Dec 022010

Here’s a snippet from a Q&A Stephen Colbert did on Reddit. The whole interview is here, and it’s generally interesting. But for my purposes, the nub of what he has to say is in these few lines. He’s talking about his early career, how he got started as an actor. Getting into trouble means saying yes to every chance you’re offered to perform or produce, to write or paint or act. Pay or no pay. Just keep getting yourself into situations where you have to produce, situations that make you panic and focus. Panic is always good for a writer.


I mostly just said yes to any opportunity to get on stage. Pay or no pay. Equity, amateur, comedy, avant garde, and improv especially. Chicago has a great improv community, and I could get up on stage a lot after I got to know the other members of the community. I called it getting in trouble. You say yes to something, then you are in trouble. You have to deliver. Each mini-crisis I forced myself into made me work hard.

—Stephen Colbert

Dec 012010

A trial poster by Ginger Anne London, featuring the WOA logo by Philip Hartshorn

Sometimes you see a big-budget Hollywood film and you notice something in the background that shouldn’t be there, or someone’s hand is in a different spot after a lightning-fast cut, or all of a sudden Steven Baldwin is wearing a different shirt. Y’know, the gargantuan flubs that don’t take anything away from the story but become brief distractions.  I’m proud to say that after several eight, ten and thirteen-hour days of nearly nonstop editing, Wings Over Arda: The First Age does not have… many of those.

The rough cut of the film is finished.  Clocking in at 63 minutes (not counting the closing credits), it’s a massive file which will be exported in HD (1080 P) for Blu-Ray discs, as well as standard definition for DVDs.  Basement-bound for a week, my brother and I sifted through the various hours of footage, culling the most powerful takes from the ocean of decent, mediocre, and just plain bad.  I applied my final script revision during the last two hours of edits, and we had to employ some serious editing magic to get certain scenes to look the way we desired.  I ended up cutting one full scene I didn’t need, but other than that, every bit of work we put into the shooting period shows up in some way, shape or form in the film.  Next, the film will go into fine-tuned edits, further audio work, and special effects, while others compose/prepare/donate the musical score.

Here’s a little taste of what other members of the cast and crew were up to, besides waiting patiently, whilst Philip and I sat in the basement with our muscles atrophying.

Ginger Anne London, who plays Glorfindel in the film, is proficient in Graphic Design and put together the little gem seen above, featuring the characters of Dior (Philip Hartshorn), Caranthir (Samuel Aguirre) and Voronwë (Jennifer Wicks).  I like to call it “People With Hoods.”

Jen with the “Arda Buddies.”

Jen, our costume expert and one of the film’s leads, used the remainder of our costume materials to create the “Arda Buddies” (or “Arda Pals,” I’m not sure which I like better), plush dolls modeled after Jen and myself.  Yes, there is a plush doll of me, and Wings Over Arda officially has, to use the parlance of our times, “swag.”  I was rather surprised to wake up and see the below photo after naively thinking Jen was joking about making these.

Anna Pauline Kenzie

Music is being done by several talented folks.  We’ve received musical contributions from the likes of Andrew Busone (my cousin, guitarist/singer/pianist/drummer extraordinaire); VCFA’s own Red Heart the Ticker; and even a few from musicians who saw our project’s fan page and expressed interest.  The main theme/leitmotif of the film is currently being composed by the amazing Anna Pauline Kenzie, an operatic singer and stage actress who also appears in the film as Elwing.  Additional tunes are being put together by my brother Philip, who plays the piano and excels at the Finale music program.

Everyone has been pretty well occupied over the past week, and in the spirit of the time of year, given a certain writer/director plenty to be thankful for.

Return to the table of contents

Dec 012010

Denton, Texas Brad Green

Brad Green writes from Denton, Texas, dry, empty land filling up with urban detritus no different from anywhere else. But it looks different, and Brad writes of it with a raw, desolate naturalism reminiscent of the young Larry McMurtry of, say, The Last Picture Show. Someone just wrote dg about these “What it’s like living here” pieces. She said, “I guess what I like best is that every essay, supposedly on place (and even when it seems to strictly adhere to details of a place’s terrain and citizens) is really, at the end, so nakedly about its author.” All dg can add is, “Yup. That’s the way it works.” Read this one.



What is Felt

Of course, the days are filled with sound. That sense comes to you well before touch, before sight or cognition even. It’s habit now to slap that numb walrus of a hand on the alarm to halt the return of the world, anything to stay away for a few moments more, but your feet find the floor in the dark and bear your morning wobble. They always do. The bedroom door squeaks open. Steam billows in the shower. You forget to flip on the exhaust fan and when you step past the fish-patterned curtain, the mirror reveals your face full of fog. Who you are sharpens as the morning evolves, though. A half-hour later, your fingers feel blood-carbonated and you’re able to grasp the toothbrush, the keys, the steering wheel. One can curse the carpal-tunnel or consider it some sort of earned pain the way a war hero carries an amputation, but really, you’ve done nothing heroic—ever. That numbness pillows each night because you hunch over the keyboard, filling your evenings with failure.


 What is Feared

The road is white in the morning air. It’s some new compacting gravel that men in mudblistered trucks put down. You live far enough out that you don’t warrant asphalt. Slow cattle bend their heads to the grass and oaks thick with dust blur through the window glass. At stop signs, the car engine sounds confused. The plugs need changing. Things are out of tune. A hard, black carbon clogs the chambers, the motor working harder than it needs in compressing the distance between you and where you must go. You stop where the gravel road ends and dust boils up around the car. The ground in North Texas is cracked most of the time, congested with bristleroot, trumpet vine, or the tortured gnarls of juniper, so dry it tatters up behind wherever you go. Before you turn onto the paved road leading to the highway, you face the sky, tightening your fists on the steering wheel. Contrary to what people say, wide horizons make us small.

Photo 2


What is Endured

There’s a vent you listen to all day in your office. It hisses air, flutters the leaves of the bamboo you bought for life and color. Faces float by the slim rectangle window in your office door. The email dings reverberate and follow you around, warble the phone in your pocket. One feels pursued, exposed, dedicated, hollow.


What is Lost

Where you work used to be barren field. It seems like that wasn’t so long ago, but the grass waved there long before the baseball of ache took up camp in your lower back, before the stiff gray began its sly fuming around your ears. Concrete and glass have sprouted in vast squares where once in high school you stood naked on the dirt with a girl till the morning sun found you. Now there’s a squatting Wal-Mart, a place impossible to be that human in again. There’s a Best Buy, a Target, the Bed Bath and Beyond, Fuddruckers, IHOP, and the lot, now smooth with concrete, where there was a house in which you got drunk mixing diet coke and beer (a bad night), and another two streets over where your finger found M—’s most precious nub and you watched her buck and shudder into an entirely new person, afraid that you’d committed some irreparable harm. There’s where your father grabbed you by the collar and slammed you against the car for running away, and there, just a short jog down the road, there’s where you lost God.


What is Found

Capture2What’s on the other side is remarkably similar to where you are now.

And that’s what you find moving through the day, the shape of the absences in your life, the holes where things once were. You encounter memory at every turn and each turn shades what you see now. In fact, the more the world glints, the more resonant the once-lived. So you drive around at lunch, finding moments, scribbling them down in your notebook. There’s Thrill Hill where you got that ponderous, brown Oldsmobile airborne before it thudded into the road, scraping the frame against the sun-hot spall. There’s the old barn where you fucked A— and came in her sock, laughing as she wore it crusty all the way home. There’s the pole where C— lost control of his truck and you found him whimpering on the seat, eyes bright with shattered glass. There’s the house where you cranked the big block engine in your 62 Chevy truck, heard something wrong, and had to unwedge a kitten from the fan blades. There’s where you held it soft as warm pudding in your palms, and there’s the field where you cried after hiding it under a rock.

Denton, Texas

Why these memories? Why not something else? Why not the way a chocolate ice cream cone melts? Why not your high score on Space Invaders? Why not those 45,000 words about a desert planet you wrote after reading Dune when you were eleven? Why not the white flesh of an apple bursting its juice in your mouth?


What is Heard

There are questions you can’t realistically answer, but are doomed to ask. Those questions arise from place. Place fuels our sense of the important and loss is the measure of everything we might become. It’s not the sex we remember as much as where it happened. Death is a thing that occurs in a geographic location and God, well God is absent from the largest space we can imagine. When that place becomes too onerous to bear, you turn to fog and rely on what you hear, because when our palms slip free of their tactile nature, we demand more of the ears and are left with the dings and alarm of a quotidian life: a hissing air vent, the metallic confusion of a car engine, the grey chatter of an office. The keys clatter late at night, those slim hours all that you have to plumb what matters, a narrowing time when the air is fraught with night-creaks and windows blacken the world until place loses it shape to the dark, moments you’ve lost swelling into their forgotten forms, drawing breath again in your mind unmoored by Rum until you finish your day alone with want and that catch in your throat, the numbness threading fat through your palms, the page holding you rapt in its wide, white jaw.

—Brad Green



Nov 302010

Poems from Privanje na svetlobo (Adjusting to the Light)

By Andrej Hočevar

Translated by Andrej Hočevar and Kelly Lenox


Kelly Lenox is a poet, translator and Vermont College of Fine Arts graduate. Some of you have attended the VCFA summer residencies in Slovenia where Kelly has been the boots-on-the-ground facilitator and interpreter for ages. DG particularly recalls a day he and Kelly spent wandering around Venice together during the 2008 residency. She was a delightful Virgil to dg’s Dante, though, as dg recalls, Kelly was nearly as lost as he was. In part because of her connection with Slovenia through VCFA, Kelly has made something of a specialty of discovering Slovenian poetic talent. Herewith, a series of poems by the young Slovenian poet Andrej Hočevar.

