Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Meal To Die For

You asked about the greens, sir? Meet Bärlauch, the wild and delicate German garlic whose crime is to grow alongside look-alike lily-of-the-valley leaves, with their 38 heart-stopping compounds. The steamed fish: fugu, an extravagance forbidden the Emperor of Japan because of its paralytic liver toxins. Your mash: cassava, staple of the tropical latitudes. Chef assures me it's been soaked long enough to lose its cyanide. But you’ll catch up . . . with these bitter Anatolian almonds, their flavour as distinct from that of ordinary nuts as a Romeo y Julieta cigar is to your garden Marlboro. Seventeen will get you intubated. Chin chin!

Images from Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

I am a poem, but I’m not gonna hurt you

I am a poem, but I’m not gonna hurt you.
(See how I'm not beginning with any weird fogs
On little cat feet
Or Tyger-Tygers, burning bright
But a promise like some simple dog?)

We could be simple together.

No rhymes, no schemes
None of those, like, metaphors
No being read stupid aloud by Mr. Fergusson the
    year you’re doing Romeo and Juliet and his wife
    leaves him and his default sweater and he stops and
    tells the class: Poetry can hurt you
(and cries).
No next day, when they say he’s on leave.

No strange quiet months after that.

Image based on The Tyger, by William Blake.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Lonely Hearts

I stumble when she cuts me off, but she doesn’t notice. She breezes across my path to enter a McDonald’s. Through the window, I see her join the line and bump the man in front of her. She ignores his glare and keeps her head down over her mobile.  She pecks with both thumbs.  “I’m busy,” her posture proclaims. “I’m connected. I may be in McDonald’s by myself, but I’m not really alone.” I don’t judge her; she’s just trying to cope. I step inside and line up behind her, pulling out my own phone, which was disconnected last July.

Sunday, September 25, 2011


Dove was slipping into one of his moods, the clouds moving in. “You go without me,” he said to Raven. “I don’t think I can stand another night coming home empty-handed.”
     “Tonight’ll be different,” said Raven. “Howsbout a blonde? I’ll get you a blonde, you’ll cheer right up!”
     And so, perched in his corner of the club, Dove watched his friend move, to and fro as the evening dragged on and the talent dried up, nearly last call before he brought the girl back to their table . . . but by then Dove was gone, and the rain had started up again.

For other writings inspired by this image, visit Magpie Tales.
Also published in The Gooseberry Garden and ABC Wednesday.

A Hard-Boiled Bird

Another nickel, another crazed midnight with Cleotis Hammersley. She insisted, the way only the lace-gloved, silk-trained rich can insist, that she was being spied on; she wanted, the way heroines always want, to leave the mansion and draw the watchers out; and it was raining, a way it never rains in southern California. I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance . . . I needed a night alone reading Raymond Chandler. What I had was a coat of feathers, a black feather hat, a headache like a gun. I put them on and escorted Miss Hammersley to the granite shores.

For other writings inspired by this image, visit Magpie Tales.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Spam Spam, You’re Dead!

A deceased client of mine, that shares the last name of yours, died as a result of his heart condition, due to the death of all the members of his family in the tsunami on 26 December 2004 in Sumatra, Indonesia. As reported by Wikipedia.
     My parents were killed by heartless military that supported the incumbent president that lose election and refuses to set down.
     His sudden death was linked or rather, suspected, to have been masterminded by an uncle who travelled with him at that time. But God knows the truth!
     We receive an email that you are dead.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Weeping and Whaling

Most women are attuned to their bodies. From years of living with our complex systems we’ve learned to anticipate what’s coming. For instance, I’m quite sure that I’m menopausal. Between tears and night sweats I can produce enough salt water to keep a beached whale alive for days. All I’d have to do is roll over the poor creature while wearing flannel pyjamas and thinking about an OSPCA commercial. Throw a pair of Daniel’s baby shoes and a wool scarf into the works and those Sea Shepherds could have nursed a couple gillyweed blunts before the situation ever got dicey.

[Image taken from Milkcap Mania]

Chicken Little and the NASA Space Junk

It was the last straw, thought Henny. She had humored her husband, Chicken, through his Millenial panics. Avoided flying September 11th. Even conceded when he didn’t want the chicks getting flu shots. But his new edict, “Eggs are bad for you,” was flat-out ridiculous. First she’d dial 1-800-DIVORCE (348-6723). Then, invite that handsome Rooster Cogburn over for a nice greasy fry-up.
     She had just picked up the phone, when Chicken Little dove into the hutch, screaming, “The sky is fa—”
     The settlement from the fall of NASA’s Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite would buy Henny Cogburn many a delightful Eggs Benny.

