Jun 052011
 

Here is a melancholy little love poem, in the Frank O’Hara mode, from the Victoria, British Columbia, poet, Slavic Studies student, Chernobyl expert, blogger, and shootist, Brianna Berbenuik, known affectionately in Numéro Cinq circles as AK Berbenuik for her exciting adventures with Glocks and AK47s. The author photograph is appropriately and unseasonably wintry; the poem reminds dg of many saying-goodbye-with-boxes moments in his wintry past.

dg

es muss sein? es muss nicht sein, i tell you

By Brianna Berbenuik

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this is our great romance.

dreams
of sucking salt from your fingertips
feeling the pressure of the padded ends
on my tongue.

i collect moments with you
like you collect little sisters

like dolls, your girls are
worthless without their packaging—
easy to throw away,
and begin the search again

everything is half-way.
that night, i thought you might kiss me.
it was foolish, but i am sorry i didn’t.
maybe next time—

“i am stuck in traffic in a taxi cab
which is typical, and not just of modern life”

i am laying on your floor surrounded by
banker’s boxes, like architecture
everything in stacks; ready for relocation.

sometimes we keep ourselves this way.

—Brianna Berbenuik

Jun 042011
 

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Once again Natalia Sarkissian goes cutting edge, writing the first in a new Numéro Cinq memoir series called “My First Job”—to go with the terrific “What it’s like living here” and “Childhood” series already under way. In the essay, Natalia recounts her early career as a Good Humor man, the ins and outs of customer base development, the advantages of having an ice cream truck for driving your friends around on weekends, and the day she made so much money she was throwing dollar bills into the freezer because there was no room left in the cash box. This is a piece of Americana—still in the evenings in my neighbourhood, we hear the musical notes of the Mr. Ding-a-Ling truck (our version of Good Humour). My sons don’t rush out anymore, clutching their dollar bills, but still we look up at each other smile. As with her earlier essays, Natalia brackets off a piece of her life and serves it up to the reader. If you read through all her NC texts (glance at Nonfiction contents page), you’ll see a life emerging: mysterious, scarey, adventurous, sad and triumphant.

dg

My First Job 

(In which I break into the food industry, drive a truck and  learn about business)

by Natalia Sarkissian

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The Search

In the swing, on the shady side porch, with the sun breaking through chinks in the trellis, I’m thumbing through the Stony Brook newspaper, scouring the help wanted ads. I’m nineteen years old and it’s a silky June day in the late 1970s, one of those days when the light shines strong and white in a glowing sky while the breeze is still cool and fresh. Wafting up from the Long Island Sound, a rush of that cool, fresh air rustles the leaves overhead and the hair on my neck but still, I’m perspiring. Time’s running out. After three weeks hunting, I’m still jobless. On September 10, I’m to fly to Italy to spend a semester studying art. Such plans require significant cash. Although I have a student loan to cover tuition and airfare, I need spending money. It’s Italy after all. I need lots of spending money.

Turning the page of the paper, jostling the swing, I find an advertisement that catches my eye.

Sell pots and pans! Make $200 or more per week!

So. They’re back but their name and location have changed. Last year, when I visited their office in Great Neck and signed up to be a rep and plunked down $65.00 for a starter kit that never materialized, they were Deluxe Kitchen Gear. This year, they’re Culinary Designs in Smithville. Well, I’m a year older. A year smarter. No con’s going to swindle me out of another chunk of change. I continue to search but nothing I’m remotely qualified to do materializes.

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Jun 022011
 

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Way back in February, I posted a series of whirlpool photographs made by husband, Steven David Johnson.  His obsession with whirlpools hasn’t ceased; only deepened.  Recently he purchased a wet suit (zipped into it, he closely resembles a superhero) and underwater camera in order to film whirlpools from beneath the surface.   He’s created a visual meditation on nature’s instability, layering his video imagery of a small whirlpool in the Shenandoah River’s North Fork over a soundtrack of “All Tremors Cease” by an artist named Erin Dingle (who kindly licensed her work through Creative Commons).  The resulting video meditation is dedicated to the victims of 2011′s natural disasters.

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YouTube Preview Image

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There’s something profound about two artists, a videographer and musician, who are unknown to one another, yet are able to collaborate in this very new media format, responding aesthetically to the recent disasters that have have affected our world.  We human beings (artists, musicians, whirlpool-watchers) are in this together.