Don’t miss these poems. There are some lovely, heart-breaking lines:

I re-stack the books, I lie on the sofa,
my presence only thickening the dark,
my stillness but a thing among things.

And this:

I drink another glass of wine
out of another glass. Where are you.
There is a new color forming as the birds
breathe with the evening. Where are you.
I don’t know how to put this; I mean,
look, how I struggle with myself
for you to see me at all.

Born in 1980 in Maribor, Hočevar has published four books of poetry. He also writes essays and reviews of books and music, is a member of the editorial board of the Literatura magazine, and plays bass guitar in the rock group Mrtvi psi. His poems have been translated into Croatian, Macedonian, Serbian, Italian, Hungarian, English and German.



Meja med mano in zrakom se je
dvignila čez vrhove dreves, zdaj je
oddaljenost dneva najbolj otipljiva.
nebo je narobe obrnjeno jezero,
naježene veje, ke jih bo zdaj
zdaj pogoltila tema, stojijo
pokončno kot moški v osemdesetih.
Danes je rojstni dan mojega deda
in nov letni čas mi k nogam polaga
stare užitke, v katere začenjam
spet verjeti. A dnevi so zdaj kratki,
zato začnemo hitreje misliti
na tistega, s komer jih želimo končati.


The border between me and the air
has risen above the treetops—
the remoteness of the day at its most tangible.
The sky is an inverted lake,
the bristled branches, soon to be
swallowed by the dark,
stand upright like a man in his eighties.
Today is my grandfather’s birthday
and the new season brings me
old pleasures I’m beginning to believe in once again.
But the days are short now
and so it is earlier when we begin
thinking of the person
we want to end them with.

Continue reading »

Nov 302010

NC judges are rarely photographed. In this instance, they appeared in disguise in order to conceal their identities. The man second from the right is obviously Gary Garvin.

The judges emerged briefly from their humid, smoke-filled grotto and handed over a smudged and much crossed-out and rewritten list of rondeaus. Across the top of the page, someone had written in pencil the word: FINALITS (sic). They offered a terse no comment to the international cadre of journalists, TV cameramen, and absinthe-sipping literary celebrities gathered for the announcement. Two of the judges escaped into the crowd and have not been seen since. The other three were rounded up by security guards and pushed back into the cave with much weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Herewith, the list of finalists. As one has come to expect, the entries were witty, surprising, affecting and crafty, all at once and all of them. The finalists seemed ever so slightly, to the judges, to fly above the rest. Printed in a group like this, they are a delightful bunch of poems.

(The management wishes to thank all the entrants, especially the ones new to Numéro Cinq, many of whom no doubt wandered here by mistake and entered without realizing the consequences. Someone did write to complain that he thought he was buying a rondelle of Edam cheese on Ebay. His poem was tactfully withdrawn. One finalist, Jodi Paloni, happens to be a newcomer to NC. Go democracy!)


Read the Finalists here!

Nov 292010

‘Tis the season of eating and eating and eating and drinking.  And drinking.  Whether you drink to make the extended family table seem humorous rather than grim, or because “holidays” is a better excuse than “Tuesday,” or because you love the sounds of the drinks—Beaujolais, Tobermory, Stolichnaya, Boone’s Farm—you’re probably about to embark (or have already embarked) on a late-year bender.

A cabernet glass, a shiraz glass, and glass for pinot noir

What does this have to do with writing? (Need I respond, really?)  Well, I recently wrote a triad of essays on Scott Russell Sanders’s “Under the Influence,” which is about Sanders’s alcoholic father.  It’s a wide-ranging and powerful essay that charts a life of drink, in a way that is neither judgmental nor sentimental.  Tough to do.  I have an alcoholic father, so I know this essay was deliberately assigned by DG for some diabolical ulterior motive (and I thank him…I think).

The third of my essays is about lists.  For it, I narrowed my beer-blinders from my more typical whole-essay examinations of structure and techniques and instead took apart just one sentence.  Yup, one sentence—but it’s a doozy.  (I think I’ll memorize this and say it as next year’s Thanksgiving grace.)

Consider a few of our synonyms for drunk: tipsy, tight, pickled, soused, and plowed; stoned and stewed, lubricated and inebriated, juiced and sluiced; three sheets to the wind, in your cups, out of your mind, under the table, lit up, tanked up, wiped out; besotted, blotto, bombed, and buzzed; plastered, polluted, putrified; loaded or looped, boozy, woozy, fuddled, or smashed; crocked and shit-faced, corked and pissed, snockered and sloshed.

Continue reading »

Nov 292010

Here’s a new poem by my friend John Lee who hails from Brantford, Ontario, (Wayne Gretzky’s hometown and the place where Alexander Graham Bell lived while experimenting with early telephones), just fifteen miles down the road from the Glover family farm. “In the Muddy Shoes of Morning” is the title poem of John’s new book, the last of a trilogy, what he calls The Port Dover Trilogy. You may all remember Port Dover from last summer when Jonah and I spent an afternoon at the internet cafe there, also because it is Fred Eaglesmith’s homebase. Port Dover was once reputed to have the largest fresh water fishing fleet in the world and was famous for its distinctive steel-hulled boats called turtlebacks. My grandfather built a cottage in Port Dover, and I spent a good deal of my growing up time on the beach or in the bars of that town.

This poem is absolutely gorgeous—a giddy couple staggers across a muddy field in the rain, but at the turn, the poet changes keys, softly and gently modulating his poem into a meditation on the ages, on life and death and love. I particularly like the biblical rhythm and reiteration “…the very breath of their going/ and their having gone.

and I think now as I write this poem
of  hundred-thousand-year-old preserved impressions
of a man and a woman
following the almost permanent footprints
to the very breath of their going
and their having gone

say this of me, reader
after the voice-vanish of this life
I felt the joy of foolishness
and in the muddy shoes of morning
saw love

The book, In the Muddy Shoes of Morning, is being released by Hidden Brook Press in December.


In the Muddy Shoes of Morning

By John B. Lee


Last night in the dark
we walked mud-blind
crossing the sludgy roadwork
between house and car
and we seemed to find
in the unfrozen ground
of early spring
with every mucky step
the deep wet weight
of a puddleplace
or the clay-heavy suck
of something that wanted our shoes
and we clung together
laughing and yawing
and seeking a way
when earlier in the light
we had simply followed our eyes
over the sure dryness
of a mother-lucky path
but somehow
this sinking-in was far better
this sticky yellowing of shoe soles
feeling an almost toppling
and joyful giddiness
of shared fate
a commingling
as we sank and rose and pitched
like children
over the new-plowed furrows of a rain-soaked field

and I think now as I write this poem
of  hundred-thousand-year-old preserved impressions
of a man and a woman
following the almost permanent footprints
to the very breath of their going
and their having gone

say this of me, reader
after the voice-vanish of this life
I felt the joy of foolishness
and in the muddy shoes of morning
saw love

—John B. Lee

See also “Burning Land.”

Nov 292010



Play while you read the following.


To be slightly serious about this for once, dg wants to say what a pleasure it is to observe the élan and enthusiasm you all demonstrate in these contests. It’s fun to compete and win, sure, but this would be a waste of time if that’s all anyone thought about. It’s just hugely pleasurable to watch people try a little form, try something outside their normal routine, try at the risk of falling flat (or, worse yet, finding yourself changed in some unexpected way). DG loves the good-humoured banter, the camaraderie & commentary, the false steps and lightning bolts of creativity. Steve Axelrod goofed on his first try, then came within an ace of winning another NC contest on his second try. Vivian Dorsel entered once, misread the contest end-date, then, at the last minute, dashed off her birthday rondeau which also nearly won the people’s choice award. This time we had several entries from people we’ve never heard of before which is great. The thing to remember is, as Gary Garvin once wrote to dg in an email  (see growing list of testimonials on the About page), there are no failures on Numéro Cinq.

You can all count the votes. You all know the winner this time, by a hair, is Anna Maria Johnson for her absolutely gorgeous and astonishingly robust “Kitchen Ostinato.”

The Way To A Man’s Heart is Through His Stomach, or Kitchen Ostinato

By Anna Maria Johnson

In the kitchen, eating avocado,
Sits a housewife and a desperado.
He weeps gently while she peels a carrot.
“Things are not what they seem!” squawks her parrot,
then with his beak, pecks an ostinato.

The housewife drinks some amontillado
then scoops a handful of turbinado
to sweeten the tea before they share it
in the kitchen.

The cowboy, trouble aficionado,
tells her that his name is Leonardo.
He’s wasted years on things without merit.
Would he settle down now? Could he dare it?
He gives her a stolen carbinado
in the kitchen.


Nov 282010

The Trolley Problem was more or less invented by Philippa Foot, a British philosopher who died last month, and whose illustrious career at Oxford was overshadowed in her memorials by this funny little brainteaser that is not complicated, but very deep.

A powerful authority in the postwar upheaval in moral philosophy, Foot distilled her thinking about the principle of double effect (that is, a single action can have simultaneous good and bad outcomes) to the problem of the “trolley,” in which a runaway train is heading for five people working on the track, and you can save them by diverting the train onto a spur where a single man is working, killing him but saving the five.

