Monday, December 29, 2014

On Writing #48 : Robert Swereda



Why Bother?
Robert Swereda

Every so often when my writing gets stuck, or when a piece I wish to publish gets its 3rd, 4th,10th rejection letter - I begin to wonder why I am spending so much energy and time on these endeavours and what am I really getting out of it? Maybe it's time to wave the white flag and call it quits.

I'm well aware that the type of writing I create will never end up on any best sellers list. Most likely, copies of my books or journals my work appears in will end up in used book stores, and/or collecting dust on the bookshelves of future ex-girlfriends. The small press publishers that would be interested in my work have little means for publicity and narrow distribution. Sometimes it feels that my writing isn't doing any better in print than it is as a file on my laptop or as scribblings on old receipts, to-do lists, and Post-it notes.

What have I gained from writing? Financially, from 2005 to present day I have earned the equivalent of one bi-weekly pay cheque of a minimum wage job. Now and then I will receive a small sum of money in form of a cheque for a published work. Most of the time, payment is nothing more than a contributor copy. Then there are pieces I have had published online and not received anything. Maybe just a virtual pat on the back.

Meeting a new person and telling them I'm a writer, sometimes they will ask me things like: So, what do you write about? ...Poetry? Like Bukowski or something? ...Why can't I find your book at Chapters/Barnes & Noble? ...Ever read Kerouac? I remember flying home from Ecuador and having a layover in Houston, Texas. Going through customs at the airport I got the usual questions a young ruffian travelling alone would get, along with “What do you do for a living?” When I answered that I was a writer, the customs agent went on to ask “ Ya, but what`s your real job?” This made me wonder if what I do is considered just a hobby. Is writing something to do on a Sunday afternoon, in my pyjamas, there's nothing on tv, and I don't feel like leaving the house. Might as well play with my electric train set, do the word search in the newspaper, put a ship in a bottle, paint competition stripes on that plastic Ford Mustang model, finish the jigsaw puzzle of the Eiffel Tower, or maybe write a poem.

I'm having a hard time believing I worked a job I absolutely hated to save funds in order to take classes at University for a hobby. That I sit in 24hour cafes until sunrise, chugging dark roast and redbull, pounding away on my laptop, forgetting to eat and nearly allowing my bladder to burst all over my pants just so I can transform the image in my brain into text on my computer. I have put more time and effort into writing projects and feel more dedication to writing than I have with any type of employment I've had with steady paycheques. 

Possibly, I have earned some kind of credibility. Meaning, some people have seen my name in print and “know” me. These people are a very select few, seeing as the small audience who might be interested, and the formats and resources I have to reach them in order to get my name out there. (where ever that there is)

What am I doing with poetry? Nothing quite unique or innovative. I'm sure my influences are obvious. I can't say that I am really contributing any ideas that would be seen as new or outstanding. Some time ago I was involved with editing a literary journal. After awhile I began to question if I was right for the job. I found a lot of the submissions the journal received were boring, painful to read or made me roll my eyes. I would say Yes to maybe 2% of the writing that the journal received. I thought I was being a hard ass or too picky. I quit the journal after realizing editing wasn't for me and I don`t wish to be part of a literary community. I didn't want to be the one giving a stamp of approval on someone's work, or the jerk that rejects their piece. I would just concentrate on my own stuff and cross my fingers to get it published.

So, why do I bother, what's really the point of it all? Why spend my days off from my real job in front of my computer trying to piece together some flash in my brain? Why do I roll around in my bed, answering daemon whispers at 3 in the morning, with my alarm clock set to go off at 7 a.m.? Why do I make sure I don`t leave the house with out a pen of something to jot things down?

I want to give an answer like I dunno, I just work here. Or say that I don`t really know what I'm doing or why. That if I ever find out, then I`d probably stop doing it altogether. I know that I don`t want to say that it's some creative impulse, that writing is something I just HAVE to do. It's insulting to call it a hobby, and it doesn't pay bills or buy food so it's not gainful employment either.

