Horses in the corn.
My brother is disappointed
Eating my ploughman’s lunch
over an architectural
drawing. There are people
crossing the bridge.
The man in the Mercedes
refuses to run me over; he knows
how I’ve lost every reusable bottle
I’ve ever bought.
I cannot tell whether the liquid going
through the suction tube is yellow
or if that is just the
colour of the tube.
My hairdresser thankfully does not give me the Caesar cut I ask for.
My cab driver is from Senegal
and smiles gorgeously at the prospect of
Coconut oil, in hair, simmering
in a pan, thrown between the teeth like
mouthwash. The women draw the candle air toward their faces and close their eyes.
The city promised to move the mailbox a long time ago.
It is still in the part of the park where
the best trees are.
The very steep stairs are at every level occupied by
salt-stained Blundstones. He is bent like a needle
There are fruit flies everywhere in the duplex. I wait until
they are lazy from the blessèd wine
to pinch them from the air.
Yelling about the shoe store, the meat has transcended
and become a building material. I scrub the ramekins.
The cutlery bin, the beige machinery of binding, the rows and rows of midcentury nightstands, the infectious
colonialism of rubber turf, the
Skyscrapers are wearing hoary wigs to disguise themselves
from their own capitalism. I’ve heard they are built to bend but
I’ve never seen it.
An emeralite lamp in an office is an evacuation
which has been paid for.
My torso looks its best when the tortured earth from here to the treeline
is unoccupied; this time there is a placard.
There is an absurd little Maccabee at the mouth of the Brooklyn Bridge,
holding a loulav and an etrog. He asks if I’m Jewish and
I tell him: “No.”
The thinnest, most brittle plastic, the unseen trucks, the slats
through which to breathe, you are still on the fastest route.
Cotton, cotton, cotton. Creases in the cotton. My brother carries his lifetime warranty through a wasteland.
The river is impartial; it does not judge you for kneeling or lapping.
But the river does not have an army.
Fruit and drywall and children and other such batteries. Shellfish and the saddle
and glass and other such obligations.
We are breathing with the wounded rabbit in the window-well. I touch his tufted head, she touches his weeping bite. He has wet,
There are too many consciousnesses between the ghetto and the metro station.
There are too many windbreakers between the metro station and the community piano.
Someone happened to drop a handful of multicoloured dice by the side of the Ville-Marie and they were made into a hospital.
The dinosaurs jumble into the waxy undergrowth. The sun paints them in fire, not in an alarming way.
Adam is a poetry and prose writer from Montreal. He has an eye which is half-green and half-brown. He was shortlisted for the Irving Layton Award for Poetry in 2017. His work can be found in the Soliloquies Anthology.
sniffing his fingers. Forgotten
country asylum birthing
moth larva tunnel
plaster ceilings, drink
from patient’s ears.
Moonlight fucks the ward’s
Pee stain hatching
on his navy bluet
down the house,
one room at a time.
Wake early just to sit
on my ass. The ocean
a heap of water, the eye
Adam Day is the author of the collection of poetry, Model of a City in Civil War (Sarabande Books), and the recipient of a Poetry Society of America Chapbook Fellowship for Badger, Apocrypha, and of a PEN Emerging Writers Award. His work has appeared in the Boston Review, Kenyon Review, APR, AGNI, Iowa Review, and elsewhere. He also directs the Baltic Writing Residency in Sweden, Scotland, and Blackacre Nature Preserve.
pin head, flax or appleseed and hypodermic knife
penis. Isabella Rossellini shouts ‘Seduce Me!’
in spandex but everyone else is ashamed.
hiding their linens, coat wrapped tight vestigial
wing nubs. rape-y bastards, traumatically inseminating
each other right in the gut, you need to steam them
as if trying to get a good froth from skim milk. Kafka into
book-spine. diatomaceous earth arcs apartment doors, optimistic
protection like garlic for other sexier hematophages. Females rarely
emit their alarm pheromone unlike the topped gluttoness
misread males. sultry harbourage smells of rotten raspberries.
rostrum into your nape, thighs, even that little pocket behind
your knee, studies hypothesize resisting may be higher than the cost
of consent. bean leaves Balkan magic Velcro. Thank DDT for 50 years
without that phantom itch. bed bath and beyond the bald eagle omelettes.
Candace de Taeye has previously been published in Carousel, CV2, Echolocation, Feathertale.com, and Joypuke. She has a chapbook ‘Roe’ from PSGuelph, and a collection of poetry titled 'Small Planes and the Dead Fathers of Lovers' from Vocamus Press. During the day and more often at night she works as a paramedic in Toronto’s downtown core.
over the highway
fast against the blue
I don’t wanna
be an asshole
who hates birds
fuck I could
die now, okay,
so fine. Today
I can’t remember
how I’ve stopped
loving anyone. I miss
them all instead,
like my dad but
not who he is now.
