we are here, we might as well appraise his stupefaction. His eyes were screwed up because he had nearly idealized the poor dear out of existence. He clenched his teeth because her bourgeois constraints were quick to cordon off the open manhole he teetered over, namely the Void. Taking into account as many artistic purviews as our budget will allow, we must concede that the Canadian prairie has seldom been expressed as anything more than a
whopping Néant, and that is how Farinata happened upon her. Stuck with the same old representative models, he decided to stand on one leg, lacking the tools to mansplain away the copious amount of desire that had repeatedly tripped him up since reaching the middle of the road of his life. In passing, he lacked enough pluck to suggest that countless exoplanets ultimately had more influence than the perpetual recession that held sway over his most heartfelt inclinations.

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I: Gold Finger
i come to her in darkness they say I shine and they are afraid they say they close up in their eyes they feel my skin full of holes a leather that hangs from cold some say I have heard them say they can hear winter in my heart a wind they duck my shortness and they sprinkle salt look mum the funny man when I pass shh sshh it's nothing dear even the geese cringe turn cool as shadows by the well where the creosote holds water shrinks & I dream of her dream I saw her at the mill I am sure she did not see me at the bottom of the water I am lost among the goats and ducks think I am a white dwarf a crate of rickets the crickets click and drip & bugs that form in flour bite and yet they need me have lost G2 in the village they say the king is dull and pale they call him cowardly and they sense I might help have seen me do tricks with string seen a comet sizzle in the seas and the pigs have sore feet

In the prison of darkness I come to her all night whirr whirr I watch the poisson swim in the poisoned well my darkness a passion swims I crack open the hinges on cold slip through nights smooth as a mussel she hides in for her father the miller has fooled the king has told him the maiden can spin night into gold you must not cut off her hands she can draw gold filament after filament from the wheel and she weeps weeps she cannot think or sleep my lady pines and sticks pins in the back of her hand she stings herself until morning gathers from the corners darkness makes and smears on the window and wipes it up she hums & she sings drinks brandy oh yes her father the miller does not know nor the king who wants her fibres of gold that unfold in ribbons and bolts does not know she drinks brandy in a ferment weeps for me she waits under the bridge in the fraunhofer lines where I watch still as a frog and inside as smooth though she does not know already I have her ring and necklace also the night songs she dripped into the room blip blip one by one it is all I have she said to me she could hardly breathe but I know there is more and I am waiting I have sealed time behind the clang where the door closes shut and she weeps

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the creatures

you've got to remember
your Ps and Qs
all the glitches in our plans
the years of itches & clichés
the geese queuing
the ditches chowdered with tadpoles
you would have sworn

frogs were emeralds and they shone
saskatoons sharpened on sun
turned to tart & gooseberries
screwed up on their spindly legs
berries swollen so large and pale a person
could almost see through

there also was the cow called Esmeralda
whose hormones blew past
a ruddy and sometimes luminous moon

and sandhill cranes would wade
the hills in quadrille and the prairie
chickens ran thickly in front
of the chilled morning

they square-danced and dosey-doed
high-stepped in front of the old truck
almost stopped the stupid things
dead in their tracks and coyotes
coaxed the moon from their throats

a time when
potatoes rolled out of the ground
big as cabbages round
as groundhogs the rain
fell hard or softly

found the just and the un
just in the Souris
Valley and on the fields
of France pulled january

across the cold
foxes trotted over
the sheets we pulled
over our breath
quick to give and find
where they left their tracks

and do you dream the secret hay
the smell of flowers
when you let yourself back
into the soft dust
its tea and yielding

spring summer winter fall
the moon cracked open
leaked marrow over
our upturned faces

crow creates earth

scans the mud
she will call earth
wherever she spits
saliva glistens & pockmarks

crow watches the carribean turn electric blue
tilts on her toes tints the days vermillion
smears them in chartreuse in cyan in rust
fills in cobalt & ochre indigo & goldenrod
adds woad & madder slate & ruby
daubs cadmium & manganese blue in burnt umber

in the coal-blue cold crow compresses until
her heart becomes so clear it cannot be
marked & will not break
gulps the raw new light
flings the stars over her shoulder
pins them onto the pewter moon

cries out when she turns
back hears the spinning
gasps when she sees the blue
& white world for the first time
so bright & wetly shining

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Don't Try This at Home

Don't Try This at Home

One Family's (mis)Adventures Around the World
also available: Paperback
More Info

Cast of characters
Starting Age: Whatever you think it is, minus ten.
Known for such uplifting catch phrases as “We’re all in this together” and “By we, I mean you,” Daria is the ideas person of the household and the one responsible for initiating the year off to travel the world. Being the only family member who has travelled to Africa, she is often overheard singing “Who’s been to six continents? Just me! Just me!” and responds to any familial dispute by holding up six fingers in front of her face.

Starting Age: 8
Having heard the phrase “you are what you eat,” this young go-getter fine-tuned his diet to comprise only the singular food item known as Skittles, in the hopes that he would eventually be able to eat his own hands. It’s forward thinking like this that allowed Oskar to develop unique solutions to some of the world’s most pressing issues before reaching the age of four. His phosphate-reducing method of doing laundry (by forcing your sister to flush your underwear down the toilet) is presently in test phase in four municipalities in Canada.

Isla Blue
Starting Age: 5
The self-annointed ruler of the familial unit, Isla Blue is the proud owner of the world record for longest nonsensical tirade that contains the phrase “dumpster diving muskrat.” During the course of these travels, however, she was taken aback by the inability of the rest of the world’s inhabitants to recognize her as supreme ruler of all things on this earth. Presently, she is working on incorporating multi-lingual expletives into her outbursts in order to change that perception, and hopes to—nay, will-assume her role as All Powerful Overlord by 2024.

Starting Age: Don’t get me started on my starting age.
Lovingly referred to as El Capitain Negativo or Spirit Crusher by his fellow familial members, he prefers to go by the more prosaic moniker of “The only one with any sense of reality.” After years of suffering stroke like symptoms each time Daria uttered the word “trip,” Rob is now an Elite Platinum member of his Hospital’s Emergency Ward Rewards Program and has earned one free use of a defibrillator. His long-term goal is to take a nap sometime before 2021.

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