I write out of self interest. I write what I'd want to read myself. What I wish I could find in bookstores. It's more about physically doing the work than the actual outcome. That I am able to project something I have in my skull, through my fingertips, and manipulate into legible texts. I don't find it to be a fun way to occupy my free time at all. It's as if  there's a rambunctious child trapped inside my brain and I'm the cranky grandparent trying to get them to shut up and sit still so I can relax in a recliner, drink cheap liquor and chain smoke in peace. Maybe it's more like trying to get rid of a bad cold. Sitting at a desk for hours tapping away on the keyboard, all jittery and over caffeinated. Laying in bed, feverish and snotty. I suppose it feels the same.

Why do you bother?


Author of re: verbs (Bareback editions), Signature Move (forthcoming) and a chapbook ionlylikeitwhenitrhymes (100tetes), Robert Swereda has served as a member of the Filling Station collective. He studied creative writing at Capilano University in Vancouver. Other work has been published by The Puritan, ditch, West Coast Line, The Incongruous Quarterly, steel bananas, The Capilano Review, dusie, Enpipe Line, Poetry Is Dead and Touch the Donkey.

Friday, December 12, 2014

On Writing #47 : Missy Marston

Children vs Writing : CAGE MATCH!
Missy Marston


In this corner: Children (Like a thundering giant in tiny spandex underpants and a cape.)

My kids were one-and-a-half and five when their father and I split up. I was a single parent for seven years. Some would protest. Some would say that I was a “co-parent”. And this is true to the degree that such a term could adequately describe my situation in those years. Which is not very adequately at all. My ex-husband and I shared custody which in practice meant that part of the time I was a scrambling single parent. The other part of the time I felt like my arms had been cut off.

Ah, co-parenting.

In the other corner: Writing (Pale, slim, trembling, sweating, hiking up her shorts with one hand, pushing her glasses up the bridge of her nose with the other.)

Yes, yes, I had always written poems and fancied myself a writer. Encouraged by teachers and typewriter-and-book-buying parents. Blah, blah, blah. Who cares? The truth is that I stopped writing the day my first child was born and did not start again for eight years.

I will offer just one illustrative example of what my life was like in those “co-parenting” years. (Yes, for the record, there were a thousand sweet, cuddly, even life-changing moments for every moment like this, but I’m trying to make a point here.)

My kids were probably four and seven years old at this point. I was sitting on the toilet and yelling at them through the closed door to please, please stop fighting. And not for the first time, either. That day I calmly but tearfully explained to them that nothing made Mum feel worse than having to break up a fight while on the toilet. It was the very worst. They nodded gravely, gave me kisses and tiny pats on the back.

(I later discovered that following this chat they had started to fight via notes scrawled on a piece of paper and passed back and forth between them. Writers!)

We fumbled along together. My idea of myself as a writer faded into the distance. Having children taught me that writing (like romance, your “look”, a clean house) didn’t really matter. At least for a while. I told myself – and I believed it, still believe it – that if the only thing I ever succeeded at was raising these beautiful children, that was enough. An astonishing achievement.

Then one day, when the kids were a bit older, when they started getting up on their own, getting their own breakfast, turning on the TV, ideas started to come to me. Suddenly I had something to do when they were at their dad’s house. Something almost as difficult and worthwhile (not really, not even close): writing a book. It took bloody forever.

In 2012, my first novel, The Love Monster was published by Véhicule Press. When it came out that spring, when it was actually in print, I have to admit I felt something. I felt like some wrinkly, dried-up, forgotten little thing inside me was slowly being reconstituted. Like a raisin soaked in rum. Delicious.



Missy Marston's novel, The Love Monster was the winner of the 2013 Ottawa Book Award for English Fiction, a finalist for the CBC 2013 Bookie Awards and for the Scotiabank Giller Prize Readers' Choice. She blogs about her writing here: thelovemonsternovel.blogspot.ca and can be found on twitter @MissyMarston.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A B Series Solstice Bash!

More info: abseries.org
A B Series Solstice Bash

Performance poetry by bill bissett, Adeena Karasick & Gary Barwin!

Music by Erin Saoirse Adair, Michel Delage, Melody McKiver & Glenn Nuotio!

