Hazlitt Magazine

Magic Eraser Juice

Driving an ambulance in a opioid-torn city in the age of Narcan.

The Swimming Pool Library

This summer, I assigned myself the task of swimming home, moving through the neighborhoods and communities that, side by side, would bring me back to myself.

Accident Waiting to Happen

They had only been married a year and she knew with absolute certainty that his mother would blame her for this.

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Magic Eraser Juice

Driving an ambulance in a opioid-torn city in the age of Narcan.

There is one particular alley in my city which is policed by a local little person on a scooter named Leticia. She sports a stylish short haircut, heavy makeup, and a shoulder bag with a large handmade pin which reads "I have narcan." She has to reach up above her head to the handlebars of her scooter, and she can dart the thing through traffic with breathtaking agility. I've seen her screaming at a guy to put his dirty needles in a sharps container instead of leaving them out on the sidewalk. Last time we ran into her she asked if we had any gloves. We went into our ambulance and gave her our last box. We figured she'd probably have more field saves than us by the end of the night anyway. An opiate overdose kills you by first lulling you to sleep and then slowly suppressing your respiratory drive. You breathe ten times a minute, then eight, then four. You turn blue. Your breathing stops, your brain begins to die, and eventually your heart stops pumping. It looks like a pretty good way to go—until some over-caffeinated paramedic like me stabs you with Narcan and ruins everything. Narcan (generic name: naloxone) is a competitive opioid receptor antagonist, which means that the Narcan floods into you bloodstream and bonks all the heroin off its receptors. This ends both the overdose and the high. So, with a cartoon-zombie exaggeration, quite literally back from the dead, the patient sits up, gasps, cries, sometimes vomits, and almost always looks around with wide, sweaty, who-the-fuck-are-you confusion.   "Good morning!" we say, way too casual. "Welcome back." ***  It's pretty common in my city to have a dose of Narcan drawn up and rubber banded onto the rearview mirror of the ambulance. We keep the rest of our gear all the way in the back of the rig and we run so many overdoses that it's just easier to have the Narcan ready to go. We're lazy that way, I guess.  You remember Epi-pens? You probably knew a kid in your elementary school who had to keep one in his backpack in case he was attacked by a peanut. They make those for Narcan now, and they give them out at clinics and the needle exchange. It's a little plastic device which contains a single dose, quick-release Narcan shot and can be given with little or no training. They're all over the street.  "We gave him Narcan already!" a homeless man shouts as we pull up. "I gave him two of the thingies, the ones they gave us!"  Police carry them, social workers, other drug users. Often a patient will get far more than the recommended dose before we arrive, and we will step carefully through a pile of used heroin needles and Narcan packaging on our way to the patient. I've Narcan'd the same guy twice in a shift. Some days everyone is just dying and coming back left and right like junkie whack-a-mole.   *** Fentanyl is quick, beautiful, and cheap, and it kills you.  What does it mean to drive around with an antidote? It's a strange feeling, knowing that there's an oops button on an overdose. We don't always get there in time. If you're by yourself, or if you took a particularly strong blend, or if your friends suck at calling 911, sometimes you die all the way. But a lot of the time, you die most of the way, and then we pop you full of magic eraser juice, and you come stumbling back from the edge.   There's a range of reactions on waking up. Some patients are upset, some surprised, some nonchalant. "Oh, I've OD'd a bunch of times."  One patient walks away as soon as we get to the hospital. We pull the gurney out of the back of the ambulance and he casually undoes his seatbelts and gets up. We ask where he's going and he tells us he's going to walk back down the hill and buy another hit. I ask if there's anything I can do to change his mind and he laughs and says no, but maybe you can try again next time. We bring back a woman wearing matching mittens and a hat who is confused, then starts to cry. She's been using meth every day but has been clean from heroin for 20 years. I arch an eyebrow. She sobs, then screams, then grabs my arm.  "How did this happen? Who did this? I have to know what happened." She repeats herself, panicked, still high on the meth she was probably shooting before she took the dirty dose by mistake. "Where was I? Who did this? How did this happen? I could have died! I could have died?" We try to calm her, but she's so far gone into her own circles that it's difficult to get through. We wake up plenty of overdoses who claim they're clean, but she's so up front about the meth use that I start to believe her story. Once she slows down a little we determine that she shot up what she thought was her usual meth dose and woke up to a team of paramedics pressing a mask to her face and hauling her off the ground into a gurney.   She was going to dose her friend next, the man who called us, and when she realizes that if he had gone first he might have died she starts sobbing again. "It could have been you! If it wasn't me it would have been you! Oh my god, how did this happen?" We found her lying in a puddle behind a gas station, with a pile of so many scattered needles that we had to pull a sideways one out of her thigh. Here you are, Miss Mittens, at two in the morning, lying in a heroin-riddled alleyway, in a heroin-torn city, in the heroin-soaked night, you've lost half your friends to ODs, and you're tying off your arm and pumping your vein full of some sketchy meth that you bought from who knows where, and you're, what, suprised that things went badly? We could lecture her, or be mean about it. On the other hand, fuck it, you know? It was an honest mistake. She's not taking it out on us, she's just plain scared. I unpackage a disposable blanket and wrap it around her. "I'm so sorry this happened to you. We're going to take really good care of you. Just focus on your breathing, okay? We've got you now." ***  We wake up a guy in his thirties who says, "Shit... Did I OD?" Yeah, man, we gave you Narcan. Welcome back. He sighs, leans his head back, and looks defeated. "I was clean for seven years." He shakes his head. We close the charting computer and talk for a while. He tells us how he got clean, put his life back together, even worked in a drug counseling clinic to help other addicts get off the street. He's a young white guy with a beard, flannel shirt, and torn jeans. He's wearing a T-shirt from a band I like under the flannel. He tells us he hates the failure but he's been slipping lately. His voice is soft but he holds nothing back. A brush with death always brings closeness with it, but to be brought back from a death which was caused by your own greatest personal vice—to have lost your greatest struggle, and then look up from the depths into the eyes of your witnesses, there's nothing left to hide.  "Is there anything, you think, that anyone could do for you? A program, a counselor, a friend? Is there anything that we could do? You seem like someone who could fight this. What would work, do you think, for you?" He stares at his hands for what seems like a long time.   "No," he says finally. "I don't think there's anything that would help. It's a hell of an addiction."  *** They say heroin is amazing. It's a cheat code. That it's better than any other feeling that you've ever had up until that moment. Everything you've ever tried for, every challenge you've failed or risen to, every struggle and every injury, it all just falls into place. It was all worth it, every minute, every gasp, to bring you here to this moment. It's meditation, it's orgasm.  I'm not a heroin user, but I know what it feels like to search for something and think you've found it. I know that aching, dark emptiness of an addict, and the feeling that one more step, one more grasp, and it's just within reach; that thing you've been hunting for, the thing which has kept you up at night. It's right there, right beyond your fingertips, just stretch a little farther, escape a little more. I can't begin to know the pain of a true opiate addiction, but I have no judgments for those in the struggle. A lot of people blame the Sackler family for the current American opioid crisis that has swallowed cities like mine; immigrant pharmacists turned CEOs turned opiate drug kingpins, the Sacklers created Oxycontin. Released in 1997, Oxy was stronger, purer, and more addictive than any prescription pain pills that came before it. Its "time-release" formulation made for easy crushing, snorting, and shooting. The soul of the poppy flower wove its way from opium in Turkish smoking dens, morphine for Civil War soldiers, laudanum for menstrual women, the heroin of jazz musicians, and found its home in orange pill bottles across every strata of the American experience. Purdue Pharma, owned by the Sacklers, marketed the drug so heavily that they were eventually convicted of felony "misbranding." They said it was non-addictive, abuse-proof. (So did the first doctor to inject morphine with a syringe, incidentally; he said the addiction had been caused by eating the drug, but injection was safe.) Purdue bought and sold doctors to over-prescribe the medicine across America, bringing in billions of dollars in profits. Rich and poor, black and white, Purdue Pharma bought lunches and dinners and weekends on yachts for the doctors who prescribed the most pills to the most humans. Reps were given bonuses for getting doctors to prescribe more pills and higher doses.  Long before the Sacklers, before time-release capsules and hydromorphone isomers, the British went to war with China over opium. Europeans wanted Chinese tea and silk and couldn't find enough silver to pay for it all, so traders flooded China with opium from India instead. The addiction spread quickly, the need grew, and soon Southern China began to writhe and cripple under the poppy flower's curse. The Qing dynasty tried to outlaw the drug and stop the influx. The British drug suppliers, with profits burning in their eyes, sent war ships into Chinese ports to blast their way to their opium riches. Two separate wars followed this plotline, only twenty years apart.  Historians still debate the long-term effects of it all, but a thin sticky tar-colored thread runs itself across an ocean and two hundred years. There was a dusky evening, once, in Southern China, say 1842. Gold would be found in California in seven years' time. Maybe it was late spring, maybe the crickets hummed as the nights began to warm for the season. Maybe a shorebird cried out, a wave slapped a wooden dock, a rope sagged heavy with moss against a boat. A man leaned on the rotting wall of a shop front and sucked opium through a pipe. The smoke burned his lungs and filled his head with warm clouds as war raged around him. His life melted, his worries faded, the creases in his worn face relaxed and lay open to the last of the evening light. The money he would pay for this feeling, the unlimited resources that could be torn from his hands to fulfill this need. Men in parliaments would curse and tear up trade agreements, fire would be set to ships, borders re-drawn, before he would give up that dope. There's a diagram to be outlined, somehow, between that tired Chinese pipe and the needle in the sidewalk under my boot. That man, if he could pick himself off the storefront wall, walk a few steps, peer his head through the filmy curtains of time, what would he say to my sidewalk junkies on the downtown streets? My twisted, bleeding twenty-five-year-olds, sleeping on cardboard, scratching at infected sores, poking needles in their battered arms. Would he nod, half-asleep in the fog? Would he pass the pipe? So I'm driving around the city at one in the morning, seeing street folks wrapped in blankets dancing to a boom box, milk crates full of crack pipes and diapers, scarred arm veins waving up at the city lights, sleeping bags pushed against the forced air heat vents of a sewer grate, and I'm listening to the radio, to politicians and talking heads discussing what to "do" about it, how to "fix" it, with policies and regulations and focus groups, addiction, trauma, law and order, enabling, decriminalization, buzzword after buzzword coming down like rain. And I can't stop reading about the Opium Wars, how humankind found out just how beautiful and deadly this shit was, just how far humans would stretch their misery to fulfill the need for smack. I've had a lot of non-medical folk ask me about fentanyl lately. What's it like? It's awful, isn't it? They should do something about it, and right away! Well, sure, I guess. Who's they?  I love that you're sitting at a mahogany table on the thirty-fourth floor trying to double-click a solution out on your laptop, I love the effort, I really do, but I'm watching Leticia the scooter mayor wearing the gloves we gave her dig through her purse and the ghost behind her plunge the needle into his vein and lean his head back and exhale, just close his eyes and breathe the syrup into his blood and give a little shiver and his whole world gets soft and you're up in your apartment and I know you can hear the sirens but we look like ants from where you are.
The Swimming Pool Library

This summer, I assigned myself the task of swimming home, moving through the neighborhoods and communities that, side by side, would bring me back to myself.

