Upcoming spring ’22 in

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To Tell It Right

“What do you think of when you see a person covered in cat hair?” says Matt, teasing another feline filament from his sleeve.

Ty’s fidget-spinning his pen with his fingers. As if it’s the world itself. “What colour?” he barely says, some sort of default response mode.

Matt runs his tongue over the sore spot in his mouth where he bit himself earlier, a silky membrane ruptured, broken. “Black,” he says and waits, but the pen still spins, so, “on a brown knit sweater. Yellow yoga pants and black Vans. A woman. …Fit. …Thirties.”

Ty looks up now and his pen drops into the notebook in his lap and settles into the spine. He smiles.

“Bloor line, Friday night. 10:02. …Eastbound.” Matt braces himself against the force of Ty’s gaze, amazed how it still feels like standing up to a cold wind naked. At times he wishes he had such control over him, but that would ruin everything.

Ty narrows his eyes, focusing the beam. “You sure the Vans are black?”

“Forget it,” Matt groans, suddenly annoyed, tired of this, always, and turns his attention back to removing from his sleeve the grey, wiry remnants of his solo visit to his mother last night. He peeks and sees the bow of Ty’s smile widening.

“Matt, Matt, my love,” says the poet, rolling the syllables playfully. “It’s no minor detail. And you know, where god lies, all that.”

“There is no God, and you’re just anal,” he says, abandoning the hair-razing and picking up his phone to change the music.

“Ah, anal. The greatest of compliments, but always dealt as an insult. Which makes it all the more rewarding, as one can always be sure it’s genuine.”

Ty’s assured yet vulnerable tone reels him back in as always, and Matt gets up from his chair and settles on the floor at his feet. “I wish you were a little less genuine sometimes,” he says, as the chaotic rhythm of sax blasts and cascading toms refuse to give easy answers about the present, never mind the past or future. “It doesn’t have to all be…”

“I can only be what I am, Matt,” says Ty, uncharacteristically melodramatic, pen in hand again, but held like a knife now. “You know, whatever that is.”

He pulls back to look at him in context, wondering again about the scar on the left brow that he’s always refused to explain. He moves back in, places a hand on each of Ty’s bare knees and slowly slides them up his thighs.

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Upcoming spring ’22 in

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The Bar

Access, they call it. Next one’s next weekend.”

He takes a long sip of beer, probably worrying I’m going to ask him to come. As if. Him, seeing my kid with me. Even the old me wouldn’t have been that stupid.

“The whole weekend?”

“Six hours on Saturday. I’m not allowed overnights.”

“Oh.”

“That’s one way of putting it.”

“That must be…bittersweet.”

“Definition of.”

He takes another sip of beer with one hand, and picks his game controller back up with his other.

“He lives with a mixed-race couple. Couldn’t make their own.”

“Lucky for people like that.”

“I… Yeah, no. Anyway, at least this visit is set to be the least bitter and most sweet of any.”

“Because…”

“Because this time I know I’m really going to make my app, sell it for shitloads of money. If I’m properly clean, the judge’ll have no choice.”

“What’s your timeline?” he says.

“Two years. He’ll start grade one with me. And I’m getting him out of here. Maybe try the other coast. Live in the mountains. Deep snow, you know? Kind that’ll sock you in sometimes.”

“Well, I’m pulling for you.” He takes a long sip of his beer, looks at his controller. Then, amazingly, he looks back to me and says, “So tell me about this big app idea of yours.”

I hesitate, but what the hell. “It’s called Pep Talk Paul.”

“And why’m I buying Paul?”

“It’s like…” Damn. I have to work on my elevator pitch. “Imagine a personal pep-talker. He’ll help you justify and feel good about anything you want to do. But no bullshit dollar-store slogans about living in the moment and not sweating the small stuff. Like, imagine the best lawyer in the world, a whole team of them fighting on your side for you, their job only to help you understand what you want and why you should do it. You know, like the difference between guilt and innocence is a good lawyer, like that, but for your life and morals, everything.”