I miss my grandpa
and my dog who
are both dead. I
miss Tyler and
futures for us in
our surf punk
sick of this
parking lot crying
too drunk and
tired to hold it in my
The dog died badly
like the death
in a movie
up and there was
nothing but the
flat honest pop
of Dad’s .22
and the smell
of burning fur
in the moonlight.
The most tender
thing I ever saw
him do and it’s
the two of us,
Gion Davis is a second year MFA Poetry student at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. She is the co-founder and co-host of Dead Bird Reading Series. She grew up on a ranch in northern New Mexico, received her undergraduate degree in writing in Vermont, and now lives in Northampton, Massachusetts. Gion can be found on Instagram @starkstateofmind.
Every year, once a year,
when the kids are in school
and the olds take back the mall,
I drive to the beach.
Way out. By myself.
Where no one is.
Gotta be raining though. Wet.
scold the wipers;
a sound I enjoy.
I like the sound
of scissors, but
that’s a story for another time.
I turn on the radio
with a few dirty words
(my little joke)
and the records they spin
aren’t records at all, I think,
but real musicians
playing those egg-carton rooms
that only seem private,
and for a little payola,
a little blow,
some go twice an hour.
I park the car, cut the music,
walk to the hard beach.
No sand. Just stones
in the surf.
I tug the zipper on my K-Way,
pull the hood,
take that slow walk
all by myself, but
for a little payola,
a little blow,
maybe next time
you can come too.
The poet, JEFF PARENT, is a stay-home Dad, comic-book enthusiast, and so very tired. He lives in Sherbrooke, Québec with his family, whom he loves very much.
Shaun, calm down, this poem
isn’t really about you. I said that
for effect. It’s a very Shaun thing
to do, and I’m still trying to learn
how to poem properly. If I start
a poem with an assertion and then
immediately go against it, I think
that’s a Shaun thing too. Or maybe
that’s a life thing. I don’t know.
You sent me the Robert Hedin
poem about dreams and what I
replied was holy shit that’s
amazing, but what I really meant
was thank you for showing me
what dreams can do. If I were
a tornado I’d make sure to drop
something nice off at your house:
a dairy cow, a bouquet of wheat
from Alberta, a time machine.
Shaun, this poem still isn’t about
you. Maybe it’s about the misconceptions
behind daylight savings. I agree,
I think people need to be better
informed. We “lose” an hour,
but we gain more light in the evening.
It’s hard to tell someone to be happy
when they think they’ve lost something.
Even if that loss isn’t a real
loss at all, because time is relative
and all that. It’s the wording of it,
that’s the problem. It’s like saying
you get more soda because the ice
melts, but you lose the ice. Everyone
will mourn the cubes and sneer
at the watered down drink. I think
you’re right, Shaun. Artists were
made for daylight savings time.
We get more of what we really need:
sustenance, light, time. Fuck the ice cubes.
Shaun, I’m sorry about making
this about you when what I really
want to talk about is time
and how it slips in and out of
my dreams. Not the other way
around. You gave me advice once
for dealing with the loss of the
daylight savings hour
but you don’t remember it.
That’s okay. Time has a way
of making us forget things like
Shaun, I’ve been lying this whole
time. This poem is about you.
That’s another reversal, so have
I broken all the rules? I’m sorry
I’ve drawn so much attention
to you but, listen, we all have
nightmares. None of them happen
when we’re sleeping.
Jessica Johns is of Cree ancestry and a member of Sucker Creek First Nation. She is the Executive Editor of Promotions for PRISM international and is on the editorial board for Room Magazine, living and working on the traditional and unceded territory of the Musqueam, Sḵwxwú7mesh, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples. She was the winner of The Rusty Toque’s Short Forms contest, the winner of Saltern Magazine’s Short Forms contest, placed second for the 2017 Glass Buffalo Poetry contest, and has been published in SAD Mag.
When imagining who I’ll be with next
I fancy I could fuck a ghost
Invisible and undemanding
The most considerate partner for sex
Appearing to me with mysterious flair
Foreplay consisting of gentle swirling,
Then after entering me and cumming,
Fortunately, vanishing into thin air
But what would really make me swoon
I look into the sky and see
A pristine and attentive being, yes,
I think I’d make love to the moon
Enclosed in dark blankets of the night
On her slow rotations and shifting phases
We’d wax and wane in ecstacy
And say goodbye at morning light
Yes what a lover ought to be
I ardently decide just now
Majestic, eternal, transcendental
(Not necessarily human qualities)
Can someone tell me where to find
A lover as steadfast as the sea
with the anguish of Persephone
doesn’t anybody come to mind?