Image: VintageChildren'

Mona Lisa’s Smile (Literary Judgement #2)

“Your manuscript,” Samuel Johnson was told, “is both good and original; but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good.”  “You just do not know how to use the English language!” someone advised young Rudyard Kipling. Orwell’s Animal Farm? Rejected, because it was “impossible to sell animal stories in the USA.” Kerouac’s On the Road?  Dismissed as “huge, sprawling and inconclusive.”  “I don't dig this one at all,” said one editor of it. And The Da Vinci Code? Rejected, because it was badly written. (Is this why the Mona Lisa smiles?)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Greensummer's Evening

Green, your patch of new lawn. Green, Vicente’s small T-shirt as he pulls at handsful of my hair, fresh green, each effort to capture my glasses, sturdy green, his plastic frog. Green slips in, cool and vinegary, with the sound of “chili” – how Ignacio says “Chile” was pronounced when first he came to Canada; a bad-ass mohawked kid, he'd go skipping class at Jarvis. Green drapes the mint in Taibe’s couscous; my elegant friend, you surprise me, drinking short Guinnesses, liking your chicken toasty. Grape green, the foothills of the starry Elqui mountains, where the vines for pisco grow. Salud.

Panorama of the Elqui Mountains by Fer Quintana.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Willow Weep for Me

Around are walls in 1940s green. Behind, antlers top a hutch stuffed with Scotch cartons. To the left, Rommel Reyes, a keyboard player with an unlikely tank of a name, turns his ear toward the music as though it were a shifting sprite, an Ariel to be beguiled with murmured incantations and an aqua surfer Tee. At right, Jeff Hewer, of the tapping sneaker and upright posture, holds a mental basin of water into which guitar notes splunk. Between, Carol Oya’s song, a supple willow branch in sparkly shoes that bends upon the stream and says that love has sinned.

Photograph, "Carol Between Sets", by Margaret Nieradka.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


There were far more snakes than even the season before, rising from the grass to the sound of her song, hanging from trees in the sun like so much forbidden fruit. Why make so many, she wondered, when all they really needed was one perfect pair?
     Still, she was lonely and envied them their companionship and the close excitement of the den. There she got to talking with the most subtil of the beasts, and wondered aloud how they might make more people.
     “Come close,” he said rising to his full height. “Come close, and I will show you how.”

For more writing inspired by Henri Rousseau’s The Snake Charmer, visit Magpie Tales.

The Snake Charmer

“My right pinkie, I have stretched her 13 years,” Leeah said, but Monsieur Rousseau still looked mostly junglesick. Kevon peeped from behind the mangrove where he was hiding and gestured, “Sex it up!”
     “My flute, I alone have polished him, naked but for light of the Moon we call Snake,” perked Monsieur Rousseau right up. Kevon was choking back giggles, the bastard.
     Leeah applied the flute to her twitching lips and began a two-note semi-mambo. Kevon managed to release their pet pythons on cue. As Monsieur Rousseau began sketching, mesmerized, Kevon slipped behind him and began to raid his rucksack.

For other writings inspired by Henri Rousseau's The Snake Charmer, visit Magpie Tales.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Culmen ’79

Yesterday, I discovered my high-school yearbook online—not for the school I attended, mind you, but the one I would have, had we not moved back to Canada after grade five. I must’ve spent the better part of a lost afternoon looking up old friends, checking out the talent, and wondering where I might’ve fit amongst its 288 pages. Were there a word for this odd strain of nostalgia, it would almost certainly have to be foreign, perhaps a mouthful of those wonderful German consonants that catch in the back of your throat as you attempt to describe the indescribable.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Wrecking Ball

The wrecking ball throws a crisp uppercut at a corner face of brick, leaving toothy mortar gaps and half-clotted wiring behind. A lull, another blow, and ghosts loom up from the dust of beaten carpets. The ball hangs back and contemplates.
     Across the street, a balcony of patients congregates. They wait, they watch the wrecking ball, IV stands trailing in the pause. Their gowns hang blue upon their frames, their rheumy eyes forget to blink, cigarettes suspend their ash. Still . . . Still, that breathless pause.
     At last, the ball floats toward the building's brick chin. Grey faces break into butterfly grins.

Image: HSS

Literary Judgement

Opinions on literary merit tend to be blunt and cruel. Early on, Earnest Hemingway was told by a publisher that publishing his first novel “would be in extremely rotten taste.” Writers themselves can be catty towards other scribblers. “Shakespeare’s name, you may depend on it, will go down,” said the impeccably-discerning Lord Byron, the father of his own niece. “He has no invention as to stories, none whatever.” Even the established Hemingway, survivor of scathing putdowns himself, scathingly put down the young Norman Mailer. “The whole book’s just diarrhea of the typewriter,” Papa said of The Naked and the Dead.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Tracing the TASER