“So, if I want to go out and kill a bunch of people…”

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In The Nashwaak Review Spring 2021:

Limbo Babies

Walking the wire between dream and lucidity, he grasps all he conceives and is what he wills… … …until the alarm clock plucks the wire and it snaps. Flailing into consciousness, he catches hold of the thread of tinny words spooling out of the radio:

-debate is the concept of Limbo. For centuries Catholic Christians have believed that babies who died before baptism were placed here because, being free of volitional sin, they were unsuitable for hell, but the stain of original sin made them equally unsuitable for heaven. But, was that then, and is this now? Screen Shot 2022-04-15 at 1.50.58 PMOver the coming days the Pope will meet with Cardinals and Bishops with the goal of rescinding that ancient version of reality. This all on account of the modern reasoning that such a lamentable system is incongruent with the idea of a just and benevolent-

He presses the snooze button, enacting magnificent silence, then swings his legs out and sits on the edge of the bed. He forces his eyes wide open, his hair that Alice wants him to cut hanging like drapes over them, shielding them from the crisp October sun that hurls itself at the window, light waves come so far to awaken him, then beaten to the task by the radio. He is awake: his thought no longer his world’s command.

He gets up and brushes his teeth, then puts on t-shirt and jeans and cardigan, taking a moment to tear off the longest of the fraying threads. After pulling on socks he steps into his organic sneakers, presses his wallet into his back pocket and takes his cigarettes in hand. He steps out and locks the door behind him, then pushes the keys through the mail slot—Alice has her own set, and he hates having the jagged steel in his pocket. Just as he turns to head down the stairs the clock radio awakens and resumes its brash outpouring of words. He carries on down the stairs.

He stops at the off-license, buys some breath mints and a beer, cracks the latter, lights a smoke and walks up Mare Street. Two blocks along he stops at the altar of weather-beaten cards and flower bouquets, a browned and wilting tribute to the man knifed and killed three weeks ago under the sun on this very spot—a Korean gang killing, he’s heard. Nothing at all out of the ordinary for London town. But still, standing there, on the cracked and gum-spotted pavement where it happened, he shivers. He shivers and imagines a knife shoved into his own heart, right now, his cigarette falling to the indifferent pavement, rage as he chokes on blood and anger, incomprehensibility.

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In The Prairie Journal Fall 2020:

everything but the Cape Canaveral plate

Shrugging it all off as best he can but still shivering, he turns to the door and presses her button. A moment later comes her hello, questioning, as though she’s expecting no one, practically a goodbye. Or maybe that’s just him. “Mama? It’s me!” he yells over the roar of the stiff wind and the traffic. All six lanes of it.

“Come on up!” comes through the brass-grated speaker, the proud and clear voice seemingly emanating from a thirty-year-old, one you might picture as having a sharp brow and graceful mouth with a resolute nose between, which she does in fact have, but they’ve never been farther from thirty. It’s her birthday, and he has the cake in the crook of his arm to prove it. The effusive script screams volumes: Happy 81st Mama!!! Volumes and volumes. He wishes he’d bought candles now; a birthday cake without flames…a frame with no picture in it?

An electric buzz disengages the lock, and he makes his way into the cavernous lobby with the seven-foot cactus in the middle and the disastrously dissonant Matisse print on the wall. Proceeding past plants and alabaster statues to the elevators at the far end, he notes again how much it all resembles a mausoleum, clean and gaudy, souless in the way of generic death decorations. He stops, and the last reverberations of his footfalls settle and die in the traffic’s softened hum laid upon the silence like dust.

The elevator doors part to reveal an emptiness he’s happy to see and step into. Grudgingly borne up, he stares at the infinite reflections of his old face in the opposing mirrors. He thinks of his own birthday scheduled to arrive on time early next month. His fifty-fourth. He thinks of Jill, his current girlfriend, twenty-three years his junior and not invited to this party. Not that she minds one bit. “I’m glad my folks’ve done the ashes-to-ashes thing already. How can you stand the constant reminder of what you’re becoming?” She laughed after she said it, trying to pass it off as her black humour, but he knows better. And what makes him even angrier is that he’s happy Jill’s not invited, because he doesn’t want her reminded of what he’s becoming.