Should you divert it? Most people say yes, because you do not intend to kill the man. He is just collateral damage to the greater good of saving the five, and his death is morally neutral.

via The National Post

DG came upon this intriguing reference while drinking his Sunday morning coffee, snow and ice everywhere. DG read philosophy at Edinburgh early in the last half of the last century and Philippa Foot was then a name in the air. He read her book on ethics. DG did his dissertation on Kant’s ethics, trying to figure out how Kant thought the ethical impulse arose in people (now, of course, dg doesn’t think it arises anywhere except maybe in his dog). There was an interesting Moral Sense school in Britain at one time, a cross between philosophy and psychology (or what Kant called philosophical anthropology). The idea of a moral sense now seems to have found its way into the school of evolutionary psychology which seeks to reduce human behaviour to genes in one way or another which, as dg sees it, is just another dubious way of reducing us to the animal and eliminating the human spirit (whatever that is, says dg’s dog). Still the Trolley Problem is intriguing as a mind experiment and certainly a better way to waste your time than those insidious mind games you all insist we keep on the blogroll.

You can take Marc Hauser’s MST (Moral Sense Test) here.  Hauser was a Harvard evolutionary psychologist.

Of course, Marc Hauser’s research into the moral sense failed to discover the existence of such in himself—he has been sent away from Harvard for a series of research improprieties. This makes the whole thing very intriging.


Nov 272010


Felicia van Bork is a Toronto artist now living in Davidson, North Carolina, with her husband, the poet-novelist Alan Michael Parker. DG met both Felicia and Alan when dg was the McGee Professor of Writing at Davidson College in the spring of 2005, a semester memorable for friendship, conviviality, the brilliance of the students, and for sitting in Zoran Kuzmanovich’s kitchen drinking flavoured vodka. It was always an amazing experience going to the Parker-van Bork house for the proliferation of art work which hung from the walls in every room. In those days, Felicia worked mostly in encaustic, whereas now she has veered off into print-making, especially monotypes as represented below. To dg, what is amazing about these prints is the tension between the apparent immensity of the space inside the frame and the actual dimensions of the works. Felicia somehow implies vast spaces and grandeur in the shapes she creates. Also places—silent marine depths. And life forms, and dramatic, swooping gestures. There is little representation here, but implication is all. She limns a world pregnant with immensity and motion. When dg wrote to her about the new work, Felicia responded:

It’s true. Encaustic is awesome, but things change. A couple of years ago, I was in Provincetown, in the MFA program at the Fine Arts Work Center. I was making nice paintings. Then I took a three-hour monotype workshop in the printmaking studio and – and – that was that. I bought the biggest piece of plexi that would fit on the huge American French Tool press and started making prints like “Deep Music in Deep Water.” In fused encaustic, it’s difficult to make graphic lines, hard edges and gradients, but in monotype printmaking, those pictorial elements are part of the basic tool set. And because prints are worked in reverse and with the unpredictable action of pressure on ink, my addiction to chance is still being fed. Unexpected things happen all the time, and I get surprises every time I peel the paper away from the plate. A single print may go through the press more than ten times, so there are lots of opportunities for the Divine to have a go along with me.

I do edge-to-edge printing, meaning I don’t leave a border of unprinted paper around my images. When the plate is inked and the ink has been manipulated, I have the freedom to place the paper on the ink as the image demands, without worrying about registering the image perfectly in relation to the edges of the plate. And because inked plexi is more or less transparent, I can see how the ink marks on the plate will be positioned on the image in progress.

—Felicia van Bork



by Felicia van Bork



Deep Music in Deep Water, 2008, monotype, 35.5″ x 106″, diptych


Continue reading »

Nov 262010


What is remarkable about Wilde’s formalism is that it is so absolutely human. This may come as a surprise, because we’re inclined to think of Wilde’s aesthetics as hothouse stuff. Nothing could be farther from the truth. With Wilde, the unto-itselfness of formalism (and, yes, maybe even the hothouse preciosity of some formalism) is a response to a human problem, a response to the slavery of facts, truths, first impressions. This is not a formalism of necessity but a formalism of free choice—born of the desire to be oneself, to turn away from the world not because history has forced you to do so but because you have chosen to.

via Oscar Wilde And Art Criticism | The New Republic.

Nov 262010

Kim Aubrey writes about Toronto, her adoptive home, soon to be left behind. Vet visits, bed bugs, in-laws—and the silence and melancholy of being uprooted and leaving loved ones and things behind.


What it’s like living here

from Kim Aubrey in Toronto

Bathurst Street

You drive the six miles home down Bathurst from your doctor’s office, where you’ve been weighed, measured and questioned about the year’s habits, good and bad. You pass the bagel shops and delis, the Bowlerama where you used to take your daughters for birthday parties, and a little further south, the square squat apartment buildings with their blond-brick facades. A young man in jeans and a light jacket dances up the sidewalk, hips fluid, hands pressed together, long arms flipping outward and upward, as if he’s a yogi praying. When someone approaches him from the opposite direction, the dancer lowers his arms, quiets his body to a walk. You wonder if he’s just being polite and will start up again once he has the sidewalk to himself.  Or if it’s simple Canadian diffidence, only surprising in one willing to dance at the edge of a busy street in the middle of morning.

Yonge Street

Your Jetta crawls in rainy rush-hour traffic up what used to be the longest street in the world. You and your husband were in Paris yesterday morning, eating croissants and jam in a sunny café, the Pantheon cutting its iconic shape into a blue sky. Now you’re both jetlagged, ready for bed at six in the evening.  Instead, you’ve agreed to pick up your daughter and her field spaniel, Iggy, from the vet, who has sliced away the puppy’s testicles and sewn him back up again.

Continue reading »

Nov 242010

John Proctor introduces video artist Christine Dehne and her work. This is something else. Amazing, strange, obsessive, hilarious, provocative work. Attentive to small domestic changes & acts. Edging into surrealism and experiment, absent context and frame, in a way. Yes, terrifying, for a writer, to think of giving up so much interpretive cushion. Makes me twitchy, the idea of not being able to explain my characters. Something to think about as NC dabbles in word & photo essays, off the page poetry, photoems and such.


The Video Art of Christine Dehne

By John Proctor

When I met Christine Dehne in 2007, she was at work on a project in which she was recording cell phone conversations in public places. She had just moved to New York City a few months before and was using the project as a way of exploring and learning about the city. I asked her once if she was recording our conversations. She responded with something about us not being in a public space, but the message was clear: “Don’t flatter yourself, pal.”

Christine eventually finished that piece as a sound collage, with a video map of the city as the visual. The piece is less concerned with forming any narrative than with capturing voices, isolating them, and shaping them into a work of art with a logic of its own — in essence, making them strange. The piece has shown at Arizona Digital Media Investigations in Flagstaff, the Heritage Film Festival in Baltimore, and Sweet Lorraine Gallery in Brooklyn. You can see and hear it online here.

Dehne studied Marcel Duchamp. Perhaps his best-known work is his 1917 “Fountain,” which was simply a “found” urinal he submitted as art for an exhibit that promised everything submitted would be accepted. Duchamp’s intention was to make the statement that anything could be art, if brought out of its utilitarian framework and examined as art.

Dehne recent piece “Portrait of the Artist’s Daughter as a Fountain” is an indirect descendent of Duchamp’s “Fountain.” “Portrait” evolved from the multi-year lifelog of her pregnancy and motherhood of our daughter Amalia. It refers directly back to Bruce Nauman‘s “Self-Portrait as a Fountain,” which itself, intentionally or not, refers back to Duchamp’s “Fountain.” Dehne’s 31-second video slowly, meditatively lingers on Amalia’s chin as she, well, drools like a fountain.

The first piece in her lifelog series, “Everyone Told Me the World Would Look Different,” begins completely out of focus, slowly “awakening” to the world of an ear. About a minute into 1-minute, 17-second video, we hear the sound of a binky being sucked and see, for the first time, Amalia’s face.

One fascinating aspect of Dehne’s work is her complete reliance on the object and the empathy it can evoke in an audience. To me, this is a terrifying concept — I’ve always relied on the drive of the narrative to pull me and the audience through, and especially expected it in the film work I’d been exposed to before meeting Christine. To think of video as a non-linear, concentric medium is, I guess like reading non-narrative, lyric poetry.

Before we were married, Dehne began working on a series of short pieces involving her (and by now our) dog Pants and decided to use him to symbolize her own domesticating instincts, creating a series of ultra-short film loops with Pants as a stand-in for her.  The dog became a metaphor and also a work-based connection between me and Christine’s art. She eventually showed these pieces together at the “In Home: In Response” show in Baltimore, but the most erudite criticism, in my opinion, came from our friend David Marshall:

What range! I laughed.  I cried. Despite his somewhat proletarian appellation, Pants epitomizes nobility.  He’s a veritable Lipizzaner of the canine world.  His form and tireless pursuit of perfection in “20 minutes” awed and delighted me.  His (dare i say it?) dogged search for truth in “30 minutes” was inspiring. His courage and sheer animal magnetism in doing an interspecies homo-erotic love scene left me panting for more.

You can share the love here.

—John Proctor

Nov 222010

From Mairéad Byrne’s blog Heaven. Byrne is an Irish writer who immigrated to the United States in 1994 “for reasons of poetry.”



I love my frontloading bra because I feel like a gunslinger when I put it on. I feel like a sheriff or a plain clothes tv cop, strapping on his gun in the small hours. I always thought being a single mother was a sort of desperado activity. Especially a single mother in academia. Bo Diddly! Like I’ve always thought being an emigrant was like being Clint Eastwood. That time I was Clint Eastwood. Mamma Mia! Being a poet is a lot like being Clint Eastwood. Yessirree Bob. Being a poet is a lot like being a single mother and an emigrant and a poet combined. Bo diddly mamma mia yessirree bob. At least the sort of poet I am. Yee-haw!

via Heaven.

