Feb 192011
 

Michelle & her brother in the Badlands

Here is Michelle Berry’s “Childhood,” the third in Numéro Cinq‘s new essay series (click on the “NC Childhood Series” tag to see the others), a gorgeous, lively, poignant tale of  a nomadic youth and the bond between a writer and her brother growing up. Very human, achingly real. For the truth is these essays are also about what they do not tell—growing older, looking back through the haze of memory and the struggles of adulthood. Most of you are already familiar with Michelle through her “What it’s like living here” essay earlier published here. I put an hilarious Michelle Berry story in Best Canadian Stories in the days when I still edited that annual anthology. She’s energetic, comic and prolific. A new novel This Book Will Not Save Your Life and a new story collection I Still Don’t Even Know You were both just published last year.

dg

Childhood

By Michelle Berry

 

Robin Hood

A Robin Hood record with a book attached to the sleeve. My brother remembers I coloured all over the record book, red and blue crayon. He still doesn’t believe me when I tell him I have no recollection of it.

“Why,” I ask him, “would I have done that?”

“You were always doing things like that,” he replies.

Like the time he got a Swiss Army knife for a present and, sneaking into a barn in Virginia, climbing the huge bales of hay and jumping down to the floor, my brother tossed me his Swiss Army knife for safe-keeping. I can still see the glint of the metal as it twisted through the air – slow motion – and disappeared in huge mounds of hay.

“I was six years old,” I say. “You should have known better than to throw it to me.”

“Still,” he says. “It was a great knife. We never found it.”

I thought my father rented a metal detector but he has no memory of this. I think we did apologize to the farmer for sneaking into his barn.

I worried for a while that a cow might have eaten the knife in a mouthful of hay, and then I would imagine someone cutting into a steak one day and finding it.

In England

Road Trips

The long road trip of my childhood.

Moving, traveling. There was a lot of both.

I was born in San Francisco, spent my first year in Claygate, England – first word: “hoss,” because they clip-clopped down the street carrying young girls going for a ride – lived in Virgina until I was seven, then Victoria, B.C.. We traveled across the country in a huge moving van, my mother driving the car behind us with our cat, Sassafras. I sang, “Leaving on a jet plane,” with my hand surfing wind out the van because my teenage cousin from New Jersey had taught it to me while she played the guitar. Every day in the van or car we had a new gift to keep us busy – colouring books, puzzles, snacks, mazes. We saw Prairie Dogs in the Badlands standing on their little back feet watching us watching them. Every motel we stayed in had a roadside pool. Once the gas in our U-Haul moving van was siphoned out of the van somewhere in Pennsylvania. Super Bowl this year my husband and father made silly jokes about the Steelers misspelling their name.

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Feb 182011
 

Here’s a lovely, southern “What it’s like living here” piece from poet and Vermont College of Fine Arts graduate Cheryl Wilder (who graduated, got married and moved, all in the same year). Cheryl and dg both have an affection for tobacco, though they speak two different languages—what she calls “tobacco barns,” in the North Carolinian manner, dg calls “kilns” (dg grew up on a tobacco farm in Canada; Cheryl used to work for a wonderful North Carolina architect and visionary who published an amazing book of photos of, yes, tobacco barns).

dg

What It’s Like Living Here

by Cheryl Wilder in Raleigh, North Carolina

 

Then

A New Home

You relocated last summer and for the first time in seventeen years you feel at home.

Let’s clarify.

Your son was born thirteen years ago and you never felt more at home than when you went to see him after his birth. He was born at 4:56 a.m. and you’d been awake for twenty hours. After a nap you walked down the hospital hall with three bands cuffing your wrist, a nightgown brushing your calves, and a thin blue sweater around your shoulders. A nurse wheeled your son away from the other newborns and matched one of your bands with his. In the dimly lit nursery you caressed his arm and cheek, watched his chest rise and fall, felt as if you knew him well. The quiet hush of machines lulled you as the rest of the world dripped away. The nurse asked if he was your second child.