Josie is a Canadian writer and medieval archaeology master’s student studying in the United Kingdom. Her work has previously been performed at Tuesday Night Cafe Theatre in Montreal and published in Graphite Publications. In her spare time she enjoys pretending to be a gothic heroine.
Tell me where you are
I am impressed
by your desire
to be left alone
I went over under
in a circle
around your house
Where is your house?
I am here
and you are not
I made a noise
at the base of my throat
to call you
but you were already gone
I heard you lived here
is that true?
Funny seeing you here
That’s what I’d say
if I saw you
I thought you were there
in the corner of my eye
that was just the inking
of your face
I had stitched
to the lid of my eye
Marcela Huerta is the author of Tropico, a collection of poetry and creative nonfiction published by Metatron Press in 2017. She has worked at the Museum of Anthropology, Working Format, and Free Agency Creative as a Graphic Designer, and at Drawn & Quarterly as an Assistant Editor. She is the proud daughter of Chilean refugees, and her work centres around their stories, as well as the stories of other marginalized voices. You can find her online @marsmella.
You are so poor before you. Your town square looms privately, day and night. The big ones at their boxing matches, you in your saddle.
You neuter no one. You sex no one. You, on the verge of hysteria have the lack glass beside you, the electrified grid swimming loose at your feet.
You slide into the far side of the booth and order extra tartar sauce. Thinking preciously about a list of very special things about you that no one has noticed yet, not lovers, not parents, friends, or cohort.
1) Lay the silverware lengthwise at the close end of the drying rack
2) Don’t prefer peanut butter in sweets, or heavy chocolate
3) In this order: scotch, tequila, vodka, bourbon, port
4) Have a drawer just for cards and letters, upper right, like mother
5) Fear of skin disease
Beside your nerves. In the triumphant triad—you, yourself, you alone—you know how to access the lucid passage under sex.
You will cling to any root.
You abscond the proper syntax. Jazz is demilitarizing you.
As you run into the walk-in for another keg, you are shot through with the sudden and complete memory of having been fingered by your friend there, six months before his death. You had forgotten, hilariously. His hair atop his head.
Your fingernails, in their nail beds, as you breathe. Yes, you breather.
You, the breather. Put that on your CV. You, at age 15, cutting yourself with the safety pin of your nametag in the washroom of the assisted living facility where you were in employ. The flip phone arcing as it swims around the room.
You are unkind to your mother. What does pagination have to do with it? With your burning hand you write, on the nature of life.
In the morning of your cinema, you balk. Suddenly shy, poorly rehearsed.
You pour the juice as if for the first time, laughing sheepishly right into the camera, little juice bits going everywhere.
Your plan to seduce incrementally—via the punctuation in your emails, making visible the supple inside of your wrist as you water down the pastis, being a dedicated worker, subscribing to the sublimity of constraint in the hopes that someone is watching—folds like the clap of a fan.
You weep, stupidly on the couch. Like a water lily.
“The truth is I can’t fuck you because I want to be you.” “I know all about circulation.” “I will fuck you when I know all that you know!”
Shot shrinks to a pinhole makes a little static boop! like your family tv. Okay that was great thanks, we’ll go again on the juice scene when we can get the light back. You are nodding, can’t help but be glancing at the camera lip, its opalescent mutability.
A wild afternoon air enters through the door and fingers your hair, signaling fear.
Olivia Wood is a graduate student at Concordia University. She helps edit the poetry section of the Headlight Anthology and is an affiliated researcher at the Centre for Expanded Poetics. Her 2014 chapbook, A Work No One Told You About, was published by Metatron Press.
A good dick in the form
of a childhood memory.
Judging by how low you
keep the volume down
the moans of Debbie
who wrote her suicide
on the napkin you found on
the bar wood.
It still smells the
bulliet perfume she wiped from her
lip before retreating home to
mourn–the bottle next to the bed,
the bed next to the bottle.
Now you’re stumbling a little
drunk and a little hard from the
soft syntax you will forget by
the time the moon is done
the night shift. Writers do
that don’t they?
Mistake porn for love
a good drink
for a good night sleep.
Téa Mutonji is a poet and prose writer in Scarborough. Her forthcoming story collection will be published by VS. Books in association with Arsenal Pulp Press (Spring 2019). She is a compulsive tweeterer.
