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Issue 5

September 2021

Cannery Row Magazine

A Literary Journal . . . with Benefits

Jumping the Gun

by Tanja Rabe

Editor's Desk

Personal  Anthropocene

by Katerina Fretwell

Poetry & Musings


by Mat Del Papa

Mat's Musings

Tobe Dervish

The Sandy Hookers

Musical Interlude

The Body Politic

by John Jantunen

Short Fiction

Is there a Mystery to

'Blind Obedience'?

by Nasreen Pejvack

Featured Essay

Basque Coast #1

by Katerina Fretwell

Poetry & Musings

Top Twenty

TV Show Binge Guide

by Tanja Rabe


The More Things Change . . .

by John Jantunen

Editor's Desk

Odd Fits

Motel Room Table

by Roger Nash

Poetry & Musings

Tourist Trap

by Matthew Del Papa

Short Fiction

Fungus Homunculus

 by Tanja Rabe

Fishbone Gallery

Policy Shmallacy

by Rebecca Kramer

Can of Worms

Blue Pool

by Rebecca Kramer

Musical Interlude

The Error of Our Ways

by Tanja Rabe

Creative Nonfiction


by Carmen Rodríguez

Book Nook

  Born in Kingston - Made in Canada

Jumping the Gun




Jumping the Gun

by Tanja Rabe

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"If you don’t vote, you lose the right to complain.”  - George Carlin

Welcome to the fifth edition of Cannery Row Magazine and we hope everyone managed alright during this summer of climate hell ('Best Summer Ever', according to Jason Kenney), coupled with the latest wave of our global nemesis. My deepest appreciation to all our hard-working artists for keeping us rolling along with their engaging contributions. 

So, are you ready to head to the polls . . . again?

     Looks like Mr. Trudeau has quickly tired of playing nice with the other parties and is looking to claim sole King of Ottawa-Hill, initially carried along on a wave of popular goodwill. The thing is though, approval ratings have a bad habit of taking a dive when you obviously try to cash in by calling pre-emptive snap elections. Add to this the fact that the next pandemic wave is in the process of working its way, once again, across the continent (as I'm typing cases are on the rise in Ontario - Alberta and BC are already a viral mess - and predictions are dire) with lockdown orders feasible to hit before election day, and the whole voting scenario, with expenses to the taxpayer estimated at 500,000,000 dollars, seems like an opportunistic, ill-conceived bunch of hogwash. 

Let's indulge in a temporal rewind:

      Throughout Canada's history, snap elections have been a mixed bag of beans, often backfiring on the instigators. Generally a tug-of-war between the Liberals and the Tories, in a few instances the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois managed to snatch the reins provincially from the (minority) ruling party, as occurred in Alberta (2015), Quebec (2012/1976) and Ontario (1990).

     Most snap elections have one thing in common: a general ennui (YAWN . . . really?) amongst the electorate and low participation numbers. Having to contend with a pandemic and social restrictions isn't likely going to increase enthusiasm (unless you're looking for a reason, any reason, to get out of the house!). 


This is part of a statement Justin Trudeau gave in answer as to the WHY:  

     "The decisions your government makes right now will define the future your kids and grandkids grow up in. So in this pivotal, consequential moment, who wouldn’t want a say? Who wouldn’t want their chance to help decide where our country goes from here? Canadians need to choose how we finish the fight against COVID-19 and build back better."   

Ah, so it's about needing a majority government to deal with that darn virus because - what? - the other parties are somehow blocking the way to an effective health/economic recovery? Pretty vague, full of innuendo and no mention of the environmental sharknado unleashed planet-wide over the past few years which, more then anything else, is threatening our "kids' and grandkids' future".


He basically contends, this election is being dumped on the citizenry to generously offer them a chance to be heard, insinuating we're all clamouring for a trip to the polls. Nice try, Justin, but a lot of folks ain't buying it and you're throwing their tax contributions out the window to purportedly gather information about what Canadians want, as if there weren't a gazillion polls and surveys running amok across the country that have been researching every single issue to bits.

       A costly 'final poll' to rubberstamp the obvious is just another vanity project, wasting resources that could be effectively used to address any number of current conundrums we're facing, such as ensuring the basic human right to housing for all (particularly in light of how many homeless Canadians perished from the heat and Covid). 

     Considering that the Liberal Party already had six years to implement their former pledges and looking at the situation we find ourselves in, it's impossible not to fall prey to a cynical stance towards the platform they offer this time around, especially since a large part of it appears copied and pasted from former promises, with a few minor edits to make them look shiny and new.

Let's take a peek at a few issues they vowed to address, way back:

      First off, what happened to the proposal of proportionate voting? Not a minor point, considering it had a major hand in getting the Libs elected in the first place as Canadians were asking for a fairer system that would help other parties get a chance at governance, thus preventing our decline into a two-party battlefield akin to the States. It died the quick death of oblivion after it had served its purpose, leaving us once again with a crisis of conscience at the polls whether to follow our hearts or our fears. 

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Remember the issue of clean drinking water on Indigenous Reservations? I found out recently that - and I kid you not - the Rez close to Brantford (Southern Ontario) and the one a half hour drive from Kingston along the 401 still have boiled water advisories; in fact, the latter has been drawing attention to this issue for more than a decade via yearly protest 'water walks' from Kingston to Ottawa in an effort to address 33 years of undrinkable water. (1)

And we're not even talking about some settlement in the far North, way off the beaten path. No, these are places bordering major urban centres, literally our neighbours down the road. And if they can't drink the water, how much progress can you assume has been made in farther-off regions of Canada?

     Add to that the continuing disappearances of Indigenous people, the high levels of suicides, the refreshed, deadly legacy of Residential Schools, the continuing travesty of the child welfare scoop, unaddressed land claims and a complete disregard for Indigenous rights when they get in the way of business as usual (clear cutting old growth, pipelines . . .), which render this lack of action beyond unconscionable. It's plain criminal negligence.


One of the big-ticket items across this fair nation, Housing, once again gets a leaky band-aid slapped on its gangrened, festering sore. Tax free savings accounts? Rent-to-own and first-time-homebuyers support? Besides the fact that these are old promises which have completely failed to address the predatory market practices inherent in our housing bubble/crisis in the past, be it for the average Canadian buyer or the ever growing breed of 'rental serfs', there is barely a mention on how banks, with their multi-billion dollar quarterly profits during a pandemic, have set impossible-to-reach standards for mortgage approvals, the hurdles and bureaucracy an endless maze to navigate as housing prices keep inflating out of reach, spurred on by real estate speculation.


A quote from an international housing investor unabashedly, and even gleefully, more than hints at the collusion between the government, banks and real estate moguls:

     “There is legal certainty,” (Spann) said. “The municipalities in Canada cooperate with landlords." Oh, really? So you're saying the LTB is biased in favour of the L against the T? Any tenant could have told you that. (2)

    The excuse that property sharks are buying up whole neighbourhoods to "provide more rental opportunities" (the word 'affordable' nowhere in sight) is nothing but whitewashing along the way of turning the vast majority of Canadians into easily exploitable tenants kept in constant fear of homelessness. (3)

       Point in fact, every few weeks we get an invitation in our mailbox, offering a quick and easy purchase of our (rented) house. Excuse me, if I refrain from passing this 'generous' offer on to my landlady. 


Next up . . . Healthcare. I'm not going to dive too far into that snake pit, we all know the system has been in serious crisis for as long as memory allows and Covid is burning out the last bastion of workers on the front lines, so the slew of promises spouted by our PM rings more than a tad hollow.

      Where, realistically, are we going to find 7500 fully trained supplementary doctors and nurses on the quick and where are they, right now, in the midst of this viral Möbius loop? Hoarded away for tougher times? Right, maybe he'll get them from Alberta where they're planning to lay off nurses in droves a.s.a.p. - I suspect to crash the public health system as an excuse to go full-on private, American style. Although even private healthcare requires staff, unless the med droids are further along than our techies are letting on.

      Three billion for long term care homes sounds just lovely, they're certainly in dire need, but what about the abysmal track record of many for-profit facilities which have proven to sacrifice client care to the bottomless appetite of shareholders? Taxpayers subsidizing essential, but for-profit, institutions? A shameful paradox. 

       Indigenous health and wellness? Refer back to a previous paragraph and tell me that's sincere.

In a nutshell, what we should be looking for in a health budget are major changes, a serious commitment to tackling the underlying causes of our dysfunctional and inequitable healthcare system such as: comprehensive, national Pharmacare including full dental services, prosthetics and physical therapy, easy and timely access to mental health treatments, expansion into the field of holistic, natural medicine (pharmaceuticals are based on plant research), free educational training of essential healthstaff and drug and treatment plans to support Canadians ensnared in the toxic drug overdose crisis.

     Research has shown that upfront costs will easily be offset by preventing health complications - caused through early lack of treatment - down the road, so it will more than pay for itself, particularly if we stop throwing so much money at Big Pharma's gaping maw. Let's take advantage of our massive university system for relevant drug research and development and employ government facilities for manufacturing, thus keeping the whole process in-house without stockholders and overpaid Pharma CEOs suckling at the public teat.

As the second largest country in the world with a relatively low number of citizens, a declining birth rate and a favourable geographical location to survive the challenges of climate chaos, paving the way for new immigrants and refugees is a must in the 'here and now'.

     A quote from our PM: “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada.” He's talking the talk, but is he walking it?

Not according to a news article by Aljazeera which states that many asylum seekers supporting Canadians as essential, frontline workers during the pandemic (aptly named 'Guardian Angels') are in the process of being deported. (4) Wow, I was at a loss for words at the callous ingratitude and lack of foresight inherent in this farce. These refugees appear to have already been well acclimatized, integrated and put to work earning their keep so it makes absolutely no sense, economically, socially and from a humanitarian perspective, to give them the boot at this point.

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    The same should apply to migrant labourers so essential to keeping our food system from collapsing, working under slavery-like conditions that make prisons resemble pleasure resorts. Stringent reforms are in order to rectify this barrage of human-rights violations, including the option of citizenship for past services rendered. (5)


Only two parties out of the mix have included the widely popular proposal of a 'Universal Basic Income' and one has already tried, unsuccessfully, to put it on the house's agenda. No matter how you feel about 'free money for doing nothing', as some sneer, in this day and age of rampant economic inequality and automation redundancies, we need a reliable safety net if we want to assure basic access to food, shelter and a semi-dignified life, beyond food banks and a tent in the local city park that gets periodically trashed by our friendly neighbourhood riot squad. (6)

    It would replace Social Assistance, Employment Insurance, Disability benefits and other direct subsidies for individuals and families (think reduced student loans and arts grants), offsetting some of the costs associated with running separate bureaucracies/systems by gathering them all under one umbrella. (7) Since it's a 'basic income', there is little chance that Canadians with well-paying jobs will quit in droves, giving up their comfortable lifestyles to slug it out at the bottom rung of the economic ladder, and this might also encourage businesses to offer fairer wages, perks and better work environments in an effort to retain employees currently crippling themselves for minimum wage.

    And, if we truly value the arts, diversity of expression and creative innovation, this would offer a lifeline to struggling, underpaid artists, artisans and inventors who often have to sacrifice their calling to make ends meet. 