The 1969 brainchild of NASA scientist Jack Cover, the TASER is named for “Thomas A. Swift’s Electric Rifle”, which was gleefully deployed in a series syndicated by juvenile fictioneer Edward Stratemeyer.
     I maintain the Syndicate’s 1910 invention was itself triggered by the Sears, Roebuck & Co. Catalogue, 1908. On its 208th page, alongside wet-or-dry-battery Miniature Fruit Lamps in peach, cherry, and pear, the Magneto Electric Thriller beckons. A device that “affords great amusement”, the Thriller vows to “make a strong man tremble.”
     A Mister James Keeline has thrown down the gauntlet, attributing the invention to Jules Verne.
     We duel at sunrise.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Strangers at the Circle R

That night, the men of Circle R met to contemplate the strangers lingering among them. DeVerne, who dreamt true dreams, had seen the antelope bolt from their sullen encampment on the western outskirt, its frightened coat turned whiter than snowdrops. A limping fawn had bared his teeth at Luke, cried at his gentle hands. The fawn’s blood trailed west, said the Kidd. The juniper of the woodfire snapped at that, Trigger growled, and Johnny stood. I’ll see to them, he said. And I, said Luke. And I, said – No, said Johnny. I’m the oldest. Let this be on my head.

Illustration: DeVerne, Who Dreamt True Dreams, by Margaret Nieradka.

Monday, September 12, 2011


“You can’t stink up the place like that!” What a head-up-her-ass roommate. Didn’t Monica realize that she had a strong sensitivity to chemicals? First it was plug-ins, then dryer sheets and now their tiny dorm room was redolent with the reek of nail polish remover. Her head pounded with each step as she picked her way through discarded flip-flops and sticky coffee cups. “Smell is particulate and you’re poisoning us both!” Whoever matched an International Relations student with a Com Studies bunny was an idiot.
     “Whatever." Monica yawned. Her splayed toes shiny-wet and off gassing with Lincoln Park after Dark.

[Image from: College Life]


That sky alone would’ve told me I wasn’t in Toronto anymore. Its paler, clearer blue, so angel-high, had a devil sun that seared the fig trees into leather and khaki: Sydney, Australia. By the time I got back home, the standard grade-school tempera-paint green of maple trees shouted with blue and even our most cloudless sky seemed fallen, saturated.
     Now, below, my friend Kent’s photo, taken on the road to his family’s home in Shantou, China: 
Shorn hills echo of once-great peaks, time-ground to infinite delicacies and resistances. This translucent sky holds mossy jade...
     And yet they’re all one sky.

Photograph: Scene from the Road to Shantou, by Kent Lam.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


He had been lost in the suffocating smoke and chaos of a doomed monolith.  He had emerged from the ruins coughing, sputtering, staggering, wounded, to wander among the dying and the maimed.  He had cheated death, survived to bear witness to a calamity that altered the world and changed his life.  He hated the way politicians created a myth, and used it for their own purposes, to settle old scores or to get re-elected.  He had seen heroism that day, but not everyone had been a hero.  Most survivors, like him, were victims, tormented now by rattling lungs and memory.

U.S. Navy Photo by Photographer's Mate 2nd Class Jim Watson

Friday, September 9, 2011

Winnipeg and Losers

Last week, Germany’s runaway, Yvonne, was captured after a dramatic three-month cowhunt and placed in sanctuary with her son, Friesi. Worse, Happy Feet – a penguin who’d washed up on New Zealand’s shore – was set paddling toward Antarctica, tweeting to followers worldwide. To Stephen frickin’ Fry, of The Hobbit's cast. Meanwhile, the only feel-good news Canada can choke out of all its wilderness has a woman pop a bear in the nose to save her dachshund, Fudge. Oh, crap, that was Alaska; the entire Hobbit cast must be thinking we’re losers. It doesn’t matter. It can’t. Because we’ll always have Winnipeg.

Image: AP.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Ernest Hemingway on Drinking in Pregnancy

Our mothers drank and smoked their way through pregnancy and we came out fine. Nice and small too, 7 pounds, 2 ounces, none of today’s turkey-weights. Why, in A Farewell to Arms, Catherine’s even told to drink beer to keep her baby small. So, okay, she loses the baby, but arguably that’s because Ernest Hemingway lacked afición for babies. Their sentences are too long. He must’ve liked kittens, though; his Key West estate houses Charlie Chaplin, Ragamuffin, a pocket-sized Audrey Hepburn, and many another cat with extra toes. Nowadays they’d be saying he gave their great-grandmothers little dishes of whiskey.

Image: Almost Famous Cats

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Alpha Dork

Packed into a busload of British Pink Nibblers, we set off on our guided tour of the Flanders battlefields. Hers was a distant branch of my tribe of geeks so I spotted her straightaway: The colourful Doc Martins, the notebook, the cowed and limpetty boyfriend. She either monopolized the guide or conducted her own mini-lectures to those too old or lame to risk spraining a fetlock in flight. When did her interest shift from D&D to genealogy? Did it coincide with her Amidala to Cylon 8 coming of age, or her intellectual shift from Monty Python to Blackadder quotations?

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