Jan 092012

Herewith a gorgeous story from Dave Margoshes, who has contributed already two poems–“Theology” and “Becoming a Writer“–to these pages. I have long admired his work; I put him in Best Canadian Stories when I edited that estimable annual collection (over a decade of editing). “A Bargain” is excerpted from the author’s new collection A Book of Great Worth to be published by Coteau Books in April. A Book of Great Worth is a collection of linked stories based loosely on Dave Margoshes’ father. The title story was actually published in Best Canadian Stories, but in 1996, just before I took over.

Dave Margoshes is a Saskatchewan writer whose work has appeared widely in Canadian literary magazines and anthologies, including six times in the Best Canadian Stories volumes. He was a finalist for the Journey Prize, Canada’s premier short story award, in 2009. He’s published over a dozen books, including Bix’s Trumpet and Other Stories, which was named Saskatchewan Book of the Year in 2007. He’s been fiction editor of the literary magazines Grain and Dandelion, and was literary editor at Coteau Books for several years. He lives on a farm outside Saskatoon.


 A Bargain

by Dave Margoshes


My father used to say that my mother was the one in the family who wore the pants. As he said it, he would invariably be wearing pants himself, either the pants of his suit or one of the Sears catalogue blue jeans my mother ordered for him, and she would be wearing one of her many flower-printed skirts, so the remark was surely meant to be ironic, though at the time, and until I went off to college and learned its delicious meaning, irony was a concept I was unfamiliar with, and what my father said was merely puzzling. The closest my mother ever came to wearing pants was the voluminous denim culottes she put on to tend her garden in the summer. Beyond those, and the one-piece swimsuit she wore when we went to the beach, I never saw her out of a skirt or dress, though she would occasionally walk around the house in her slip for a while after coming home from work. She was never embarrassed to be dressed that way in front of me, and so I in turn was never embarrassed to see her.

I think what my father meant by the remark was that my mother made all the big decisions in their life together. Another of his favourite remarks – again, ironically – was that he made the big decisions, on war and peace, world hunger, the economy and other weighty matters, while my mother contented herself with the small decisions, those related to the family and household, things like spending money, feeding and clothing them and the children, what movie to go to and so on. My father also often said that he and my mother did everything around the house together, with him doing the physical labour and my mother “supervising,” if it was something to do with the outside, and her doing the work and him supervising if it was inside – chores like the dishes and the laundry. All of these comments – conveyed in a joking voice but with a serious undertone – related to my father’s often-expressed grievance that my mother was “bossy.”

It was true that she almost always got her way. But not always. My father liked a drink now and then, meaning several times a day, I don’t know how many. She would have liked him not to drink at all. His concession to her was to rarely drink his preferred rye whisky in her presence – never at home, but he would let his guard down and have one or two at family gatherings where liquor was flowing. “I’m just doing this to be polite,” he would say, a little too loudly but usually with a wink, and the uncles would smile. But he kept a flask in the glove compartment of his car, a bottle in the bottom drawer of his desk at The Day, the Yiddish newspaper where he worked as a reporter and columnist, and during the course of his day he made occasional stops at barrooms where he was a familiar customer. At home, at night, usually seated at the kitchen table in his undershirt, he would have a glass or two of sherry or port, usually the cheapest brands. My mother bought it for him, and that’s what he specified, the cheapest, which, I imagine, also appealed to her own sense of frugality. This was her concession to him, these fortified wines, “a gentleman’s drink,” he would say when he unscrewed the bottle, as if to imply it was no drink at all then, and didn’t count.

Although I was a witness to them all through my growing up, this to-ing and fro-ing, these nuances of their life together, it wasn’t until I was grown and involved in a relationship of my own that I came to understand the delicate balance they had constructed and maintained. Well, not understand, but begin to.