I will skim over the environmental issues, since my last two editorials dealt with this topic in depth, touching only on a few points that rose my ire:

    Despite Trudeau's supposed commitment to tackling the issue of climate change, he insists revenues from the controversial Trans Mountain Pipeline are required to finance future sustainability projects, which sounds like a load of (green)wash for a major, potential polluter and tramples all over Indigenous protests and land rights as per usual.

Have you seen what's going down in Fairy Creek, British Columbia? Once again protesters are being brutalized by those entrusted to 'Serve and Protect' our rights as young and old alike are desperately trying to prevent Old Growth forests - giant carbon sinks and homes to several endangered species - from being logged for export toilet paper. Ever heard of recycling? No tree should have to die for tissue to wipe one's behind, it's simply ludicrous. (8)      

And then there's the Tar Sands in good, old Alberta, a veritable, apocalyptic Hell on Earth, clearly visible from space and, guess what, they're slated for expansion. (9) The amount of pollution and destruction to air, soil and water is absolutely mindboggling and it is continually subsidized with your tax dollars (2020 - 18 billion for the oil and gas sector; 2021 - asking for 50 billion to 'decarbonize'). I'm sure glad you care, Justin.

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From where I sit, we're one week away from heading to the polls and there's one point I agree with in Mr. Trudeau's initial statement:

     "The decisions your government makes right now will define the future your kids and grandkids grow up in." Which government that will be is, as of yet, uncertain, but I sure as hell won't be solidifying a power grab based on this track record with my ballot.

     It's time, we stop voting out of fear and start supporting what we really want and need. So take a good look at each party's platform, consider those pledges with the necessary grain of salt, get out there and mark your X on the spot. (10)

      Your Vote is your Voice, speak up!






Personal Anthropocene

by Katerina Fretwell


"It's our way ... to take only what we need ... If we use a plant respectfully it will  stay with us and flourish." Braiding Sweetgrass, 2013, Robin Wall Kimmerer.



There's a name for my grief: solastalgia:
homesickness felt from climate change at home.


Here since '82, I'm dismayed at declining
fox, moose, bear, beaver, and turtle –


and rising invasive species – barberries
crowd wintergreen; Japanese bamboo, wildflowers.


But on woods walks, greeted by wintergreen,
I empty the patch – greed has many levels.


Respect strengthens gratitude – not clear-cutting
swaths of leeks and berries.


Naming the epoch for humans isn't praise:
my footprint reflects back my ego.


Who knew curiosity brings me mangoes
in December – with a huge carbon cost?


Curiosity might get me sometime –
but satisfaction snuffs the entire planet.

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 Daisy Wheel (Watercolour), Robert Michelutti





by Mat Del Papa


Scientific progress amazes me. I live in awe of scientists and the various wonders they continually discover. Each new breakthrough strikes me as a triumph of human ingenuity. The scientific method, elegant in its simplicity, has lifted us beyond the skies and it still delivers new knowledge almost daily. Truly, our species’ ingenuity knows no bounds. As my literary idol, Terry Pratchett, writes, “I’d rather be a rising ape than a falling angel.”


Sadly, few share my view on our species’ spectacular scientific accomplishments. Most people are too busy bemoaning society’s flaws to even notice the miracles happening around them . . . let alone take the time to read up on esoteric developments in obscure science journals. Ask around and you’ll find a thousand times more interest in the release date of the latest iPhone than a literally ‘world-changing’ innovation.

     Pure science - research done for research’s sake - lacks the cache it once held. Maybe we’ve become lazy or disillusioned in this day and age. Scientific merit goes unrecognized by Joe Q. Public. Few can even explain what the Nobel Prize is, let alone who won it last year. Gadgetry has replaced discovery. Profitability and peer-pressured consumerism dominate our discourse. We’ve become a world incapable of appreciating science and its many ‘miracles’.


This tragic fact was brought home to me the other day, when I read about the latest scientific advancement and no one else seemed remotely impressed. Turns out, those clever scientists have done it again - gone and Frankensteined together something new and exciting out of the old and familiar. In this case, the boffins in white lab-coats have taken wood, plain everyday wood, and turned it transparent. Clear wood, can you imagine!

      Developed simultaneously by two independent groups of scientists, American (University of Maryland) and Swedish (Wallenberg Wood Science Centre - a branch of Stockholm’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology), the teams began by chemically removing lignin - the part of the cell that gives wood its colour - turning the wood white. From there, each developed its own proprietary process. Both are described as cost-effective and environmentally-friendly - especially when compared to current expenses of glass-making (which requires vast amounts of heat, electricity and natural resources).      

Transforming wood into something more glasslike means it diffuses light, much like glass bricks. But since the wood’s original structure is retained, including the natural nutrient channels, it actually does a better job of allowing light through. “If you have this waveguide effect with wood,” Lianbing Hu explains, “more light comes into your house.” Hu, who helped the American team, goes on to say, “We were very surprised by how transparent it could go.”


     Transparent timber isn’t clear as glass . . . yet. And the production is still limited to small blocks. But improvements continue. Already, this specially treated wood allows large amounts of light through, leading to some obvious applications. “Transparent wood is a good material for solar cells since it’s a low-cost, readily available and a renewable resource,” says Lars Berglund, professor at KTH. “This becomes particularly important in covering large surfaces with solar cells.”


Dozens of practical uses for this revolutionary product leap to mind. Wood is, after all, the world’s most common building material. Used for millennia, it is a natural insulator with impressive strength properties and only requires very minimal training. “Wood is, by far, the most used bio-based material in buildings,” Lars continued. “It’s attractive that the material comes from renewable resources. It also offers excellent mechanical properties, including strength, toughness, low density and low thermal conductivity.”

      Greenhouses made of clear wood mean stronger, more durable and more energy-efficient operations and could lead to reductions in food costs. Being a better insulator than glass could mean big savings for homeowners on heating and cooling bills using clear wood windows or skylights.

        Once again, the sky’s the limit . . . thanks to science. Are you impressed? I am.


(The Capreol Express, 2021)




Tobe Dervish
Body Politc



The Body Politic

by John Jantunen

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The body appeared in the first week of August. 

       It was already hot that morning even though it was too early for anyone else to be about, except for maybe the boy who brought the paper. The paperboy, yes, the very reason I was out before the sun had had a chance to colour the sky in red and orange. I wanted to stop him, yes, to catch him, so that I could have a word with him about the state that my dailies were in when they arrived. More and more they looked, well - and this was the odd thing - they looked like someone had already read them. Or really, if I wanted to get to the crux of the matter, they looked like a lot of people had read them. With their curling edges and their torn pages, their smudged ink and smears of brown that could have been coffee, but could just as easily have been something else, they looked, in fact, like they’d been passed from one end of a city bus to the other, with each person in between taking what they needed and discarding the rest on the seat beside them, or on the floor, where they would sit until the driver, at the end of his shift, tired and too grumpy to take any care about it, would come along and gather them up willy-nilly, which would go a long way to explaining why sometimes the pages were out of order, like I’d found with yesterday’s paper, pages out of order and one page in the wrong section.


So I was up early, waiting for the boy to arrive and when he did -

         - Be nice dear.

       That from my wife, the eternal her to my him, and it was good advice, excellent advice, just the kind of advice that I’d always relied on her for. She had sound judgment, if nothing else (and that’s not to say that she had nothing else; she had all the regular charms of the opposite sex; had all the smells, all the curves and all the softness that made my fingers dance too lightly when we were lying together, making her laugh and tell me to be more firm, always more firm). And it was her judgment, since I’d retired, that I’d retreated into, telling myself, for a start, that it was easier that way. Easier, because I no longer had anywhere to hide; no more job, no more quick nips on the way home, no more ways of pretending I was listening while my mind was on other things.

       Now my mind was always on one thing and one thing only. But what was it? The house? No, not that. It wasn’t something as tangible as that, though I wished that it was as tangible as an old farm house at the end of a lane that was dirt when we moved in but was now paved right up to the driveway, the last on the road, the last, if anyone wanted to know, in the town itself, its back to a ravine and a wall of cedar hedges surrounding its front so that it was possible to believe that we were the only ones left. 

And if it weren’t for the odd phone call, and the even odder visit from our son, it’d be almost impossible to believe there was anyone else, but he hadn’t visited for . . . How long was it? Last Christmas? I’d have to ask her, she’d know. Right after I talked to the paperboy I’d ask her, ask her, I’d ask her -

        First we’d have eggs and toast and we’d drink that stuff that came out of a bottle and didn’t taste like coffee but which I was supposed to pretend did. Then I’d ask her -


- Damn it, where’s that paperboy?

        I hadn’t meant to say it out loud, but there she was behind me, holding the paper. Its edges were curled up and I could see a rip on the first page, a rip right through the lead article, an intolerable rip that had no place severing the head of the Prime Minister, a man who, granted, I hadn’t voted for, but a man who still didn’t deserve his head flapping off to one side, his body clenched tightly against her fingers. Her nails yellowing, flecks of red dotting the surface, dotting the surface like, like, dotting the surface -

         - I already got it. He came while you were in the bathroom.

         - You saw him?

         - Well no, I didn’t see him.

         - Then how do you know?

         - I heard it hit the door. And here it is. Now why don’t you come in. I’ve made eggs.


But I wasn’t listening. I was striding, most definitely striding, I could feel it through the soles of my slippers, I was striding through the door and down the steps, striding towards where the hedge broke at the end of the walkway, towards the road that still smelled like dirt except on rainy days when it smelled like what it was - crumbling black top - and my hands were swinging at my side, swinging like a man of forty, a man who had things to do, a man who didn’t wear slippers all day and sometimes a bathrobe, a man who knew people and was known, a man who knew how to get things done, a man who, when I got to the road, would most definitely not be nice, not be a dear, I’d be a man who knew, who knew, I’d be a man who -


But before I broke past the hedge and confronted the road, confronted the very likely empty road with my anger and my venom, before I blasted the road for being empty, before I let that goddamn road have it good and square, before any of that, I saw the body lying at the edge of the lawn. It was part ways concealed by the hedge as if, before it was a body, it’d tried to crawl under it, maybe to get out of the heat or to hide or maybe for no reason at all.

       Now though, with all that trying to get cool and trying to get out of sight and trying to do god-knows-what-else out of the way, it lay there, one leg and one hand resting beneath the hedge, being quite definitely a body. It was the smell that gave it away, that told me immediately that it was a body and not, say, a drunk passed out which would have made sense, too, since there were a lot of drunks these days (I’d read in the newspaper alarming statistics, alarming, and that was just the other morning while I was waiting for my breakfast on a day not unlike this). 

And being drunks, they frequently passed out somewhere so why not in our yard, which was out of sight of the rest of town and might as well have been alone on the planet for all the visitors who made their way to the end of the lane, the asphalt pitted and bits of it strewn along the ditches so that it wasn’t any better than the gravel it had replaced. 

       No, I couldn’t think of a better place for a drunk to pass out, except that it wasn’t a drunk, it was a body, and one that was old, maybe three or four days if the way it smelled was any clue. The smell, or rather the stench - a clinging, cloying, sticking to the hairs in my nose stink - stopped me at five paces from it, all pretense of blasting the road spent in the odour that even now (has it been five days? six? I couldn’t say) lingers, making me wipe and rub and dig about the inside of my nose with a pinkie hoping, somehow, to dislodge it so I could forget, even though now (seven days later? eight?) I’m way beyond forgetting and would be happy with just being able to smell the way I used to.


