Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Of Wyrms and Women pt 28

Note: this is a section that on one hand feels very appropriative to me, and on the other is essential to an understanding of the character. While the hair-touching is something I experienced myself as a child, I understand it happens to grown Women of Colour quite often. So this short little piece is grappling with race, bodily autonomy, infantilization, lived experience and disbelief, privilege and ignorance. 

[part 1] [part 2] [part 3][part 4][part 5][part 6][part 7][part 8][part 9][part 10][part 11][part 12][part 13][part 14][part 15][part 16][part 17][part 18][part 19][part 20][part 21][part 22][part 23][part 24][part 25][part 26][part 27]


“What’s it like?”
“Being black.”
I don’t know.”
“I don’t know.”
“How could you not know?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“But I want to understand you. Your life.”
“Jeez, Tia.”
“I don’t know what to tell you.”
“I’m trying to be a better person.”
“Go find Obi-Wan.”
“You’re such a nerd.”
“Have another drink.”
“Okay. But Sam?”
“I really do want to know.”
“About skin, or about me?”

Monday, October 22, 2012

The lines that follow me

There are lines of poetry that follow me around. Most of the time these lines roost quietly in the attic, making little flitters and flutters and sighs, but occasionally one or more awake with a rush and fury of wingflaps, an insistent rhythm refusing to be ignored.

If not in yours
                        In whose
In whose language
                               Am I
If not in yours
M. NourbeSe Philip

is my mother tongue.
A mother tongue is not
not a foreign lan lan lang
--a foreign anguish.
M. NourbeSe Philip

Some of these lines insist on a response. The manuscript of my thesis project was almost entirely driven by these two quotes from NourbeSe Philip repeating in my head, a refrain cradling almost every poem I wrote for over two years.

Steady brown hand on a Stanley knife,
she cut me--expertly--out of her life;
Ken Babstock

What, me, guard sheep?
I made that up; this is poetry.
Eirin Moure
My memory is not very visual. It's probably not a coincidence that these lines are all lines I have heard read, that they echo in the voice of the writer/reader. The Erin Moure quote I desperately want tattooed across my collarbones; I feel it is a kind of mission statement, the poetics of my life expertly expressed in two little lines at the beginning of Sheep's Vigil by a Fervent Person. I have not done it yet, mostly because I wonder what Erin would think.

I've been thinking about this post since I told Ken Babstock about his line that follows me. When he asked me what line, I hesitated: what if I had been misremembering it all that time? What if I had it wrong, wouldn't that be embarrassing.

But I told him, because as a writer I know that having a line lodge in someone's head, to have it reverberate with a person over time, is one of the real hopes of poetry. Even if the line is changed, that it resonated with someone really means that language was made dynamic, that it connected and incited thought or emotion.

What I didn't say, but kind of wish I had, was that it is very likely I will steal this line at some point. "Literary allusion" or "plagiarism" or whatever you want to call it, it's poetry's version of a cover song, acknowledging influences; repossessing the possession.

Come live with me and be my love
Christopher Marlowe

This is one of those rare lines that I don't like, but that persists like an earworm. The wonderful thing about Marlowe is that I mildly shocked a high school teacher by declaring that the poem was actually about prostitution. Petite madeleines drawing me back towards formative moments. Part of the power is from my own reminiscence and nostalgia about the moments when I read those lines.

In my dreams you're alive and you're crying.
Neutral Milk Hotel

I wonder if this is what ghosts are: fragments of language or sound or sight or smell that integrate themselves into our psyche, becoming active memories that sometimes fade into background static and sometimes infringe on our sensual interaction with the world. Lines that never completely disappear, that shape my world through their hauntings.

to let none of us go missing without a fuss
Margaret Christakos

Friday, October 5, 2012

thoughts on critique & criticism

“Asking every female artist to represent 3.3b women in every project she does is a crippling and unfair request.” -Caitlin Moran, tv critic & columnist


As a writer, as a storyteller and artist, I feel that I have an ethical responsibility to be cognizant of the larger trends of representation in the culture I participate in. Does that mean I always tell a story about POC? Or that a woman is always my protagonist? No. It does mean that I analyze trends in my own work and ask questions like “why is this character a man?” “why is this character white?” “when was the last time a First Nations or Inuit person appeared in my work?”