"To be embraced and sustained by the light green water was less a pleasure, it seemed, than the resumption of a natural condition."- John Cheever, "The Swimmer" "As you know, we've been swimming, and we've developed a taste for it." - Lisa Simpson, "Bart of Darkness" Arrogantly, I have always believed that I am more myself in water than on land. It's just the way that water, like any true celebrity, makes one feel known and held, so long as there is air in our lungs. When I quit my full-time job in July, I decided to resituate myself by swimming in as many outdoor public pools as I could physically take. The city of Toronto hosts a constellation of fifty-eight outdoor pools—fifty-seven currently swimmable—so I didn't lack for water, and being newly unemployed, for time. This wasn't about discovering the biggest or best in the city. Rather, I was inclined to find a path in them, so that I could feel as if I were, dear lord, going somewhere. As in John Cheever's short story "The Swimmer," I assigned myself the task of swimming home, moving through the neighborhoods and communities that, side by side, would bring me back to myself.  "The Swimmer": a jovial middle-aged Westchester resident named Ned "Neddy" Merrill, gin-drunk in his friend's backyard, announces his intention to swim home by way of the fifteen private (and one public) pools that punctuate the properties between himself and his Bullet Park mansion. This setting is powerfully Cheeveresque, to the extent that Mad Men—which shook down many of Cheever's stories for tone and content—located the Drapers' Ossining residence on Bullet Park Road, a fictional street named for Cheever's 1969 novel, Bullet Park. In "The Swimmer," Ned's impetus seems mostly romantic; a way of leaving the party in style, reassembling the built waterscape into something natural. "He seemed to see, with a cartographer's eye, that string of swimming pools, that quasi-subterranean stream that curved across the county." There's no good reason for Ned to do this, other than the fact that he wants to, and believes he can.  As a swimmer, I have no particular gifts. I have a serviceable stroke and an absurd kick. I love to dive and somersault and generally roughhouse. My identity as a swimmer is as much defined by the pools, lakes, and swimmin' holes I've swum as the ones I've encountered in art, film, and literature. Mostly, I just enjoy being in the water; the leisure, the coolness, and the distance from anything resembling work. The almost ekphrastic pleasure of reading about something set in or near a pool provides its own bone-dry satisfaction.  "The Swimmer" was published in the July 18, 1964 issue of The New Yorker, 55 years before I decided that I too would swim home. On my laptop, I examine a map of the city's pools, tracing a line between the ones that form a jagged nautilus spiral towards my apartment. I am compelled to do it the way billionaires seek Everest and, presumably, further billions. I will swim across the city, because I want to, and believe I can. Day I—Three pools (Riverdale Park East, Kiwanis, Monarch Park), 32 km cycled  I cycle to Riverdale, and then East York, passing a football field dotted with hundreds of motionless seagulls. I admire the mid-rise apartment complexes and their vainglorious names: Terraces, Towers, and Arms. They seem beautiful and banal and untouched in the way that I don't associate with Toronto, a city of cranes and Crane Girls. Nested in a leafy little enclave is Monarch Park, my third pool of the day after large and liminal Riverdale Park East and sunny, sweet Kiwanis. I fold my clothes into a mustard yellow locker that bears the warning AMANDA'S don't touch OR ELSE, with the rebuttal, OR ELSE WHAT BITCH, scratched in below.  The Monarch Park pool boasts an intriguing macaroni shape with a robin's egg blue slide nestled into its bend, a generous concrete deck, and lots of comfortable seating. I position myself in a purple plastic Muskoka chair behind the deep end lifeguard. A set of adult twins scream unintelligibly, pelting a tiny Nerf football at each other. There are a good deal of adults and small children—fairly consistent at every pool I visit. But Monarch Park has different social patterns, with the kids all playing together, and parents pulling their chairs together in a circle to gossip and flirt. The soft, divided idyll reminds me of Tom Perrotta's novel Little Children, about an extramarital affair between two lost adults that is, in part, cultivated at the town pool. "As badly as Sarah sometimes wanted to just grab Todd by the face and kiss him, to crawl onto his towel and blast away the pretense that they were just a couple of pals killing time together, she wanted just as badly to hold on to the innocent public life they'd made for themselves out in the sunshine with the other parents and children." [[{"fid":"6705696","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"High Park Splash Pad/Monarch Park Outdoor Pool Lockers","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"1":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"High Park Splash Pad/Monarch Park Outdoor Pool Lockers","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false}},"attributes":{"alt":"High Park Splash Pad/Monarch Park Outdoor Pool Lockers","class":"media-element file-media-original","data-delta":"1"}}]] The adults watch as their respective children play at the far end of the pool, one of them with a shark fin strapped to her back. The "innocent public life" that Perrotta articulates is a rare form of peace that thrives at the public pool. "If they had an affair, all this would have to head underground, into a sadder and darker and more complicated place. So she accepted the trade: the melancholy handshake at four o'clock in exchange for this little patch of grass, some sunscreen and conversation, one more happy day at the pool," writes Perrotta. In the water, I flip around aimlessly like a happy seal, warming my face in the late afternoon light as the laughter of adults, and more distantly, children, floats over me.  Pools, like people, can be both subject and object. We swim in them, soak them into our hair and let them dissolve our swimsuits with the same chemicals that protect us from spontaneous algae blooms. But we also love to just look at them. Three years after Cheever wrote "The Swimmer," David Hockney painted A Bigger Splash, which pins the moment after a dive against a still pastel background, the splash itself the only kinetic presence. The painting is nebulously referenced in Luca Guadagnino's 2015 feature film of the same name, a sensual thriller that features—as does his earlier feature, 2009's I Am Love—a pool-related death. In both the painting and the film, the person who authored the splash never transcends it. What remains is water. Pools are naturally erotic, like the language we use to describe them—aquamarine, sapphire, azure, and cerulean—all the horny words for a blue you can't quite hold onto. They are also natural sites of tension (drowning, social exclusion, sunburn). They are places where we reveal our bodies to each other in public anonymously, above and below water. Pools were the first public spaces where it was socially acceptable to be somewhat undressed, and cinema, like the Esther Williams aquamusicals of the 1940s, normalized the female body in a tight maillot, bullet tits and all. On film, pools grant directors permission to linger on bodies outside of the bedroom, private with a public conceit. Bunny painting her toenails in The Big Lebowski, Elle Woods's aerial view Harvard Law School video application, all the pool party scenes in Boogie Nights, Sebastian flashing his peach emoji butt at Annette in Cruel Intentions, Clueless's opening montage where Cher Horowitz asks, "Is this like a Noxzema commercial or what?" But none of this happens at the public pool. In Perrotta's Little Children, sex is carefully avoided to maintain the purity of the space.  