       Not knowing what to do, I looked back at the house hoping she’d still be there, standing at the door, a reservoir of good advice, just waiting to splash a little my way, but the door was closed; closed against the bugs and the heat and (let’s be honest, I told myself) the scene I was about to make had the body not intervened, had the body not brought me to my senses, had the body, the body, had the body -


- There’s a body out there.

         - Out where?

      Standing in the kitchen now, facing her back bent over the woodstove, making breakfast even though it was far too early to be eating, the question threw me, made me pause to consider, made me, all of a sudden, wonder if things were really as bad as all that.

      Out where? What kind of a question was that? Did it strike at the core? I thought not but then, maybe it did, maybe I was wrong, maybe bodies had a habit of turning up frequently enough, with enough regularity, that their location was the most important thing, trumped all other questions, questions like, like -

         - Didn’t you hear what I said? There’s a goddamn body out there.

         - No need to scream.

         - There’s a body -

         - I heard you the first two times. Now sit down, your eggs are ready.

         - But what about the body?

         - I’m sure it will be fine.

         - Fine, how can it be -  I mean, it’s -

         - Yes, dear?

         - It’s a goddamn body and -                 

- Please keep your voice down.

         - And it’s in our front yard.

         - So you said.

         - Well, don’t take my word for it. You can see for your goddamn self.   

         Setting my plate of eggs next to a large glass of water to wash them down since we were out of the other stuff - the pretend coffee - she touched my arm and smiled. I knew what that smile meant, and for a moment I felt foolish, like a child who wouldn’t take no for an answer and ended up in his room because of it. But then the anger was back and I wouldn’t sit down, I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t damn well -

         - What are you doing?

         - I’m calling the police. What am I doing?

       The phone was in my hand and my fingers were pounding on the keys. After three pounds the phone was at my ear and I was listening between rings, to the dead air between the rings, listening between the rings -

         - Something wrong, dear?

         - The phone’s dead.

         - Probably a tree down on the line.

        A tree down, sure, it all made sense. Still I stood with the phone to my ear, listening between the rings, waiting and listening, listening and waiting -

         - Your eggs are getting cold.

         - Blast it!

      I slammed the receiver down with enough force to send a spike through my knuckles, a pain that felt like a nail driven into my fingers, sparing only the thumb, like the thumb was special, like the thumb had a plan, an idea, like the thumb was, the thumb was, like the thumb was -

         And then I was back at the table staring at my plate.

         - What the hell are these?

         - Blueberries.

         - Where’s my toast?

         - We’re out of toast. Maybe tomorrow. Now eat.

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Good advice, yes, excellent. I took a forkful of the scrambled-up eggs. They were dry, I could tell from the way they hung dully on my fork. Not a hint of glisten. Not a trace of shine. Would it kill her to add a little butter? I thought, and my eyes drifted to the fridge. The fridge, yes. There it was, most certainly a fridge, sitting where a fridge should sit, next to the stove and a little further on, the sink. Nothing but the floor in between to keep me from walking right over to it and getting myself some butter - a little glisten, a taste of shine - but still I sat, staring, the eggs growing cold on the plate in front of me, the smell of something dead in my nose. Something dead. A body. A dead body.

- When was the last time Chris visited?

         - Chris?

         - Our son, damn it. The boy.   

       A momentary waver, a quiver to her hand. So, I was getting somewhere. After long last. Here it was. I was on the verge of it now.

         - I don’t -

         - Was it a week ago?

         - It’s hard -

         - A month?

         - I -

         - Was it Christmas for Christ’s sake? Was that when he came? Damn it woman, speak!

         - Yes. It was Christmas.

         - And now the first week of August. Shameful, it’s shameful.   

      With new resolve, I pitched my fork into the yellow cloud of eggs. I crammed them into my mouth, thinking about toast and coffee, and bacon, and not looking at the fridge, most definitely not looking -

         - Where are you going?

       For she was going somewhere, was at the back door, her hand turning, turning, her hand on the knob, turning -

         - I’m going to feed the chickens.

        I couldn’t think of anything to say to that so I harrumphed, harrumphed hard, with no regard for the eggs mashing against my teeth so that little bits flew out. There was one on my sleeve, so I flicked at it. It made the most unbelievable sound as it hit the floor - a clattering - so out of place for a fleck of eggs, not at all like an egg should sound, especially a fleck so small, and then it occurred to me that it must have been the door and not the egg at all. Which made sense. Sure, in a world such as this -


At the window over the sink: The plate was in my hand, worried maybe about something in the sink so it clung to my fingers, trying to act all casual so my hand wouldn’t notice it still hanging there, the same way my hand was trying to avoid my eyes because my eyes were onto something, on the verge, distinctly and definitely on the verge of the thing. And my hands wanted no part of it, my hands had enough to worry about. My hands were already thinking about the paper sitting on the table. Thumbing through it, thumbing, yes thumbing, all the way through, a test of their mettle and merit, a true test of their moxie, and me along for the -

         - They burnt down the parliament building. The Prime Minister set the first torch, it says. He said we’re on our own now. Say, what happened to you?

        She was at the sink. Dirt covered in dirt. Hands, I could see, like they’d been dipped in it, her hair wild like straw, and a smell, something familiar, a smell I couldn’t place but even now (nine, ten days later) I can’t get rid of.  Most definitely the smell of something, of something, the smell of . . .  something.

Blind Obedience



Is There a Mystery to 'Blind Obedience'?

by Nasreen Pejvack


The discipline of Psychology teaches us that 'Blind Obedience' is a behaviour whereby people do as they are told without thinking for themselves on whether what they hear is true or whether they should obey orders.

In combat, soldiers are trained to follow orders without question, but this allows their commanders to have them inflict atrocities that most civilians would view as unethical. This conformity and obedience can lead to more killings than are necessary and to psychological traumas. Soldiers may return home with severe PTSD or have misgivings about the ethics of conformity.

        What did I do? Who did I kill? Why did I go? Why didn’t I challenge the orders? Many people may believe, the only place blind obedience is acceptable is in the armed forces, but is that true?

Let’s look at another venue of blind obedience - religion. Again, it’s the young who blindly follow authority figures, in this case their parents, into the belief that their Torah, Bible or Quran is holy and infallible, without questioning what those terms even mean. All aspects of their faith are assumed to be true, while extinguishing any doubts for fear of ending up in hell.
     One may think that believers are harmless, just following their godly rituals and compliances while living their lives. But is it really harmless to raise generation after generation of blindly obedient followers who end up rejecting any scientific understanding that doesn’t conform to their beliefs?
These people remove themselves from contributing to advancements in medicine, technology, fact-based policy making, etc. They can even create political barriers to such progress by bringing the superstitious scribblings of the Dark Ages into the Halls of Power as a basis for legislation.

       And, of course, there is also the problem of religious leaders exploiting the blind obedience of their followers by having them wage wars and commit atrocities in the name of their imaginary gods, believing that what they are doing is thus morally and legally right. History is full of such examples of people blindly hating the Other on the advice of sinister leaders pointing to 'holy' scriptures.

       We all were born into a religion or a religiously dominated culture and were raised within that environment created for us. My hope for everyone is that when we reach a certain age, we can examine our beliefs wisely, and then find our own path. Unfortunately, many remain within the worldview of their childhood upbringing out of love and respect for family or cultural comfort.

Things are no different in politics as heads of state such as Trump, Putin, Netanyahu, Duterte and Modi talk up nationalism, isolation and suspicion at rallies and in tweets in order to build up and consolidate a base of supporters who, unfortunately, oftentimes act on what their leaders propagate to an extreme that may result in attacks against, and even massacres of, that blindly accepted Other.

        One recent example is the assassination of Iranian general Soleimani. Iran is the current Enemy-of-the-Day so, based on unsubstantiated claims that the general was plotting to attack embassies in the area and kill Americans, Trump felt free to input orders into a military machine that's designed to blindly follow commands from above, and had Soleimani dramatically executed. The result of this careless action risked bringing yet another catastrophic war to the Middle East on the backs of  civilians in the area, mainly so the world’s self-serving bullies can protect a supply of oil that is not theirs. Sure, Soleimani never was an angel, but hey  . . . glass houses.


Where else will our theme take us? How about the workplace? All of human history is witness to injustices, power imbalance and abuses there. And for fear of losing one's job or sabotaging a career, a blind eye is turned and wrongdoings become company culture thoughtlessly submitted to. Paying the bills and social status beat out ethics and justice.


And what about obedience in our daily lives? Without really paying attention, we are doing as the corporate masters dictate. We buy what their persistent advertisements say is good for us and keep ourselves busy by living vicariously through their black boxes, watching their take on entertainment based, as it is, on consumption, dominance and exploitation. We live life as it is presented to us. We are conditioned to obey.


We now even socialize with corporate-run, social media platforms which, though they seem to be free, manage to make multi-billionaires of their owners by using people’s information to turn them into unwitting targets of advertising tailored to meet their personal preferences. It would appear that we must blindly obey the cleverly arrayed AI of algorithms for this to work.
      Look at Cambridge Analytica whose sole purpose was to use those same platforms to influence people’s opinions on how/what to think and who to vote for - again the result of masters behind the scenes seeking compliance. We often don’t even know anymore if our thoughts are our own.

       Meanwhile, we happily post our ineffective daily memes, just to be in the circle or feel that we are having a discussion or exchanging ideas and news so that it seems like we are 'doing something'. But we don’t see much change in the world, as our globally fractured and disorganized activities cannot generate the power needed to challenge the status quo.

         The most brutal effect of social media is herding people away from real education and knowledge about our history, or a better understanding of our world’s political structures, economy and ecosystems. Those same invisible hands hope to guide people’s comprehension of the world around them to a place where they preferably don’t question anything at all.

Keeping blindly distracted with our bits and pieces on social media without knowing what is really going on, we are too preoccupied to educate ourselves on, for instance, the history of the Middle East, repetitively chaotic as it has been ever since oil was discovered there. Despite being home to some of the most ancient civilizations on Earth, much of its population has not stably flourished like Europe or North America did. Why is that?

        As an example, not too long ago, in 2003, the invasion of Iraq went ahead, even though people the world over were taking to the streets en masse to protest it. They were ignored and the Bush administration preemptively attacked the country, leading to sustained mayhem and destruction. All these years later, the conflicts are still ongoing, even spreading, but the oil continues to flow just fine and, here in our safe havens, we seem to have all but forgotten and moved on, blindly buying the line that “Oh, they're always fighting over there”. 

     How do we not grasp the deep dysfunction of the world, even as the bullies ransack precious resources and upend people’s livelihoods, ceaselessly causing problems in every corner of our planet? 


I find it rather sad that many high-profile advocates for human rights or environmental sanity are not the scientists who can actually inform us, but stand-up comedians who insightfully cast barbs at our follies. Ah, people love to laugh. We shake our heads and briefly connect the dots of what is happening, but then go home and soon forget the painful calamities affecting the rest of the world. People seem to disregard the value of serious study and that real understanding of our world is a solemn obligation. 