Now

No, your first.

“You’re a natural then,” she said.

The best compliment you’d ever received.

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Feb 172011
 

For your delectation here is an ever-so-slightly Kafkaesque fable of globalization and corporate America, dry, tongue-in-cheek, and ambiguously erotic (the eros of the business-meeting, the power-mongering and seduction of the job interview that isn’t). Michael Bryson is a Toronto short story writer, reviewer, critic, and blogger. He used to publish and edit The Danforth Review, an online magazine. Now he blogs at The Underground Book Club.  This story is from his 2010 collection How Many Girlfriends. The photo of Michael was taken by his wife, Kate O’Rourke, who writes about her cancer treatment at Auntie Cake’s Shop (some good news there—read the latest). See also Michael’s story “My Life in Television” earlier published on NC.

dg

Niagara

By Michael Bryson

Things are breaking up out there
High water everywhere

– Bob Dylan

Life is a carnival
Believe it or not

– The Band

The boutiques full of soapstone carvings, plastic Mountie hats and paperweights stamped with 3D images of Horseshoe Falls would soon fill with tourists. The cash registers would ring loud. Camera-toting seniors would crowd behind the steel railing and complain about the water-laden air. The arcades would swell with teenagers and buses would line up side-by-side in the parking lot above the Falls.

But on this day, the rushing swell of water fell into cakes of ice; tulips peeked warily through the flowerbeds. The parking lot wasn’t half-full.

In the near-empty lower level of the casino, Lloyd ordered ribs and rice in the Hard Rock Café. He ordered an Alabama Slammer, sipped the sweet drink and watched a bar-screen video of John Lennon in New York City, circa 1975. Lennon in his green army jacket with the red star pinned to the lapel. Working class hero. Lennon about to begin five years of house husbandry. About to retreat from revolution and rock and roll. It struck Lloyd that he was older now than Lennon was then. Everything Lennon was known for he’d already done, except die. Half-an-hour earlier, Lloyd had lost five dollars, his limit, in a slot machine. Five dollars at twenty-five cents a credit gave him twenty credits. He played one credit at a time and won back none.

Lloyd lived in a small condo downtown Toronto that he rented with his long-time partner, Sarah. He told friends that now and again they spoke of marriage and children, but they weren’t looking for more. Sarah worked as a loan officer for a trust company and spent her spare time making pottery. His life was work, home, paycheque, bills: a simple existence regulated by the impulses of global capitalism. Watching Lennon on the television in the bar, he thought that he had arrived at a stable place himself well beyond revolution and rock and roll. Beyond cosmic shifts, transformation.

From his hotel room window, Lloyd could see the Falls sparkling behind beams of coloured lights. Earlier in the day he’d stood with his hands on the iron railing only feet from the falling water. He’d looked into the storm below and felt small. Uncertain. The Falls, unchanged; its bowl of thunder and cloud of mist, ever-changing.

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Feb 162011
 

What It’s Like Living Here

By Rich Farrell in San Diego

And if California slides into the ocean, like the mystics and statistics say it will…

-Warren Zevon

OB Pier

No Bad Days

A popular bumper sticker here reads “No Bad Days.” These words, scribbled in white, tiki-style letters with an accompanying copse of swaying palm trees, seem to capture a pervasive San Diego ethos. Bathed in incessant sunshine and aquamarine skies, it’s easy to believe in such a concept: that there could, conceivably, be no bad days.

But No Bad Days demands a fulltime attitude adjustment to keep up with its endless-summer cheeriness. No Bad Days implies lithe bodies, salt-spray hair and a fountain-of-youth refusal to grow old. It demands that you smile at strangers, sport flip-flops year round,  and stuff board shorts and towels in the trunk, just in case. It constructs a dream landscape built on breakfast burritos, noontime margaritas and PCH kisses against a backdrop of spinnakers and sunsets. No Bad Days proffers paradise as if it was a tangible thing, a widely available commodity cast in bright ceramic tiles forever walling-off real life. A place where complexity reduces itself to surf reports and the nearest tamale stand.