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—post text by Anna Maria Johnson, video by Steven David Johnson, music by Erin Dingle

Jun 022011
 

Something self-indulgent about dg publishing these lovely Nicole Dixon photos because they reference a brooding, romantic, Heathcliff streak in him, the part of him that likes the idea of climbing Signal Hill in St. John’s, staring into the fog, and knowing there is nothing between the rock he’s standing on and Europe to the east except the vast, surging, very cold Atlantic. (Just behind you is Deadman’s Pond and just in front of you is Cuckold’s Cove—they have a way with names in Newfoundland.) There is also something satisfyingly uterine about St. John’s Harbour—ships go in and out through a narrow passage called, um, The Narrows (which you can see at the bottom of Signal Hill) while the harbour itself is, well, it all looks like an anatomy diagram dg remembers from when he was 12. DG has many writer friends in St. John’s who sometimes call him up late at night from the bars. It is also the home of the Burning Rock writing collective, an amazingly vibrant literary community with the best name ever. (Sometimes it seems St. John’s must have more writers per capita than any other place in the world.) On a personal note (as if talking about anatomy diagrams wasn’t personal enough), dg’s mother was stationed in St. John’s as a radio operator with the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II. He has photographs of her marching through the streets as part of the VE-Day celebrations (also pictures of the massive victory party after). She used to like to go out to Cape Spear, just south of St. John’s and the eastern-most tip of North American, and look out into the Atlantic, too.

Nicole Dixon is an estimable fiction writer, with a first story collection coming out next year (see bio below). She  took these photos on a recent trip to St. John’s to attend the Atlantic Provinces Library Association conference, where she co-presented a paper on Sea Stacks (seastacks.ca), a web-resource she built to promote and disseminate information about Atlantic Canadian authors and books for children and teens. Much appreciated.

dg

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Jun 012011
 

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Lightning, God, rocks, an eternally smouldering corpse, and a giant mother are the furniture of this spectacularly macabre and hilarious short story from R. W. Gray’s first collection Crisp, which I discovered just a couple of months ago while reading books for the Danuta Gleed Literary Award (Crisp was a finalist). First, the coincidence: I actually met Rob Gray two years ago in Mark Jarman’s house in Fredericton, New Brunswick, but it did not register with me at the time that he was a writer of such gifts and charm. (Goes to show, I guess, but what?) Second, the literary refs: I love the giant woman, the smouldering car. Obviously, we are not in the world of the real, possibly the world of the Real (in the Lacanian sense). The giant mother is, of course, a descendant of Rabelais’ giants, also a relative of the mysteriously enlarging giantess in Robert Coover’s novel John’s Wife (gorgeous novel: the giant woman saves the sheriff from a forest fire by peeing on him) and even the giant pig that takes over the house in Flann O’Brien’s amazing little book The Poor Mouth. This story has, as Mark Jarman writes, “verve and swing.”  It’s a pleasure to present it on Numéro Cinq. (And you can buy the book here.)

dg

R. W. Gray was born and raised on the northwest coast of British Columbia, and received a PhD in Poetry and Psychoanalysis from the University of Alberta in 2003. He is the author of two serialized novels in Xtra West magazine and has published poetry in various journals and anthologies, including Arc, Grain, Event, and dANDelion. He also has had ten short screenplays produced, including Alice & Huck and Blink. He currently teaches Film at the University of New Brunswick in Frederiction. Crisp is his first book.

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Crisp

By R. W. Gray

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It’s Tuesday and our father has packed the trunk of his rusty blue car. I am seven, my brother Randy is five, and we’re both standing on the porch and what neither of us says out loud is that we’re relieved. We watch him load the last of his stuff in the car. The lamp with the tassels from the living room, and his dining room chair, the one with the arms. Now there will be only three chairs left. I think to myself that the lamp and chair are signs he isn’t coming back. He’s taking everything he could need. Then I see a storm in the South bunching up where the highway and the horizon meet and I worry this is a sign he’s going to stay. I tetherball back and forth this way.