Well, there is no real mystery about blind obedience today. We are being fed calculated information, 24/7. Much disjointed, feel-good news and entertainment have been set up all around us. We suffer from an extreme lack of proper knowledge. We have become a society of factually uninformed people, heedlessly following sanitized news, corporatized books, entertainment and religions which stunt our growth. Not knowing is less painful, while learning takes time and effort. The result is a laziness that makes it easier to just blindly accept the societal cocoon that has been built up around us. 

         So you see, our obedience is not so mysterious after all.

Nasreen Pejvack is a Canadian poet and fiction/non-fiction writer from Iran and currently resides in Vancouver, BC. She is the author of 'Amity': a novel about the destruction, displacement and psychological trauma caused by war.

Basque Coast





Basque Coast #1

by Katerina Fretwell

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Undersea avalanches and varied particles
erupted into accordion-layered shale
and sandstone flysch, carbon-dated 100
to 50 million years ago, marking two
geologic units – asteroid killing dinosaurs,
and the globe heating up. Like ours now!


When life on earth presses into layered shale,
computers and cathedrals become flysch.
Mammals, plants, birds, bacteria, humans ...
will fade like brontosaurus, when our Golden Spike
moves from Holocene to Anthropocene,
Earth's holy writ – our imprint is one mass Elegy.

*The flysch at Zumaia (on Spain's Basque Coast) serve as sobering reminders of the impact humanity has imposed on the planet in such a short time. Anthropocene, 2018, 60.

Binge Guide

Cannery Row Top Twenty TV Show Binge Guide



with Tanja

The idea for a Binge Guide arose out of an evening's wreckage, cruising Netflix for anything half-decent to watch and trying out three TV shows in the process, only to frustratedly throw in the towel way past our bedtime.

     So, to spare you this torture, we offer up a few goodies from our personal, all-time favourite list of shows spanning the last twenty years -though keep in mind there's little accounting for taste and one person's pleasure can be another's pain. Most of our suggestions present completed productions for uninterrupted binging pleasure, are devoid of abominable laugh tracks and have been carefully screened for film quality, competent acting, realistic dialogue and captivating storylines.


A good TV show creates an irresistible, familial bond with its audience and the following smorgasbord more than passed that requirement in our household.

       With a chaotic summer behind us and another winter on the horizon, dip in and "Enjoy the Show"! *

Historical Dramas

      Hell on Wheels (AMC, 2011-2016, TV-NR)

This epic story of post-Civil War America follows Cullen Bohannon, a Confederate soldier who sets out to exact revenge on the Union soldiers who killed his wife. His journey takes him west to Hell on Wheels, a dangerous, raucous, lawless melting pot of a shanty town that travels with and services the construction of the first transcontinental railroad. (This show packed a punch; gritty, realistic and Bohannon quickly became one of our favourite outlaws)

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     Black Sails (Starz, 2014-2017, TV-MA)

This highly underrated pirate adventure centers on the tales of Captain Flint and his men and takes place twenty years prior to Robert Louis Stevenson's classic Treasure Island. Flint takes on a fast-talking young addition to his crew who goes by the name John Silver. Threatened with extinction on all sides, they fight for the survival of New Providence Island, the most notorious criminal haven of its day teeming with pirates, prostitutes, thieves and fortune seekers. (Wow!)

     Rome (HBO/BBC, 2005-2007, TV-MA)

Set in the first century BC, it follows two ordinary Roman soldiers—Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo—through the rise and fall of Julius Caesar, as well as the early reign of his nephew Octavian, the first emperor of Rome. 

(Epic, beautifully shot, great characters, lavish production, truly cinematic)


      Spartacus (Starz, 2010-2013, TV-MA)

Betrayed by the Romans, forced into slavery, reborn as a Gladiator and hunted as a Rebel. Torn from his homeland and the woman he loves, Spartacus is condemned to the brutal world of the arena where blood and death are prime time entertainment to the backdrop of treachery, corruption, and the allure of sensual pleasures. To survive, he must become a legend. (Warning: very gory, explicit sex and nudity. Tip: start with the prequel 'Spartacus: Gods of the Arena')

Modern Drama/Crime/Thriller

       The Wire (HBO, 2002-2008, TV-MA)

The streets of Baltimore as a microcosm of the US's war on drugs and of US urban decay in general. Seen not only through the eyes of a few policemen and drug gang members but also the people who influence and inhabit their world - politicians, the media, drug addicts and everyday citizens. (Simply a must-see for crime fans)


     Treme (HBO, 2010-2013, TV-MA)

Life after Hurricane Katrina as the residents of New Orleans try to rebuild their lives, their homes, and their unique culture in the aftermath of one of the worst natural disasters in US history. (Great and relevant behind-the- scenes story, don't miss this one!)

     Banshee (Cinemax, 2013-2016, TV-MA)

An ex-con and master thief assumes the identity of the sheriff of Banshee, Pennsylvania, where he continues his criminal activities, even as he’s hunted by the shadowy gangsters he betrayed years earlier. (Highly underrated and reviewed show - a pleasant surprise)

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     Ray Donovan (Showtime, 2013-2020, TV-MA)

A professional 'fixer' for the rich and famous in Los Angeles, Ray can make anyone's problems disappear except those created by his own family. When his father is unexpectedly released from prison, it sets off a chain of events that shakes the Donovan family to its core. (Ray ain't a good guy, yet you can't help but root for him)

     Mad Men (AMC, 2007-2015, TV-14)

In 1960s New York, alpha-male Don Draper struggles to stay on top of the heap in the high-pressure world of Madison Avenue advertising firms. (Obviously a no-brainer, watch it again!)


     Better Call Saul (AMC, 2015-, TV-MA)

This all-in-one spin-off, prequel and sequel to the hit TV show 'Breaking Bad' follows the trials and tribulations of criminal lawyer Jimmy McGill in the time before he established his strip-mall law office for the criminally inclined in Albuquerque, New Mexico. (Bob Odenkirk deserved this spin-off, more engaging than 'Breaking Bad')

     Newsroom (HBO, 2012-2014, TV-MA)

A newsroom undergoes some changes in its workings and ethics as a new team is brought in, bringing unexpected results and trials for its existing news anchor. (Real news in a fictional newsroom - a show for thinkers)

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     Ozark (Netflix, 2017-, TV-MA)

A financial adviser drags his family from Chicago to the Missouri Ozarks, where he must launder $500 million in five years to appease a drug boss.


     Six Feet Under (HBO, 2001-2005, TV-MA)

When death is your business, what is your life? For the Fisher family, the world outside of their family-owned funeral home continues to be at least as challenging as - and far less predictable than - the one inside. 

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Comedy - Drama


     True Blood (HBO, 2008-2014, TV-MA)

Telepathic waitress Sookie Stackhouse encounters a strange, new supernatural world when she meets the mysterious Bill Compton, a southern Louisiana gentleman and vampire. (Superbly campy, humorous and 'out- there', great junk food for mythology lovers)

     Shameless (Showtime, 2011-2021, TV-MA)

Chicagoan Frank Gallagher is the proud single dad of six smart, industrious, independent kids who'd likely be better off without him. When Frank's not at the bar, spending what little money they have, he's passed out in his own vomit on the ground somewhere. But the kids have found ways to grow up in spite of him. They may not be like any family you know, but they make no apologies for being exactly who they are.


     The Good Place (NBC, 2016-2020, TV-PG)

Due to an error, self-absorbed Eleanor Shellstrop arrives at the Good Place after her death. Determined to stay, she tries to become a better person. (Surprise show to stumble across flipping through Netflix - funny and deep)

     Weeds (Starz, 2005-2012, TV-MA)

When a suburban mother turns to dealing marijuana in order to maintain her privileged lifestyle after her husband dies, she finds out just how deep in the weed her entire neighborhood already is. 

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     Silicon Valley (HBO, 2014-2019, TV-MA)

Partially inspired by co-creator Mike Judge's experiences as a Silicon Valley engineer in the 1980s, this comedy series follows the misadventures of introverted computer programmer Richard and his brainy friends as they attempt to strike it rich with a high-tech algorithm. 

     Veep (HBO, 2012-2019, TV-MA)

Former Senator Selina Meyer finds that being Vice President of the United States is nothing like she expected and everything that her incompetent staff ever warned her about. 

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     Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO, 2000-, TV-MA)

He's got it all: a loving wife, good friends, a successful career, a great home...what could possibly go wrong for Larry David? Seinfeld's co-creator stars as himself in this unflinching, self-deprecating depiction of his life. (if you enjoy yelling at TV characters, Larry David is the man for you ... exasperatingly funny)

* Popcorn not included



Things Change




The More Things Change . . .

by John Jantunen

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I've started watching the mainstream news again of late, mainly because our streaming service includes the Global News Network. There's been plenty of coverage of the devastation wrought by climate change and the latest in Covid updates, the chaos surrounding the American withdrawal from Afghanistan and, of course, coverage of the federal election. What I haven't seen a single mention of thus far, is anything at all to do with the increasing violence perpetrated by the RCMP against the peaceful Land Defenders at Fairy Creek (for more about that I would heartily recommend independent news services such as The Tyee, The Passage & Spring Magazine which have done an exemplary job of filling this gap).


Confronted time and again with such a conspicuous omission, I've had plenty of opportunity to reflect "On My First Night In Regina", both the literal first night I spent there in 1990 and the first of four Afterword Blogs I wrote for The National Post in 2014 which bears the same name.

   Given that the OKA and Fairy Creek protests are separated by over thirty years and the government seems stalwartly incapable of applying any lessons gleaned  from the former to the latter, I figured now was as good a time as any to revisit the indelible lesson that (at least) I learned.

The plan was simple. Fly into Regina on the Sunday of the Labour Day Weekend. Find an apartment. Spend a couple of days getting to know the city before heading to the U of R where I had been accepted into their film program.

      The year was 1990. I arrived just after noon and took a cab from the airport to the bus station. I stashed my luggage in a locker, then spent an hour or so walking around the downtown.

        I’d come from Bracebridge, a small town in the heart of Ontario’s cottage country. The Labour Day Weekend there is one of the busiest times of the year, so I was amazed by what I saw. It was, in a word, post-apocalyptic. Barely a soul to be seen, nor a car on the road, hardly any signs of life at all in fact. It was like I had the city to myself.

        I grabbed a sandwich at a sub shop and, while I ate, scanned the classified section of The Leader Post, Regina’s daily. I jotted down the apartments for rent and made a few calls, every one of them ending with the same message: “We’d be happy to show you our vacancies . . . on Tuesday.”

        I set up a few appointments and tried to think of where I might spend the next two nights.

It was a warm day. Sunny and clear with the forecast calling for more of the same. I didn’t have much money and figured, I’d save the cost of a hotel room by camping out in Victoria Park, located just off the downtown.

      I found a bench secreted amongst a grove of cedar trees and whiled away the daylight hours with a book. In between pages, I couldn’t help but notice that there was something happening on the far side of the park. I thought maybe it was a company picnic or a family reunion, I couldn’t tell which as there was a bank of evergreens blocking my view. Given that I planned to be sleeping on a bench in a few hours, I didn’t want to draw undue attention to myself by going over to check things out.

The dark finally came and I settled in for the night. I lay down and closed my eyes, but was too nervous to sleep. After a half-hour or so, I heard footsteps approaching and tried, unsuccessfully, to ignore the way they seemed to be settling in a circle around my bench. Someone then cleared their throat.