Sex is one of the fantasies of the private pool, to be bought and enjoyed in one's own backyard. Public pools are where the possibility of sex originates, which is its own thrill.  Day II—Two pools (Donald D. Summerville Olympic Pools, Greenwood Park), 25.1 km cycled Never have I seen such density of children in my life. They're everywhere, campers with the city's various programs wearing backpacks as big as they are. They come streaming in shortly after my friend Tess and I lay out our towels (she forgot one, so in a compromise, spread out her shorts and T-shirt, in the shape of a flattened body). The Donald D. Summerville Olympic Pools in the Beaches is a fascinating structure, a big concrete stadium cantilevered aboveground to avoid the pre-existing utilities that digging would've interfered with. The effect is a wide view of Woodbine Beach, volleyball players, bathers, and the lake, with a thick haze hovering over the water. Through the puddle-filled and somewhat decrepit change room, then upstairs, we're met with an impressive sight: a 50-metre Olympic, perpendicular to which is a smaller, shallow pool where campers, children, and their parents play together, even a few babies. At the far end is a diving pool with two springboards, plus a five- and ten-metre diving tower. Tess and I dare each other to jump from the five-metre platform, which was much much much scarier than I thought it would be at deck level. Around us, zealous teenagers bellow commands and scoldings through plastic cones. We are all, it seems, making huge mistakes. It is worth noting that the aforementioned characters—Little Children's Sarah, Elle Woods, Bunny Lebowski, Annette Hargrove, and Cher Horowitz—are all white, and as I moved from Riverdale Park East (which, incidentally, has a huge slide), to Kiwanis, to Monarch Park, to the Beaches, I was aware of the fact that these movies aren't indicative of the diversity of contemporary public pools. At Kiwanis, I was delighted to see a row of bikini babes lying in the sun, punctuated by two women in burkinis doing the same.   In his book Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America, Jeff Wiltse writes that "a social transformation occurred at municipal swimming pools after the mid-century. Black Americans challenged segregation by repeatedly seeking admission to whites-only pools and by filing lawsuits against their cities." On the first leg of my pool tour, I saw the city at its most diverse—age, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, and body type. As Wiltse points out, the public pool was (and is) a place where class was visually erased, swimming attire being more-or-less universalizing. Swimming became socially acceptable within the middle and upper classes as more resorts and athletic clubs dug pools that were suitably genteel (the invitation-only New York Athletic Club built an extravagant affair of marble and tile, with a row of chandeliers). This was followed by the private pool boom of the 1950s, motivated—much like the white flight to suburbs like Cheever's Westchester—by the integration of public spaces. Public pools, like so many things, have been shaped by white supremacy. Is it any wonder that in all these movies, private pools are almost uniformly white spaces, whereas public pools, like the one in Cheever's story, were viewed as vulgar and chaotic. [[{"fid":"6705701","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":" The Bathing Suit/Christie Pits Splash Pad","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"2":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":" The Bathing Suit/Christie Pits Splash Pad","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false}},"attributes":{"alt":" The Bathing Suit/Christie Pits Splash Pad","class":"media-element file-media-original","data-delta":"2"}}]] In a recent New York Times piece, "Women Crash the Pool Party," Amanda Hess writes about how swimming pools became a symbol of opulence and exclusivity partly through their role in segregation. "The glittering image of white luxury rested on barring black swimmers; if a person of color set foot in a whites-only 'public' pool during Jim Crow, it would be drained." Interviewed in The Guardian in 2015, Wiltse remarked that from racist preconceptions about "black people carrying communicable diseases," these kinds of extreme and alienating policies were primarily enforced because of "white anxieties about black men interacting with white women in an intimate public space." These measures were particularly damning for children, and the legacy of this municipally sanctioned marginalization is still felt today. "Black people in the United States drown at five times the rate of white people," writes University of Toronto academic Jacqueline L. Scott in her article "Swimming while Black," and one of the most pervasive stereotypes to this day is that black people simply don't like to swim. In fact, they have historically been robbed of safe and inclusive opportunities to do it. North American public pools had to do with skin right from the start. They were first created as a cheap and accessible method by which the poor—who had no running water in their homes—could bathe, and therefore not bring their diseases to bear on citizens who had private baths in their homes. In 1888, public baths were declared a "profitable sanitary investment," founded on a dubious understanding of how diseases were spread, and a desire to keep the working-class immigrants and people of color in their own, usually badly neglected, neighborhoods. But they didn't stay that way.  As Wilste writes, pools were originally segregated along class and gender lines. Sex and poverty were the most pressing threats, so people of all ethnicities swam in the same pools, if not precisely together. The late 18th century saw a boom in swimming culture, with boys and men swimming naked in rivers and lakes, in full view of polite society. Cities like Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, and New York had swiftly ballooning populations, and municipal infrastructure wasn't prepared for the cultural and material needs of the working classes. They experimented with indoor public pools for bathing, as well as river baths, ingenious covered shelters that perched in the water, protecting swimmers from being dragged away in strong river currents, and passersby from the impropriety of public nudity.  In 2019, Toronto's public pools are uniquely equipped for the needs of different swimmers. Fourteen public pools schedule Female Swim programs to reflect different religious and cultural requirements. Likewise, they also offer Open and Inclusive (LGBTQ2) Swim, "incorporating all gender expressions and body types," and Adapted Swim programs for those with special needs and/or disabilities. The inclusive work of Toronto's public pools practice seclusion rather than segregation. By creating a safely demarcated margin within a public space, those who were previously left out are now able to participate on their own terms, a right that someone like me has always taken for granted.  Water doesn't discriminate: it wants to kill us all equally. Not so long ago, white people decided who could get in and who couldn't, and in many American cities, the result of that remains. We all deserve to learn to swim; to be told by a patient adult that floating is as natural as breathing. Who would I be without these things? And where? Surely not jumping from a five-metre diving tower. I watch a group of children, seven or eight years old, take their turns on the platform. Each one is palpably terrified, clinging to the rail. Down below, they cheer, brightly calling, "You can do it, Sophia!" One child mutters what might be a prayer, or self-hype, at the edge of the platform before flinging herself off. Pools teach us to be brave in short bursts, a lesson that carries on land.  