Nov 222010


Entries for the First Annual Numéro Cinq Rondeau Writing Contest have officially closed. As usual, as is customary, comme d’habitude, the esteemed and sapient judges will retire to a place of retirement to focus their immense and weighty brains on selecting the official winner, a difficult and painful task, necessitating many visits to the NC wine cellar. For now, it is the duty of every NC reader to vote in the People’s Choice competition. This is where you get to express your opinions, vent spleen, complain about the management, complain about the general decline in rondeau-writing, impose your taste, convince your fellows, cheer on your favourite, and otherwise pretend you really know what a rondeau is. This is where you get to defy the voice of authority and received opinion—the People’s Choice is the Tea Party of Numéro Cinq. It’s the ultimate democracy. Anyone can vote. You don’t have to be a regular NC reader. Aliens are welcome. Vote and vote often.

All the entries for this year’s contest are here.

Read them over, inspire yourself with a whiff of Talisker, and vote by indicating your favourite poem and author in a comment box beneath this post. In the past, we have had some confused individuals, writers mostly, who tried to vote God knows where. You vote here, on this post–just hit the reply/comment button. Can I be more clear?

Voting will close midnight, Sunday, November 28.


Nov 202010

The following is the first teaser trailer for Wings Over Arda: The First Age, put together from the raw HD footage.  Our aim was to focus on locations and faces without giving too much (well, anything, really) away.  We started editing the film itself last night, and I think the result is going to be something very special.

Here’s a closer look at the film’s current logo, created by my brother, Philip.

The image includes, from left to right, Voronwë (Jennifer Wicks), Tuor (myself, looking a bit more devil may care than usual), Dior (Philip Hartshorn), Celegorm (Juan Carlos Tapia), Caranthir (Samuel Aguirre), and Curufin (Jonathan Duncan).

Return to the table of contents

Nov 202010

I am deep in Packet Fever and not likely to say anything sensible, but I can still lob a provocative piece into the NC mix now and then. I follow The Existence Machine because I enjoy its gentle thoughtfulness. Also it takes some of its direction from reading Gabriel Josipovici whose book about the Bible I am reading right now (er, not right now because of those packets). In this snippet of quotation, the speaker is talking about a collection of contemporary European fiction recently edited for Dalkey Archive Press and contrasting those fictions with recent American fiction.


Q. What was the biggest surprise for you, editing the collection?

A. It was less of a surprise than a reminder: how unabashedly comfortable many of the writers are to engage with literary forms that would be perceived as experimental or avant-garde here. In turn, I was reminded how deeply conservative contemporary American literature is in terms of form. And that conservative bent is a recent development, I believe. The European form flexibility is not a consequence of some snotty, elitist aesthetic but rather of the fact that there are many stories to be told and many traditions to draw from.

via The Existence Machine: Modernism against Modernity.

Nov 192010

I was listening to Christine Hayes’ fine lectures on the Hebrew Bible today (you can download them at Open Yale) and she was talking about leitwort, the technique of word repetition that is key device biblical writers used. E.g. She made reference to the seven repetitions of “…it was good.” It turns out Martin Buber coined the term. Here is his definition. It’s crucial, I think, to see that he describes the effect of the repetition in physical terms, as “movement.” This is obviously a very useful device in any kind of writing.



Nov 192010

A collection of wonderful illustrations of Don Quixote (click on the image) at A Journey Round My Skull, which, despite its oddly anatomical name, is a lovely lit blog. At the bottom of the post, there are links to depictions by even more illustrators. This is a trove.


Illustrations by Jean de Bosschère for The History of Don Quixote of De La Mancha (1922)

via A Journey Round My Skull: Settle the basin you bear on your head somewhat righter.

Nov 182010


“I believe that any good and valid poem is an experience of its own, an experience of words and sounds that shake the body and stun the senses, a real experience in the real world.  I believe a poem is this first, no matter how else someone may define or interpret it intellectually.  It has being, a time and a space of its own.  It is not simply about a human experience, it is a human experience.”   -Pattiann Rogers

What a wonderful way to think of a poem (or story, novel, essay).  The quote comes from Rogers’ The Dream of the Marsh Wren: Writing as a Reciprocal Creation.  This book was published as part of The Credo Series from Milkweed press.  From the Series introduction:  “Each volume represents an individual writer’s credo, his or her investigation of what it means to write about the human experience…”  (Series editor is Scott Slovic)

Rogers  intersperses meditations on her work between actual poems, creating a very open, fascinating look into her creative process.  Part of my upcoming graduation lecture (at VCFA) borrows from another of Rogers’ essays.  I haven’t read much of her poetry yet, (I’ve got her collected works on my desk as I type) but I find myself referencing her again and again in my critical writing.  Funny how these voices speak to us from such distant places.

-Rich Farrell

Nov 182010



ou remember once, when words were your only company, how it felt like treachery when writers wrote about their kids.  You swore you never would.  It was an easy vow, since you figured your books would be your babies.  Your boys would be in books.  Now you have babies, you have boys—but no books.  O crazy carnival ride life: turning you here, depositing you there.  Splitting open your heart, tying off your tongue.  Could anywhere be the same as anywhere else?

Strangling on Trees

There are so many big trees on this island.  Alder, Arbutus, Fir, Gary Oak, Pine,  Spruce, Hemlock, Cedar, Yew, Maple, Dogwood:  the light above your desk dims with each tree you type.  Because nearly everyone who lives on this island is an environmentalist of some sort, it is considered a crime (worthy of, at the very least, several angry but carefully-composed rants against you in the editorial pages of the local paper) if you cut down a tree.  Neighbors hear the chain-saw and come running in their gumboots.  Even at 3 a.m. they hear it.  Especially at 3 a.m. they hear it.   Seeing the panicked fury on their faces, you decide to pretend that they are owls, swooping down to alert you to their nests of downy-white owlets perched in the branches above.   Kindly apologize, while shivering in the shade that rotted tree casts.

You could argue that the giant slab of nature known as sky—the clouds the sun the stars the moon—are being neglected here, choked out by greenery.  You never would.  Somehow all this forested wilderness is inherent to being Canadian.  And because you hide your American origin carefully, you also hide your tree-induced claustrophobia.

The Arbutus tree is your favorite.  Muscular and red as any horse’s leg, twisting against sky with little adornment.  When you go hiking your son likes to carry a piece of fragile red Arbutus bark in the pinch of his hand, which makes you think of love letters you left behind, in some other place you lived.   He can only carry  it a few steps this way before ripping it.

Because nobody cuts any trees or bushes back, when you pull up to an intersection you have to drive out into the road—into crashable territory, with your boys in the backseat—to determine whether it’s safe to pull out.  You cringe and fight urges to close your eyes as you step on the pedal.  You fantasize about coasting forward in a convertible, wielding a 30-foot -long bayonet.

You love the sun.  You always thought you would live in the desert, as a hermit.  You would take long walks on parched land in search of bones and flint, until your silhouette resembled barbed-wire.

When the wind blows wildly, limbs that normally nest snugly against the power-lines—because, again, it would be wrong to cut them—fall lightly, and everyone loses power.  Your first son remembers with delight the Christmas Eve you each wore all your coats at once and melted pots of snow on the wood-stove to make drinking water.   Admit it was very quiet, so quiet you could hear the snowflakes clicking as they landed.  Remember the fun your son had scooping snow, the wonder on his face when he mistook the flickering candle’s reflection on the black windowpane for a sleigh scooting across the sky.

Still, when you go to a birthday party for a two-year-old who has begged for a logging cake—and the artistic mother has complied with hacked Cadbury Flakes for tree carcasses, with jagged silver gum wrappers folded into chain-saws—you laugh with delight and eat two pieces.

Other Lives: Sponsored by Water

Oh how you love to look across the water.  The distance opens your mind.  It’s as if someone skipped your brain across the sun-lit surface and every near-thought expanded into many full and amazing thoughts.   Your island has, in addition to the ocean surrounding it, five large lakes.  You spend large amounts of time at the edge of these waters, holding a baby, staring out.  Once upon a time you were a long-distance swimmer.  Your body twitches, remembering.  You swallow.  It’s cruel that freezing water can be so clean and turquoise.  It’s cruel to feel land-locked on an island with so many empty boats and kayaks speckling the shores, begging (in little dips) for passengers.

During a limited stretch of hot summer days, you can bring the boys into the water with you.  The older one wears water-wings; the younger lets himself be glided, emperor-style, in an inflatable boat.   But you can’t go far.  Your boys are anchors.  You imagine one day they’ll take running leaps off the dock and stroke so fast away from you that you’ll have to stop and rest, treading water.  You’ll look back to shore and remember wistfully how for years you trapped first one and then the other there, breast-feeding them on a blanket.

People live on boats in the harbours.  From visiting 25-foot luxury yachts to old wooden planks with torn roofs, rotting into the ocean.  Kids from the outer islands take a boat called The Scholarship to and from your island’s high school.  No school bus for them.  No chipper morning kid bombarding you with chatter, nope, not over the boat engine.  Don’t forget your life jacket, honey!  Calls your mother at the door.  And at the dinner table you lift your fork and say: Today on the way to school?  We almost hit a seal.

Your favorite boat isn’t technically a boat.  You have to hike through hoards of trees to look out at it.   You bring binoculars, and peer at the deck for signs of life.  You never see any signs of life, which enables you to invent all sorts of stories about who lives there.  Usually who lives on it is an 8 year-old girl named Delany who is crazy about the color orange.  She is quite civilized for an orphan, and brushes her teeth three times a day.  She made her toothbrush herself, out of driftwood and dog hair.   People–all the people from all the places she might live but won’t—gather and they call out from the shore:  Dellannnyyy! Delllannnyyyy! Come on home now!  But she just keeps moving her eyes or her hand over the page and doesn’t hear.