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In The New Quarterly  Summer 2020:

Pluperfection

Good God! I can’t, just … just how do you still look so beautiful in that dress? Does time dare not touch you!

Always worrying about my grey matter! My neurons are as sturdy and lastingly linked as the stones of your necklace! I told you I made it from Sibley stones, right? Superior’s shores, ancient rock smoothed Screen Shot 2022-04-15 at 12.23.27 PM spheroids, a billion waves laughing and lapping at ten thousand years. Each wave makes them look younger, like you!

I’m serious! Time only makes you better!

But you don’t! Not to me. Not like me. Every day the mirror, more wrinkles, bags saggier under my eyes, a heavier load of who I used to be.

Well, I don’t see them lining up.

Oh, you scare them off, do you? Hmmm, well … I suppose I ought to shove off and test the waters sometime, then. Nothing ventured, right?

Ow! Joking! Anyway, here we are!

~~~~~

“Speaking of simulations,” says Cho, “lookie there, my friend. It’s your Bubs Whitey.”

Kyle’s hackles don’t rise as they should. As if there’s somehow something about this that’s meant to be. Something fucking written. What Abul would say. Or maybe his hackles are permanently up, and so he doesn’t even notice them anymore.

He turns to look, and there he is. The bubble-dwelling nut. Grey-bearded and insane-in-the-way-only-a-white-guy-can-be. Reaching and sliding into the two-person booth in the back corner, movements lithe, holding in confidence his years. And his serious shortage of sanity. The focussed light of a halogen lamp above casts him in a cold incandescence that he doesn’t seem to notice. He’s wearing a suit, black with shiny detailing afforded by an iron dragged too hard and often over cheap synthetic seams, stiff shirt collar way too big and looking like a piece of protective equipment. Till now Kyle’s only ever seen him on the downtown streets around the Ryerson campus, in clothing less formal but equally ill-fitting and fatuously ignoble. It’s unsettling, tauntingly antagonistic, seeing him indoors like this, happily talking to himself as always. Annoyingly happy. Genuinely happy? Which would have to be at least partly because this nut doesn’t have to worry about keeping up with the curve in his third-year mechanical engineering courses. And lately failing to do so. Because the point of it all has been lost. And a million other things.

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In The New Quarterly fall 2018:

Shellie’s Garden

Like arms bereft of hands, the girders reach for the sky, rammed into the ground and made immoveable, stiff, stark and unswayed. The fertile ground has bScreen Shot 2019-11-07 at 6.07.22 AM.pngeen concreted over, offered sedentariness as if there’s nothing it would prefer; as if it does not wish to bear life instead of silent witness to the prevention of it.

“I can’t believe he’d sell it,” Shellie says, and Matt can’t think of what to say.
“Remember our last visit?” she asks, as if he ever forgets anything.
~~~~~

Her mother, Judith, was dead three years now, put in the ground two nebulous months after the discovery of her stage four cancer, a cellular battle within her that had gone on so long and was so far gone that she decided it was futile to even involve herself in it. Shellie’s father, Seppo, was alive still, but dead to the world, his love for his wife the water that sustained his vitality. And so, to maximize the number of visits to him, Shellie and her sisters spaced out their trips and came separately. It was fall and Matt and Shellie hadn’t been back since winter, and if it wasn’t already clear that this shadow of Seppo was going to have to go to a home soon, it became so when they saw the back garden.
Shellie lead Matt down the pathway, which was almost completely overgrown with grass and weeds, greenery pushing up through the interstices of the stones like water pouring in through cracks. “This is out of hand,” she said, her voice cracking. “Look at all the broken bottles. What, does he … just thrown them out here? Lobbing bombs?” Matt followed behind her, concerned and tense. “Gazebo needs staining.” And then she stopped in front of what used to be her sign, but now was just an old wooden arched gateway. “Look. The paint’s completely weathered away now.” And that’s where her voice broke. She turned to him, but couldn’t seem to face him. He hugged her.
“It feels like just yesterday we were saying I do in here,” he tried.
“Five years.”
“We’re an old married couple now.”
“It’s been good.”
“It’s been perfect.” He squeezed a sigh out of her.
“Are we going to have kids, M?”
Talk about lobbing bombs. He stiffened up in a way he knew she could sense, and he wondered if his body had done it on purpose. “I, well, I don’t know, Shell.”
“You really don’t want any?”
“Well, I suppose…I don’t really see the sense in the gamble.”
“The gamble?”

