Birds and Fish and Loaves and Fathers

Tanja Bartel


Another shooting. Flocks of neighbours turning away.

Plants can grow up without fighting. Listen. Roots of the West Coast rainforest communicate with one another.

Salmon start working a new job after death when grizzlies carry their carcasses into the woods as fertilizer.

My timid father was chased, caught, and hauled in by the U.S Coast Guard for cross-border fishing. Disoriented, he gunned his commercial salmon vessel when ordered to stop.

All the way to the dementia phase of his life. Tangled lines, a torn net. Jailor didn’t care who he was before. He was flight.

Order and precision of fish scales arranged in a pattern. Never caught, never seen. Hundreds of pounds of art rotted in the boat’s hold during the two-week impound. We’d have eaten only the dull inside part anyway, discarded the shining armour. Flash then trash.

Fights can grow long tails.

A memory I carry into the woods to fertilize my prejudice: I never met
the deck hand, but apparently he threw down his gear, jumped off my dad’s shaky wood boat, and made the whirly finger gesture at his temple.

A single act creates your entire character.

Birds move together in unison like schools of fish do. They mime
all the fish we cannot see.

Unity means moving as a single spirit. Knowing when to randomly change direction, a test to keep us in tune. There is no other reason for turning away, again and again.

I ignored my father as much as possible when he was alive. Went out of my way to stay out of his way. Strain to remember his stance, ring of hair around his balding head. Babyish texture, so transitory.

The second childhood, they call it. I say we’re big fat babies in the middle years when we get what we bawl for, if we can pay.

My father shuffled off bewildered into death. When you can’t swallow water, that’s it. Eventually, he dried up in a hospital bed. A fish out of water, invisible under the sheets.

Being thirsty means you want to live on.

Roman soldier held a vinegar-soaked sponge up to Jesus when he said, “I thirst.” After everything he’d been through.

A single act of cruelty becomes history.

Someone made a note of it. Now he’s in the Bible, as an example. The Bible is like social media that way, but social media is not like the Bible.

Dark-faced Jesus would be shot today while walking on water carrying loaves and fish for all. Fishing out of bounds. Mistaken as looter, insurgent.

In the end, my father flew away in search of less hostile waters.








Everything I do is political, especially when we stay home

Tessa Liem


I want to leave the house in the clothing I sleep in
& not need to go home again.

But I am not well enough to leave,
not well enough to sleep

& so when I stay home
everything I do is political

because I’ve been reading about the ethics of space
& because

sometimes I lie on the floor
until you text me asking me why I’m not out.

& because sometimes we have to have sex
with most of our clothes on.

Sometimes we lie
on the floor naked & text everybody who is out asking:

……………“why aren’t you home
…………… .being political?”

because sometimes we have to stay in,
keep our bodies ethical

so to speak. If we go out,
we will have to dress for the street.







What’s Missing In Heaven

Lorna Crozier


The dead wear bracelets; their wrists want some weight
now that everything is weightless and watches don’t make sense.
It’s no surprise they’ve learned to walk soundlessly, without
jangling, the way a cat graces his muscles
so the bell around his neck won’t ring.

My father drives his first car, a Model T, into the sky,
black clouds thick with gumbo. People, stuck, hitch a ride,
thumbs out, faces blurred, valises gaping open.
The four directions here are only up and down. My father knows
where to take them, and though he’s never heard of Charon and his coins,
he demands a price. Sixteen years till my mother arrives but even she
has to pay from the tips she smuggled in her pocket.
Nothing meant by it, he’s just that way.

I won’t be long, she says, when she dons her teacher’s clothes
and enters what is over, what she calls a second chance.
She rehearses the words she’ll say to the problem student who liked
to tell his fellows he’d camped at night in Shakespeare & Company’s
in Paris beside the shelf that held Rimbaud, his Illuminations,
his Une Saison d’Enfer, as if merely sleeping there had made him
bad and brilliant. The floor of the classroom gleams
with hard new wax, the blackboard’s clean. Hours merely pass.
She puts check marks by all the blanks on the attendance sheet,
then stands at the front of an emptiness she can’t see past.
It’s never what you think it’s going to be.

The girls who work in the factories in The History of Time
lick the ends of their brushes, paint the watches’ hands and numbers
so they can be read in the dark. The paint laced with uranium.
That place where lost words gather—the tip of the tongue—
turns radiant. Even after
they stop breathing, their breath
inside the dark caves of their mouths
glows a ghostly green.

By the side of the gravel road
the dust’s so fine
though the frog is light as a leaf
you can see his tracks.
That’s what’s missing in heaven.
Don’t play dead until you die.