Randy stands and stares. He grips a rock in his right hand and I wonder if he’s going to throw it. I say nothing to him. I’m not a very good older brother. Mom pushes the screen door open and stands between us. Her left hand is over her mouth, her right hand props her elbow to keep her mouth in place. I can hear the thunder now. I want to call to Father as he opens the door, say maybe he should wait out the storm. But he nods before I can and gets in. The car shudders, a plume of blue smoke erupting towards us on the steps. He doesn’t wait for it to warm up, just backs up then the car moves forward and away. His left arm reaches out the window and waves a slow wave. Thunder again, and I look up to the rain suddenly falling on my bare face, the storm here already, like it just remembered it should rain and is making up for lost time. She starts to cry then, our mom. Maybe she thinks the rain will hide her tears, the telltale red of her run-ragged eyes. Or maybe she doesn’t care.

We watch him drive the half-mile down to the end of the driveway, driving into the storm, the clouds mud grey and the lightning cracking in the big sky. His car stops at the highway. He doesn’t signal. The car idles, long enough for me to think maybe he’ll turn around and come back. Maybe he’s thinking about Randy and me. How we need a father. One one thousand. Two one thousand. What’s he waiting for?

A bolt of lightning rips through the air above the highway, smites Father’s rust-pocked blue car and it explodes as the gas tank turns electric. Mother’s hand flies off her mouth and she lets out a strange animal shriek; she starts to laugh, everything tumbling out of her mouth at once. She had been nagging him for weeks to get the gas tank fixed. It was leaking gas everywhere. The back seats, the carpet, were wet with it. So it could have been the car cigarette lighter that pops clear of the dash when ember hot. But I prefer to think it was the lightning, that God has something to do with it. Because only God can smite things.

Mom’s face clinches red and raw in the rain, the laughter spilling out of her a little angry then a little sad then a little angry, and on and on. I see Randy look down. Yellow liquid running down her legs from her short denim shorts. She’s peeing herself, a yellow puddle forming around her bare feet on the deck. The rain’s falling harder now, splashing the urine. Randy looks like he’s going to say something but I give him a full force look. I give him the look that he and I both understand means just look at the horizon, look at the smoldering metal of our father. We are rocks, Randy, just look at the horizon.

What if he’s still alive? I take a step forward, a lurch.

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May 302011
 

Sam Lipsyte, © Robert Reynolds

The Ask
Sam Lipsyte
296 pp.
$25
ISBN  978-0-374-29891-3 

As a Canadian, I’m ashamed that American fiction, which is largely underwritten by a market, has a keener social eye than Canadian fiction, which is underwritten significantly by state-funded, supposedly arms-length grants. Contemporary American novels from maturing writers like Jonathan Franzen, Jennifer Egan, Michael Cunningham and Sam Lipsyte (author of this superb novel The Ask) as well as emerging novelists Joshua Ferris and Jonathan Dee examine, castigate and celebrate today, while my fellow Canadian writers remain obsessed with yester-year. Egan’s recent A Visit from the Goon Squad mocks celebrity culture and trophy marriages. Dee’s The Privileges boldly reasserts that novels about money are not the exclusive domain of the Victorian novel. Ferris’s chilling The Unnamed and Cunningham’s By Nightfall fearlessly plumb the life-time relationship. Here in Canada we get muskeg tales of outport woe (see February by Lisa Moore and/or Annabel by Kathleen Winter). With The Book of Negroes, a mega bestseller in Canada, Lawrence Hill digs deep to conclude that slavery was bad. Canadian writing grants that should make our fiction brave and bold too often leave it feeling like it was written (reluctantly) by a harried committee at a government ministry.

Sam Lipsyte’s searing, hilarious and moving new novel The Ask is able to judge the society it records without sounding as sanctimonious as a government recycling campaign. Most fiction writers at some point feel the pull of Chekhov’s claim (or Thornton Wilder’s paraphrase) that literature is not bound to answer questions but rather to pose them fairly. However, Chekhov’s advice can create a crippling rudderlessness that leaves superficial fiction misidrected and unengaged. Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad has an utterly condemning scene with a self-inflicted scar. Franzen’s The Corrections has that minor but unforgettable couple who lost their adult daughter to murder. The father responds by eventually deciding to never speak of the matter again. The mother draws the killer’s gun every day then rips up her (near perfect) drawing. Social portraiture is alive and well in American fiction. In The Ask, the multi-talented Sam Lipsyte laughs and cries along with the characters he condemns and condones.

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