       I opened my eyes and found myself surrounded by four of the largest Indigenous men I’d ever seen. All of them wore black leather jackets and had hair down to the small of their backs. As I sat up, my Muskoka heritage reared its ugly head.

        I’m a dead man! I thought, panic-stricken. A suitably dramatic pause followed.

      We heard there was someone sleeping on a bench over here, one of the men finally said. We have beds and food. Why don’t you come over and join us?

        It turned out that a large contingent of Regina’s First Nations had come together in a Vigil for Oka in the field beyond the evergreens. They had set up a couple of large tepees, one to sleep in and the other serving as a makeshift kitchen.

       I ended up staying as their guest for the next two days and was well fed and rested when I resumed my search for an apartment. I found one less than a block from the park and returned regularly over the next few weeks to show support for my benefactors until plans to blockade the railroad tracks and constant harassment by (suspected) off-duty law enforcement officers forced the Vigil into lockdown mode.


In the intervening years, I’ve told this story many times and, as with any story, it’s changed with each telling - sometimes I’d add few things and other times I’d leave a few things out - but its moral always remained the same:  Hope often finds you when you least expect it.

        When doing research for my first novel Cipher, I discovered that the Native gangs, which in the early 2000's had become a scourge on the streets of Regina, had their inception at this self-same Vigil. When I read this, I thought back to what some of the younger, white participants had told me when all non-Natives were asked to leave: that it was they who had started the Vigil in the first place.

        It struck me as ironic then that a bunch of middle class, white kids and their good intentions were at least partly responsible for the city’s 'Indian Problem'. Like Jim Steadman, Cipher’s narrator, I wasn’t sure what to make of this development, but I knew one thing: it had changed my story irrevocably into one about hope subverted. And I needn’t look further than my listeners’ faces to know which one they’d liked better.

       Before, when I’d finished the account of my first night in Regina, they were most often smiling and there was a twinkle in their eyes, like that’s exactly the sort of country they’d imagined themselves living in.


Now, their faces are clouded so I can’t exactly tell what they’re thinking. If they speak, it’s to mutter non-committal statements about how 'complex' the issue is, though often they just walk away without saying anything at all. So Cipher changed too, from a simple pot-boiler into a broader fiction which endeavoured to piece together some sort of sense out of it all.

Odd Fits





Odd Fits

by Roger Nash

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Grandpa’s scarecrow is a good barista,
his best friend, a crow. Life’s
a jig-saw where odd pieces fit.


A wino can reach out for eternity
in a sip of scotch, even finger it,
but makes it all smudged and black.


Bartenders have the 20-20 vision
of kaleidoscopes. Everyone is treated as
uniquely different – if they can tip.


Popes don’t quit at the top. Artists
keep trying to get started.
Undertakers stay in mid-career.


Machines in the coin-laundry played
Rock. With prices up, they play
Vivaldi, but only the music’s properly washed.


Exclamation-marks are erased from
faces in food-kitchens. But their eyes
are as full as used car-lots.


“How many days of acne in a leap-year?”
a teenager asks. Years later,
“How many of arthritis in the Gregorian calendar ?”


When I wake up, I’m a phone-number
I can’t remember; before that,
a bus on its way to the tattoo shop.

Motel Room

Motel Room Table

by Roger Nash

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So many stains on the table-top
– rings overlapping within rings –
it’s entirely rings on rickety legs.
From overfilled lives or quick shots.
Smudges on the table stay on, unbilled,
while the Evening Star drifts off in darkened
pick-ups and huge tanker-trucks
of cloud, grating gears of lightening
as they careen across the windblown prairies.
The table’s a Circle-Fest celebration
of a company of travelers who never met,
though their spilled sodas often did.
For we can go forth only among unseen
hosts within overlapping hosts
– even when absolutely alone – to life’s
next rickety pit-stop.
All of us holding on, letting drop.

Tourist Trap




Tourist Trap

by Matthew Del Papa


Tourists, thought Yancy Roe. They all look the same.

      The fish camp guide stood on the peeling dock - comfortably dressed in worn corduroys, stained sweatshirt and well-scuffed rubber boots - and waited for the rusting bush plane. It taxied in across the lake’s calm water with a roar, engines spewing smoke and unburned fuel. Anxious faces pressed against the plane’s windows, his latest clients all fighting for the first look. Crammed inside the old Beaver, they waved.

        Yancy, pulling off his once-green ball cap, returned the tourists' excited gestures by lifting the faded and shapeless hat over his head, his sun-darkened face splitting into a welcoming smile as he waited for the would-be campers to reach shore.


The plane’s propeller slowed and the first tourist climbed out to stand on a wide pontoon. The man smiled nervously as, still hanging on for dear life, he tossed the rope.

       Yancy caught it easily and waited for the plane to drift to a stop before tying it off. “Welcome,” he said as the man, impatient just like every tourist the camp guide had ever known, jumped across the slowly narrowing gap.

      “Whoa, thanks,” the man muttered, after misjudging the distance. He clutched the guide’s rough hand and looked down, wide-eyed, at the water.

      “All part of the service,” Yancy obliged, letting go and helping the small party unload a ridiculous amount of gear. Nine tackle boxes, twenty-three fishing rods, eight different-sized nets, and more. It just kept coming. Wondering how that plane ever got airborne, the guide asked, “You boys ready to do some fishing?” That question earned a cheer.

       Happy customers, he thought, that’s what we like to see. “Well then, what say we get you all settled and fed? Then we can be about it.”

Two hours later, after Yancy had all but pried the tourists from their coffee and dessert, they were out on the water.

       “This here,” he said, carefully spacing the four greenhorns around the boat, “is one of my favourite spots. Caught some mighty nice pickerel over the years.”

Composite rods twitching as they cast, the tourists listened half-heartedly to the old guide’s rambling monologue. The sound of expensive reels near-silently spinning blended with the water tapping against the dented aluminum of the extra-wide, sixteen-foot boat.

      “Of course personally, I prefer live bait,” Yancy continued. “A big, fat minnow like this fellow here.” He skewered the baitfish and dropped his bright, yellow monofilament line over the side, adding, “Never failed me yet.” With that he settled back, adjusted his cushion - more duct tape than padding - to a more comfortable position, and, with one hand slowly twitching the tip of his much-mended fishing rod, settled in to wait.

       The four tourists took turns checking their expensive fish-finders. “I can see fish down there,” one said, after looking at the digitized underwater scene. “They just aren’t biting.”

        “Give ‘em time,” Yancy said. “They don’t even know we’re here yet.”

A partridge, hidden in the bush somewhere on shore, thumped. Off in the distance, a loon cried, sounding mournful. The sun fell to the horizon, turning the sky orange then red. And, through it all, the men fished - the tourists with grudging anxiety and the old guide with quiet confidence.

     Hours passed and nerves tightened. Smooth-palmed hands gripped rods with increasing frustration. Lures were changed and changed again - spinners, poppers, deep-divers, and floaters - each treble-hooked monstrosity cast out with a desperate flick and reeled in with fading hope.

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“You lot ought to try minnows,” Yancy Roe suggested again. The old fish camp guide unhooked yet another trophy fish from his line and dropped it over the side. “They’re really the way to go,” he said, re-baiting his hook.

        Realizing that they were ignoring him like stubborn children, Yancy shook his head, leaned over to rinse his hands in the sparkling, clean lake, and let out enough yellow line to reach bottom.

He pulled an orange from his pocket and peeled it with strong fingers. The strips went over the side, spreading rainbow-like citrus oil upon the water, “Them there peels will bring the fish. You mark my words.”

Tourists, Yancy thought, always think they know best.

       Shaking his head, he watched the floatplane struggle to take flight. It bounced off the waves before clawing its way skyward - five days earlier than planned.

       “Good thing they paid in advance,” he sighed, not bothering to wave before putting the last group out of his mind. Walking up to the camp, he muttered, “Best get the old place cleaned up and ready for the next bunch. Maybe this group will listen . . . then again they’d be the first.”

('Captivating Capreol: Thoughts From a Railroad Town' by Matthew Del Papa)

Fishbone Gallery
Tanja Rabe
Fungus Homunculus

Our toes, our noses
Take hold on the loam,
Acquire the air.

Nobody sees us, 

Stops us, betrays us;

The small grains make room.



by Sylvia Plath

Overnight, very
Whitely, discreetly,
Very quietly


Soft fists insist on

Heaving the needles,

The leafy bedding,


Even the paving.

Our hammers, our rams,

Earless and eyeless,

Perfectly voiceless,

Widen the crannies,

Shoulder through holes. We


Diet on water,

On crumbs of shadow,

Bland-mannered, asking


Little or nothing.
So many of us!
So many of us!

We are shelves, we are
Tables, we are meek,
We are edible,

Nudgers and shovers

In spite of ourselves.

Our kind multiplies:


We shall by morning

Inherit the earth.

Our foot's in the door.



by Mary Oliver

Rain, and then
the cool pursed
lips of the wind
draw them
out of the ground -

red and yellow skulls

pummeling upward

through leaves,

through grasses,

through sand; astonishing

in their suddenness,


their quietude,

their wetness, they appear

on fall mornings, some

balancing in the earth

on one hoof

packed with poison,

others billowing

chunkily, and delicious -

those who know

walk out to gather, choosing

the benign from flocks

of glitterers, sorcerers,



panther caps,
shark-white death angels
in their town veils
looking innocent as sugar
but full of paralysis:

to eat

is to stagger down

fast as mushrooms themselves

when they are done being

perfect and overnight

slide back under the shining

fields of rain.

Policy Schmallacy


Policy Shmallacy

by Rebecca Kramer

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“No one is above the law except the one who writes the law.”

       In any country, when something goes wrong, a law is written. Over time, so many things have gone wrong and so many laws have amassed that obedient citizens literally can’t move anymore; and they begin to wither under the restrictions. At this juncture, the fastest way to reinvigorate the public is to start a concerted effort to rid ourselves of the law-infested landscape and start from scratch.

      Canada is presently at that standstill, needing a desperate release from ridiculously numerous laws. Laws are largely political. Policies are largely organizational. And rules are largely custom-defined. I will focus on policies, as they affect the social address and fulfilment of human needs.


I thought of a visual way to help portray exactly what policies can do to real people on both sides of any system: workers and the public. Let’s say, a worker is required to enforce a jumbled policy on a person from the public. First, the policy denies that worker their humanitarian inclination to compassion. And second, when, if ever, is a conversation pleasant after a jumbled policy is announced?

     Here is a thoughtless ‘whatever’ approach to policy writing: zjdbfoKJHDlnkueH. The speed with which I slammed down that jumbled policy above shows the ludicrously short time and negligence it takes for policymakers to set up a regulatory framework for social systems and organizations.

       The writers of policies tend to have no idea of the real needs of the workers or the real needs of the greater public. Then why are policymakers running our lives if they are clearly ignorant or oblivious? This is how they divide and conquer us, impenetrable like a brick wall: workers - policies - hleui4n5lafkzhd - public. And what sits in the heads of these policy makers? Gzliduftyzjsegv. Aren’t their brains the most scrambled of all? They are so out of touch that they write policies behind closed doors; with little to no accountability.


Sadly, the most serious flaw in jumbled policies is their tendency to deny social connection which prevents positive relationships from ever starting. We are social creatures and, if some of us deny others the right to social inclusion through jumbled policies, these few culprits succeed in demoralizing people into further isolation to the point where we don’t believe we deserve better.