I knew I was in a place for happy people. Inside each change room was a chandelier decorated with plastic jewels made to look like crystals; awful, pumping music informed me that the singer was never going back to him, and the sleeveless romper I brought to try on had flared pant legs, and a nauseating price that could only be covered by a gift card. Because of the gift card and my distant relative’s generosity, I was becoming one of the women who shopped at a boutique with no name on the front.
I could feel period cramps coming on. Normally I would take a bottle of wine to bed in order to dull the physical pain of my uterus crunching like a ball of used aluminum foil. I’d decided to shop instead, but browsing through clothing I had nowhere to wear could only take so long. After that, I would need to continue to distract myself from a pain I could no longer distinguish between physical and emotional.
I went through my mental list of feel-good habits. I was trying to put drinking off for as long as possible. Sex was my next thought but I’d recently been rejected. I repeated calming phrases like “I am here, now” and “I am doing my best.” I tried to ignore the music, its volume increasing. Was the noise supposed to encourage people to buy more? Were they also pumping extra oxygen through the vents?
I reached for my trench coat on the hook attached to the change room door and pulled my phone from the pocket. I opened the new app I’d downloaded. When I set it up last month with the date of my last period, it prompted me to pick a lively background from a series of flowers, kittens and ocean landscapes.
Choosing a background that suited my aesthetic meant everything to me and eventually I had settled on a pink cartoon flamingo. A month later, next to the flamingo, there was a red negative-one flashing.
The song changed to an overwrought mashup of two tracks that made me feel like drinking.
I started to play around with filters on a photograph I had taken of myself earlier that morning. I had leaned the phone on my blue coffee mug that had my name, Veronica, written on it in cursive and set a timer for three seconds. I wanted the photo to look like someone else had taken it in case my ex, Tom, was looking at my profile and cared. He didn’t. While reviewing the first photo, I remember noticing my posture was poor. My face looked purposefully vacant. I took a few more photos and felt nothing about it.
“That photo is self-indulgent. You look desperate,” Tom would say, if we were speaking, but I could only imagine running things by him now. I could no longer ask him what he thought about such narcissistic impulses because he had someone new who probably asked him more important questions about more interesting things.
The photographs were becoming projections of a situation that would never happen with him. I’d taken to adding objects and symbols: things I’d hold, look at, or put in the background of the photos. Sometimes, the objects would allude to a joke we once had together. I’d hold gifts he’d bought me, like the owl shaped vase, or the ring with a band shaped like octopus tentacles.
As I used both hands to pull on my black booties to see what they would look like with the romper and I thought about what to do with the rest of my day. I would need to get naproxen pills. I wanted to find a private way to celebrate the anniversary of my birth. I was considering fucking a stranger again but meeting people online was becoming tiresome as they sometimes ended up looking different from their pictures.
They always wanted to drink. I needed a new best friend, someone who could fuck me properly.
I considered sleeping with Elliot one more time, another waiter from work, an actor. Elliot was going back and forth with his sexting, claiming he felt bad, but he needed me, that I was immature and I didn’t get his vision for us. Elliot is fine.
I reached back for my phone. I swiped through the titles of groups of apps until I reached a folder titled MIND THE TIME. The apps I felt I used too frequently were inside MIND THE TIME. I opened Instagram and posted a photo of the exposed filament light bulb hanging above me as one of those photo stories that expires in twenty four hours. These stories are useful to me because they display who is looking at my profile. I wanted Elliot, Tom, or anyone to look at me.
The track changed to a song that was worse than the previous song. My hands were shaking, perhaps from a combination of hunger, dehydration and anxiety. I flipped through the weather forecast and saw that it was going to reach a high of sixteen degrees by four in the afternoon. The possibility of precipitation was seventy percent. I took an unsmiling photo of myself in the romper. My cheeks looked sullen and hollow. That pleased me. There were premature wrinkles in the corners of my eyes. Horrifying.
I was trying to exercise some level of self-control. Stalling. I knew what I wanted to look at. What would allow me to put my phone down, to let go. I let myself look at the other woman. A woman I thought about early in the morning when I didn't sleep. The woman Tom had left me for what felt like a week ago.
When her Instagram account appeared in my most frequently viewed links I felt a fleeting shame similar to the realization that I was still smoking after ten years. She had recently posted a video of herself swaying her hips while lifting her long dress and winking at the camera. She was dancing to the music of a weepy solo artist I used to listen to four years ago. She wasn’t wearing a bra. The fact that her breasts were so tiny made me want to cry.
The changing area was part of a long hallway shaped like a hexagon at the end with mirrors that made people look smaller. I could hear two people chatting as they came in. I knew the type of people who shopped at the boutique bought things I couldn’t afford and often forgot about them.