Drop Me Right Here

Hitch-hikers on this island get rides.  And then you will read something in the paper like this:  To the hitch-hiker I picked up last Tuesday morning at Cranberry, headed to Fulford:  you left your green metallic travel mug in my car.  Call 653-8003 and I can return it to you.  Nice drivers.   Nice passengers, too.  One of your friends claims a hitch-hiker left her a whole bar of organic dark chocolate in the seat.  On purpose? You ask.  I pretend yes, she says.  She sighs and adds that ever  since then she always gives her car-seat a careful scrutiny when the hitch-hiker steps out.  Those damn hitch-hikers, she says.  They make me crave chocolate.

(She is a friend from the prairies.  You find the people from the prairies speak their mind more, with less polite wording, than the people from British Columbia.  Because they have fewer trees to hide behind?  Someday you will visit the prairies and see if it is like Texas, where you also lived.  You hope it will be like Texas, but with less litter and animal corpses.)

You pick up hitch-hikers, too, if you’re not running late and your baby isn’t wailing in the back-seat.  If Bob Dylan is playing on the car radio.  You don’t stop for the crazy looking ones, the ones who probably need rides most.  Usually you pick up females, who as the stats show are less likely to rape a driver or her babies.

Sometimes a hitch-hiker will shine with excitement, making you wistful for the days you were alone, travelling light and without an itinerary.  Sometimes a hitch-hiker will be fatigued and full of shadows.  When you drop her off your two boys, in the rear-view mirror, are coated with rings of light like in smultzy paintings of Jesus and you can barely breathe, hit smack in the throat with your huge luck.

Mama? Your son sang to you from the backseat, when he was Two, Do hitch-hikers have Mamas?

Animals That Aren’t That One

You had seen this landscape before you ever came to Canada, all swirling greens and greys and blues, peeping shards of sky, in the paintings by Emily Carr.  Even her sweeping curves prepared you, for Salt Spring Island is full of hills and steep winding roads and therefore when you and your sons try to re-create your island in the bathtub you can’t just splay a floating bath-book out flat and call it done.  You have to pile it up quite high with tipped plastic boats and cups and wash rags curled into hills.  If you run here you will get faster.  After eight months pushing your baby up and down hills in a stroller you will dash through a marathon in pouring rain to qualify for the Boston Marathon.  Boston, you will murmur dreamily—until you double-check the atlas and see it, across that deceivingly-flat page, all the way over there.   Unfathomable.

The first time you land in Canada and step out of the Vancouver airport you can’t believe the air.  So cool and clean: you keep huffing it until someone asks if you are  alright.  If this is air, then what was that you had thought was air, back in those other places you’d lived?  It must have been exhaust.

Geese dapple the fields, private and public.  They dapple until you are right upon them—then they loom.  Then they explode into the sky.  Chasing a field of geese is well worth the mess it collects on the bottom of your shoes.  When your first son is up and running, you waver between teaching him to ignite a whole field of geese with his wobbly body, and teaching him not to bother them.  You do a bit of both.

You love the geese, and the deer: the deer that lurk all day and night outside the gate of your fence, waiting for you to swing it open, as plotting and stubborn as any deer in Gary Larson cartoons.   They eat the apple-starts off the apple trees.  They stomp across your tomatoes to get to the lettuce.  When your son and husband rush out in their gum boots to corral the deer out the gate—the boy shrieking with delight, the man booming out the game plan, you stand at the back door laughing.  No matter what they are wearing, you see them streaking across the yard in overalls and Daniel Boone caps.  The sight is  worth accidentally leaving the gate open.  It is worth a ruined garden.

You love the geese and the deer for what they are not.  They are not the animals that used to prowl the place where you lived before this, way up north.  They are not bears, they are not mountain lions.  They are not the grizzly bear that you surprised, that surprised you: it rose up on its hind legs and swatted at you, roaring.  The roar echoed across the air; it would echo in your head for weeks.  The grizzly mock-charged, its claws narrowly missing your face.  But there is nothing mock about a charge.  You put up your hands in surrender.  I’m sorry, you half-spoke, half-whined: pathetic last words.  You found it was impossible not to look into the eyes of the thing that is going to kill you.  They were very dark, and flashing like the eyes of someone trying not to cry.  You got away.  One of you got away, and the other one of you will always be a mauled corpse on the side of a dirt road.

You’re told that sometimes a bear will swim across the ocean and land on this island.  On ferry boat rides you scan the water not for orcas or dolphins, but for a massive hump of slick brown fur, straining furiously toward you.

Lots of Space to Generalize

The people here.  To generalize, which of course any sentence must that begins, The people here.  The people here…are industrious.   Here are some of the things these islanders offer for sale, on the 15 minute drive to your son’s preschool:  pottery, flowers, jam, vegetables, organic beef, eggs, kindling, monster dolls, honey, portable sawmill (for hire), knit leggings, birdhouses, baked goods, venison.   You also pass two wineries, three (of many) art galleries, and the workshop of a shipwright.

You can sell whatever you make, too, right outside your house.  But first you have to be industrious enough to construct a little wooden farm-stand.

The people here.  They…..are polite and mild.  Formal.  Respectful of space.

In many ways this is a relief.  You are a secretive Scorpio spy who has always associated being seen with diminished seeing powers.  Also you have some social anxiety, otherwise known as:  can’t we just communicate on paper?  You’ve been known to slide into a closet when someone knocks on the door.  When the phone rings, you step away from it.  If you are returning from a run and see a visiting car in the driveway, even if you know the car and like its owners, your first impulse (and the one you usually take) is to keep running.  So it’s a relief being here, where people give you a lot of room to hide.

On the down side, you can feel brash and snoopy, when you are merely being direct.  When you feel brash and snoopy, you feel like a parody of an American.  You can feel lonely at a party.   Specifically, you can feel lonely for bars in places like Bandera, Texas, where heated discussions (possibly escalating into full-out pistol duels), made for wonderful entertainment and quick friendships.  You can feel lonely for insistent, engaging types.  Like the New Orleans musician on the corner of Iberville and Decatur who would call out to you on your way to work:  Those new shoes you sportin’, aren’t they?  Why you lookin’ so glum now, with this sun lovin’ on you?  You best hustle, girl, you late today!  You smiled at him, even when he drove you crazy–and now, when for long stretches polite islanders fail to call you out (too loud) or ask about you (too nosy), you are glad you smiled.  Some people just flipped him the bird.

A woman you meet briefly tells you about a friend from the United States who was visiting her in Vancouver.   He had recently been in a car accident, and his face had a fresh and gruesome scar right down one side of it.  She introduced her friend to all her friends.  They went to several dinner parties.  And no one!  She roars.   Not one person asked him about his face!
You giggle.  How rude, you say.

But.  The people here….are kind.  And smart.  Respectful.  And wanting to do good.   And industrious.  You feel lucky to be raising kids among people with these qualities.  The flamboyant brashness–that can be introduced easily enough in so many places.  By the television set, for instance.  This other, the quiet space people create here, is so much harder to come by.


Things you do to fit

When you hear the temperature, you double it in your head and add thirty.  You say pro-ject, not pra-ject.  You write labour and colour and metre.  You sing out “Zed” with your son during the alphabet song, even though it makes the verse not rhyme.

You say, Now where did I put my toque? without cracking a smile.

When you go to an outdoor festival in the heat of summer you don’t smirk at the little roped-off area you have to be inside of, to drink a beer.  And babies aren’t allowed: they might grow up to be drinkers.  You won’t smirk nor will you cry, thinking of those years you prowled the French Quarter with one hand curled around a go-cup.

In September, you add little tin wheels on the biggest zucchini from your garden so your son can enter the zucchini races at Fall Fair.  At Salt Spring Fall Fair, for 20 dollars, you can enter “Muffin Madness” by betting on a tiny plot of numbered field.  If the amply-fed-with-special-grain cow they release into the field decides to let his fresh poop drop on your number, you win the entire profit of the ticket sales.   It’s quite a lot.  People clench the fence nervously, willing an uncomfortable and oblivious animal to step right or left, to step forward or back.

In October, you take off your shoes and stomp with tons of other barefoot people–all various levels of clean—in a vat of grapes.  For a long while after this you refrain from buying local wine.  You make your Mom’s oyster dressing for Canadian Thanksgiving and wait for her or your sisters to call, so you can brag how you got to eat yours a month early.  But no one calls; none of your people in the U.S.A. ever remember the mid-October day that is Canadian Thanksgiving.

In November, you wear a poppy on your shirt and ignore the election disputes  that waif in vaguely from your computer.  But you always watch nervously as the results of the Giller Prize—Canada’s big literary award–are announced on T.V.  You rasp Shhhh!  to your boys as the finalists, each one in turn, approach the podium to read excerpts from their books.   You laugh a lot because of the amazing public fanfare made over books, and because writers make such lousy rock stars.  When the lights hit their made-up faces, they twitch like moles caught naked and quivering outside their holes.  The book you like best is seldom picked.  Each year you wish you’d planned a party around the prize, with big money bets and impromptu readings and literary drinking games at the commercial breaks.  But it is on in the morning, when all the writers you don’t know are writing.