Door prizes!

7:30pm
Saturday, December 13, 2014

Carleton Tavern (upstairs)
223 Armstrong Street
Ottawa, Ont.

More info abseries.org


Friday, December 05, 2014

Calling all Ottawa writers! Ottawa Magazine launches short story contest‏

“A short story is the ultimate close-up magic trick – a couple of thousand words to take you around the universe or break your heart.”
– Neil Gaiman

It might be snowy outside, but over at Ottawa Magazine we’re already gearing up for summer — our Summer issue, that is.

Every year in our Summer issue, Ottawa Magazine publishes short fiction by local authors. For our Summer 2015 issue, we’re switching things up a bit with the inaugural Ottawa Magazine Short Fiction Contest.

So hunker down and bring to life that great tale that has been simmering away in the back of your mind, or dust off the manuscript that is sitting on your desktop.

The winner will receive $700, the runner up $300, and both stories will be published in the Summer 2015 issue of Ottawa Magazine.

NOTE: the contest is open to Ottawa residents only.

- Winners will be chosen by a panel of judges through a blind judging process.
- Entries must be no longer than 3,000 words. Entries can be short stories or excerpts but must not have been published elsewhere.
- Participants may enter as many times as they wish, but once submitted entries may not be submitted to other contests (or published elsewhere) until the winning entries have been announced in April 2015.
- Submission deadline is March 1, 2015 at 11:59 p.m.

Ottawa Magazine reserves the right to edit winning entries for style. Published stories will be accompanied by complementary art.

Submit entries in a Word document to Ottawa Magazine via Kelsey Kromodimoeljo: kkromodi@stjosephmedia.com
Please include your name, email address, phone number, and address.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

On Writing #46 : Carla Barkman


Tastes Like Chicken
Carla Barkman
 
This is how being a doctor blocks me from writing: I cannot tell the absolute truth. I keep a list of names and diagnoses that I cannot share with anyone.

One day during my first year of medical school, I was summoned to the dean’s office to defend myself against a complaint that had been made by an elderly woman, a wealthy philanthropist, who had come across one of my poems in a magazine. Her husband had recently passed on and, according to his wishes, she’d donated his body to the university to aid in medical study. It turned out that my class was one of the last in Canada to dissect full cadavers during medical school; it was becoming a controversial practice, as new technologies like MRI and computer-generated imaging were making simulations more useful. It is possible that my poem had something to do with the demise of full body dissections as well.

I was in my early twenties, and was disturbed to be faced with a preserved corpse, and as I disassembled the intrinsic muscles of its hand I was reminded of dissecting frogs in high school, joking about eating frogs; some of us had; and how they taste a bit like chicken, like all small creatures, rodents, rabbits, supposedly do. Pulling apart my cadaver’s hand and tasting like chicken therefore became linked in my poem. I understood it to point to the strangeness of our situation, and how for me, being required to move so quickly from the innocence of high school, dissecting frogs, to a medical school anatomy lab, confronted by a dead human being, was jarring; I could not process it with maturity. Unfortunately the woman who read the poem, who’d just entrusted her deceased husband’s body to me, to us, for the good of science, envisioned us punk kids gleefully gnawing the meat from his human fingers, and called for an end to the program.

I composed a complicated letter of apology, and luckily was allowed to continue on as a medical student. I also continued to write, but with some reserve. Part of me is proud to belong to a profession with such privileged access to human beings’ secrets, and this part of me is content to comply with its rules, to work hard to be sensitive, careful, deliberate, balanced and mature in all areas of my public life, including my writing. Another part of me, though, aches to say what occurs to me without reservations, and hope that anyone who reads it can understand that I do not claim to present the balanced view, always, but only my truth from where I stand, as a doctor and as a person, the two things no longer separable.