(Shellie’s Garden is an excerpt from Sea without Ceremony, a novel in progress)

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In carte blanche fall 2017:

The Wheelbarrow Man

The sink grudgingly supports his weight as he presses his face closer to the mirror to see himself more clearly, though clarity’s not something he really expects anymore, no matter how close he gets to things. Every day the sagging sink’s connection to the wall weakens, but every day his steadily diminishing weight is less Screen Shot 2017-10-17 at 5.45.42 AM.pngof a problem for it. What grows clearer daily is the evidence of his failing: the merging of neck and chin, the slack flesh hanging from cheekbones with an air of boredom, the sagging shadows under his eyes; these bags are partly from the drink, he knows, but they’re also a grim symptom, another tell-tale sign…can’t this thing at least have the decency to keep things between the two of them? Makes him mad. He’s had enough of having enough.

As evidence of this an idea comes, solicitous and beguiling, yet so obvious and so potent he wonders how long the beautiful siren’s been dancing in his periphery, just waiting to be taken up on her offer. Five minutes ago and now feel as different as the two halves of his half-shaven face. Enthralled, he flicks his razor back and forth in the frothy water, then drags the blade down the creamy hollow of his left cheek, and then again and again, varying the angle by degrees until he can catch nothing more. This shaving’s about anything but aesthetics. Somehow, it’s been one of the few things that makes him feel better, and his best guess is it’s something to do with God in there, hope that all your best guesses are wrong. Whatever the hell it is, what it isn’t is practical, and if he’s still around by winter he’ll let his beard out again, because God in there knows the cold on the neck and down the shirt’ll kill a man faster than any damn terminal disease a person might care to not take medication for.

He opens the medicine cabinet, the idea expanding in his mind, turning the world stirringly new and desolately old at the same time. He leaves the orange bottles of supposedly life-extending drugs untouched, but he takes the bottle of T4s in hand and closes the cabinet.

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In The New Quarterly winter 2017:

Here Today

Screen Shot 2017-01-26 at 11.42.35 PM.pngMae watches the fall winds muscle through the branches of the birch and pine, tantalizing leaves with promises of freedom in return for a leap of faith. The most easily convinced zip madly along on the swirling currents, while others are hesitant, beguiled but suspicious, clinging. A few, green still and brazenly contented, stubbornly refuse to believe that anywhere could be better than home. The honest cold is still around the corner, but the winds work their way in and bite, and she’s grateful for the seclusion they afford.

She presses on along this deserted bike path edging the creek, awash in a flood of nostalgia and a delicious sense of restoration. It’s been four years—four years since she left this serenely complacent town pinched between a seemingly endless sea of trees and the head of the largest lake in the world; four years since she traded nature, tranquility and horizon for the seething city with its concrete-and-glass verticality and sideways sunset-and-rise; four years since she broke away seeking something, anything, else.