       Why am I so confident in my use of the word connection? Like positive brainwashing, I have heard on my TV piping since the beginning of the Covid 19 pandemic: STAY CONNECTED, WE'RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER! During this worldwide crisis, I thought of all the times that I have tried to stay connected; and I have always come up short with the same dilemma: A policy said, “No.” Not a person. A policy.

All we want is to live freely, but policies are like chicken wire driven through every organ in our body. We are stuck; we can’t breathe; we can’t move; we can’t go anywhere; we can’t try anything new. Policies are words. Notice how physical words can become. Words are the easiest problem to resolve. I am promoting hope. Our seemingly insurmountable crisis needs confident and lighthearted pens.

     The solution to policy pollution is a realistic one. Ask the public to write the policies that they consider relevant. If given this opportunity, everyone will be surprised at how well each of us already knows what we really need and how to ask for it! And, if policies need to be written by staff in organizations, there must always be an exception to every rule; for it is usually the people in dire need who deserve an exception. Who should decide who is in dire need? Never the worker. Always the one in crisis.

      There, these are examples of how to avoid jumbled policies. If democracy is for the people, then let’s involve the people in the way they want things run. We can all apply ourselves to create policies that leave room for compassion. Let’s revive Canada and dive into a depth of kindness exhibited in every system in this country where ‘Serving Our Community’ is proclaimed.


Work with me on my last and most critical point. The public has a need; they seek out an organization they hope will meet their need. That organization denies them assistance because of a policy. What a waste of resources! Why is that organization put in place at all? Why rent a space in a building, which has a hefty overhead? Why train workers who are powerless to help?

      Why not just be honest with the public and tell them: “Sorry, your need can’t be met here at all; don’t bother even entering, even though the sign above our door states we are here to support you.” At least then the public could look elsewhere or actively start a new organization that does supply what it promises: to meet the real needs of those in the public sphere asking for aid.


We begin in Canada where the most serious lifting of laws is presently needed because Canada is promoted as a ‘free world’, though it is nothing but the opposite. This makes the entire country a deceptive social isolation chamber hidden from view of other countries and difficult for Canadians to admit to, or be brave enough to even seek change. And from there, we will revitalize societies in other countries which are also experiencing record-breaking law infestations, readying them for change and, ultimately, for freedom.

       Will the slow build-up of policies wind our country down to another screeching halt in the future? The repetition of history may be avoided if jumbled policies are denied from ever becoming written again. Then genuine human connections and relationships will flourish. Then the laws which are made for the reasons that things go wrong will stay remote.

     Not much goes wrong when everyone has a family of friends, a group giving them a sense of belonging, and the satisfaction of contributing to their communities. We can live to see the day when no jumbled policies are left in any system; and the earth is a living, breathing flow of human life meeting real needs of real people all of the time. 



River Stump

River Stump

by Rebecca Kramer

A secret lies hidden within every soul
The power to weather the life-death-life roll
As night wakes to morning . . . so death wakes to life
We know this we trust this . . . then why all our fright?


In frailty we carefully tip-toe through life
And step down and shy back and purposely hide
Avoiding at all costs the terror of death
We think we are living while holding our breath


And rather than flow like a river through time
We jolt and we stumble and hope we will find
A forest without all the stumps in decay
And floors that are cleared of their leaves every day


But I love the river stump nestled in leaves
For though it stands dead in its wisdom it breathes
And whispers to me and to you as we’re caught
By the warm winter glow of this sunny bank shot


If nature moves freely through cycles of life
Enriching itself with the soft soil of death
Does death really only bleed death after death?
Is that what we find on the river stump’s breath?


So dance to death’s music and give where it gives
Let die what must die . . . and live what must live
Reward yourself dearly if you can survive
But push yourself gently move on now . . . and thrive!

Error of our Ways



The Error of Our Ways
by Tanja Rabe

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I'm not feeling too well, which doesn't come as much of a surprise. From what I manage to recall of the past five hours - and there are some definite blanks - I deserve every sore inch on my body. Only a few precious shreds of the evening remain and I cling on to them desperately, at once trying to build a larger picture on those shaky foundations and, at the same time, using my thoughts to distract from the revolt slowly building again in my stomach.


I remember sitting in the tight trunk space of the old VW party wagon, Timo squeezed in beside me. Wedged between my knees was a ten-liter gas canister filled with a mix of Cola and cheap red wine, a concoction popular with the underground scene. The rest of the gang huddled in the two rows of seats up front, passing a joint around and throwing curses at each other in their usual, charming fashion. I was in pretty high spirits, what with the booze - and Timo - in easy reach.

      He was an attractive, young punk and, having caught his glances before we headed out, I was not surprised when he'd offered his company in the back. He proved a proper drinking buddy on the side, holding the heavy canister while the drink poured down the spout, and my throat, sweet as juice and just as easily.

       I don't recall how much damage we did in precise volume that first half-hour. Suffice it to say, my mind had arrived at a point where most cognitive skills were lost in a haze.

    Eventually, the guys up front caught on to the private party in the rear and, with an uproar, confiscated the container. Hands free and heads swimming, Timo and I soon made out hidden from view by the backseat and the dark.


There are a lot of holes in the story after that, yet somehow I ended up in the front seat beside Stefan, the group's designated driver, to give directions. We were on our way to an industrial concert and had to pick up my friend Sabina a couple of towns over, whose address unfortunately was hiding in the dark recesses of my jellied brain.

       At one point I remember throwing up into the greenery beside the road. Stefan must have pulled over just in time before I could mess up his van. The rest is a blank.

       We miraculously made it to Sabina's place, where I regained consciousness. I cringed as Mike, a tall, black Rasta guy and the undisputed head of our tribe, banged his fist against her parents' front door, her mother opening with a shocked look on her face as he marched right on past her, yelling impatiently through the house for Sabina to get her ass out to the van - exit time. Thankfully, I passed out again, missing the end of that scene.

I came to upon arrival at the concert-factory hall, feeling abysmally low. Despite paying the cover charge, I ended up huddling in a corner by the entrance trying to stave off the late-October chill whilst escaping the earsplitting noise that emanated from the deep cavern beyond. When I was half-frozen, I sought refuge in the van already occupied by Stefan and Mike trying to sleep down the time it would take for the rest of us to get either too bored or too cold to stick around any longer.

      Even inside the vehicle you could see your breath with the engine off and the chill creeping in through its rusty doors. Sleep proved impossible and time had slowed down to a crawl as I resigned myself to wait for the sound of slamming doors, bodies cramming in beside me and the warming drone of the engine announcing our departure.

       The van was quiet on the way home. Timo had snuck in beside me and I let my head rest against his shoulder while his hand ventured into my pants, trying to work its way south. It took a few minor struggles before he kept his fingers to himself but, eventually, he settled down. In the meantime, I had reconciled myself to crashing at Mike's place who was used to sleepovers on a regular basis when one or more of us were too fucked up to make it home.


Mike was the oldest of the gang, although he'd never let on as to what his age was, mid-twenties maybe. He had his own place above a grungy pool hall with plenty of space and a couple of extra mattresses always laid out, just in case. Most of the others were still in their teens with limited use of their homes, except for Werner, a pretty boy with spiky, blond hair in his early twenties. He took girls home quite frequently with no objections from his parents, as I'd found out firsthand the very night we got acquainted. He'd lost no time to make his move, fresh blood had just arrived and he was taking first rights.

        "Could you give me a ride home on your scooter?" he'd asked, a pleading smile on his face. "Come on, it's on your way. I've crashed at Mike's enough this week, I just want to sleep in my own bed tonight." I'd caught the glint in his eyes and wasn't disappointed.

        "You can stay over as well, my folks are pretty good about that," he added with a wink.

      We had barely exchanged a couple of words that night, my first evening with the local bunch of Indies; mostly Punks, with the odd Goth, Rockabilly, Rude Boy and Psychobilly thrown into the mix. What my friend Sabina and I called the alternative scene, the lefties, in this town consisted of mostly highschool kids and the occasional stray, like Rasta Mike.


Mike had only been around for a year but, looking at the gang, had encountered no opposition when taking over the territory. Werner was the only one with enough seniority to veto his leadership, but they'd ended up best buddies, so that was that.

     "Glatzenschlagen" was Mike's favourite word, roughly translated as "kicking skinhead butt".  The town was almost a skinhead-free zone, Mike would proclaim proudly, as if taking credit for having personally rid this quaint tourist trap of the Nazi pest, drowned each bald rat with his dark hands in our lovely lake after bashing them cheerfully over the head a few times. Our town's very own Pied Piper.     

The only skinhead left in the area hardly ever dared to show his face around our hangout behind  the old City Hall. Only once was I alerted to him as he tried to park his mucked-up VW Beetle close by, but he didn't stay any longer than the minute it took him to spot our group, all armed with bottles ready to fly and curses threatening his demise.


It would seem that, after spending a year abroad following high school, I'd returned to a minor German civil war. The Wall had come down while I was gone, liberating the East and, with it, a whole army of Neo-Nazis - or so I was told. Skinheads and punks at each others' throats like never before and the way I dressed and did my hair made me an automatic target.

       Not that I ever really considered myself a punk. Abroad, where I'd met Sabina through the same Au Pair agency, the style she'd inspired me to play with was considered alternative, or artsy, and didn't raise a lot of eyebrows.

     Upon returning to the Old Country, I'd sought to unearth the scene in my own hometown. I was quick to invite Sabina, who conveniently happened to live a few towns over, to join me in getting in touch with what we considered 'our kind of people'.

     It had been almost too easy. Funky hair, ripped jeans, a few piercings and Doc Marten's the perfect bait, we strolled nonchalantly past the fountain where they seemed to congregate in the evenings and were quickly called over to join them. We split the wine we had the smarts to bring along and, in no time at all, became new members of the family, with the dubious pleasure of Mike gifting us with in-depth accounts of the fascist movement swamping the German Vaterland during our good times at the Canadian frontier.

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As the evening wore on, I had to make a choice. Werner was casting me those puppy dog eyes that were hard to resist and it might have had to do with my relenting in the end. Either that, or the fact I was quite drunk by then and a bit high after the gang had invited me along to some stoner's house to share a bong, his girlfriend holding a baby to her full breast while taking the odd puff as it went around the messy kitchen.

     "Alright, I'll stay over . . . but just to crash!" I gave in. I really had no intention to get it on with someone I hardly knew and, besides, he was too sure of himself by far.

      As soon as we got into his room - parents asleep right down the hall - he made a go at it whilst I pretended a fervent interest in his record collection. He finally caught the hint, let me snuggle against his back and ended up rolling me another joint to calm down my wired nerves since we both needed to get some sleep.

     "That's the second time this month a girl just wants to stay over without messing around," he sounded puzzled.

We hung out for a couple of weeks. I’d sleep over on a few more occasions and in the mornings he'd give me a ride to the hotel where I managed the laundry, my workmates casting us wry glances as I'd get off his motorcycle - leather jacket, boots, the whole deal still attesting to where I'd spent the night.


A month later, I almost broke the promise I'd made to myself. After a rowdy evening out on the town, a few of us had ended up at Mike's flat. Sleeping arrangements looked a bit tight and I was afraid the floor was going to become my date for the night. Things between Werner and I had cooled themselves down, he'd resigned himself to my refusals and words between us had became sparse with no more invites to crash at his place.     