I am working, currently, in the north, and I would love to tell you about the patients that I see: Dene people, mostly, who roll their ATV’s, chop wood, hunt caribou, consume cups of vodka, clear like water, dislocate each others’ shoulders. There is the general impression, but then there are the individuals: Myrtle Fern, with hemichorea, whose left arm flails about like a tree branch in a storm; John A. MacDonald, who believes that he has worms; Dora Disain, every one of her fingers broken over the years, now her middle phalynx volarly displaced and I can’t quite put it back where it belongs. These peoples’ stories are important but so are their names, their names linked to their stories, but because I am their doctor I can’t share them with you. I am privilege to the information only because I have promised to keep it to myself.

In the anatomy lab, we gagged at the bubbles of chemical-soaked fat that we suctioned from our obese body’s abdominal cavity, were heartsick from the stench of burning bone as we sawed through skulls, reminded, though I don’t know exactly how, of Auschwitz. And when I arrived home after dissecting my cadaver’s ribs, identifying the costal artery, vein, and nerve as I cleared away the overlapping intercostal muscles, to find that my husband had boiled ribs for dinner, and underneath the sauce there they were, clearly identifiable artery, vein, and nerve - I pictured my cadaver as I chewed.


Bio: I am a physician who’s worked in northern Ontario and Saskatchewan. I’ve published poetry in Grain, ditch, NeWest Review, Contemporary Verse 2, prairie fire, STANZAS and other literary journals, as well as the anthology Groundswell: best of above/ground press, 1993-2003 (Broken Jaw Press, 2003). Lately I’ve been struggling to write non-fiction in a meaningful and responsible way.

Friday, November 21, 2014

On Writing #45 : Asher Ghaffar

The Pen:
Asher Ghaffar


I am not myself yet. This is the first phrase and last phrase of the autobiography that proceeds negatively by subtracting subjective attributes, roles and functions of the individual in order to be left with subjectivity’s afterglow. What I am trying to write is always what just escapes me. The page is a tunneling and what seems to be is not. To seek the name is to unname. The tablet speaks before my intentions and I am in search for its nebulous roots. The concepts emerge out of the material and the relation between the concepts is beyond me in the future.  The only phrase worth examining is the one that lies beyond me. Circumambulating the stray phrase that escapes me, I write to capture a voice that is not my own. The movement through the darkness doesn't lead to light but to darkness without shadow. I await the clock to strike its clarifying din. For the pen to trace its own corpse.


Asher Ghaffar is a writer living in Ajax, Ontario. His first collection of poetry, Wasps in a Golden Dream Hums a Strange Music, was published with ECW Press in 2008. His next collection, "Homegrown" is forthcoming. Ghaffar is also working on a collection of critical essays on writers such as Zulfikar Ghose and Hanif Kureishi.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Recent Reads: Touch the Donkey (Issues 3, 2 & 1)



(Also available with an above/ground press subscription)

For years I’d been planning to “get into” experimental poetry. Perhaps this sounds familiar. I had not circled a date on the calendar, nor browsed excerpts from celebrated masters of the avant-garde. Truth be told, I hadn’t moved an inch on the subject until Touch the Donkey’s third issue appeared, as plainly and mysteriously as the previous two. (For 90s inclined music fans, we can just as well refer to these as we do Weezer albums; the "blue issue", the "green", etc.) I recall feeling deflated in April when flipping through the debut, quietly bemoaning my indifference. But with July’s follow-up I found some energetic pockets, and then October’s release clicked more often than not. Let's rewind, re-assess.

Has each Touch the Donkey issue improved by leaps and bounds? Possibly, although it’s just as reasonable to suggest that I’m now jumping with the text, instead of panting against each abstract hurdle. If we opt to credit any learning curve, we’re obliged to discuss above/ground press’ subscription service, the caravan by which many a Touch the Donkey issues have found readers. Inserted with bundles of chapbooks, the literary magazine’s kinship goes beyond the aesthetic, featuring many familiar above/ground alumni. But its platform for experimental poetics, which also includes writers brand new to me, is paving a left-field expanse for publisher rob mclennan and company to explore unfettered.