My work is primarily poetry. Not many people will ever engage with it. And yet I wrestle with questions of representation and appropriation. Because it’s important. Because I have the privilege of reading a book or watching a tv show and seeing myself in it.The so-called universal is often produced with a person like me (white, middle class, cis) in mind.

Not always. There is no perfect center. (Almost?) no one sees their perfect representation in media. The center is a lie; we are all marginalized in some way (queer, woman). But some of us are closer than others. When it comes to storytelling, this matters so very very much. It matters because it dictates the casual choices of the artist, of the writer, of the casting director. It matters because some of us are lucky enough to not have to struggle with certain questions, like questions of class or race or gender or ability, on a regular basis. Because we are taught to see these things as difference, as “add-on” identities rather than as part of the (urgh, this word) “default”.

That’s a lie. They are default. But our culture works to obfuscate that fact.

How much more important, then, is it for producers of mass media and culture to engage with these questions, particularly when they claim to speak for or represent a whole group of people (in this case, women). When generalizing like this, representation becomes even more important. Because failure to recognize the long tradition of unequal representation is complicity. Failure to engage with these questions is a choice. An ethical choice.

And criticizing that choice is always valid.

Culture does not exist in a void. It is always political. It always has ramifications.

And isn’t that a point of making art? To connect with people? To perhaps make them feel, or grow, or think? Maybe to incite or inspire some kind of change?

Even fluff has the goal of making people feel good, or providing an escape. Even fluff reflects ethical decisions on the part of its creator.

Because art and culture have meaning, critique is essential. Culture isn’t stable; critique is a means of invigorating, changing, and pushing culture to better reflect something it lacks, or to expose the assumptions that it is built on. Critique is a means of cultural production just as surely as creative writing, or drawing, or acting.
So for a writer (a critic, even) to dismiss valid critique so flippantly, well it speaks to her own ethics and politics. Just as creating a show without any POC speaks to the ethics and politics of that show’s creator. All art, all writing, exists as ethical and political.

And as an observer and participant in culture, I get to say your ethics suck.

I don’t even think that the writer necessarily has to respond to the critique with an immediate change in the work (though that, to me, is the sign of an active and thoughtful engagement); it is okay for flawed work to exist. It’s okay to say “well, I didn’t ask these questions in this interview, but maybe I’ll think about it next time.” Because ethically, we are always doomed to a certain degree of failure. The interesting thing is trying to minimize that failure while still producing. Sometimes that means listening to critique and moving on to the next thing. Sometimes that means listening to critique and changing the current project. Sometimes that means listening to critique and scrapping the current project entirely. Often it means apologizing. But note how every step requires a combination of listening and self-analysis.

It is always interesting to see critics who deal badly with criticism. I wonder how they see their own role within the realm of cultural production? How do they see their relationship with the creators they are critiquing, and the audience that they are talking (to) (with) (for)?

Caitlin Moran will probably continue to not “give a shit” about representation.

But that sucks. And we* should do better.

And I would say something about the worth of this whole racist mess being found in the discourse that has grown, but really, that’s shit. Why should we continue to condone this bullshit, whatever its source?

So critics, writers, artists: stop making excuses for unethical work. Stop dismissing criticism just because it is about race (or class, or gender, or ability). Participate in the project of equal representation. It’s not new. We aren’t pioneers here. Look for cultural traditions that support this project (they exist in all genres), and think of them as canonical.

Recognize that your work is an ethical and political project.

Because it is. And it always will be.

*read that "we" as as me+Moran, or you+me, or writers, or critics, or artists, or white people, or feminists, or human beings, or

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Old Poet Tree

I've been going through my old files. Kind of interesting to stumble on poetry so unlike anything I would write now. This was one of the first poems I workshopped, the first one I read in public (at the Art Bar open mic, and again at Flywheel when I first got to Calgary). I thought I would put it up here, because nostalgia for the "lyric", "confession", "authenticity", "emotion", and also ripping off ("referencing") Neutral Milk Hotel.


The gun rests in the cradle
of my palms an incalculable
load pulling through my arms to
shoulders stooped towards the loaded gun in my hands
pointing at the ground between my toes;
in moments it will turn its Roman nose
to point between my eyes piercing
a hole through which my mind will


Small treasures
from your sewing box.
We search for an instrument of repair:
you love the way  the scissors
sparkle silver; I never forget
they are surgical steel.