Curtis LeBlanc


Where is he when his son’s dog hangs?
Not close enough to hear the scratches
echo from the tunnel slide, see the leash
tied up at the top of the jungle gym,
the dog at the other end, kneading
smooth hard plastic. The cops bag it
like dirty laundry and it takes two men
to haul it and heave it into the cruiser.
The father holds a felt blanket over
his son, smooths the creases down his back,
guides his shoulders with firm hands,
lifts his chin with one finger to the men
in uniform. The boy describes the ones
who did it and it’s then a manhunt. Neighbours
accusing each other’s children. Police
interrogations in the schools. Sympathizers
go in bunches with flowers for his family,
bake them apple rhubarb pies, whisper
in convenience stores and parking lots
about the boy who had to watch
his poor dog die.

…………………..They receive, the father
estimates, one hundred calls and messages.
Steady mail, even a letter from Scandinavia
from a couple that breeds Finnish dogs,
reindeer herders. Lapphunds, they call them.
His family can have one if they’d like.
The story is out and the world has chosen
to stand by. The father wants nothing more
to do with it. But he still keeps that letter close,
thumbs the corners of it, holds it like a prize.
He considers writing the Scandinavians
but hasn’t settled on what to type.
He wants to tell them: We’re coming,
we’re just about to board the plane,
and by the time that you receive this
we will have come and gone already.
He spends a week thinking of how to put it
in exactly the right words, how grateful
he was to receive their letter, how
he has read it over a dozen times. He wants
to tell them how he folds it into quarters,
always along the same creases,
through words like acreage, obedient,
suffering, sincerely.

…………………..Then his son admits it
was an accident. Tied the leash himself
and then went down the slide. The dog,
a good one, had gone to follow.
The ones who believed the boy want
to see him punished, put to shame.
But the father thinks that he can feel it,
what his son must have felt right then,
watching his friend put paw over paw,
each step slipping like the last.
He knows, at least, that it’s a lesson
best learned young: to tell a lie and give
it up, before you have to shoulder it
for what will be, with any luck, a long life.








Rebecca Salazar


Our mercurial shores shrink with frost. We’re denser,
receding. You lack arms, and I’m greying at the hands.

There are no borders in a lake zone, only tailing pond,
cool spring, and brook trout semen melding underground.

We’re ailed with vapours: the spit of wet oak,
and the black fever sprung from our brows.

The rust pulse of your sliced thumb in your mouth mimics
the beat of falling rain. Its metallic gush oiling your chin.

Lakes gather teeth from dead walleye, lost swimmers,
and rumoured cetaceans. Keep clear of islands’ jawlines.







Meryl Streep is my therapist

Kathryn Gray


I met a married man once, on a train. He was handsome.
He had the kind of face that made me think
of clean, smooth hands. I should add that
in the end nothing really happened.

I have done terrible things I will not own.

The dingo took my baby!

Bear with me.

Men have left me. No Vietnam. They simply went.
You must hear this sort of thing all the time. But.
I have stood, hooded, on the jetty;
the sea—the sea turned over my mind, roughly.

I have been very tired and emotional [air quotes].
I cannot afford a rehab facility.

There are not enough key lime pies in this world
for all the people who deserve them. In the face.
Yes, this is heartburn.
You might be onto something.

O Michael! O Michael! O Michael!

I worry that I’m all cliché.
I like to fake accents with strangers.
I suppose that tells you a lot.

I suffer from Imposter Syndrome. Or maybe not.

I had a farm—









Mark Callanan


Even the insane are guilty
of adopting the dominant
pose. Years ago, you were
nobody if you weren’t
the big J.C. hoofing it
down St. John’s streets
in a t-shirt in January,
spreading the good news
with venereal efficiency,
sparing fellow citizens
their handfuls of venal sins.
Came a time, the web of
self-delusion set its net
worldwide. Dial up. Early
Internet. You remember.
Then the tone switched
from sacred to paranoid:
G-men in surveillance vans,
phones tapped, web traffic
monitored. Tin foil saw
a new heyday. I’m told
now they’re returning
to the old tropes, visions
and revisions of Christ
talking through the buzz
of neon lights, bushes
giving sermons. The sonnet
is making a big comeback,
or might yet, someday.








Domenica Martinello



Come now, take a crack at us.
Animal-women may be familiar

to you, or duplicitous women
doubling, working in twos.


True, many men take a crack
but you don’t strike us as someone

so easy to bruise. We explore conflict
through metaphor, isn’t that true?


Freud! what is your qualm with us?
Come, join me. Join us on the rocks.

Jung do you dream of swimming
or flying? I’m a cruelly numinous


creature. I can accommodate. Memory
puddles like water, shimmers with heat

changes colour on the hour. As a boy
did you dream of monsters in dark grottos


who approach, threaten? We do not approach.
Little fish, how can you break free of recurring

dreams when you’re petrified, when we don
the face of your mother, her lullabies?