third issue,
Since the issues haven’t relied on theme or more than eight contributors a piece, it’s no surprise that much of the reader’s enjoyment will rest on each writer’s style and subject matter. The third issue has so much going for it precisely because the roster feels stacked and in a generous mood. derek beaulieu's conceptual piece “one week”, which collates violence in the middle east, unfurls with the grace of a pillow-case full of hammers descending the stairs. Emily Ursuliak’s “Tourists”, presumably taken from the same project as Braking and Blather, finesses themes of otherness and sexism into the minutia of a roadside stop. But the real surprises come from authors I haven't read before. The lack of punctuation and twitchy enjambments in Susan Briante’s “THE PHYSICISTS SAY CONSCIOUSNESS” make for a deep reflection that halts as much as it flows. Two poems by D.G. Jones are also powerful, in particular the way “goldfinchen” feeds us tightly wound tangibles that piece together a small moment.


goldfinchen


greedy guts, again and again, stack
the feeder
                   distracting
from
the snow-rain-snow end
of May with
                       their flashy
  counterfeit
                     sunshine

some of it
mint fresh

                   silly coin – the cardinal
interrupts them like
  a sin


second issue,
If some hidden comprehension key helped me enjoy Issue Three so, it must’ve started turning in Issue Two. Susanne Dyckman’s “Across the Street” and David Peter Clark’s “On the Way to the Tranzac on March 7, 2013” peer out from under streetlights with different surrealist takes; Dyckman reconstructs the spatial relationship of architecture and the moods that weather it, while Clark trips over an intentional blurring of memes, alley cats and distractions as digressions. Both held my imagination, though as Dyckman brought me closer via her whimsical logic, Clark’s self-satisfied cleverness kept me at a distance. His scattered line-breaks and narrative inconsistencies fashion a convincing stumble but Clark’s checking-in on the reader – whether we’re following along, whether we looked up how to pronounce a particular word – reaches into the obnoxious side of inebriation, making me sort of wish he’d stayed at home.

In acknowledging a distaste for this tongue-in-cheek breakdown of the fourth wall, I’ve likely tapped a vein in my own subconscious bias against the focus of some experimental writing. I sense a similar disconnect with Catherine Wagner’s “Notice”, which in a dry third person tone, reads like a pamphlet on who does and doesn’t pay for her poetry. Still I cannot criticize “Notice” for the specialized audience it seeks (namely, other writers), nor pinpoint weak spots in clarity or form (it’s quite readable). The versatility of voices arguably works more to Touch the Donkey's advantage than its audience's, aiming at a brave readership while exposing the casually curious to new forms. In other words, it comes with the territory that less adventurous readers should expect peaks and valleys, throughways and dead-ends.

first issue,
Does my learning curve in reverse cast a more generous light on Issue One (the “beige issue”…)? Actually, yeah: Pattie McCarthy’s “from wifthing” (which some totally academic, online research defines as “an affair connected with a woman or wife”) gets by on envious layers of mystique that wrestle new love, post-family. Alternately I’m reminded that the first batch of Gil McElroy’s project Some Doxologies, which gains new traction after enjoying Issue Three’s helping, and rob mclennan’s “Acceptance Speech” were noteworthy the first time around. An excerpt from “wifthing”:


keep the wolf from
the door her lips
numb   bored like
every drag of a cigarette
after the headrush
practically deranged with need
congratulates herself for not
devouring you in front of all
assembled       patience
figure in a taxicab crossing
& now I’m lying in it


As someone who enjoys going into a text blind, I've delayed mentioning Touch the Donkey's digital side, which compared to the sleek, minimal design of the card-stock journal, is crammed with supplemental interviews. Despite the technological divide, the process is fluid: each poem acts as the foundation for an interview discussing the poet's approach while also linking to other recent work. It's like speed-dating for new titles and authors.