In December, you watch as a large crowd of people huddled around a television set refuse to return to their vehicles and board the ferry headed for Swartz Bay.   It has come down to shoot-outs in the Olympic Canada versus U.S.A. hockey match.  Who you cheering for, Mama? Your son asks, over the excited commentary on the car radio.  Uh, you say, suddenly exhausted.  Does being an expatriate, straddling two homelands, automatically sap a person of the energy to cheer for either of them?  Or is it just you?  A disgruntled ferry worker begins waving cars forward and back, directing the intricate maneuvering required to drive around the abandoned vehicles.  It is the last ferry of the night, but the crowd in there—black figures postured tensely in the yellow windows—would rather be without their beds than leave the game.  Canadians, you finally say.   Your husband winces, so that you have to quickly tell him you don’t mean the Montreal Canadiens.   I mean those Canadians, you say, pointing to the empty cars as he rolls the truck forward.

In winter, it rains for weeks on end.  This is good.  If it snows, the very few plows your island has will focus on the main roads and neglect the hilly side streets.  It rains, or it snows—it rains and it snows, the snow turns to rain again.  The rain freezes.  One night over whiskey, while your husband talks dreamily about his time in Belize, you try to remember your own hot seaside places.  They are faded poloraids, buried under leaves and limbs.  You tilt your face up at the snow-buried skylight, straining to recall.  How can your body forget that kind of heat?  A heat so stark it instantaneously dried the ocean droplets on your skin to lines of lace.

In winter,  you take a hot bath with your boys.

But before that—twice, in fact—you decide it will be fine to give birth without drugs—since there is no anesthesiologist or surgeon on your island.  The first baby is born on a table at the local hospital with the crazy mid-wife telling you not to push and the Victoria helicopter team on hold on the telephone.  The second one is born with the calm and wise midwife, the one you wanted the first time.  The baby arrives on a Friday afternoon on the floor of your bedroom, right where your husband tends to pile his dirty clothes.  Because you spend most of your labour in the bathtub, you thereafter find taking a bath with his real live body in your arms, in the same tub, an extraordinary and humbling thing.  This, you think, is why people stop moving.  This is why they find a home and stay in it.

In winter, you grab a wash-cloth and get your whole face wet, so your older son doesn’t ask you why you’re crying.

–Carrie Cogan



Nov 172010

Like many Bible readers, I come at the text from a blind spot created by Sunday school teaching and pulpit homilies and pop cultural sermonizing. The more I read it, the more fascinating it becomes—partly because it is never what I expect and not at all what I was taught. Part of me (the 15-year-old part, that is, about 90% of me) is still at the stage of being surprised and delighted by the moral waywardness of the characters, the shocking violence, and the prevalence of prostitutes and concubines. My Sunday school teacher, for example, did not dwell on the wonderful details of Ehud’s assassination of the fat king Eglon of Moab in the Book of Judges when the fat closes around the dagger and the shit gushes out of the wound (Ehud is kind of an Israelite Jason Bourne—the passage reads like that). [I realize I have posted about this story before—what does this tell you about me?]

003:015 But when the children of Israel cried unto the LORD, the LORD
raised them up a deliverer, Ehud the son of Gera, a Benjamite,
a man lefthanded: and by him the children of Israel sent a
present unto Eglon the king of Moab.

003:016 But Ehud made him a dagger which had two edges, of a cubit
length; and he did gird it under his raiment upon his right

003:017 And he brought the present unto Eglon king of Moab: and Eglon
was a very fat man.

003:018 And when he had made an end to offer the present, he sent away
the people that bare the present.

003:019 But he himself turned again from the quarries that were by
Gilgal, and said, I have a secret errand unto thee, O king:
who said, Keep silence. And all that stood by him went out
from him.

003:020 And Ehud came unto him; and he was sitting in a summer
parlour, which he had for himself alone. And Ehud said, I have
a message from God unto thee. And he arose out of his seat.

003:021 And Ehud put forth his left hand, and took the dagger from his
right thigh, and thrust it into his belly:

003:022 And the haft also went in after the blade; and the fat closed
upon the blade, so that he could not draw the dagger out of
his belly; and the dirt came out.

I turn from this to the equally shocking and delightful tale of Jael nailing Sisera’s head to the floor. Sisera is on the run after losing a battle to the Israelites. He asks Jael for a cup of water. She invites him into her tent and offers him a glass of milk instead. Exhausted, he falls asleep. Then she, um, drives a nail through his head. A kind of Home Depot-style biblical assassination. Here is the no-nonsense, stripped down account in Judges.

Continue reading »

Nov 162010


Mike Barnes and dg met years ago at The New Quarterly WILD WRITERS WE HAVE KNOWN CONFERENCE (see the famous 400-page double issue Volume XXI, Numbers 2 & 3) in Stratford. He appeared twice in Best Canadian Stories during the decade dg was editor (which tells you what dg thinks of his fiction). He is the author of numerous books—novels, story collections, a book of poems and a stunning memoir of his own struggle with psychosis The Lily Pond: A Memoir of Madness, Memory, Myth and Metamorphosis. He writes occasional entries in a blog called 2009 which nowhere mentions his name. But if you go there you can find links to readings and talks he gave based on The Lily Pond, also gorgeous poems and photographs. What dg is printing here are three excerpts from a work-in-progress, a sneak preview of a dystopian future, not to be missed.


These excerpts are from a novel-in-progress, a future-fantasy about an ever-expanding world-hospital, or “medically based consumer imperium” as the resistance movement terms it. The world-hospital is part “real” (e.g. concrete and steel) architecture and part mass consensual hallucination. It is “total architecture.” The novel is a mosaic of dispatches sent by telepathic scribes, assembled by central collators in the aftermath of a disastrous battle between the resistance and the world-hospital. This phase of resistance—what happened? amid the wreckage—thus consists of attempts at accurate polyphonic reportage and archeology. The name in small letters below each dispatch is the moniker, or “scribesign,” of the scribe that submitted it. Sometimes multiple scribes collaborate on a dispatch. Two of the bits (“Mixer” and “Little People”), show the world-hospital’s furthest extension, beyond life itself, and feature the same character, for continuity, and the other (“Blowback”) is a short comic glance at the resistance movement.

—Mike Barnes


Steve and Randy meet each other at a mixer for the newly dead. They went to the same high school but are a few moments placing each other before they break into grins of startled recognition.

“It’s you!”

“Yo, Steve.”

So much has changed, so many reversals, in the passage across. Randy, a depressive back in the warm world, has taken to the après-vie like nobody’s business and is already doing well for himself. Steve, a doctor’s son who except for an ill-advised romance in his senior year has mostly had a blast, is having trouble finding his footing.

“It’s a whole new ballgame, Stevie,” says Randy, a shy stutterer so recently but now empowered by fluent clichés. “Look at me.” Steve is looking. “I used to have trouble carrying off a change of sweater and a haircut. Here, though. Here I’ve given myself a brand-new name and not one person has laughed. “I’m”—he hesitates a moment, a hiccup of life reflux; it’s little Randall Maggs for Chrissakes talking to SH the football captain—then declares confidently, “I’m Randy Raven.”

Steve doesn’t laugh. Doesn’t even feel like it. At first he heard razor, Randy Razor, and even that seemed possible. Doable. Like any good athlete, Steve is a fast study of the field, and he sees that Randy really can be anything here. He can stop the identity wheel on any slot he likes.

It reminds him of changing schools when none of your friends comes with you. You can carry on as before—the old game in a new location—or you can find yourself holding a brand new hand of cards, getting strange new urges to bluff, bet, fold. It’s not always symmetrical. Losers can win, winners lose, sometimes it’s a yawning steady-on, and there’s every sort of mix and halfway state.

In his new, bullet-spray voice, gaining confidence the way a rocket gains swerve and speed with altitude above the launching pad, Randy Raven disabuses Steve about any myths he may be clinging to about their present circumstances. Not about sin. Punishment. Purgatory. Not reward either. It really is an afterthought, a nowhere zone into which the fastest, sleaziest operators naturally move first and grab hold.

“Your dad. That hospital project with St. Bar-Laz. I’ve seen some pictures of it here.”


“Sure. The smart advertiser goes to where the clients will be, not where they are. Be there to greet them. Who knows what kinds of postcards they’ll send back.”

“Send back?” Steve’s head is whirling. All around the room he sees pairs of people in the orientation postures he and Randy have assumed: the leaner-in, the knower, crisp, assured; the dazed recipient, wobbly of stance and expression.

“It’s a two-way street, man.”

As Randy goes on rapping, his eyes lambent with the newfound pleasure of holding forth, Steve tries to distract himself with thoughts of unbuttoning Cathy’s blouse, but the well-worn grooves of erotic revery don’t work so well here, the fantasy feels tackily remote, its old allure now discordant—like memories of a piñata party in solitary—and Randy’s patter keeps breaking through, and by the time he’s unzipping Cathy’s Levi’s Steve is hardly even surprised by the hard-veined icy cock that springs into his hands.

“By the way”—Randy is smirking, the ghost of an Old-World Randall peephole- in-the-girls’-changeroom leer—“telepathy is the rule here. You have to learn to shut it down. I’ve almost nailed it. No one can show you. It’s a knack, like wiggling your ears.”

Randy fills Steve in on the basis of the afterlife as a credit scam and protection racket, a Ponzi/pyramid scheme on a vast scale of interlacing levels.

In a pause, Steve says, “I thought it would be, I don’t know…pure. Or something.” Now it’s his turn to pause as he realizes he had no opinions about the afterlife, he was 18 when he sailed his father’s Buick LeSabre off the mountain brow, the girl, Cathy, with her top off screaming beside him.

“Nothing pure about it, man. It’s the oldest and dirtiest neighborhood there is. No wonder Wardworld set up shop here. Stands to reason. It’s poorly regulated and mostly out of sight. Hell, not even many people believe in it anymore. That’s an added bonus.”

Steve doesn’t get the Wardworld reference, but there’s something else he needs to know first.

“What do I need protection for? I’m dead.”