You stumbled into the room ghost-faced and trembling
liquid blots like breadcrumbs behind you trail back
to the open box—your arm a pincushion
forgive me pulling them from you gently
as I could, shining red and ruined.


We’d sit on the floor
trimming ribbons.
The ritual
snip of scissors
biting through silk,
bright streams around us.


A stain paints your
conscious left cheek:
how could I help but match
my lips to the colour of it?
The snakebite of your scissors
when you decide
to be the cartographer
mapping me
in resemblance
of you.


The only girl I’ve ever loved
put delicate pennies on her eyes

breathing a sigh,
she sunk deep into the bath

cleansed at last,
the copper glinted like new.

When I sleep she’s warm in my arms,
her hair on my cheek,
the taste of a penny on my tongue.

Friday, August 31, 2012

On The Unmemntioable by Erin Moure

I find that I can read the Polish, and I think: what a miracle that all the words I know are together on this page.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Of Wyrms and Women pt 27

[part 1] [part 2] [part 3][part 4][part 5][part 6][part 7][part 8][part 9][part 10][part 11][part 12][part 13][part 14][part 15][part 16][part 17][part 18][part 19][part 20][part 21][part 22][part 23][part 24][part 25][part 26]

I crawl into bed with my new copy of Beowulf. It’s a small paperback; the spine creases as soon as I open the book. The paper is thin, with a rough texture. I flip past the introduction, and skim through the text looking for Wealhtheow.
There was laughter of heroes, harp-music ran,
words were warm-hearted. Wealhtheow moved,
mindful of courtesies, the queen of Hrothgar,
glittering to greet the Geats in the hall,
peerless lady; but to the land’s guardian
she offered first the flowing cup,
bade him be blithe at the beer-drinking,
gracious to his people . . .
Wealhtheow’s duty was to be welcoming to Beowulf and his companions. She made sure they received the best cuts of the roast boar on the long table. She made sure that her ladies were always nearby with flasks to refill the guests’ cups. Wealhtheow sat next to Beowulf, so that she personally could monitor his cup of mead, replenishing the honeyed drink often. Young Beowulf could easily best old Hrothgar, could sway the allegiance of Hrothgar’s people by killing Grendel. Her sons were too young to fight the Geat; it would be simple for him to challenge their father to a swordfight for the kingship, then exile Wealhtheow and her two boys. Or kill her boys with the broadsword he left outside the hall. So Wealhtheow sat next to Beowulf, ready to slip adder’s venom into his cup. Hrothgar would not approve of his wife having poison at the ready, but Wealhtheow was practical. Her people had been worn down by Grendel, losing good warriors during night time attacks. Though dishonourable, poison was the only way Wealhtheow could be sure her family would survive if Beowulf wanted Herot for himself.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Of Wyrms and Women pt 26

 [part 1] [part 2] [part 3][part 4][part 5][part 6][part 7][part 8][part 9][part 10][part 11][part 12][part 13][part 14][part 15][part 16][part 17][part 18][part 19][part 20][part 21][part 22][part 23][part 24][part 25]