In stripping back my expectations of what Touch the Donkey should be, I’ve uncovered a better idea of what it is: a margin, fortified and flipped horizontally, gloaming the trespasses of expression I was too intimidated to venture into alone. Three books in, Touch the Donkey has graduated from perk-status to a mercurial entity all its own. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

On Writing #44 : Emily Ursurliak



Writing on Transit
Emily Ursuliak

I have a confession to make: I’m a public transit writer. There are far more glamorous places I could take my notebook out to. I fantasize about going to Vendome, a caf√© over in the Sunnyside area of Calgary where a lot of local poets can be found, but instead I find myself scribbling while riding a bus or the c-train. There’s nothing sexy about writing on transit. If I was sitting in Vendome I’d have a cappuccino in front of me, I could admire the carefully contrived “rustic charm” of the place, there would be erudite conversations hovering in the air. Instead, the seat next to me has what appears to be gum fused to it, and the drug-addict couple two seats over are screaming about why one of them spent their rent money on getting a fix.

When I’ve told other writer friends about writing on transit they find it odd, or even vaguely impressive. “How do you do it without getting motion-sickness?” they ask. I blame my cast-iron stomach on the years of conditioning I went through as a rural kid in central Alberta. Every morning I rode a yellow school bus for an hour through winding gravel roads in the countryside where I grew up, and there was very rarely a moment that I wasn’t reading a book for that whole trip. It’s not like I don’t get motion-sickness, but I think this rigorous conditioning as a child is what makes me less susceptible to it. It’s like a way more mundane version of the physical training that astronauts go through.

So why write on transit if it’s not glamorous, and if there’s a risk of motion-sickness? Because I spend a hell of a lot time on it. I didn’t have a car when I moved to Calgary, and didn’t really see the point of getting one when I had my university-enforced transit pass. I had to spend long stretches of time sitting in a confined area. I’m a writer. Why wouldn’t I use that time for writing?

Soon I began associating my time on transit with writing. It became the easiest place where I could escape from the distractions of the internet on my computer at home. Writing on transit helped me get out of a lot of slumps when I was working on my master’s thesis. If I was having a bad writing day I’d force myself to get on the c-train and I’d sit there writing from one end of the line to the other until I’d worked out the problem I was having.

Riding on transit gives you a different perspective of the city you live in. In a car you’re shut off from people, you don’t have to confront the narratives of others. You can attempt to block people out on the train, or the bus, but it’s a lot more difficult. What interests me about writing in these spaces is that I’ve learned to embrace interruptions. Occasionally a passenger nearby will pull me out of whatever I’m working on. In the past I used to be annoyed by this, but now I embrace it in my writing. I take a break from the work at hand and write a portrait of that person. Characters I’ve encountered riding transit have begun to find their way into pieces of short fiction I’ve started recently, so their impact on my writing is undeniable.

Now that I’ve completed my studies at the University of Calgary I’m considering buying a car next fall. There’s a lot of ways in which it would make my life simpler, but I worry about how this will affect my writing. Will it be as easy for me to find the right space in my life to set aside for my work? When I started my master’s degree I had this lofty goal of developing a writing schedule: a certain number of hours I’d have to spend writing each day. I’ve learned to accept that I don’t work that way. I’m terribly sporadic, and what might work for me for a certain period of my life might change again just as quickly. What remains constant is the addiction I have to writing, the notion that my sense of well-being is very closely intertwined with how much time I dedicate to scribbling in my notebook. This is what I place my trust in.


Emily Ursuliak is the current fiction editor, and a member of the board, for filling Station magazine and an executive producer for the literary radio show Writer’s Block. This spring she was given the Volunteer of the Year Award by the Alberta Magazine and Publishers Association for her work with filling Station. She recently completed an MA in English at the University of Calgary where she worked on her first novel and collection of poems. You can find her work in Warpaint, Blue Skies Poetry, FreeFall, No Press and the anthology The Calgary Project: A City Map in Verse and Visual. Her chapbook Braking and Blather (2014) appeared recently from above/ground press.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Rice & Rosnau in A B Series @ OAG

More info: abseries.org

A B Series Presents

Waubgeshig Rice
and
Laisha Rosnau

8pm
Thursday, November 6, 2014

Ottawa Art Gallery
Arts Court, Main Floor
2 Daly Ave.
Ottawa, Ont.

Copies of Rice's new novel, Legacy and Rosnau's latest poetry collection, Pluck, available for sale and signature. 

Free - donations accepted.