Day III—Two pools (Sunnyside Gus Ryder Outdoor Pool, High Park), 14 km cycled Sunnyside Gus Ryder is one of the oldest pools in the city, featuring a stucco pavilion with an incontestable Mamma Mia! vibe. Like the Beaches pool, it is flanked by the lake, murky and foul-smelling today. From 1922 to 1955, Sunnyside was a resort, complete with amusement park, pleasure boats, and beauty contests, before being demolished to make space for the Gardiner Expressway. The pool and pavilion remain, and the Gardiner's sharp division makes Sunnyside feel both remote and hectic.  In "The Swimmer," Ned's experience of the public pool is a very recognizable form of hell. "The sounds here were louder, harsher, and more shrill, and as soon as he entered the crowded enclosure he was confronted with regimentation. 'ALL SWIMMERS MUST TAKE A SHOWER BEFORE USING THE POOL. ALL SWIMMERS MUST USE THE FOOTBATH. ALL SWIMMERS MUST WEAR THEIR IDENTIFICATION DISCS.'" Sunnyside has more rules than any pool I've attended thus far. A refreshingly apologetic teenager forbids me from bringing my bag poolside, and so I carry my stuff out to the deck, all of it getting soaked as I pass through the mandatory showers. Sunnyside pool lacks the typical sharp corners and is instead rounded off like gift soap. It is ringed by a vented plastic gutter which a) swallows the choppy waves made by the swimmers and b) permits the deeply tanned, Speedo-wearing seniors to perch happily on it, their legs dangling into the water. There are no chairs on the narrow deck, just a concrete ridge that lines the pool and backs against a chain link fence. I put down my towel and am immediately swarmed by flies. In her book Swimming Studies, the writer and artist Leanne Shapton tells the quiet story of her early life as a near-Olympian swimmer, and the way that swimming follows her into adulthood, from training with swim clubs, to cold ponds, to hotel pools. "As I swim, my mind wanders," she writes. "Mundane, unrelated memories flash up vividly and randomly, a slide show of shuffling thoughts." She writes later of scaling the chain link fence to go night swimming in the Sunnyside Gus Ryder Pool "with two friends named Jason." My mind, too, has been drifting down a lazy river of faintly related thoughts and memories. Inspired by Shapton, all the bathing suits I've owned; the golden age of Speedo (1996); the wow now very sulfuric smell wafting over from the lake; transmission of E. coli.  [[{"fid":"6705711","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"Monarch Park Pool Slide/Kiwanis Outdoor Pool Deck","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"3":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"Monarch Park Pool Slide/Kiwanis Outdoor Pool Deck","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false}},"attributes":{"alt":"Monarch Park Pool Slide/Kiwanis Outdoor Pool Deck","class":"media-element file-media-original","data-delta":"3"}}]] Mostly, I think of the pools. I have spent more time in them this week than I have in my whole adult life. I've peed in public bathrooms wet with puddles that never dry. I've seen purple, yellow, green, and blue slides, each of them controlled by a taciturn youth. I've seen huge, and I mean Ben Affleck huge, back tattoos. I've witnessed a lifeguarding mascot in a large brown dog costume wave as his pants fell down without his noticing. I've doubled over with laughter as four or five adults frantically ran to pull the dog's pants up, struggling to tuck his tail through a hole in the back of his sweats. I've swum in rectangular pools and oblong pools and pools with diving boards and pools with no deep ends. I've swum laps in the slow lane and the medium lane, I've dropped from a five-metre diving platform, after which two teen boys in soaking wet T-shirts asked me if that hurt, because I was "pretty angled." I've eaten melted peanut butter sandwiches for every meal, most of them flavoured with sunscreen. I've taken off my bathing suit at the end of the day and seen a photogram of it left on my body. Everything I own reeks of pool, and I feel as if I've entered a happy, nudity-filled, sunburned civilization that exists while everyone else is at work.  At Sunnyside, I alternate between reading and lapping the warm droplets of water at the bottom of my Kleen Kanteen. Ned "took a shower, washed his feet in a cloudy and bitter solution, and made his way to the edge of the water. It stank of chlorine and looked to him like a sink. A pair of lifeguards in a pair of towers blew police whistles at what seemed to be regular intervals and abused the swimmers through a public address system."  At 4 p.m., a stern teenager announces that the pool will be closing, so please, get out. It is, quite frankly, a relief. As I flee, I realize I didn't actually get in the pool. I've been frankly surprised by the sheer quantity of nice kids in these pools, but Cheever did get one thing right: the lifeguards and their whistles, towers, and megaphones. It's humbling to be yelled at so regularly by teens in aviators, but this is my life now. Day IV—Three pools (Stanley Park South, Alexandra Park, Giovanni Caboto Outdoor Pool), 16.4 km cycled Alexandra Park is the only outdoor pool not in service this summer due to extensive repairs (although the tiny Stanley Park South pool was also closed today on account of a "fouling"). Currently hidden by covered chain link fences, Alexandra Park was oddly exposed so far as pools go, adjacent to the busy Toronto Western Hospital, a McDonald's, and Tim Hortons. It's a chaotic intersection, with streetcar tracks going in both directions, treacherous for cyclists. As a location, it's anomalous compared to the pools I've been to, all of them plotted in protected swatches of green or sand as they mostly seem to be. I peer in through a gap in one of the barriers. The grey concrete pitches towards a deep end where a bunch of workers in orange vests and safety hats discuss, one assumes, the pool. Seeing a pool drained of water is like catching it naked, the bottom no longer banded with squiggles of light. "The breach in his chain of water disappointed him absurdly, and he felt like some explorer who seeks a torrential headwater and finds a dead stream," observes Ned upon finding an empty pool at the Welchers'. The film of version of "The Swimmer" depicts this scene much differently than the story, with Ned (played by a perfectly maniacal Burt Lancaster) tending to the needs of a lonely little boy who is afraid of the water. The two of them climb down into the empty tank of the pool, and Ned leads him in a pantomime of swimming across the bottom. They argue about whether it counts as swimming, although it's obvious that both of them want to believe it is. As Ned makes his way to the next pool, he hears the boy bouncing on the diving board and runs back, grabbing him in a hug, believing that the boy was about to dive into the empty pool. [[{"fid":"6705716","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"Woodbine Beach (Donald D. Summerville Olympic Pools) ","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"4":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"Woodbine Beach (Donald D. Summerville Olympic Pools) ","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false}},"attributes":{"alt":"Woodbine Beach (Donald D. Summerville Olympic Pools) ","class":"media-element file-media-original","data-delta":"4"}}]] In Samantha Hunt's novel Mr. Splitfoot, Ruth and Nat, two foster kids recently sprung from their cultish home, develop a séance scam where they play at being mediums, connecting the bereaved to their loved ones. Ruth, who believes that only she is the fraud, realizes that Nat is also faking it when he quotes a scene from the The Swimmer, which they'd recently seen on television. "Nat chuckles as if in response to an unheard dirty joke. His head swivels, lifting his left ear to the sky, then his right. His eyes are white. 'What's the matter? I thought you were going to dive. You thought I was going to dive? There's no water in the pool.'" Nat quotes Lancaster as Ned, parlaying a fragment of a movie based on a story into something he thinks these people will want to hear.  