The first time I heard the words “your people” applied to me, I was in grade four. We were having a culture fair. We would do a project on our heritage, and then both fourth grade classes would gather in the gym, and everyone would take turns presenting. We were supposed to bring a snack that represented our culture.
Miss Thompson told us about multiculturalism. We were all from different backgrounds, she said, but we were all welcome in Canada. The only kid who was a real Canadian, she said, was Mike.  Mike was an Indian – well he was back then. Now I suppose he’s Native American. Miss Thompson said he was a real Canadian; his people were here before the explorers, and now they live on reserves to keep their culture alive. Miss Thompson asked Mike to demonstrate an Indian War Cry, and Mike said he didn’t know how. Mike’s dad was a doctor and wasn’t into all that reserve stuff. When Miss Thompson insisted, he did like the movies: he made his mouth into an O and pounded his hand against his lips. Miss Thompson was appeased.
Then all of us had to say what our heritage was. Some kids were immigrants. More were the children of immigrants. A few Poles. A few Italians. One Portuguese. A number British. One kid was French – his great-grandparents had come from France. When it was my turn, I said I was Canadian.
“Where are your parents from, Samantha?” Miss Thompson asked.
“And their parents?”
“Canada,” I repeated, sheepishly.
“But your family must have come from someplace else originally. Were your people slaves who escaped north from the States?”
I don’t think she meant anything by it. My Mom later told me some people were just ignorant, and that included teachers.
“No, Miss Thompson. We’re Canadian.” I answered, although I was beginning to doubt myself. I didn’t know where we were from before Canada. This was the first time I was told we had to be from somewhere else.
“Well you’re African. Why not do a project on Africa?”
“But I’m Canadian!” I protested. “Why can’t I do a project on that?”
“Michael is already doing Canada. No one else is from Africa. It’s good to embrace our differences.” Miss Thompson said.
“But other people are doing the same place. Why can’t we?” I wheedled.
“You don’t have to be ashamed, Samantha. You should be proud of your heritage.”
That was the end of the discussion. My Dad’s family was Irish, but I didn’t think to tell that to Miss Thompson. Or maybe I wasn’t sure that she’d believe me. There was one book in the school library about Africa. It was a children’s storybook about Anansi. When I got home I complained to my mother. I didn’t want to do Anansi. I didn’t know what kind of food I could bring. As soon as my mother got in from work, I immediately confronted her about my school assignment.
“Sometimes it’s easiest to do as you’re told,” my mother advised. But she was upset enough to telephone Miss Thompson at the school. I was told to leave the room. Eventually, Mom called me back, and informed me that I was to do the project on Anansi.
“But Mom, I hate spiders!”
“Just learn about Anansi, and I’ll find something for you to take in.”
That was the end of the argument. I took in a fried banana treat and talked about the trickster spider. I lied about the snack and said my Mom made it all the time; really she got the recipe from a neighbour and never made it again. She didn’t like bananas. Paul told us that every year his Uncle in Poland sent a special Communion wafer so that everyone in their family could have a piece. Stephanie wore her mother’s red shawl over her sweater to show her Portuguese heritage. My presentation was shortest. I felt lacking, somehow. My family was so typical, unlike all these other families. We didn’t have any special cookies or meaningful scarves.
Thinking about it now, I realize some of the other kids must have picked traditions out of books, or were talking about their grandparents rather than their parents’ way of doing things. Mike, certainly, never did a tribal dance in his life before this point. Mike played soccer; he didn’t go to powwows. We never really thought of him as Indian; he was just Mike—he played on the AA hockey team and got straight C’s. I had the biggest secret crush on him in seventh grade. But he had a thing with Lindsey, who was skinny and had blond hair down to her waist. My body was awkward and chubby. I knew better than to compete.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Of Wyrms and Women pt 25

 [part 1] [part 2] [part 3][part 4][part 5][part 6][part 7][part 8][part 9][part 10][part 11][part 12][part 13][part 14][part 15][part 16][part 17][part 18][part 19][part 20][part 21][part 22][part 23][part 24]

Wealhtheow watches the walls rise. Loads of lumber shrink as the structure strengthens. Men sweat and strain, labouring to build a legacy. Hrothgar’s hall Herot. Wealhtheow wonders: where is her husband? Hrothgar should be here. Where does a ring-giver go when he is not granting gold? Where does a warrior rest when he is not at war? Hrothgar returned from the raids. He gave generous gifts to his warriors. Wealhtheow hosted a feast, mentioned each man in turn. Her husband did his duty to his people. The Shield-Danes prosper. But Hrothgar never has time to tend to his wife.
Wealhtheow thought the waiting would end when the men returned from this war. Their absence absconded, she hoped to have her husband near. Hrothgar claims that when his hall is finished, he will cease campaigning. He promises peace to match his prosperity. Wealhtheow wears a great weight of gold. She touches a torc, thinks of her father, and turns. Wealhtheow walks away from the construction, towards the edge of the cliff. She thinks hears something howling below, and peers down. She only sees ocean, crests crashing against the crags.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Of Wyrms and Women pt 24

[part 1] [part 2] [part 3][part 4][part 5][part 6][part 7][part 8][part 9][part 10][part 11][part 12][part 13][part 14][part 15][part 16][part 17][part 18][part 19][part 20][part 21][part 22][part 23]

Tia and I have been drinking. She’s sprawled out on my couch; I’m sitting on a chair I carried the two steps from the kitchen to my living room. Her phone rang and she pulled it out of her pocket. She checked the front and flipped it open. I keep drinking, but I stop pretending not to listen once she starts talking about men.