“Look at this photo. Doesn’t Tracy look like she's going to cry?” one of them asked in a tone of voice that turned everything into a question. I was relieved that she was as creepy as I was, staring at photographs that would be instantly forgotten.
“Tracy always looks like she’s on the verge of tears. She still wears eye-shadow.”
“Eyeshadow is over.”
I didn’t realize that eyeshadow was over. That morning, I’d brushed on hazel-gold eyeshadow with sparkles; it was labelled #HAPPYDAYS. The unnecessary name and transparent branding felt like a personal attack yet I wanted to be a person who thought #HAPPYDAYS was cool, and okay, and possible.
I wondered if I could define my favorite word, vapid, in case someone asked me at a party. Boring. Uninteresting. Who gets to use such a dismissive word? To decide who is worth paying attention to? I searched Google for the word, taking a screenshot of the definition because I knew I’d never remember. I wondered if my depression made me stimulating and challenging by default.
I felt a wetness between my legs and ripped the jumper off. One of the pant legs got stuck to the bottom of my heel so I had to stand on one foot and pull at it. I managed to slide it off my foot and throw it into the corner of the cubicle. I checked my panties. A small spot of blood. I trembled as I lifted the crumpled romper to investigate further. The stain was an admirable shade of red: dark, like the red I use to paint my nails. I almost felt proud.
My body snapped into an alertness similar to the feeling I’d get when I couldn’t subdue an unwanted memory. The music was changing, becoming more abrasive. I felt dizzy. I put my hands on the wall and counted down from twenty. I didn’t want to leave the soiled romper in the store because it was one of a kind. I rummaged through my purse for a napkin then dabbed at the stain until it dried and turned a dull brown. I could pretend I’d found it like that.
The other people in the change room area were gone, or had stopped chatting. I popped my head out to see one of them sitting on a black leather chair while the other gazed into the large mirror at the end of what seemed like a long corridor.
The mirror would make it impossible for me to pass by undetected. I lowered my eyes as I walked out of the dressing room, holding the soiled garment tenderly like a live animal. I looked at the mirror. One of the customers smiled at me. It made me wonder if I could pass as one of them. Rich and well-adjusted.
There was a bathroom in the boutique. It wasn’t as nice as the rest of the place. It was just a dirty, unfinished Toronto bathroom. They didn’t let anyone bring store merchandise in there so I left the romper in ball outside the door hoping that no one would pick it up. Inside, I pulled down my black skinny jeans and quickly wiped myself down with toilet paper. I stuck a few sheets inside my panties.
In the lineup I handed over my gift card to the cashier, a tall confident-looking woman. As she opened a structured bag that was made of a glitter gel plastic, she smiled dreamily in a way that made me wonder if she was in love. Then, as if should could feel me watching, she snapped out of it. Her movements became reserved as if she was saving her energy for something better she had to do later.
I wanted to mimic her ennui so I looked back at my phone. I flicked through some photos then drafted a Facebook status about how embarrassed I was about leaking period blood on such a fine garment. I deleted what I wrote.
The sales associate’s manicured fingers were painted the same pastel pink as the walls of the boutique and I couldn’t help but look up into her eyes as she unfolded the weaves of silk, stopping only when she noticed the stain. The look she wore while holding it up to the fluorescent light and squinting her eyes was unreadable. She called another cashier over and after murmuring to each other, they both looked at me.
“Was this here before you tried it on?”
“Yes.” I said without thinking.
“You can have thirty percent off.”
On the street, I put noise cancelling earbuds in my ears and selected a mix of repetitive electronic music that I considered complex and melancholic. I lit a cigarette and began to walk briskly for several minutes without thinking.
The music stopped because Elliot was calling. On the screen I saw his name and a photo I’d taken of him looking at a large tree. I ducked into an alleyway to finish my cigarette.
I had my reservations about his commitment to our affair. The last time we’d spoke he told me he needed to cool things down because he had stuff going on. I’d reacted impulsively, in a way that embarrassed me. I’d told him I was going to disappear from his life forever and that he would remember me, years later, as the most interesting woman he’d ever met. None of these statements made sense. They reminded me of grandiose behavior from my past that I often felt embarrassed about.
“Hello.” His voice sounded grudgingly jovial.
“Hi.” “Are you sorry for being a brat?”
“I guess,” I shrugged then realized he couldn’t see that over the phone.
“Have you been trying to get fucked properly by losers?” he said. I thought about pretending that I’d found someone better than him. Instead, I said, “Loneliness is a trait of boring people.”
“Good,” he said.
“I’m on my way to do important things.”