The thing about lullabies—you’re gone
before you hear their conclusion.


Lie with us. There is no resolution.








Suburban Sonnet

Adèle Barclay


sneaker whites mint astroturf leaves
in fields beyond fields somewhere between
ravine-carved crab apple orchards
and soccer nets that catch halos of heat

drunk as a busted patio umbrella blackberry
barbs the crank of old bike chains up anthills
hive-mind engines hum in the shallow of night
wine cooler wells limestone moon

hungry hollow bends its newly paved
elbow where a fluorescent buck once fought a man
on fire by the glow of seven headlights before
silver creek swallowed the highway’s shoulder

all the stars in clusterfucks chime above streets
named for foxes put to sleep in open basements








John Degen



The runway approach on days of southeast
shadows across acres of the dead beneath
a long pine lawn. Generations

of half wild rabbits, manged and
skittish; pursued through their dumb finite
days by screaming birds. Bolting

from the dive, skin contracted for a kill.
Never comes but once at night,
in cold murderous collapse; untold rabbits

flinging themselves through snowed hedgerows.
Dash 8 in a horizontal flatspin – total stall;
forty-nine souls slamming on top of one

watching television, or using the toilet, or
checking the expiry on the orange juice
at the back of the fridge; it was never clear

from the newspapers what he was up to
when all that exploded from within
and jerked him from life like an unknown

snail scraped from the seabed.
For centuries before, the rabbits of Cheektowaga,
of Amherst and Clarence, sat at the ready,

twitching and scenting
and fearing this disaster or another;
all that modernity they twitched

and witnessed the parceling out,
the measuring off. The foxes all but
disappeared and in their place, some unknowable


A wind sprang from the east, an idea of rain,
sudden, pervading the air. 1


She plants a full garden, enough
at least for one woman and an
occasional visitor, in a box

four feet by four feet, of cedar planks
from the Lowes on Niagara Falls
Boulevard; hides it as well as she can

from the windborne trash, and rabbits;
surrounds everything in marigolds,
because there is magic in a fence

of yellow orange flowers. And,
while she is away, the last frost
visits her yard like a friendly stranger;

a thief undeterred by fences or magic.
Does not take; but takes all the same.
While she shops once more at the

Home Depot off Galleria Drive, buying again
the new shoots of leek and eggplant and
pepper, she stops and looks directly above

the high industrial shelves of shovels and soil
and rain barrels, watches the final approach
of a Southwest flight from Vegas, the

surprising grime of an airplane’s belly
pushed at the ground by a backdrop of
grey cloud, and no more frost. It is a promise.


The cardiologist suggests walking will
prolong a foreshortened retirement, so
he walks every morning his old route

for tobacco, now chewing gum for
the nerves. Formerly random firings
of doom across synaptic gaps once damn

blissfully dulled by afternoon martinis.
Yardarm shadows slip beneath the wheels
of the bike he creaks, handsfree, along

streets quiet with waiting. He’s learned
the artful discipline of waiting; how it can
be its own intoxication when each moment’s

departure is a finger up the ass of death. What
his lieutenant told him about sitting out the
mortars, at which he’d felt such a warm collapse

of relief he worried he might have pissed himself.
So the pretty young heart doctor tells him
to walk, and he asks how far? And can I ride

as well ma’am? Will it make a difference?
Will it hold off the advance another few weeks
or months he can fill with tracks around

the cluster of houses in his block. Because
he is mapping the rabbits; logging each
sighting on a schematic pinned to his

basement panel walls. He has named each one,
worked out the complex genealogy. He believes
he has the coordinates of burrows and the daily

migrations from garden to garden. One mid-morning
walk; one afternoon ride; a second walk at dusk and
the final piece, the one he keeps to himself

slipping from the bed before she wakes and riding
the pre-dawn pavement. Stopped by the local
cops, he taps the ticker and winks, makes a joke

about donuts and coffee, says nothing about
rabbits. He wants to leave this to his wife.
He wants to give her this.


they will leave their cars at the barricades
and walk in through backyards and
gardens transformed, pockets of the maze

smelling their way, and listening
for the hiss of firehoses, the rattle of
engines running the pumps; radio squawk.

It will be cold enough to hurt them,
to damage the skin grown loose
around their eyes while they spent lifetimes

looking at nothing nearly as interesting
as this compound fracture of a neighbourhood
and the tangle of limbs and luggage ablaze.

The firefighters, all volunteers, see
their neighbours push forward,
sense the danger to everything fragile

in a life of Sunday football; there
in the middle of it all, somehow
undamaged, sits a deep freeze full

of meat – ground turkey and halved
rabbits for stew. It will take days to chip
the ice away enough to open it.






Libra, Don DeLillo