“I had a boyfriend once tell me he liked that I didn't wear makeup, but then he tells me that I should get better products to wash my face because I have too many zits. This guy also thought that tight jeans on women were false advertising. He wants girls to be naturally pretty, otherwise they’re cheating.

“False advertising, he called it. Something along the lines of ‘Some girls use jeans to pretend they have great asses, but once the jeans come off the butt sags and droops.’

“This guy also had ideas about how proper women should deal with menstruation, but that's a different story.

“Really, it’s not that interesting.

“Well, okay. This jackass told me, very seriously, that women should only ever use disposable pads, which need to be changed every four hours. He suggested setting a timer, and carrying it around! Tampons, he said, leave fibres that make the inside of the vagina feel rough to his penis. He felt that tampons should be banned completely. He also thinks that a woman's tits are largest during her period, so that she is more likely to want a baby to suckle them, so it is unwise to play with boobs while a woman is menstruating.

“I guess because it will make her crazy for babies?

“He thought he was very empathetic and understood exactly how to be a woman. He delivered this lecture to me after he heard me bitching about cramps.

“Oh, and cramps can be treated with ginger tea, according to his wisdom. But don't take pills, because advil will pollute the body and make a woman unable to stand pain. Cramps are preparation for childbirth.

“How would a woman know what to do with her body without a man to tell her? I wonder what he thought I did before I met him . . . bled all over the floor, maybe.

“I know. Me too, but I didn't want to contradict him. Why bother?

“Hah! He also had opinions on women shaving: they shouldn't, anywhere, unless they are really hairy, in which case they should trim to respectable lengths.

“He had delicate sensibilities, I think.

“Yeah, just like that, in the general patriarch dictator sort-of way.
I get up and go to the bathroom. When I return, Tia is done on the phone. She apologizes for being rude, but I wave it off. We sit and drink quietly.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Of Wyrms and Women pt 23

[part 1] [part 2] [part 3][part 4][part 5][part 6][part 7][part 8][part 9][part 10][part 11][part 12][part 13][part 14][part 15][part 16][part 17][part 18][part 19][part 20][part 21][part 22]

How no one died, I can’t guess. A five-alarm fire, and as far as I can tell, no one was even injured. On the television, images of the firefighters alternate with depictions of the wrecked buildings, black and crumbling. There is a radius around the disaster zone where the heat melted the snow and ice. Further away, where the heat had less of an effect, a layer of soot blankets the snow. The firefighters, in their big yellow coats, poke through the remains, making sure no spark is left to reignite.  I would have thought the snow would have been some protection for the buildings; a natural sprinkler system activated once the roofs caved in. But the snow evaporated too quickly, and the cold froze water in the pipes before it could reach the blaze. Somehow, everyone got out in time.
When I mention to Tia that it’s like some kind of miracle, she gives me a look. She begins to talk about people losing their homes, their livelihoods. She tells me that the apartments there were large but fairly affordable—good for families.

“Can’t they rebuild?” I ask.

“Eventually. But where are they going to live until then?”

I hadn’t thought of that. Tia sees deeper into the situation than I do. There’s a kind of double-loss that happened last night. Some people lost their homes. Some people lost their buildings, their merchandise, their incomes. It occurs to me that insurance will help a number of these victims to re-establish themselves, but Tia probably has a rejoinder to that as well. I don’t bother bringing it up.

The Lair is busy, which is rare at this hour, between the morning rush and lunchtime. I’m not in my usual spot. Instead, I’m sitting on a chair in a corner. I’ve been planted here since I showed up after work to find Tia standing outside offering coffee to the few passersby. Now, there’s a bustle that I’m not used to; a number of regulars have shown up to talk about what has happened, and to see if there’s any way to mobilize. These people are combative. They protest wars, and write letters raging against injustice. Now they’re ineffectually noisy. Who can you take to task over a fire? It seems that there’s little to do except blow smoke. Tia’s comforting some patrons, calming others. She seems to sense the state of everyone’s nerves: shaken and scared, or helpless and angry. It’s like the insecurities of the city have gathered under one roof, and Tia has taken it upon herself to ease the pain. She’s been pouring coffee, and not taking payment. Instead there’s a jar collecting cash for the victims. An offering. There’s a woman on the TV explaining that she fled her home in her pyjamas, and a stranger gave her the thick brown jacket she’s now wearing. She has a sister she can stay with in Hamilton, although she can’t articulate why she hasn’t left yet. She’s waiting to see what happens, even though there hasn’t really been anything to see for the past few hours.