Empty pools become dugout stages for performance, and dangerous as they are, they also present an opportunity to amend history. In "Women Crash the Pool Party," Hess writes that Beyoncé challenged the history of racism and segregation of pools in her "Formation" video. "Spliced with shots of a flooding New Orleans, a crew of black synchronized 'swimmers' creates its own waves at the bottom of an empty pool."  Day V—One pool, one splash pad (Alex Duff Memorial Pool, Christie Pits), 2 km walked Each time I read "The Swimmer," I'm delighted by the childishness of the premise, the hero's journey skewed through the driving intent of the fanatic, the delusional, the drunk. I love the mean Waspy voices whose dialogue penetrates Ned's cocksure inner narrative. But what I savour, cruel bitch that I am, is the chastening conclusion—Ned exhausted and thrust face-first into some version of reality. Most of the story I spend hating him, but at the end, I feel compassion for him, his pain, his need to keep swimming if only to prove that he's not drowning. "The Swimmer" is the bender, the hangover, and the agonizing humility of sobriety, something that Cheever—a writer whose own alcoholism was a defining part of his literary aesthetic—would've known intimately.  My mother was an alcoholic for as long as I knew her—a negligible 16 years. My understanding of drinking came when she was hospitalized during a particularly potent case of alcohol poisoning. I grew up hating the smell of alcohol, the way my high school friends swayed and slurred at house parties after mixing Schnapps and wine and whisky and before puking in the laundry room. But I was also sensitive to being perceived as a narc and worked hard to appear cool with it. Eventually, I did become cool with it. In my thirties, a few drinks quickly crowded out the day's stress. "Mommy needs a wine," I'd declare upon entering my vacant apartment each evening, only now realizing the implications. I began feeling inexplicably very sick and was instructed to cut out alcohol and Tylenol. "But my treats!" I replied, to Dr. Yu's scant laughter. Nearly two years after my last drink, I still remember the feeling of warm deflation, yielding to the undertow of my own body. As Ned swims from one pool to the next, he fuels himself with gin, wasted as much by the booze as by his own physical efforts. I think of the bottles of Bombay Sapphire I occasionally bought, blue as any pool.  It's been raining for the past few days, but today it is sunny and mild. I walk to the Alex Duff Memorial Pool—ten minutes from my house and the most crowded pool yet. I put my towel down in the shade and make my way over to the zero-depth ramp, slowly pushing into the icy water. It's sunny, but windy out, and even when I dip my head and shoulders, I feel the cold of the water penetrating my bones. "He was cold and he was tired," Cheever wrote of Ned, emerging from one of his pools, still so far from home. A child gently touches my shoulder and then floats away, murmuring, "Sorry." I had intended on swimming a few laps at every pool I attended, but here, I simply can't. I am too cold and too tired and my throat and nose sting from all the chlorine. I am sick of the sun, the sharp snap of voices, the damp towels, and broken water fountains. I leave quickly, pulling my shorts and tee shirt on over my wet suit. Walking through Christie Pits, I wade into the sun-soaked splash pad, absolutely bumping with infants. The spray hits the water, dimpling the surface hypnotically. I appear to be the only adult actually in the water, but I'm too drowsy to be embarrassed. I trudge home and take an excessively soapy shower. I pull on dry clothes, pulsing with sunburn. I am home. In the muted but terrifying final scene of "The Swimmer," a distinctly beaten-down Ned staggers up to his house, attempting to open the front door. He blames "the stupid cook or the stupid maid" before remembering that there is no cook or maid anymore. "He shouted, pounded on the door, tried to force it with his shoulder, and then, looking in at the windows, saw that the place was empty."  As all of us do, I dream frequently about my family home, sold long ago. After one of these dreams, I wake up confused and ungrateful for the apartment that uncomplainingly houses me. It is not, I believe, the right home. But every evening when I returned from the pools, it did feel that way, when I have so often and inexplicably felt like Ned Merrill, powerless to return to the seat of his vitality. That feeling is already fading, and I believe it had more to do with being at home in my body and in the city than in the actual place where I delivered myself at the end of the day.  On September 2, all of Toronto's outdoor pools will close for the season, signaling the end of summer. But there is a long winter ahead, and a quasi-subterranean stream of indoor pools that might, I suspect, continue to carry me home.
Accident Waiting to Happen

They had only been married a year and she knew with absolute certainty that his mother would blame her for this.

The lessons are held in a room in an old church rented out to a down-on-his-luck dancer, not exactly overworked but uninterested. The room has artwork lining the walls, slashed with rustling sheets of plastic, high sloping ceilings; church ceilings with room to spare. A group of five stands in a room too big for it. There has been a mistake. When the instructor tells them to move, they reveal themselves to be incompetent dancers and incapable of grace. The instructor stops them often. His frustration mounts. The mistakes become more frequent, one woman slips and falls hard. When she gets up they have decided to try something new. * It was like coming out of a drowse, or the haze after a long, hot bath where the water seems like sleep made liquid. When she opened her eyes, everything was composed of abstract shapes. A white something occupied the entirety of her vision and crowded out a black something to the far-left corner. It moved gently from white to grey to black, in a rhythm in time with her own breathing, and back to white again. She blinked, puzzled. She remembered that they were driving to a conference that Sy had been invited to, a well-known philosophy conference where everyone bragged about their book deals, but this thing was pressing down on her, down the entire length of her body and as she regained consciousness she became concerned, vaguely at first, and then insistently, about the fact that she had no idea where she was or what she was looking at. Her stomach was beginning to twist, pulling at her skin with goosebumps like needles as she struggled to move. Visions of people locked in basements, frantic moths fluttering silently with their wings on fire ran through her head and she felt her heartbeat increase to a steady note which ended in a dull pain in her left breast. At an emergency help seminar that she had once attended, after two hours of playing with dummies, the emergency workers had packed everything away and informed the class that if you could wiggle your toes after an accident then you were probably fine. A flight of midges had come from somewhere to coat her face and neck in a rough film. Like communication received from a rusty satellite blinking forlornly from thousands of miles away in space, she felt eight toes struggle against the insides of her shoes. Relief. Who in this day and age had any use for little fingers, especially toe pinkies? And who knew, this might even end up improving her balance. Moving on. Left hand, no pain but not free. Right hand, contained movement. She had decided to invent her own technical language for this; until she knew what the matter was she was content to treat it all like a game. She moved her right hand gingerly and touched the expanse of white in front of her. It collapsed and then ballooned back again. She pushed it off her face and saw the most absurd sight she had ever seen. It surpassed anything that had ever happened to her, and for a moment, she was relieved at the thought of being in possession of such an exceptional conversation