But nothing is that simple, not even here. The false front of No Bad Days crumbles upon even the most elemental examination. Still, it’s an easy first-glance impression of life in San Diego.

Sunshine

The glorious contradiction of San Diego is the weather. Carbon-copy perfect days roll off with such an unerring consistency, such a dress-parade precision of seventy-two and sunny, that you soon begin to take them for granted. You stop noticing Christmas Eve rounds of golf, shorts in January, the last time you made your children wear jackets to school. You begin to believe that a daytime high of 61 degrees constitutes a cold front or that three hours of light drizzle equals a storm. You become so spoiled by the spectacle of beautiful weather that it stops being spectacular. I don’t know how this happens, but it does.

San Diego sunrise from my bedroom.

I grew up in central Massachusetts—a geeky, weather-obsessed kid fascinated by clouds. In summer I studied cumulonimbus giants towering above a northwestern horizon of sugar maples. I learned to read the clouds and the silver-backs of maple leaves, able (I told myself) to predict the likelihood of electrical storms as well as any meteorologist. I listened for the subtle sounds of winter storms, how icy stratus clouds acted like an echo chamber in the night sky, creating a certain pitched whirl from Beechcraft turboprops droning overhead, a haunting sound that seemed to forecast coming snow. Risking the wrath of the winter-weary reader, I hesitantly say that, at times, I wish for something other than relentless paradise. I long for dramatic weather here, for lightning, sleet, or a good old-fashioned Alberta Clipper to numb my finger tips.

The closest I get to that old feeling is when scorching Santa Ana winds howl down from the mountains. Sometimes, when the windows rattle at night, it feels a bit more like home. Continue reading »

Feb 152011
 

Here are three poems by three friends, Elaine Handley, Marilyn McCabe, & Mary Shartle, all three part of “the Greenfield Crowd,” a disparate and rowdy group of writers, painters, cellists and cross-country skiers loosely based in Greenfield, NY (though Marilyn McCabe actually lives in Saratoga Springs). Laura Von Rosk and Naton Leslie, who have both appeared on these pages, are part of the group. These three women in particular have combined their talents since 1998 and have produced multiple chapbooks of poetry together, including Notes from the Fire Tower: Three Poets in the  Adirondacks and Glacial Erratica: Three Poets in the Adirondacks, Part Two which won the Adirondack Center for Writing best poetry book award two years in a row. These poems come from their new collection Winterberry, Pine (30 Acre Woods Publications, 2010).

Marilyn McCabe is already familiar to NC readers. We published her Rilke translations earlier on these pages. She has published work in, among others, Nimrod, Beloit Poetry Journal, and Hunger Mountain. Elaine Handley has published in, among others, Dos Passos Review and Connecticut River Review. And Mary Shartle has appeared in Blueline and Sow’s Ear Poetry Review.

dg


A Poem by Elaine Handley


GroundHog Day



Demeter sits at the kitchen window
chain smoking, staring at empty maple and birch.
She imagines the smoke as rage leaving her body.

Outside all that moves are chickadees at the feeder,
only color, winterberries like splatters of fresh blood
in the snarl of grapevines by the shed.

Her husband’s abandoned chamois shirt—frayed
at the cuffs, a hole in one elbow—
provides an odd, familiar comfort these days
so much like the last, the next,
full of his cold emptiness.

It’s been months since Persephone ran off,
stolen by a charming woodchuck, full of pipe
dreams, and she suspects, cruel ways.
“My queen” he called her daughter.
No email, no call, not even a text.  The house
so quiet she can hear the little murmurs
of the sleeping cat.

Some like it hot, she tells herself, thinking
of her daughter, and then the cat,
who inexplicably sleeps under the sizzling woodstove.