“Right.” There was a pause and I could imagine him smiling over the phone.
“Am I boring compared to the others?”
“You’re the most vapid girl I’ve ever fucked.”
“That can’t be true.”
“Kidding. I think you’re smart. You make my cock hard.”
“Since you’re not drinking, I’ll take you for ice cream for your special day?” I didn’t remember telling him the date of my birthday. I felt embarrassed that he knew, as if he’d expect me to be doing something fun with friends I’d known since high-school.
“I don’t know.”
“If you don’t want to see me I will email transfer you $3.25 for ice cream.”
“That’s not enough for ice cream in Toronto.”
“Then you will have to see me.”
After I hung up the phone I lit another cigarette and continued to walk. My headphones were still in my ears so I pressed play. I thought about solitude and what made it attractive. Were these solo-excursions the private adventures of a whole person, or were they a distraction? I passed a few coffee shops that looked very corporate and no longer had Wi-Fi as well as a dog photography studio. The trendiness of the shops was making me feel unworthy.
I didn’t know if I should go see Elliot. He would sometimes send text messages while I sucked his dick, or at least pretend to. Last time we fucked he’d noticed me staring out the window beside the bed and he’d grabbed my face right underneath my cheekbones breathing, “What are you staring at…what is so interesting?”
Sophie McCreesh is a writer living in Toronto. She holds an MFA from Creative Writing at the University of Guelph. She is currently working on a collection of short stories.
it’s 9:45pm on Friday. i’m alone in my room on the computer, waiting for my mom to fall asleep so i can smoke pot and talk to you on msn. we saw each other at school today but you were busy and i acted like i was too. i’m glad i’m not a dude so i don’t have to worry about having to hide my boners over you. i heard about this trick where they tuck the boner into the waistband of their pants, and, for starters, that sounds uncomfortable. also, that’s a lot of boners to hide. i’ve known you since orientation, and it’s nearly christmas holidays now, so you do the math.
the closer it gets to 10pm the more i’m sweating because that’s the time you usually sign on. i’ve had a poem written for you in a documents folder for the last 3 days. i titled it “Social Studies 10 Hudson’s Bay Bibliography” so as not to arouse suspicion. i write about you on myspace though, because that’s as cryptic as it gets. next to, of course, writing to you through song lyrics. it’s the only way to translate how i feel.
i asked aunty if there was a word for gay in cree and she laughed and said english has trapped me into believing in equivalents. but the short answer was no. maybe this shouldn’t matter because i speak english and so do you. and maybe this really shouldn’t matter because i look so very white, and you actually are, but i think it says something that ndns didn’t need a word for something until we were told we needed a word for it.
i like the word two-spirit. i try to explain it to you and you try to understand by comparisons. i know you’re really trying but you’re trapped too. the word is intentionally broad. it acknowledges beliefs and traditions that exist behind each letter. it’s more like a feeling, and those are hard to describe in any language. but it’s still an english term; it’s still an imposed prodding of our parts and our love, telling us to name it.
you get me to say i love you in cree because you like the way it sounds.
you get me to say i love you very much in cree because you think they should be repeated
together. one after the other.
nisakitin. nisakitin mistahi.
would you have loved me in my language? which language? what kind of love? it’s a different concept for us both. you might think it’s the same, but it’s not. so i’m going to change my msn name from fucky, passive expressive lyrics back to my actual name, because i don’t think you’re getting it anyway and i’m trying to stop believing in equivalents.
Jessica Johns is of Cree ancestry and a member of Sucker Creek First Nation. She is the Executive Editor of Promotions for PRISM International and is on the editorial board for Room magazine, living and working on the traditional and unceded territory of the Musqueam, Sḵwxwú7mesh, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples. She was the winner of The Rusty Toque’s Short Forms contest, the winner of Saltern Magazine’s Short Forms contest, placed second for the 2017 Glass Buffalo Poetry contest, and has been published in SAD Mag.
Here’s what happened. I was browsing a used bookstore in Toronto on a rainy day. I was holding a book by Alejandro Zambra and a volume of Seamus Heaney’s collected poems. I had more or less decided on the two books I was holding. Looking at another book would have just displaced one of the books in my hands. But I continued to browse the shelves, even though I had to leave shortly to keep a coffee shop date across town. I think I felt unresolved—like there was something deep inside me that couldn’t figure itself out. Then I heard a voice, saying my name, soft but also insistent, like I should have known it was there.
A woman’s voice. It was Em, peeking over the row of shelves immediately behind me.
“Oh,” I said, startled. “Hi. I didn’t know you were there.”