starter. “Have you ever been in a car accident?” Never a dull party again. Although of doubtful veracity, their neighbour told everyone he met a prize story from when his wife was giving birth. She was screaming on the bed and at a crucial juncture in events he had bent down to detach a piece of gum stuck to the sole of his shoe. He looked up only to glimpse a placenta flying right at him. If his story was true, she felt a deep sympathy and a spiritual connection to him in that moment of first clapping eyes on a tissue whirling through the air and slapping him in the face. There were knobbly pieces of glass everywhere. From what she could see, which was very little, much of the tree had collapsed onto their car. Slabs of bark were jutting in through the windshield and a fine powder of crushed wood was scattered everywhere inside the car, like a trigger-happy carpenter’s workshop. “You think it only happens to other people and then you find a tree sticking through the front of your car. I mean, how hard is it to see a tree coming at you?” It must be the seatbelt which was pinning her to her seat. “Thank God for seatbelts! Still condemn the structural misogyny, though.” Things of this kind were what people her age were expected to say and she always said it too glibly, without enough force. The car felt angled somewhere disconcertingly far from one-eighty. She turned her head. Sy still had one hand on the steering wheel. While she did not know how to drive she had often dreamt of her sun-bleached arm hanging out of the window and her hair wiry and brittle, driving somewhere with red haloed grass slitting the air outside, through fields that were bumpy and scraggly and un-manicured. “Sy,” She called loudly. “‘Wakey wakey.’ I said to him, and he was so cross to be woken up.” Please. She reached out and touched his arm gently, then inched the tips of her fingers to his neck where she was sure she felt a pulse. Slow songs in the car would be too sad for him. Piano was sad, silence was sad. They had only been married a year and she knew with absolute certainty that his mother would blame her for this. The screen of her phone had detached and was lying smashed near Sy’s foot. Her left hand was trapped between the side of the seat and the door, where something had come loose during the collision. She tried to shimmy the seat away from the door and put a foot against it when she felt the car move and stopped, clutching her chest where her heart had suddenly let off a great electric beat of indignation. “Coming home late and your mum says half laughing, half angry, you scared me!” She realised she was shouting out her cocktail conversation and now began to move more gingerly, her performance of old and prudent. The seat did not budge. She tried reaching under it for the lever to move it. Her hand found it, and she was horribly aware now of the precariousness of the floor beneath her feet. She had never been prepared for something like this, perhaps if her father had been a survivalist, if Sy had been a survivalist, they never would have been in this mess. If she had been a survivalist by association she would likely have already leapt out of the car and chopped the tree down to clear way. The handle gave way and twisted without more fuss, (“Nobody had to get down on their knees!” laughter, another hit quip) it at least had remained unscathed in the crash. The seat obliged an inch and she pulled her hand out and examined it. It seemed fine, a little creased, and perhaps a tad splotchier than she would have liked. There were ugly bands of red across the knuckles. She felt entitled to a break now and her sense of her own utter uselessness increased. Sat like a spectator not knowing what to do with her hands, back to the days when she had got it into her head to take dance lessons. A tin-flat, prickly time runny with loneliness. The lessons were in a room in an old church rented out to a down-on-his-luck dancer, not exactly overworked but uninterested. All movement in the lessons was sombre. Woman on Street Bending to Pet a Dog, Stretching Hand Out to Pick Apples, Fake-Laughing at Party, everyday motions were elevated to choreography. Sometimes, secretly, she arched her shoulders and pushed them up, down, side to side to recreate a tangle from somewhere deep inside her. Once, she slipped and fell hard. When she got up Mr. Vance was having them try something new. She turned to the person next to her, a bald man wearing a Def Leppard T-shirt, and linked the base of her wrists to his so that their hands opened across each other like wings. His wrist was broad and firm and she could feel the cords of muscle working steadily. The dance teacher told them to keep moving around this fulcrum and follow their partner’s wrist, to never lose contact. Although the car was no more than a few feet high, every time she glanced outside she felt the urge to be sick. The clearing was not much bigger than a squash court and smelled like garlic and salt. Everything had flown off-kilter and she was like a rock jutting out through this new sea-world of twisted green, bark in front of her like hacked off rope and leaves spread over the ground below, which, until now, had been an inalienable constant to her feet. Now it was a snare shot of bone snapping on impact. The door was so heavy that it felt dangerously temperamental, like a missile biding its time. It swung when she pushed it open and fell against one of the upright parts of the tree with a clap. She crept to the edge, bent like an arthritic diver, whimpering and babbling nonsense, it was just air, just gas and then a solid slab of ground. Billions of little particles crammed together with all air pushed out like concrete floating on a vat of lava. The floor of the floor is lava, and that was what she was expected to jump on? Are they mad? Sy’s mouth was open like a ventriloquist’s dummy. “Who’s mad?” “Everyone! The universe!” “The universe?” “Has anyone ever told me I’m good at this? That’s what they tell you: this kind of thing never really happens. Who’s to blame? Everyone who said, ‘calm down, everything will be all right,’ that’s who. If they had told me this would happen, I would not have spent most of my life making sure my granola was soft enough to eat at breakfast.” The car was stifling, there was a strange acrid smell rising from the plastic, what if it’s on fire? She was being very loud, which bears get scared by yelling and which ones get attracted to it?   The air rushes past, whistling in and out of her ears and gathering in tears at the corner of her naked eyes and her heart stops beating, she falls through the air between heartbeats like an interrupted breath, going underwater waiting to come (once more) come up again.   She was hugging the ground and repeating the words “wow” and “oh my God” to herself. The undercarriage of the car was torn up badly near the front and accordions of pipes hung down ludicrously. With its network of snaking lines and wires, it most resembled a map of the routes the car traversed. She loved to get first prizes in competitions when she was younger. The car was only three feet off the ground, she realised as she stood there. She could easily reach in and undo Sy’s seatbelt. “This is why we take initiative, Jana!” Sy’s face had fallen over to rest on his chest and a glob of saliva was spilling from the corner of his mouth onto his linen top. He seemed to say, “remember me?” with a petulant aggression that irritated her. The man still had to be rescued. “Banging on about it.” What should she do? Sy had long, slim legs which looked good in tight jeans and which were tailor-made to run around with golden retrievers in sunny fields, but they did not lend themselves well to being pulled out of a car by a woman half his size. The back of the car was on the ground and she clambered onto the backseat and squeezed her shoulders through the gap between the two front seats to examine the situation. He could be napping on the side of a road. The trees were hemming them in, the back of