Laisha Rosnau is the author of three poetry collections, PluckLousy Explorers and Notes on Leaving and the best-selling novel The Sudden Weight of Snow. Her work has been published internationally and nominated for several awards, including the Amazon/Books in Canada First Novel Award, three times for the CBC Literary Award, and the Pat Lowther Memorial Award. Her first collection won the Acorn-Plantos People's Poetry Award. Rosnau is working on a second novel and a collection of essays. She lives in Coldstream, BC, where she and her family are resident caretakers of Bishop Wild Bird Sanctuary.

Waubgeshig Rice is an author and journalist originally from Wasauksing First Nation. He developed a strong passion for storytelling as a child while learning about being Anishinaabe. The stories his elders shared and his unique experiences growing up in his community inspired him to write creatively. Some of the stories he wrote as a teenager eventually became Midnight Sweatlodge, his first collection of fiction published by Theytus Books in 2011. His debut novel, Legacy, was published by Theytus in the summer of 2014. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

On Writing #43 : Adam Sol



How I Became a Writer
Adam Sol

            I’m ten.  My friend Derek and I are playing soldier in the woods that surround my home in rural Connecticut.  There are old stone walls to hide behind, and fallen branches with which to fashion machine guns and rifles.  There are clods of dirt to use as grenades.  There are gray squirrels and chickadees making a suitable racket that we can manipulate for our dramatic purposes.  There’s a scummed-over pond to act as a border and landmark.
            Derek is a few months older than I am.  He’s taller and more handsome and I admire him greatly.  He is the leader in our games.  His parents are Latvian and when I’ve slept over at his house, they’ve given me new foods to eat.  They dress their thin pancakes in powdered sugar instead of syrup. 
            In our game, Derek and I are constantly being shot in the shoulder or leg.  We shout “I’ll save you, buddy!” and drag each other through last year’s fallen leaves to some imagined safety.  We never call each other “buddy” except in this context.  We believe that “buddy” is a term soldiers use for each other.
            Now we are crouched behind a white oak, with its rugged bark and roots thick enough for a prone rifleman, preparing for our next attack on the enemy stronghold.  Derek points to a granite boulder, and signals that he’ll approach from the left, while I should making a flanking maneuver near the pond and come up from behind.  After a silent signal, we separate to sneak into our positions.
            The ground is damp near the pond, and there is as crop of skunk cabbages that needs to be carefully crept through.  I avoid stepping on them as if they are landmines, and proceed as quietly as possible, arcing around toward our objective.
            When I’m in position, I catch Derek’s eye and with boys’ joyous imitations of soldiers’ screams we launch our assault.  The slaughter is glorious – my branch rifle is shattered in one desperate melee and I am forced to slay my opposing commander with blows from a handy stone.  I am shot in the right thigh and must limp.  At last I emerge victorious, leaves clinging to my sweatshirt, and attain the promontory.  I scan the field for Derek, who is lying face up at the base of the boulder.
            “Buddy!” I shout, leaping from the boulder and preparing to apply a grape vine tourniquet to his shoulder. 
            But no.  Derek is dead.  He says so:  “I’m dead.”  “But where were you hit?!  I can save you!  We captured the fort!”  “No, he says, I got shot in the chest while you were killing the general.  My guts are all over the place.  I’m dead.”
            I am confused beyond language.  Is the game over?  Did I make a mistake?  Should I be dead too?  What happens now?  Do we need to go inside to play board games with my sister?  Are we still friends if Derek is dead?
            A moment passes.  Then Derek jumps nimbly to his feet and yanks a twig from a low beech.  “Now I’m Derek Two.  Let’s secure the perimeter.”
            From now on, Dereks and Adams will perish liberally, affording us opportunities to take on divergent new personalities – the coward, the reckless fool, the saint, the bitter veteran.  Each will meet his individual fate.  We’ll even occasionally turn traitor on each other.  Then we’ll invent new names. 



Adam Sol’s fourth book of poetry, Complicity, was recently published by McClelland & Stewart. He teaches at Laurentian University’s campus in Barrie, Ontario, and lives in Toronto.

Photo credit: Patrik Jandak.