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Nov 122010

 Dave Margoshes is a poet, novelist and short story writer from Saskatchewan. I won’t go on about him or my long and checkered past with Saskatchewan because Dave has already appeared on these pages and I would be repeating myself. The last time I saw him my son Jonah was about six and he and I went on a reading tour of Saskatchewan, driving up and down the province in a little  rented car, meeting old friends, exploring abandoned homesteads, peering at distant bison, clattering around cluttered wayside museums. I miss Saskatchewan sometimes. Its astringent landscape is always exciting to watch and the people are delightful. When I used to edit Best Canadian Stories, I seemed to put a Dave Margoshes story in just about every other year. And now he has a new poetry collection just out with Black Moss Press (which published my first little book of stories, yea, these many years ago). “Theology” is from the new collection Dimensions of an Orchard and is particularly apt as it dovetails nicely with my Bible-reading thoughts these days. I love, here, God’s refolded tour map and “the illusion of unintended routes” and “against his own idea of tide.”





A quarter moon hangs low in the morning sky,
a thumbprint reminder that night is not through
with us, oh no, not yet. Day, night, light, dark,
the cycle carries on with tedious regularity, each
extreme laying a trail of clues leading inextricably
to the other. The seasons too pass in their cycle,
and the ages, infancy to infirmity and through
the transmigration of souls into infancy again
if that’s what you care to believe. The tides rise
and fall, the leaf buds, greens, browns, withers
all according to plan. And where is God in all
this? Puppetmaster, enmeshed in his own strings,
or tourist, folding and refolding a map? The creases
are worn thin from this incessant folding, creating
the illusion of unintended routes, a false cartography.
Like any man, God is reluctant to ask directions.
He batters on, against his own idea of tide,
seeking a way.

—Dave Margoshes

Just for fun, see also “The Persistent Suitor.”

Jun 252010

On Emma Lake

This is a poem by my friend Dave Margoshes, also a short story writer (also someone I could depend on for Best Canadian Stories in the decade of my editorship). Dave lives in Saskatchewan which is a province I used to visit a lot–those lovely summer residencies at Fort San (a retired tuberculosis hospital turned into a summer arts centre–some details from the place made it into a story of mine called “A Piece of the True Cross”) in the beautiful Qu’Appelle Valley. Every morning we were awakened by the call of bag pipes wafting over the dry hills. But he knows Vermont well, having been a guest at the Vermont Studio Center.

Author’s Note:

“Becoming a writer” is one of the poems in my collection The Horse Knows the Way, which came out last fall (from Buschek Books in Ottawa). The poem was sparked by something I read or heard – I thought by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – to the effect that “Everything I needed as a writer I had acquired by the time I was six.” In fact, I used that quote, or what I thought may have only been a paraphrase, as an epigram to the poem, and it appeared that way in The Queen’s Quarterly. Later, as I was preparing for the publication of The Horse Knows the Way, I was unable to verify the quote – now I have no idea from whence it came – and dropped the epigram. The poem, and an explanation like this about the epigram, appeared later in The Best Canadian Poetry in English, 2009, from Tightrope Books in Toronto. So I owe Marquez – or someone – a debt of gratitude.

Becoming a writer

What could be easier than learning to write?
Novels, poems, fables with and without morals,
they’re all within you, in the heart, the head,
the bowel,  the tip of the pen a diviner’s rod.
Reach inside and there they are, the people
one knows, their scandalous comments,
the silly things they do, the unforgettable feeling
of a wet eyelash on your burning cheek.
This moment, that, an eruption of violence,
a glancing away, the grandest of entrances,
the telling gesture, the banal and the beautiful,
all conspire with feeling and passion to transport,
to deliver, to inspire. Story emerges
from this cocoon, a crystalline moment, epiphanies
flashing like lightbulbs above the heads
of cartoon characters. All this within you
where you least expect  it, not so much in the head
as under the arms, glistening with sweat, stinking
with the knowledge of the body, the writer
neither practitioner nor artisan but miner, digging
within himself for riches unimagined, for salt.

—Dave Margoshes