I felt strange talking to her over the shelf, like we were standing on opposite sides of the world. She was just tall enough that her disembodied head floated casually above the books. Her face was shining and it embarrassed me.
“Yeah, it’s—actually, I saw you before I came in,” she said.
About five or ten minutes earlier I had been standing closer to the front of the store. I immediately understood that she was perplexed by the fact that I hadn’t noticed her in all of that time, as if we shared the same visual cortex. But I really hadn’t. I had been in an entirely different world, moving with hesitation and regret. I had left my house wanting to make a big, extravagant purchase, so it was good for my pocketbook that I had ended up in the used bookstore.
We had dated for a short time—only two months. But something about the relationship started to seem unpleasant to me. Not just the fact that it had begun so auspiciously, while I was involved with Zan—but that too.
I asked her to take a break. During the break I slept with someone else.
And that was it.
She knew nothing of this, except that it was long over.
In fact I had made a great many mistakes that other people were paying for. I complained about this to my therapist: “I feel like I begin to make progress, like I finally start to understand what I need to do in order to lead the life I want to live, I start to feel loving and generous and empathetic and careful, and then without even noticing I fall back into the same harmful patterns, the same hateful frame of mind.”
“It sounds like we’re approaching something big,” she told me. “But we’re almost out of time,” she continued, glancing at the clock.
“It’s not cute anymore,” I said. “I want to change this.” I was over thirty years old and it seemed too late to try to make meaningful renovations in my psychology.
“Maybe we can talk about it next week,” she said.
I knew we wouldn’t.
I felt like I was in the chamber of a firearm, circling the barrel as someone clicked the hammer down over and over.
“What are you doing now?” asked Em, standing in front of me.
The night before I had told Dee the plot of a movie about supernatural horrors. The movie is about a child psychologist and a boy who believes he is haunted by the dead. The child psychologist’s marriage is failing and he puts all of his energy into helping this boy, whom he initially doesn’t believe but whose account he comes to accept thanks to evidence he previously overlooked. Then, after helping the boy, he realizes that he has in fact been dead the entire time, that in helping the boy he has resolved unfinished business and allowed himself to pass from this life to the next.
It was a very famous movie. It was almost unbelievable to me that anyone could not have seen it. But Dee, the woman I was sitting next to, hadn’t. When I told her that he had imagined all of the frustration in his marriage, that his wife was actually mourning him, not enacting a coldness or distance, Dee said the movie seemed extremely sad. I said that it was. I had never really thought of it like that—it was scary and that’s what I remembered—but it was very sad, of course.
We each had two beers and then we went home together. It was our third date and we had gone home together each time.
I felt that whatever I said to Em, even if I told her the truth, would come out as a lie. It made me confused to feel so sad when I wasn’t even sure what I had lost. When it didn’t seem like something I had even wanted. I wished she wasn’t standing before me and glowing with an ethereal light.
I was working in a cramped office in a humid sub-basement to the north of the city, in a commercial building that had been raised only thirty or forty years previously and was already in danger of falling down.
That morning Dee asked me if I was holding back during sex. “You can be more aggressive, you know,” she said.
I was surprised.
“No one’s ever told me that before.”
“I feel like you might be repressed.”
“What do you want—you want me to be violent?”
“I don’t think that’s it,” she said. “Then I don’t understand.”
“It’s difficult to explain,” she said, attaching her bra.
In the bookstore Em told me she was flying to Michigan the next day, where she would attend a weekend seminar on the poetics of Milton. “Did you finish the book you were working on?” she asked. That’s what I had done when we’d dated—work on my book.
It was beginning to make me uncomfortable, the way she was looking at me.
“Almost,” I said. It was a lie.
“Maybe you could send it to me when you’re done?” She was smiling.
“Maybe,” I said, averting my gaze.
Why was I making promises so outrageous?
We had met a year before we became involved. Then after a short break in our acquaintanceship we’d been drunk and started talking at a party. Not very drunk. She had looked at me in the same suggestive way she was looking at me now. Then it had made me hard—erect—to talk to her about her work on Milton and to tell her about the book I was writing.
But now I just wanted to leave.
I looked down at the books in my hands.
“I always regret coming here,” I said. “I don’t need either of these.”
At work the day before I had wondered if I wanted to be a woman and if that was what got me in so much trouble. I thought I was jealous of women, of their softness, of their breasts, of their sexes. A strange jealousy.
I hated that I had problems that seemed so obvious. Problems that I could make out in the distance but never quite resolve.
When I was younger my mother had an insatiable appetite for self-help books, which transformed itself into an interest in entry-level spirituality. The kind of spirituality regularly practiced by housewives and vaguely discussed on daytime talk shows. It was a means of improving herself. Of giving her a place of retreat from my father’s anger and her own childhood traumas.