“Which means you’ve lost your last line of defense. You’re like a snail evicted from its shell. And”—Randy leans close, lowers his voice—“the universe wears big boots.”

“What could happen to me?” The involuntary quaver in his voice used to be in Randall’s all the time.

“What couldn’t? If you can dream it up, it’s probably here. And if you can’t, it definitely is.”

Steve buys a basic protection plan from Randy with the only currency he’s got—time. 10,000 years to start, with a vig of 2% (“for a friend”). He’s soon in way over his head. The pyramid scheme is the usual bucket brigade of downhill pain. A guy tells you you’re on fire and hands you a bucket to put it out. But the bucket is the fire, and the only way to turn it into water is to hand it off to another sucker. On earth it ends with a bottom layer engulfed in flame, roasted alive. But with infinite time the wall of flame expands forever. Steve understands how it works, but can’t rouse himself to find a newbie to pass the bucket to. (Self-immolation from inertia/apathy causes certain local collapses in any downward construction.) He holds on to the pain bucket, staying on his level.

Leaving the mixer, he wanders dispiritedly down streets that are also like corridors, wide spaces that close high overhead, and which with their gradual curves, inclines and declines, give an impression of a vast architecture he’s treading. It’s twilight or it’s dawn, he can’t decide about the pearly gleams. Through gaps between the storefronts, he sees other corridors, semi-opaque tubes, slightly below or slightly above the level he’s on, with dark bars above and behind them which may be yet other passageways. The impression is of a labyrinth, but not a conventional labyrinth, rather a maze that swallowed other mazes, incorporating their twists and turns into its own, the way an engulfing bacterium ingests its prey’s genes, or a colleague’s, which alter and complicate and enlarge its own blueprint. He’s not alone, but he might as well be. The many people he passes, of all types and ages, share a single facial expression of faintly frowning preoccupation. And yet, it’s weird to say, but this face of inescapable concerns looks settled into, almost relaxed. It formulates a resignation verging on peace. As if they’ve finally found their way to a narrow band of tolerable strife, a treadmill of hassle and hustle…but it’s the treadmill they know. All they’ve really lost is the desire to escape it. Could lost without the desire to be found be…found?

Envy is immortal, Steve learns. Just as status is. Steve’s car crash was fiery front-page news, a crater in someone’s lawn and in many hearts; Randy’s pill-and-vodka exit in his room—in June, after graduation, when not even the principal needed to react— was “sadly missed” by elderly parents and a sister in Florida who couldn’t get home for the funeral. But now he’s—Randy the Raven. And I’m….

Steve takes to watching the living, a pastime of only the most insolvent dead. It’s every bit the declaration of bankruptcy that, in life, is signified by sitting around thinking of vanished times and faces, fixing your gaze on the departed.

Glass Union


LIn six-foot-high brown letters, spray-painted on an exterior wall of a Gerontology hub:

200 IS THE NEW 90

Local Medcrimes takes the case, which looks an obvious if spectacular instance of patient breach. The lab report identifying the brown paint as human excrement confirms the investigation’s routine progress in the direction of vandalism and/or dementia.

But complications (“wrinkles, ha ha”—Constable Tippett) soon emerge. First is the location of the graffiti on the 22nd floor, a billboard-sized slab of concrete bordered by a few small windows and distant from any doorway. “How would a wacked-out Gero even get up there?” (Constable Warren, Tippett’s senior partner)

A second lab report adds the details that the excrement a) came from at least 27 different bodies, and b) was fired with enough force, perhaps from a high-pressure hose, to fuse it with the concrete by embedding it deeply in every pore and fissure. Effacement is expected to be costly and protracted.

Copies of the reports forwarded to Administration, attention Budgeting and Long Term Planning.

Bill Richards

Little People

LIt feels strange to watch your lover when you’re dead. Not nice, not not-nice, necessarily. It isn’t anything necessarily. Just…strange.

The strangeness comes, Steve thinks, from not knowing or feeling anything you didn’t know or feel before, with one exception: you know and feel you’re dead.

You’ve gained and lost. What you’ve gained is knowing and feeling you’re not alive. What you’ve lost is not knowing and feeling you’re dead.

And it’s that trade or transfer, he thinks—that switch from non to on, on to non—that adds the weight you feel around the dead. A kind of heavy fluid sense of accrued density. Not age, since you no longer exist in organic time, but it feels like old, old age might feel to the living.

That seabottom sort of pressure makes a newly dead fetus twice as old as the oldest ever living person. Without being in any sense wiser. Without being wise at all. The dead fetus doesn’t even know what a nipple is, it never got to find out. Yet it’s ancient.

Passing these wizened pygmies, Steve sometimes thinks with a shudder, That could be my son or daughter for all I know. I had a few girlfriends, we weren’t always careful….

One of them is his child. Something he can’t know because the only person who could tell him is on the other side. On the side of the non-dead.

“You have to size death up, same as any other opportunity,” says Randy Raven. “Sure, some doors close, but others open wide.” Steve relates Randy’s growing tendency to speak in brassy bromides to the shadowy corporate entities he’s seen him talking to (or listening to), dark oily vapors, like congealed smoke, who have given up maintaining organic semblances (which takes an effort of will as well as recall) in favour of drifting in stormcloud congeries down streets and corridors, sometimes massing in a front that hangs in the sky, low and oppressive, curtailing views and moods. These heavy new friends give Steve another reason, besides his mounting unpayable debt, to duck down alleys at the approach of his earthly classmate, who is as gormlessly attracted to power as ever, but who power has now perhaps decided has something to give back.

Since he no more occupies the space of organic life than its time, when he visits it, Steve can assume any vantage point large or small.

One morning he watches Abigail from behind a walnut, chewed on his side by a squirrel, near the park bench she is sitting on. She looks unwell. Listless and without expression. Two canes lean against the bench and she wears braces on her lower legs. A thick white bandage covers her left eye. When he goes through it, he is shocked to find not a damaged eye but no eye. He explores the spongy black socket, touching its cauterized nerves and vessels.

Another time he is stretched across the winter sky. It’s a nice thinned feeling, being everywhere, noplace more than any other. She breathes him in, sucking the cold air through her teeth. Her lungs are pink, but more mucusy than they should be. He’s no doctor—not even a dead one—but from pictures he recalls from his dad’s textbooks, or maybe a health class—the smoking lecture—these bronchial trees have too much gummy fog, some thick drippy liquid, oozing between their branches. Yet he doesn’t smell smoke.

On his next visit, he doesn’t see her smoking, though he stays with her through what a wall clock says are several hours, sitting on the roof of a barn in an ugly oil painting on the wall of the crowded waiting room she is stuck in. Why are doctors so cheap? he wonders, floating out from the barn to take in the tacky farmscape. Two hundred grand a year, and what? Crappy paintings a flunky found at a yard sale. Old Reader’s Digests, again probably brought in by a secretary. Lumpy chairs with torn upholstery. Abigail deserves to wait for their verdict in at least minimal comfort.

It’s like the musty Used Books and $1 Charity Bake Sales at banks. $1. From a bank. Maybe $42 on a busy Friday, the tellers cranking out the Rice Krispie and date squares with curses the night before. Wherever money pools, life dries to a trickle. Even the dead feel it. The dead more than anybody.
Lost in these thoughts, he looks out to find the clinic dark, everyone gone.

This kind of thing happens often. He has a guess why. He’s too attuned to Abigail’s welfare to keep up with her comings and goings, her biography. He thinks that could be why his visits to her skip about so randomly, and seem to come about independent of his will. He’ll want to visit her, but can’t. Then suddenly, he’s there.

She’s in a single bed in a dingy bachelor, fucking a skinny, balding man with a bad tattoo of a leprechaun on his shoulder. The movements of his shoulder blade make the leprechaun kick in a spastic jig. Abigail seems into it, she’s moaning with her eyes pressed shut, but Steve, sitting with his back against the base of the bedside lamp, watching the shadows jerk and tremble on the wall, grows disconsolate.

Abigail has some silver hairs threaded in with her brown. When is this? he starts to wonder, but the question falls like a pebble dropped down a bottomless mine shaft or canyon. No plink or echo.

She doesn’t think she can do any better, he thinks.

Glass Union

—Mike Barnes

Mike Barnes is the author of Calm Jazz Sea, shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, Aquarium, winner of the 1999 Danuta Gleed Award for best first book of stories by a Canadian, The Syllabus, a novel, and the short fiction collection Contrary Angel. His stories have appeared twice in Best Canadian Stories, three times in The Journey Prize Anthology, and won the Silver Medal for Fiction at the National Magazine Awards. He lives in Toronto.


Nov 162010

Henighan in Romania

Hot off the presses (actually not even off the presses yet), here is the first chapter of Mihail Sebastian’s novel The Accident, translated into English from Romanian for the first time by Stephen Henighan and about to be published by Biblioasis (in just a few weeks). Numéro Cinq readers are already familiar with Stephen’s fiction (see his story “After the Hurricane” earlier published on NC). He is also an indefatigable globetrotter, critic and translator. Here is his own short intro to the chapter that follows.


Mihail Sebastian (1907-1945) was one of the major Central European writers of the 1930s. Born in southeastern Romania, he worked in Bucharest as a lawyer, journalist, novelist and playwright until anti-semitic legislation forced him to abandon his public career. His long-lost diary, Journal 1935-1944: The Fascist Years, was published in seven countries between 1996 and 2007, launching an international revival of his work. Sebastian’s novels and plays are available in translation throughout Europe, and also have been published in Chinese, Hindi, Bengali and Hebrew.

The Accident is Sebastian’s first work of fiction to appear in English.