       I was rather surprised, then, to have him wave me over to the space he'd saved beside him on one of the mattresses, as if the tie we once shared still made him responsible for this female. He cuddled close, his arms wrapped around me, his hands still. In the dark, I could hear moaning from the couch where Sabina, the only other girl in the room, was making out with one of the youngsters.

      The sounds stirred something inside me. I became intensely aware of his body, his arms holding me, his masculine smell and his breath on my cheek. I moved closer against him and felt his lips on my forehead. He muttered something in half-sleep, pulled me tighter and his mouth found mine. We kissed as his hands caressed my back. Then he buried his face in my neck and mumbled, "Sweet dreams." Turning around, he pulled my arm across to hold him and fell asleep.

        "Stupid cow," I thought to myself. " Deserves you right."

        The sounds from the couch had finally quieted down and, gradually, so did the tingle in my groin, letting me fall asleep after a long, long while.


The next morning found me in a daze, a shyness had settled over me when he was close, blanketing my mind for anything to say. Discouraged, he never asked me to spend the night again.

      "Maybe I've misjudged him," I thought through light pangs of remorse as I realized, I missed his company. But it was too late. At the very least, our short relation had planted me firmly in the group, for better or for worse.


"For worse," I mumble under drawn breath, swallowing hard.

      "Whassup?" Werner asks into the silence. I shake my head slightly, warding off his question, too worn to retrieve the thought again. He takes one long, final drag off his cigarette, ignoring the heat at his fingertips and the pungent taste of filter for the sake of burning the thing right down to its last scrap of tobacco.

      I glance at Mike across the kitchen table - or rather across heaps of dirty dishes, empty beer cans, containers brimming over with ashes and butts and other, assorted debris littering its surface. He's scraping some refried beans out of a battered, old pot, the kind found way back in your cupboard and saved for emergencies like this, as the clutter in the sink, on the counters, all over the table well attest to. He offered to share his meal earlier and I had to decline, the sight of it reminding me painfully of what I was struggling to hold down inside.

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I try to close my eyes as the stains on the wall in front of me have mysteriously started to shift in their constellation and a rhythmic beat pushes insistently through the vein under my left eye. I open them quickly as a wave of dizziness comes through the dark, threatening to topple me off my chair. Fixing my gaze onto the wall again, I look for a point to hold onto, trying to trick the nausea.

        A red splatter draws my attention, ready for analysis: possible origin (tomato sauce), how did it get there (food fight), age (at least a month), artistic merits (unintentional canvas depicting bachelor habits). My thoughts are crudely interrupted by a vicious sneer from my insides. The stain moves out of focus and starts circling down a slow vortex as my guts follows suit and the rickety kitchen chair beneath me joins the fun. 

      "Ye don’t look so good," Mike's voice distracts me mercifully. "If yer gonna puke, try and get to de bathroom, don't make a mess of ma kitchen, ye hear?" This draws a weak grin. Mess up this kitchen? The floor certainly couldn't give a shit, its pattern hidden beneath a decade's worth of grime. But I nod anyway. I can feel him stare at my face but, when our eyes meet, he turns away and searches amongst the empty cans for one that might provide a last bit of liquid sustenance.

       I know I have to start moving before my body decides to move on its own accord but, as uninviting as the kitchen is, it seems a hell of a lot safer than the proposal of leaving my chair and braving the voyage down the dark hallway.     


I realize my legs have made up their own mind when I stub a toe painfully on the high threshold to the bathroom, greeted by utter darkness on the other side. The light switch, damn, where the hell is it. I search for eons under the towels by the side of the door, standing in its frame, not daring to step forward. I can feel cold air on my face carrying with it a nauseating stench reminiscent of public urinals.

       "What a stupid idea to put it above the door," I grumble, as my fingers finally latch onto the switch and light up an area that looks just like it smells.      

       "Welcome home," I smirk at my stomach, "let's party." The foul odour greeting me from the crusty toilet bowl promises quick business so I kneel down in front of it with a prayer:

        "Take these my offerings and relieve me from the clutches of the evil vortex. And please be so kind to let darkness fall in mercy upon this hurting flesh."

      My gift is accepted and the vortex spirals down the bowl with it. Gravity is working in my favour again as I pull myself up by the sink's ledge. Unfortunately, my plea for darkness goes unheard.

      Washing my hands and face, I take a dreaded peek in the mirror. All goes cold inside. I certainly didn't expect any form of beauty reflected in its tarnished surface, let's be realistic, but the face staring back isn't remotely as I imagined. Granted, I deserve dark rings under the eyes but the skin around the left one shows distinctly darker than its neighbour, displaying tie-dye shades of purple and an unusual puffiness. 

       Instinctively, my hand goes down to my thigh, presses a tender spot that's gotten my attention on and off during the last hour. As I carefully pull down my tights, I am greeted by my eye's twin, a larger bruise similar in colour. I stand confused, my gaze wandering between my thigh and my face, trying to trigger memory, images. But all that runs through my head is a claim I made a long time ago. And I am forced to eat my own words.

"I was drunk, too drunk and I don't remember what happened," I plead with the jury.

        "So you admit, excess drunkenness can cause bouts of amnesia?" the stern question. I confess to the sin of self-righteousness and bow my head in shame to the judge.

     "Please forgive the error of my ways." I beg humbly. I am forgiven, though the jury refuses any further help. "Adjourned!" The gavel falls, leaving blank silence in my head.


For a while I rest on the toilet seat, contemplating, but it's useless. I’m starting to shiver. The window must have been open all night and has done nothing to relieve the stench. I close it, just in case I have to visit again. "Better this stink than the cold," I mutter, as I rub my hands together trying to get the slow circulation going.

        I leave the light on to brighten a bit of the dark hallway ahead, careful with my feet across the step, my big toe still throbbing from the encounter.


At the kitchen table, they've stopped talking and glance up as I find my way back to my chair. Werner starts going through the ashtrays, peeling scorched tobacco from the butts, piling the scraps carefully onto a piece of rolling paper. He ignores my frown as he looks for an empty pack of smokes, tears off a piece of the flap and rolls himself a filter to match. Mike has taken up his quest amongst the beer cans again, cursing quietly under his breath. I sit tight, staring at the cluttered table.

        "What happened?" I finally ask into the silence.

       "What do ye mean?" Mike shakes a can, peers inside for signs of butts afloat. I turn to Werner, his eyes fixed on the red cherry in front of his nose, nonchalantly savoring his first drag and tapping the tip's ashes into a can. He gives me a quick glance, then gazes intently at the smoke between his fingers and wets the spot where it has begun to canoe towards him.

         "Well," he grins faintly, not committing.

         "Well what?" I nod my head, pushing him on. "What was going down last night?'

         "You don't remember?" he smirks. Mike throws him a quick glance, looks down at his hands.

         "Remember what?" I ask impatiently. "No, I don't remember this," as I point to my puffy eye. "No, I don't remember. Don't remember much of anything, so maybe . . . you'd care to enlighten me? Please?" There's a hysterical edge to my voice, I try to get it under control. My hands are shaking under the table.

       "Was your own fault," Werner mumbles, looking to Mike for help who just shakes his head. This is your problem, bro, he seems to say.

       "Why'd you have to get so fucking wasted?" he bursts out. "You and Timo swilling it up back there. But at least he wasn't making a lot of noise about it." he sneers. I close my eyes and try again. Nothing. Not a single bell going off in my head.     

        "What the hell are you talking about!" I throw back, unsure.

       "Wasn't much of anything ," he stares at his smoke. "It's just, you know, you were really fucked up, carrying on like some crazed wino." He looks to Mike for a heads-up. Still no sign there and he takes a deep breath.

"I just pushed you around a bit when you made us stop. Not my fault you couldn't stay on your feet." he grins wryly. "Shouldn't drink if you can't handle it."

       I stare at him incredulously. My hand goes up to my eye, I see my face in the mirror again. "You fucking punched me, you asshole. Right in the face. Shit, look at this. You call that pushing?" I hiss at him.

       "I pushed . . . you hit the van. A little hard maybe, but hell, we were all pretty high and I might've misjudged." he attempts a smile, a hint of remorse in his eyes. "Don’t worry, won't touch you ever again, promise."

        "You should put some ice on that, looks kinda nasty." he frowns.

       As if on cue, Mike gets off his chair and heads for the fridge. I just sit there rigidly, not knowing how to react. If I could at least call up some images to fuel the anger, memories of a fist in flight, harsh words, anything at all. But there is nothing. Mike hands me a rumpled bag of frozen peas, motions to my face.

      "Put dat on, it 'elps," he says. "Maybe ye betta lie down, ye look like ye'se gonna pass out," and he waves towards the bedroom. When I try to get up, the kitchen starts moving again. I feel his hand under my arm, holding me steady as he leads me down the hallway.

        "Ye need de bathroom agin?" he asks. I shake my head cautiously.


He helps me down onto a mattress, gets a pillow, curses for the blanket hidden somewhere in the dark. He tucks me in, his hands search for the bag of peas on my face, adjusting its position to keep it from slipping off. The mattress feels wonderful under my sore body and slowly the tension drains, the shivers cease. He takes off my boots and stuffs the blanket around my socked feet as well.

        "Why did he have to hit me?" I mutter drowsily. "What's wrong with him?"

       "Ye really ain't no clue, do ye?" he says quietly. "Li'l Miss Innocent, neh?" He is silent for a moment. "Ever think he might 'ave a thing for ye?" he volunteers, finally. "Well, did any'ow. But ye make it pretty clear to him, t'night especial. Awright, he fly a bit offa de handle, I ain't tryin te 'scuse dat. We was all a bit tight. So give de guy a break, will ye? I knows he's real sorry."

       He checks the ice bag one last time and leaves the room with the door slightly ajar, the light from the kitchen casting a faint trail through the dark. I can hear their voices subdued from the other room, not loud enough to understand.     

I turn his words around in my head. Somehow they refuse to sink in, to connect into a whole, sentences dancing in front of my eyes, circling and twisting through the dark, spiraling away from me downwards, disappearing into a black pit. Over and over, until I finally give up and let the darkness take me along.

     "Tomorrow," it flickers through my head as I drift off, "maybe tomorrow I won't remember any of this."







by Carmen Rodríguez

Fernwood Publishing, Fiction, 240 pages, Sept. 2021

Review by John Jantunen


It’s hard to adequately express just how influential Stephen Henighan’s When Words Deny The World: The Reshaping Of Canadian Writing was for me when I first read it back in 2014.

     I had oft-lamented that Canadian literature was lacking in something fundamental, but didn’t possess the words to suitably articulate my rather inchoate misgivings beyond the increasingly aggrieved lament that the Canada I saw represented in our national fiction bore very little resemblance to the Canada I myself have experienced. How I might go about bridging that gap had already become my central preoccupation as a novelist and, so, Stephen’s declaration on page one of his introduction that “The writer emerges as an antagonist to or subtle dissenter from the surrounding society; she wants to write books that are missing from the catalogue of literature” was a more-than-welcome affirmation that such a thing might actually be possible.

