Turnstone Press

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Excerpt

Foreworda going backa return to oldstoriesthat left uswith what we seeon main streetno longer wholebefore narrativeblurredreturnedbroken downseena/new recognizedan open eyedAngelusflyinglookingbackwardand for/wordbeginningscitings

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Endlings
Excerpt

Beauty

There's a rumour about beauty,
its long whiskers and golden eyes,
its stripes as dark
as the moon shadows of trees.
There's a rumour that the forest
took the beauty,
that the people who took
the forest took the beauty.
The beauty's stripes tightened,
sliced right through--the people
said they had nothing to do with it.
The whiskers caught fire
and the golden eyes burned
right through.

--Javan tiger

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Lunatic Engine
Excerpt

Terrible Destruction on the Feast of San Lorenzo for Sue

Galileo knew, like all of you who are real Catholics know, that this is August 10 when poor Lorenzo, the story goes, was barbecued. "Turn me over," he apparently quipped to his torturers, "I've cooked enough on this side." Now that's a calendar I can get behind: ordering our days by events, naming our lives with the titles of short stories. What have we lost by not marking the passage of time this way? Let's all make calendars for ourselves. I'll fill my year with feasts for you. Every day will be a holiday we spend in bed mapping and re-mapping ourselves over each other. And when we're done with our days I'll name our hours. This is the hour of our gravity,30-21 this the hour of dreaming, this of breath on skin and this, and this and this.

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Excerpt

Each September We Went to See the Geese

 

& this was before condos built up

all around my hometown, back when

the neighbour boy had a secret. He said,

I'll tell you when the birds land

because like magic they know

to fly & fall together, feather

the sky & call hollow

into a dusk dying to frost.

This was when I believed in secrets,

in that last hunching in cool grass

before pushing on slightly from summer,

when anything might happen, so small beneath

pressing bodies full of air

 

come suddenly down

onto the lake.

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All That Belongs
Excerpt

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
Excerpt

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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