In spite of what his death date might suggest, Sebastian was not liquidated by the Iron Guard (Romania’s Nazis). He survived the Holocaust (in gruelling circumstances), resumed his public career in early 1945 and was run over by a truck in May 1945, at the age of thirty-seven, while on his way to give a lecture on Balzac. On the basis of the four novels and five plays he left behind, it’s hard not to conclude that Europe lost one of its major writers.

—Stephen Henighan


The Accident

By Mihail Sebastian

Translated from the Romanian by Stephen Henighan


Chapter 1

She didn’t know how much time had passed. A few seconds? A few long minutes?

She felt nothing. Around her she heard voices, footsteps, people calling out, but all muted and grey, like a sort of auditory paste, from which occasionally a tram bell or a shout shook loose with unexpected clarity, only to fade away again into the suffocated commotion.

They’ll say it’s an accident, she thought very calmly, almost with indifference.

The thought made her feel neither alarmed nor hurried. She had a very vague impression that she must be stretched out next to the sidewalk with her head in the snow. But she didn’t try to move.

A stupid, senseless question passed through her mind: What time is it?

She strained to listen to the tick-tock of her wristwatch, but couldn’t hear it. It must have been smashed. Then, in an effort to concentrate, as though immersed in herself, she observed that in fact she heard nothing of her own being; not her pulse, not her heart, not her breath.

I’m…, she reflected. I’m like a clock. And it seemed to her that she was smiling, although she couldn’t feel her lips, for whose outline she searched in vain somewhere in that familiar yet vanished space that was her unfeeling body.

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Nov 142010

At a certain level this is a false argument. Had the Giller Prize marketing types thought ahead, they could have informed Gaspereau Press well ahead of time and the books could have been available and thus the clash between hand-bound cottage industry publishing and the frenzy of capitalism could have been muted. (I seem to recall that this was the way the Canada Council handled the Governor-General’s Award when I won; my publisher had plenty of books ready when the prize was announced.)

The other thing to remember is that winning a prize like this is next thing to an economic disaster for medium and small publishing houses. They have to print more books at a huge expense and send them off to distributors and bookstores that don’t have to pay the publisher for the books for at a minimum 90 days (usually more). If the books don’t sell, they come back to the publisher who still has to pay for them.

The Giller Prize has often been criticized for not considering small press books (the book pool for the Giller is much smaller than the book pool for the Governor-General’s Award). The paranoid side of my brain thinks: this could be a setup meant to discredit small presses in general and drive a wedge between them and their authors (as has happened in this case).


But there’s method in their madness, the guys want people to know. It has to do with vaunting culture over profit, of matching the greatness of the word with the greatness of the page it’s printed on — a concept probably few Canadians have considered when buying a book.

Sitting in his print shop in this Annapolis Valley town 100 kilometres northwest of Halifax, Steeves is sensitive to the criticism.

But if there’s one character trait in which the Gaspereau co-founder isn’t lacking, it’s conviction. He may look a bit bookish, nerdy even in his dust-tinged glasses. But wiry frame and penchant for plaid flannel belie a village lumberjack.

He frequently cites American writer Henry David Thoreau, who famously documented his simple life at the cabin he built on Walden Pond in Massachusetts.

via Don’t be pressing this publisher –


Nov 142010

I happened upon a book of Michael Brodsky’s stories in one of the secondhand bookstores in Montpelier. Here’s an essay on the web.




Mircea Eliade, in Shamanism, emphasizes the importance of the ladder as “an instrument of ontological passage from one mode of being to another—of transcendence—of attainment to the world of the gods, of power, of reality—a world saturated with being. In short, the world of the sacred.” Redemption is possible only through immersion in the warm bath of authentic being.As attested by the myths of the peoples of Africa, Oceania and North America, by Brahmanic sacrificers and by the instructions of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, “ladders facilitate the descent of the gods to earth and ensure the ascent of the dead man’s soul. Yet even if actual ladders and gangways appear frequently in Hafftka’s works, they may not be trustworthy or efficacious and, as proof of this, they seem either to be ignored or held in reserve as a last resort—if the performative activity of self as ladder fails. The self in transformative motion—the motion craved by Kafka’s agonizedly articulate ape—is the only ladder, up or down, that counts.

Grip ©1984

Congregation ©2001

via Critical essay by Brodsky.

Nov 132010

Lively review of a new biography of Claude Lévi-Strauss, but this quote was the most interesting bit because it lines up with some of the ideas I tried to get across in Elle and The Life and Times of Captain N. The new technology of writing destroys oral cultures and we somehow feel nostalgic for those lost ways of being, but to think that any one culture is essentially less alienating than another is a sentimental mistake.


Derrida showed that Lévi-Strauss’s position, far from breaking with a Eurocentric model, reproduced it. He demonstrated how the notion that the Nambikwara inhabited a different and better world, one before writing, reflected a long-held western prejudice that ignored the way in which any system of language had all the features of a writing system that Lévi-Strauss considered distinctively modern. The Amazonian enjoyed no more direct and unmediated a relationship with his surroundings than the western anthropologist…

via New Statesman – Claude Lévi-Strauss: the Poet in the Laboratory.

Nov 132010

A deeply shocking and poignant “What it’s like living here” from Court Merrigan in Torrington, Wyoming. Neither a former student, nor a VCFA graduate (he doesn’t have an MFA), Court is just a writer and a human being who joined the conversation and became part of the NC community. DG wishes there were more like him, more nominal outsiders who join the blog just because they like writing and a supportive camaraderie. We’re not a closed shop. This text reminds dg of something Tomaso Landolfi once wrote: “…is not this a world in which incredible things take place and, I would say, only incredible things?”


by Court Merrigan


Four extra bedtime stories for your daughter, five.  She grows fidgety and irritated, wants to be left alone to sleep.  Once she would have stayed up all night with you.  Now she’s three and those days are gone.  You trudge upstairs.  Your wife is in bed.  She goes to bed early nowadays.  It’s too early for you.  Time to get yourself occupied.

Two weeks it’s been.  Two weeks of closing your eyes to see Todd.

1.5 miles up Laramie Peak Trail

At first Todd looked like he was taking a nap, or had just leaned against the warm rock on that perfect seventy-degree day, looking across Friend Creek through a golden-leafed bough of aspens to the sheer mountain slabs across the rift valley.  I thought he was on the lookout for mountain goats.  He really wanted to see a mountain goat, kept on asking if we thought we’d spot one.

“Well, this is about where we expected to catch up with him,” my father said.

Irritated, I thought that he ought to be further along than this, that he was going to start talking about the goddamn mountain goats again – all he wanted out of Wyoming, it seemed – and at his trudging pace, it would be hours before we got back to the trailhead.  He was semi-retired and at his leisure, but I had a pregnant wife and a kid to get back to.

Then I noticed the odd angle of his neck, the wrist twisted behind his back, legs folded in an Asian posture he could not possibly have adopted at sixty years of age.  I began to run.  His face was slack jawed, sunglasses askew, lips a pale violet.  When I knelt and touched his face a skein of spit dribbled onto his new denim shirt, so new you could see the store creases, smell the store shelf.

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Nov 122010



I knew about the stories for years but had relegated them to that mental stack of things I never get around to for one reason or another. Only a series of accidents a few weeks ago induced me to buy a copy. I had no expectations when I started reading, which may be the best way to begin any book, perhaps to encounter other people.

The first five stories are set in the middle of almost nowhere, the Imperial Valley in Southern California, a place of deserts and fields and irrigation, the time around the ’60s. This is a good place to begin, too, with almost nothing, then see what you can discover, what you can add, as Ariel has done.

“Hunter,” below, is my favorite. It begins quietly, slowly, maybe innocently, and from that ground builds into a story that has engaged and haunted me as much as any I’ve read in a while. I didn’t expect that at all. The story is told in its images and in something else Ariel touches I’ll never be able to explain. Each time I reread I see small lights I missed the first time through.

I ran into Ariel a few weeks ago, and she gave what is the most compelling reason to write I’ve heard. She said she didn’t feel right inside when she wasn’t writing. It was this comment that moved me to buy the book.

Ariel Smart, in fact, grew up in the Imperial Valley, was born at the Green Lantern Motel, mentioned in this and other stories, and writes and teaches now in the San Jose area. “Hunter” was first published in Love and Sex in the 21st Century (New Mexico University, 1988), then in the collection The Green Lantern and Other Stories (Fithian Press, 1999). She has another collection, Stolen Moments and Other Stories (Fithian, 2003). Both are available, of course, at Amazon.

—Gary Garvin





by Ariel Smart


Cabin Number 1 of Frank Harper’s Green Lantern Motel smelled of the after-breakfast aromas of fried bacon and eggs and smoky-tasting coffee. The sound of a bulletin being read from the California Farm Labor Bureau droned from a radio placed on top of the refrigerator. Delia Harper put aside her book, Lad, of Sunnybank, and watched her father prepare the lunch she would take with her to her fourth-grade class at Acacia County School five miles from El Centro. His dark face, browned from the sun, was intent and purposeful at a perfunctory task. With a steel-bladed butcher knife, he carved cold beef from the Diamond Jim pot roast he customarily simmered on Sundays with fresh tomatoes, green Anaheim chili peppers, yellow onions, cloves of garlic, and red beans.

He placed an ample wedge of sliced meat between two thick slices of bakery bread. “Want horseradish?”

Delia turned up her nose, shaking her head vigorously. Her dark, brown hair, which her father had plaited into one thick braid, swung behind her neck down to her waist.

“Okay for you. More for me,” he said good-naturedly.

“Tell me again about Uncle Les’ work horses.”

“Not about his twenty-six milking cows? Named alphabetically, Alice through Zelda.”


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