As the land she was shaped by pervades her thoughts, she feels herself wholly consumed, indistinct, particles inseparable from the surrounding ones. She blinks away the sting in her eyes. Is this the passion of those who kill and die for their soil? Despite trying, never has she been able to feel more than a hazy trace of this hackneyed sentiment, but now here it is in her head: bright, shining, and as clear as a window with no pane. Accompanying the insight is a stab of anger, but she’s thankful to taste perhaps some of the wisdom promised with age…

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In Carousel spring 2015:

The Heavens

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“Can’t believe you can stand a basement apartment,” I say to Rob, growing damn tired of waiting for Scott to make his word. Rob just murmurs away to his iEyes, either not hearing me, or hearing me but ignoring me. No. I’m sorry. I’m misrepresenting. I guess I didn’t say it at speaking volume. I must have murmured it, out of habit, and that’s why my iEyes have picked it up as a command and want clarification. Rob obviously just didn’t hear me, so I say it again, this time at normal volume. Still no response. So I’ve officially said it to me, myself, I, and whatever cockroaches or spiders or, fucking, nematodes? crawl along the walls and warped wood floors and unwatered plants with nothing but air shoved in their ears.

At the kitchen counter I refill my wine glass and look out the squat spider-webby window at ground level. It fills me with memories of my childhood, subterranean memories that haven’t visited me in a godly long time. The window I could look out of only when I stood on my bed. A worm-level view of the fenced-in pitch of grass that formed my back yard world. The dampness. The smell of soil. The not just having to look up to the light, but the having to leave the room to find it. And I’m proud to say that I’ve pulled these recollections from the sludge of my own grey matter, no reliance on iEyes and The Heavens at all.

I re-join the Scrabble game just as Scott’s leaning back into his chair after finally placing his word. “XZ?” I exclaim, hating these goddamned two ten-point-letter ‘words’ that are not words in my dictionary.

Scott smiles and actually seems to lengthen his gaze to look through his iEyes all the way to me, but of course his iEyes are opaque and so for all anyone can tell he could be watching sports or porn or savouring the sight of my ex-girlfriend creeping up behind me to slit my throat. I look behind me and there’s nothing but Rob’s cat splayed out asleep on the floor, legs straight out, as if he died in the act of walking by and just tipped over.

By attaching the X to the Z of ZINE on the triple word for sixty points, Scott’s snatched the lead from Len. Not that that hairy bastard notices. Neither does fucking Rob. Both are absorbed in the space between their iEyes and their pupils, dutifully minding the gaps.

Scott takes his replacement letter and leans back into his chair, murmuring away, and I long for the days of iPhones and madly tapping fingers rather than this catatonic murmuring to iEyes connected to The ostensibly omniscient Heavens that none of us really are a part of. No. I’m sorry again. More accurate to say that none of us are a part of anything but, anymore…

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In The Prairie Journal 2014:

Surface Tension

Through the monastery’s wrought iron gates, tense and misplaced, Marc walks. Inhaling deeply of the vast autumnal air, he meanders toward the pond at the foot of the threateningly crenulated western wall, and feels himself loosen. He watches the opaque water, the gentle wind at work scalloping lightly its surface, colluding in keeping its secrets, and when the stacked cumulus clouds split apart to launch arrows of sunlight, this glimmering shield deflects everything thrown at it. Marc squints in the brightness and sits himself down on an outcropping of rock jutting from the slope of grass bowing down to the water. He closes his eyes and feels anxiety ebb, space and solitude his saviour and solace.

It wasn’t that the monastery was crowded—the overgrown gardens and the stone innards of the buildings were quiet, peaceful even. But below the onion-domes muscling their way into the clouds and the flowers so vibrantly joyful, the few people there were really there. How can he not feel impious amongst the bent babushka-clad women weaving through the pillars and pews, the bearded black-robed monks condemning him with the very rigidity of their gait? He looks up again at the wall, reassured by its solidity. ‘Keep the religion in.’

A smattering of hoots, calls and laughs breaks the calm, and he turns to look at the boisterous wedding party clicking carefully down the drive on high heels and hard soles. He watches the stretched expressions caught up in the maelstrom of expectation, performance anxiety etched beneath made-up flesh. The man with the largest camera separates the newlyweds from the rest and sets them to work posing around a thick and scarred oak, grinning groom on one side and blushing bride on the other, making them reach around the bloated trunk toward one another, grasping—a pose they’d never in a million years make for a shot that will hang far into the future with pride-of-place above the fireplace.