Tia shakes me awake. She tells me to go home, I’m getting in the way. So I go.

I wish I were exhausted, that I could fall right into sleep. Instead, I toss and turn. I get up and open the window. A blast of frigid air strikes my face. I breathe it in, imagining frost patterns forming along the walls of my lungs. Leaving the window open, I get back into bed. This time, I fall asleep. A child that would look like me if I had a big toothless grin, rides a bike in the summertime. Her curls an anemone. Then suddenly she is gone, and a TV reporter explains that although no one has died, it will take some time to rebuild.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Of Wyrms and Women pt 22

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The image knocked me over. Vicious orange flames lick through a rolling haze of grey smoke. I hear only a few words of what the anchor says “the fire on Queen Street . . .” Queen Street. Tia. The anchor’s lips move, but the words do not reach me. My head floats. I see the fire as it mounts and recedes and mounts again in its tidal rage. I watch, unmoving, as a purple mass worms its way through the smoke, and vanishes from the view of the camera. I’m in the staff room of the library, far from the fire but I feel the pressing heat, hear the crackle and boom of buildings being consumed.
It is hard to say how much time passes before I notice the caption on the screen that tells me exactly where the fire is burning. It is too far west to touch Tia. She is safe. A rush of breath leaves me and my head settles back onto my shoulders. I need to be sure so I pull my backpack off the table and root through it for my phone. I am not even conscious of dialling before I hear Tia’s voice. She is wheezing, repeating “Hello? Hello?”
“Tia” I whisper.

“Sam? That you?” Her breathing is rapid bursts of static. I must have woken her up. I hadn’t thought about the time.
“Tia. Are you okay?”
“The fire on TV.”
“Over near Bathurst, I think. Turn on your TV.” I hear her moving around, a burst of noise as she turns on her television—she must have had the volume way up. A minute or so of silence as Tia catches up with the news.
“Christ, I got my first bike there.” I hear Tia inhale. “Sam, I’m nowhere close to that area. Look, I’m going downstairs to open in case anyone ends up down this way. It’s freezing out, people are going to need places to go out of the cold.”
“What?” This makes no sense to me. “Won’t the city take care of that?”
“Maybe, if they’re organized. Look, I’ve got to go. I’m going to call around to let people know I’m opening early. Where are you, work?”


“Well, come by when you’re done if you want.” The line goes dead. I continue to cradle the phone, listening to the dial tone. Tia’s okay, I tell myself over and over. I’m unscathed. This is not my disaster, so why do I feel ruined?
Somewhere inside me I trust that Tia’s doing a good thing. My mind slowly returns to normal speed, clunking like an old furnace turning on after a long summer. I doubt that many people will make their way into Tia’s shop, but then again, it depends on how large an area they wind up evacuating, how fast they can arrange emergency shelter, what direction they instruct people to go. I look back at the television. That’s an old area burning to the ground, I know that much. And most of the stores along Queen have people living above them. With a fire that intense, Toronto’s going to have a new scar across her belly. But it will heal. A city this size usually does. I hope everyone gets out. I’m not looking at the screen, but the footage is looping through my mind. A blaze like that will have casualties. I’m sure of it.
My watch tells me I should get back to work. It’s almost six a.m.  My ten-minute coffee break had stretched into more than half an hour. I pack up my stuff and turn off the little television. I want to finish quickly and go to Tia. For the rest of the night the books in my peripheral vision catch fire. Over and over I turn my head to put out the flames.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Of Wyrms and Women pt 21

[part 1] [part 2] [part 3][part 4][part 5][part 6][part 7][part 8][part 9][part 10][part 11][part 12][part 13][part 14][part 15][part 16][part 17][part 18][part 19][part 20]