Finally she declared herself cured. And I watched as her enlightenment became complacency, as her spirituality became a new kind of armour.
It was terrifying. Because maybe that was all it had ever been. A kind of armour. I didn’t want to think that’s all my work could be. I meant my work in therapy. I wanted it to mean more. I wanted to be cured. That was something I had said about six months into my treatment—that I thought I was cured and that maybe I was done, thank you, I think the crisis has passed. I was nervous for an end to come. I wanted to declare an end so I could move onto the next, more fulfilled moment of my life, a time when I would feel capable and safe.
But then of course that moment never came.
“I don’t know why I even come here,” Em said, looking around, “because I never have any time to read anything outside of the seventeenth century.”
That was what I had liked about her at first, that she was so lodged in another century it was like I was paying it a visit whenever we spent time together: even her phone was antiquated, just a flip that could only text or do voice calls. I don’t think it even had a camera, or camera functionality, which I discovered one night near the end of our relationship when I had sent her a picture of myself.
“Maybe it is important to you,” I said, “to peer into the future. Or at least glance at it.”
When Dee told me she thought I was repressed I of course first felt offended. Then I tried to explain that I wasn’t repressed, I was just careful, that I had been taught to be careful and that I no longer wanted to be rough. But had I ever been rough? Or, hadn’t I been rough with her? I tried to remember, but I couldn’t.
I thought all kinds of sex were aggressive.
I wanted to reach over the bed and strangle her. No, I wanted her to reach over to me and strangle me. I wanted to be strangled in my own bed by a woman who thought I was repressed. I resolved never to talk to her again.
I said goodbye to Dee and then I sat on my couch in a daze. A cat crossed over my lap three or four times while I stared into the middle distance of my phone. Then I put on a pot of boiling water and drank coffee, slowly. Then I did some tentative internet research: after his death my mother had sold or given away my father’s gun collection and I wanted to buy a handgun similar to a model he had owned. But it was expensive—over five hundred dollars—and I wasn’t sure what I would do with it. I would put it in a shoebox and put the shoebox underneath my bed. Then I left my house and wandered at random, still wondering if I should buy the gun, and I found myself in the used bookstore. Then I looked at a series of books while wondering idly why I had imagined such violence in my bed that morning. Then I heard a voice whispering behind me and turned to see Em’s radiant head, flickering in the fluorescence.
I wouldn’t buy the gun.
I would buy the gun.
The gun would sit underneath my bed while I paid a man to make me feel like a woman. When it was over I would reach under the bed and threaten him with the gun. Or I would reach under the bed and threaten myself. Or I would take the gun out and fire it several times into the ceiling. Or into a pillow that I held over the mattress. Or I would tell him to leave and I would lie on the floor with the gun next to me while my phone softly rang. Or I would ring up Em and ask her why she was following me, just like that, as if she had really done it and it wasn’t just my imagination.
“I have to go,” I said to Em, putting the books I was holding down.
“Oh,” she said.
“I have to make an appointment across town,” I said.
“Okay,” she said.
“It’s for two pm,” I said.
“Nice talking to you,” I said.
“Yeah,” she said, looking at me as if I held the key or an answer to something. Looking at me as if I was a firing pin. Looking at me as if she was firing pin after pin into me.
I picked the books back up again.
“I’m going to get these,” I said.
“Cool,” she said.
Then I stood in line. My head hurt from the light that was shining behind me. I thought Em was shining so brightly behind me, wherever she was standing, so bright that it hurt me, that she was piercing me with the heat of her. God, I wanted to say, can’t I just stand in line at the used bookstore and buy these unremarkable books? Can’t I just go about my day, for once, as if I don’t know anybody? As if I’d never lived before? As if I was a new bullet being inserted into the chamber of a gun, clicking slowly as it rolled in the chamber? Couldn’t I just be a new, smooth bullet in the barrel of my father’s gun?
Couldn’t I just be that?
I was so upset that I looked behind me towards the source of the light. I wanted to find her and turn her off with my mind. But she wasn’t where I expected her to be. She wasn’t anywhere. The shelves were empty: not of books but of her radiation. I looked up and down the store and she was nowhere to be found.
André Babyn's work has appeared in Maisonneuve, The Fanzine, Hobart, Grain, Pank, and elsewhere. In 2015 he was the recipient of the Adam Penn Gilders Scholarship in Creative Writing, and in 2010 he won the Norma Epstein Award for Creative Writing. He currently serves as the Fiction Editor of the Puritan.
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