On the Today Show that morning, Punxsutawney Phil
was paraded out, fussed over. “What an ass!”
she’d said out loud.  What groundhog comes out
of hibernation early?  Who would willingly give up
the sweet coma of sleep–and for what?
Food hard to find, too much snow, constant cold,
the loneliness.

She pours a bourbon, neat.  It’s her third this morning.
She stubs out the cigarette butt, lights another.
The scald in her throat feels right.
A little blaze flares up in her chest.
For a moment, it almost feels like love.


—Elaine Handley




Continue reading »

Feb 142011
 

Here’s an exuberant, little jewel of a love story (for V-Day) by Connie Gault, a friend, not of dg’s youth, but of his early teaching days when he used to migrate from one summer writing program to another across  Canada. For a few lucky summers he taught at the Saskatchewan School of the Arts at an old tuberculosis hospital called Fort San in a dramatic geological trench cut through the Prairie called the Qu’Appelle Valley, which is where he met Connie Gault (long winded sentence). She is a playwright and the author of three books of fiction, including, most recently, Euphoria, which came out in 2009. Chief among this story’s charms are the lightness and quirkiness of its language, its humour, its bold shifts of story line and setting, and its humane generosity of spirit. This is a brand new story, never published elsewhere. DG is very pleased to have it here.

dg

 

Rue Rouge

By Connie Gault

 

Long ago, so long ago I can only picture myself as the girl I was in early photographs, we lived on rue Rouge. And I wore a blue scarf. It was a square of chiffon, a true sky blue, and Mrs. Waring said to me: You look well in blue, I would never have thought so without the evidence of my eyes. Anyone else I knew would have said I looked good, not well, or more likely would have said nothing at all. I loved the phrase, ‘the evidence of my eyes.’ For weeks I strolled the length of rue Rouge and the streets thereabouts, murmuring to myself: the evidence of my eyes. I was half in love with Mrs. Waring, who wore her ample body blithely, proud of all that belonged to her. Silently I berated my mother for being nothing like Mrs. Waring, for being slender and caring about fashion.

How does it happen that a person, after years of simply living with someone and perhaps taking that partner for granted, falls in love again? Becomes a lover again of the same person? I’d done it many times in a long marriage and it was always a mystery to me. In the plane that brought us home from Paris, I thought of Mrs. Waring and rue Rouge. I was cramped into economy class, sitting between two strangers. One of them was my husband. I was remembering that he had taken my hand as we’d set out to cross a busy street at the Place de la Concorde. He’d guided me through the heavy traffic as it streaked past us, every vehicle shifting lanes and honking. What I remembered was the unexpected warmth of his hand, my trust in his competence to steer us, and my body’s response. Sitting beside me on the flight home, he sighed, his fingers went to his forehead, he plucked at his eyebrow, a nervous habit, and I thought: The world will step on him if it sees that weakness. He half-turned and caught my eye and I flushed, full of paradox. I thought: Paris has done this, and something new in him. There was no answer in his eyes.

In the rue Rouge, there was so much. A church, for one thing, where I sang in the choir. It’s true the choir leader asked me to sing quietly; it’s true I was habitually seriously off-key. But her impartial husband, the crabapple-cheeked minister, made up for her. He thought all singing beautiful.

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Feb 142011
 

I Have a Dream

A Letter from Italy,

by Natalia Sarkissian

 

On Sunday, February 13th, thousands of women and men in 200 piazze across Italy demonstrated against Berlusconi and his excesses.  Late night parties with underage escorts (“Rubygate”).  Questionable political appointments. Etc.

You may have heard.

Another Egypt? Perhaps not quite yet. Berlusconi still has support (although he barely survived two no-confidence votes last December).

We're All Vertical

In Rome, 500,000 people (according to organizers) attended Sunday’s demonstration in the Piazza del Popolo. Giulia Bongiorno, a member of the Future and Liberty party, was applauded when she said to the crowd, “I’m not here to criticize porno parties in and of themselves, I’m here to criticize them when they’re used by the ruling class to make choices (referring to some political appointees).
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