Wealhtheow stood in the water. Cold waves lap at her legs, goosebumps blossom up her body. Wealhtheow looks out at an expanse of brooding blue-grey water, feels the chill of the wind. Soon, a storm. She thinks of her family, far away. Her fierce father. Her aloof mother. Her brash brother, who would have fought in his first campaign, by now. All lost to her; the doom of distance lay between them. Wealhtheow lost feeling in her feet while the waves grew. She read trouble in the churning of the sea.
She placed a hand on her rounded belly, certain of a son. She should go back to the hall, before she is missed. Wealhtheow waded deeper, reluctant to return to shore. Her name was called. Hrothgar, who found her, was frustrated by Wealhtheow’s wandering. He entered the water, took his wife by the arm, and led her home. She shouldn’t be caught out in the storm, he chided.
Hrothgar saw the sea, but failed to perceive the portents.
He does not know what waits.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

95 books blog

I'm doing the 95 books blog (read 95 books, write a short review of each one) again this year. I won't cross-post everything, but books I particularly love or want to discuss with a bit more detail will get two posts: a short one over at 95 books, and a more in-depth one here. I'm going to work on getting the rest of Of Wyrms and Women posted. I'd also like to do some posts soon about finishing grad school and what comes next for my thesis manuscript. So while I'm thinking about what I'm doing with this blog in the next while, is there anything else you'd like to see in this space?

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Of Wyrms and Women pt 20

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The heap of books on my desk is teetering. My desk isn’t very big; normally it contains only my computer. Now, books are piled perilously beside my monitor. I grab a few off the top of the stack and place them neatly under the desk. I rearrange the original mound, lining up the spines to form a straight edge. How long will it take the library to notice the missing volumes? I don’t know how they keep track of these things. One of these days I’ll start returning the books; I really am just borrowing them. I can slip them into the piles of books that I collect around the library and leave in the overnight book drop for the library staff. No one will ever know they were gone.
A knock at the door. I get up and look through the peephole. It’s Tia. I freeze and try to keep silent. Go away. Leave me alone.
“Sam? Sam? It’s Tia. Sam are you home?”
I worry her shouting will bring the neighbours’ eyes to the hallway. They will stare, memorizing the face of their annoyance. They will blame me, those eyes, glaring every time I pass. I quickly unlock the door, and swing it open.
Tia walks in unperturbed. “Where have you been?”
I blink.
Tia turns towards me. “You just disappeared.”
“I got busy.”
“That’s it?”
I shrug.
“Phil told me I owe you a coffee. Why don’t you come down to the shop?”

Tia sits down on one of my wobbly Ikea kitchen chairs. She picks a coaster off the table and slips it under one of the chair legs. The chair starts to tilt in the other direction, so she switches to the other chair, leaving the coaster underneath the leg of the first.
“I uh, can I get you anything? To drink maybe?”
“God, Sam.”
“I can make tea.” I fill the electric kettle at the tap. “Am I supposed to use hot or cold water? I can never remember.”
“Cold. I just want to know why.”
“You showed Wealhtheow to Phil.”
Tia’s forehead crinkled further. “I thought you’d be happy.”
“It was private.”
“You gave it to me.”
“Yeah, you.” I click the kettle on.
“Phil studies that medieval stuff, you know.” Tia turns the vase of silk tulips that my Mom put in the center of the table the last time she was over. “I thought he could give you some ideas.”
“Do you want regular tea or decaf?”
“Decaf tea? Really?”
“For before bed.”
“I can’t stay for tea.”
I unwrap a bag of regular tea, and dangle it from its string. “How long have you known Phil?”
“Oh, he started coming by the shop a few years ago. He was still in high school, then.”
“You trust him?”
“You know he takes care of the shop when I’m away. Remember our trip to Montreal?”
I smile. “Why don’t we have a chocolate restaurant in Toronto?”
“Why don’t you open one?”
The kettle snaps off. I pour the water into the teapot, and get out two mugs. One mug has a picture of Mickey Mouse. The other was a freebee from the bank; CIBC is stamped on it in gold lettering.
“Tia, I can’t even make macaroni and cheese without exploding the kitchen.”
Tia laughs. “I’ll see if I can’t start stocking something chocolaty, just for you.”
The next day I went back to the Lair. Tia tells me to go sit down, she’s going to make me something special.

“My chocolate bee,” she says, setting down the mug in front of me. I sip. Hot chocolate, with a dense sweetness.
“What’s in it?”
“Can’t you tell?”
“Um, well it’s hot chocolate.”
“With espresso and honey. Like it?”
I take another sip, then smile at Tia. “Put it on the menu.”