        Central to Stephen’s critique of CanLit was that “the search for new forms, for a language capable of dramatizing our lives in our own voices, has lost its urgency” and he spends considerable time in subsequent chapters arguing that, to invigorate CanLit with the requisite sense of urgency, Canadian novelists would be well-served by seeking inspiration from Latin American authors rather than from Americans or Brits, as has been the fashion.


This sentiment would come to percolate in my thoughts with a mounting fervor, akin to a revelatory, or perhaps more accurately, a revolutionary zeal, while reading Chilean-Canadian writer Carmen Rodríguez’s masterful second novel, Atacama. The book begins as a thoroughly compelling historical account of political oppression in her native Chile, recounted through the alternating perspectives of Manuel - from a 'working class' family of miners - and Lucía, the 'bourgeois' daughter of a ruthless officer in the Chilean army, and ultimately ends as a definitive call to action urging us all, as the book’s final words do, to join in a united effort “to fight against the latest incarnation of capitalism: neoliberalism.”

       The part of me which longs deeply for this book to find the success it deserves, hesitates to even mention the latter, as such a bold declaration of an author’s ideological leanings will, undoubtedly, restrict its readership, but then, speaking of Atacama in any other context would, I fear, be both a disservice to the novel and to its author who, after all, does set the stage by way of quoting Karl Marx. Mind you, it’s the novel’s third epigraph which, I believe, speaks most directly to its author’s intentions when she quotes Indian author Arundhati Roy writing, “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day I can hear her breathing.”

In Atacama’s Chile of the 1920s, when the novel begins, the dream of another world is about as far removed from the reality of day to day life as we here in Canada are removed from, say, confronting our entrenched complicity in the climate emergency or, perhaps more pointedly, a genuine reckoning with the historical and ongoing genocide perpetrated against Indigenous Peoples.

       Now I can practically hear the hairs bristling amongst any number of our cultural curators at the mere suggestion that there is a correlation between the atrocities committed in a country such as Chile - during the 1920s nonetheless - and those committed by our own government - and lest we forget, our own citizenry - but, reading Atacama shortly after the bodies of over a thousand children were 'discovered' in common burial pits on the grounds of former Residential Schools, I’m finding it impossible not to see at least a few similarities.


Central to the novel’s narrative are two massacres orchestrated by Lucía’s father, Major Ernesto Céspedes. The first is in the mining village of La Coruña, where Manuel lives with his family. In the opening section, the miners go on strike to protest their abysmal working conditions and the Major’s reaction is swift and brutal. During the ensuing crackdown, Manuel’s younger sister is killed by a 'stray' bullet and the scene is recounted with such a clear-eyed matter-of-factness that it reads almost like straight reportage, as does the scene where Manuel’s father is shot by firing squad.

The women began to wail and the men to roar. As the military man raised his arm, my papa shouted, “Viva el proletariado!” - “Long Live the Proletariat!” An indignant “Viva!” exploded from the crowd. For an instant, the army officer seemed to hesitate, but then he hollered “Fire!” at the top of his lungs.

The effect is suitably jarring for the reader and speaks to the author’s well-honed proclivity for rendering these horrors in plain language. It’s a technique well-suited to the task of imprinting them so indelibly in the reader’s mind that, after Manuel and the surviving members of his family are relocated to the coastal city of Iquique, I divined a somewhat deeper significance to the style when he uses an account of the massacre written as a school essay to get himself a job as a reporter for a local magazine.

       It’s also in Iquique that he’ll first encounter Lucía, who has been wrenched from the idyllic, little world afforded to her in the mountain village of Tacna by her father’s status as a 'national hero'. A flood unearths thousands of bodies buried in a common burial pit and washes them downriver while Lucía is playing with friends on its shores. Lucía and her companions escape the deluge by climbing into a tree.

From the top of the jacaranda, we watched them go by. We saw heads, torsos, legs, hands sticking out of the jumble. One of those hands tapped the porcelain doll and for a short while continued to push it along before the vortex sucked it up. Once in a while, complete bodies emerged from the slush - bruised, swollen, mutilated, in rags, covered in mud.

The porcelain doll she accidentally dropped in the raging torrent is one that her father has given her. She will later learn it was actually taken from the hands of a young girl who was shot by her father’s men.

Overhearing the soldiers laughing about it, while she and her family are on the train bound for Iquique, will be a watershed moment in Lucía’s young life (and it was while reading this section, in particular, that I found it impossible to ignore the corollary between Lucía’s warring confusion, horror, anger and sorrow at realizing her father was a monster and this country’s reaction to the bodies being unearthed at so many Residential Schools).

        Remembering these atrocities will become an act of resistance for both Manuel and Lucía, and it is a credit to the author’s skill as a novelist that much of the tension which carries us towards Atacama’s climax is generated through the juxtaposition of the means by which they will allow this remembering to guide their vocations - Manuel as a journalist and Lucía as a dance instructor and choreographer.


Pressed for money to feed his family and knowing only that “I was a good reader and a good writer”, the thirteen-year-old Manuel approaches the editor of El Nortino regarding a job. The owner is suitably impressed by Manuel’s school composition about the massacre in La Coruña, though he cautions the boy that, “I couldn’t publish it now - the magazine would be shut down by the government and I would go to jail.” Still, he takes Manuel on, serving as a mentor for the aspiring journalist, and under his tutelage Manuel will become “an expert in circuitous ways to say what I wanted without betraying the truth or skirting the issues.” This will eventually lead him to cover the Spanish Civil War, a section which reads almost like an homage to Hemingway’s coverage of the same, buoyed by a love affair with a fellow journalist no less. It’s an experience which will have a dramatic influence on Manuel’s prospects as a writer, not for the least reason because it allows a friendship to blossom between himself and renowned, real-life Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.


You will ask what happened to the lilacs?

and the metaphysics wrapped in poppies?

and the rain that would often hammer his words

opening holes and filling them with birds.


“These were the first lines of 'I Explain A Few Things',” Manuel explains, “a poem in which Neruda recounts how the bloodbath he witnessed in Madrid at the beginning of the war led him to use poetry as a tool of denunciation and resistance.” But it would be the poem’s last lines which “had taken root in my mind.”


You will ask why his poetry

doesn’t speak of dreams, of leaves

and the great volcanoes in his native land?

Come and see the blood in the streets, come and see

the blood in the streets

come and see the blood

in the streets.

It is hardly a coincidence, then, that it is a poet which inspires Manuel to write Nights and Days of War and Hope - his account of the war - and that it will eventually lead to a reunion between him and Lucía at a book signing (the power of art to inspire collective action is a central theme throughout the narrative). Buoyed by its success, Manuel tells Lucía that he next wants to write a book about her father to “Expose the bastard, let the world know that he is nothing more than a mass murderer at the service of the state and the bourgeoisie!” Lucía, who has since become estranged from her parents for the same reason, encourages him in this pursuit and is deeply troubled a short time thereafter, when Manuel seemingly disappears off the face of the earth. Six months later, he shows up at Lucía's door and explains his absence this way:

"Nights and Days of War and Hope was out in the world, and I felt completely empty . . . Spain, La Coruña, all my dead kept haunting me. I’d try to put them to rest by thinking of the future, but all I saw in front of me was a black cloud."

Ultimately, he finds solace by returning home to Iquique where “being with my people lifted my spirits”, such that he’s ready again to mount the book about the monster Ernesto Céspedes.


Lucía’s journey towards a similarly creative endeavour begins at the opposite end of the spectrum, both in regards to her social status and the way it is framed. Where Manuel’s writing was always a means to inch closer and closer to the truth of what he witnessed, dance has primarily been a means of escape for the young Lucía. And no more so than when the ugly realities around her were beginning to ferment - as in this scene, where her nanny Mercedes, a Peruvian and “dark-skinned Quechua”, lets it slip that things are not nearly as tranquil in Tacna as they seem.

“Some terrible things are happening, my lovely. There are lots of rumours going around.”

       “What terrible things?! What rumours?!” I asked. Mercedes took my face in her hands, smiled and looked me in the eye. “Nothing that my Lovely needs to worry about. Now let’s dance!”

The truly insidious nature of this scene is revealed after the flood, when Mercedes is fired for failing to spare young Lucía the horrors wrought by her own father, and it is only when she’s freed from the bondage of servitude that Mercedes feels free to speak her own mind on the matter:

“ . . . as horrible as it was, you were meant to see what happened at the river, my Lovely,” she said. “Don’t forget what you saw. Don’t forget.”

Such is unlikely and, while remembering might indeed be a political act, Carmen spends much of remaining novel reminding the reader that mere remembering isn’t nearly enough. The pattern of using dance as a means of fleeing from the horror she witnessed continues to dominate her life as she becomes a dance instructor in Iquique and, later, when she is forced to go live with an aunt in Valparaiso after her father intercepts a letter she wrote to Manuel in which she tells him "about Tacna, the dead in the river, the flood, the train, my father, all of it." It is only after hearing of Manuel’s plans to write a book about her father that she’s able to . . .

 . . . muster the courage to create Amarú, a ballet about the Tacna massacre. So, as I paced, sketched, took notes, listened to music, danced, relived the past, sat down to sketch some more and got up to dance again, I imagined Manuel going through his own version of the imaginative process.


A few paragraphs later, upon reading the first two chapters of Manuel’s book, Lucía reports:


He had gone for the personal approach and the story read as a mix of memoir, reportage, historical account, political essay and thriller. It was believable and it was touching.


Much the same could be said of Rodríguez’s approach to Atacama itself and, reading the above passage, I was again reminded of what Stephen Henighan wrote about the need “for new forms, for a language capable of dramatizing our lives in our own voices”, a sentiment which also forms the central thesis in literary critic Michael Gorra’s 2020 book The Saddest Words - William Faulkner’s Civil War. In it, Gorra references Walt Whitman writing (in 1882) of how “neither fiction nor poetry had yet the capacity - the language - to deal honestly and openly with the human costs associated with the civil war”.

       Reading that, at the very moment when the bodies of so many children were being unearthed in Kamloops, I couldn’t help but draw a clear parallel to our nation’s literature which has also failed, catastrophically, to create the capacity to deal honestly and openly with the human costs associated with our own war against Indigenous Peoples and Cultures as well as the deeply entrenched iniquities and outright violence rife all across the country for those of us consigned to the lower echelons. At root, these inequities are the direct result of the same “broader imaginative and cultural failure” which in The Great Derangement Amitav Ghosh suggests also “lies at the heart of the climate crisis”.


Atacama’s most profound accomplishment is that it repositions the novel as the foremost means that we, as a society, have for not only remembering our past injustices so that they won’t be repeated but for the hollowing out of a space within which to foster the kinds of imaginative leaps that Manuel and Lucía were able to make to lift themselves out of the bloody morass which had previously defined them and their country.

        In the so doing, Carmen Rodriguez has not only crafted a thoroughly enthralling work of fiction, but also a veritable blueprint for how Canadian authors - from right across the cultural spectrum - might, at long last, go about imagining Arundhati Roy’s "another world" so that one day we all may be able to hear her breathing too.

CARMEN RODRÍGUEZ is a Chilean-Canadian bilingual writer and the author of Guerra Prolongada/Protracted War (poetry); A Body to Remember With/De cuerpo entero (short stories); and Retribution (a novel). Rodríguez also has an extensive career as an educator and journalist, including work in adult literacy and popular education, particularly with Indigenous Peoples and other marginalized communities in the Americas.

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