He can’t remember when he’d first decided he had to see Russia: at the moment of the awed sigh that punctuated the completion of his first Russian literary tome? Grade ten history and his star-struck infatuation with the humanist siren call of communism, its seductive promise of panacea? Or maybe it was even younger—that movie ‘War Games’ and the concept of ‘mutually assured destruction’, that phrase that had haunted him until he’d accepted that all existences are assured to be destroyed anyway.

This morning he’d descended into the dim marble belly of Lenin’s tomb and stood before the surreal sight—historical flesh and bone laid out on black velvet in a jeweller’s glass case. Marc’s own transparent self reflected off the glass and his own disconcerted face looked out at him, as if he was the ghostly apparition. Walls torn down. Both sides at the same time. Lenin within him and him within Lenin.

He turns to watch a young boy in tight shorts and loose sweater busy cracking and splitting sheets of shale protruding from the grass. An older woman looks on, torn between amusement and concern, holding the boy back and setting him free. The boy alternately heaves the jagged scraps of ancient past into the pond and taunts the raucous pigeons, themselves torn between their cravings for the woman’s stale bread and the need to stay clear of the young dinner disturber.

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In Existere 2014:

(mind) GAME OVER

You couldn’t help yourself, could you? But from a rash act should a death sentence ensue? It need not. The CHOICE is yours. Contain your curiosity and read no further, for your own sake. You’re not ready for this. Hand this letter over to the authorities immediately and leave bad enough alone. Once you know a thing, you can never unknow it.

But I do know what you’re feeling. We train from childhood to perform astoundingly complex feats of Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 8.14.51 PM, from reading a book to splitting the atom, but CONTROL of our minds—though our lives depend on it—is all but ignored. It’s left to religion, but that has proven itself largely ineffective and easily corrupted. Were we all to have the requisite control of ourselves, as I now do, what an elegant, noble world this would be.

Perhaps I shouldn’t even have written this—for knowledge IS a weapon, one beyond our control—but the ramifications are profound and I believe academia needs to know, for nothing less than the benefit of humanity. I hope you’ll believe me when I say I deeply regret putting you through this. And much more importantly, I hope you’ll believe me that, though some will likely die, you needn’t be one of them.

I implore you, READ NO FURTHER.

*

*

*

Alas, you disobey. PLEASE. I do not need YOUR BLOOD ON MY HANDS as well. But I suppose I know enough to know that I’m asking perhaps the impossible. And yet I do it anyway.

<>

You watch movies and scream at the screen, incensed by the suspension of belief, yanked out of the imaginary by hack actors and writers incapable of creating a believable plot or character, a genuine façade, a kiss to build a dream on. The bubble bursts, the world is alight, the four horsemen arrive and you judge. “Hack! Tease! Waster of my woefully limited time!” These are the wet invectives that pounce from your mouth as you squeeze stop on the DVD player and rue the day the damn television was invented.

But please, you must believe this! Believe me! I don’t fall for anything. This is not some script for a TV drama or trash-novel-of-the-week. As inconceivable as it may be, this is the truth, my truth. Lies rarely fall from the lips of dead men.

<>

Well, do what you will. It’s all in the hands of God.

*

*

*

To the authorities: Know that by reading the following, unless you’re of the soundest of minds, you’re likely sacrificing your own life. Stop now if unprepared to do so. But consider your duty. And remember, it’s not how LONG you live, but HOW you live. Further, it’s not WHEN you die, but with what face you meet death.

<>

I did have reason to live. My job at CRC was perfect for me, solitary as it was. Writing the code could be tedious at times, but it was meditative, and what more can a person ask for than 10 hours without awareness of physical pain or mental distress, without awareness at all? Outside my computer screen’s bubble there was some satisfaction to be had in knowing I was a God of sorts:

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