her neck was prickly with dust and the golden green heat which seemed to come from the leaves. Before all this, when she used to sit in the back of the car there was always air rushing through the windows, smelling like clean sheets on a line. New and silver and sleek, like a pen. There were emergency blankets under the seat, one ragged and one fancy. Sliding back out with the blankets rolled up under her arm, she walked over to Sy’s side and stood on her toes to open the door. The car had twisted while crashing, she saw, and Sy’s side was lodged higher up the side of the tree than her own. She wedged the door open with a stick and came face to face with Sy’s suspiciously hair-free ankles. The skin was as smooth as the skin on his forehead when it rubbed against hers and he whispered her name into her cheek like a bite. She touched the gravely curved bone above the line of his shoe. This was terrible, she realised. Instead of learning from the survivalists she had put her faith in the entertainment industry. She knotted the top of the blanket to the knobbly underside of the car, which had several suitable pipes apparently for exactly this purpose, and slowly stretched the blanket taut to the ground. She nudged a starred rock lying nearby to weigh the blanket down, and then found a heavier rock to put behind the smaller one to keep it in place. “Slide of life, slice of life.” It was unreasonable that it had to be functional, too. She climbed into the car again and wrapped Sy’s head in the other blanket and then attempted to turn him to face the door. He merely slumped over like a grotesque crash test dummy, his legs hanging over the edge. She hooked a hand through the steering wheel and drew him close with her other arm across his neck, put her face against the sloping shoulder, closed her eyes for a moment and then felt discomfited because he had used the hotel shaving cream and did not smell like himself. She climbed out of the car, ran back to his side and grabbed his legs to pull them down; his arms moved upwards like pantomime wings, and when she tugged again he bobbed with a sigh like a ballerina. Then the breath broke and his head scraped the side of the doorway as he slid sideways onto the blanket. It held for a moment, straining grimly, then collapsed as a dog began barking in the distance, the bark like a heavy, wracking cough that swallowed up the air from under Sy’s body. Her ribs contracted in shock. If she thought that this might jolt Sy awake she was wrong. She bent over him. Still breathing. A drop of blood fell on his face and flowed in a steady line into his beard. “What?” It led to his face like a determined pioneer. His eyes were still open, still seeing under the eyelids and she could feel them boring needle-like both inwards and outwards. She was afraid to touch her face. A dull ache was building up in her sinuses. All she could see was the impossibly dark red wake in the dip of his nose. One’s face was only a fragile network of tunnels. He was such a handsome man. Before him she had not appreciated the importance of that slippery something which is Cool. With Sy and his friends, she was expected to stuff it into her mouth and gag on it while their palms pushed it towards her relentlessly. She was expected to contort her face and her shoulders and mince herself up and she knew why, because it was dangerous here to be human and whole and her smooth pallor would mark her out as more alien than the twisted fawn she created for them ever could. Like a ragged hunchback she stored all the Cool they exuded in her hump. She felt so old with them, so out of date, even though Sy was the one who was older and she had naively assumed that that would make an even keel. Perhaps he had only taken up with her for her entertainment value. Let’s trot the old girl out for the folks. We need a bandmember to tap the beat out, three makes a crowd. It’s the kind of music he would listen to, as well, pompous army brass bands. And it was all fine, to criticise them would be to criticise herself, because she, Jana, had chosen. They needed her to help them suck the air out of a room because they were better. Hold the grown-ups up, freelancer, code for unemployed. It was more than enough reason to gently manoeuvre him away from them. She had a throbbing headache now which pressed down over her eyes. Behind the car, tire tracks over the ground stretched backwards up a knoll. The ground was lacerated with the imprint of the tires, which was so vivid as to be alive. Now and then as she followed the tracks she could even smell burning rubber. On top of the knoll was a thick line of trees beyond which she could see the long backs of power lines. She climbed up to the road and the emptiness was like the muffling of sound after the slap of diving into water. It was doable, she could drag Sy up here. The leaves on the side of the little hill behind the road were slippery, and while climbing down she tripped and the sky spun, soapsuds in a churn of trees, before she tasted dirt upon crashing into a mulch of orange. Sy, the first time. Hand like a fern on the wooden frame of the door. Flash beneath the orange. Brushed the leaves aside and there was a thick mat like alien skin, so intensely blue that she thought she was going mad, surely this was unnatural. A carpet of electric blue Larkspur had been growing in silence, and a thick layer of leaves had collected over it so that the whole impromptu structure had now cracked like an egg, spilling blue all over her. “Felt,” “seemed.” How odd that all sense of proportion should vanish here. If she had left him in the car this could all go away and be blamed on someone else. Now it was her, her fingerprints were all over the scene. Worse, who knew what would happen when he woke up and discovered that for one brief shining moment she had abandoned herself to occupy both their bodies like some God. She bit down on her knuckle punishingly. Delusions of grandeur. Why now? It tolls for thee, stop it. “Ha ha ha.” Louder. “HA!” Better? “Yes.” The trees moved with her in a ring, branches like demure hands holding up skirts. The sky was turning as she walked to the car, their poor car prone like a dumb pet after running into a saucepan for some cheap laughs, birds chirping in circles over the concussed man outside. Come walking through here, Sy, and look back at me as you walk to the road. It occurred to her that his jeans were too tight. Well. The blankets weren’t so torn up that they couldn’t be used as a sled. A more pressing issue was how to drag him—by the feet or the arms? It would be easier to hold his feet, they were much more grippable. There was also the promise of slight amusement when she thought of his head bumping along in her wake. “Is she telling you about the part where she dragged me over all over the forest? I told her when I woke up that she should have bashed my brains out with a rock instead of this wish-wash. Non-verbal assertiveness, don’t make me laugh.” Why not her instead of him? And he would never speak like that, or would he? No, no, it was so easy, her understanding of him was already being replaced by her complacency with his silent body. Her hands were moist and raw from the dirt and there were pinpricks of blood under her skin. A mutinous feeling was welling up in her; the heat was thick and sticky, as insistent as a dripping, half bitten plum so that she felt paralysed. It was worse than being trapped in the car. Sy was used to receiving things, not her, and now that she was fine with it, she had to act until he could stroll in and be the golden boy once more. More so, because now he would be the endearingly bandaged golden boy, something she knew he had been hoping for ever since his water skiing accident fifteen years ago which he had milked for sympathy for a mindboggling two years after the event. “I said to myself, anything would be better than this mute idiot body lying like a portal to a world without him.” Maybe that would turn out to be true when he woke up. There were dragonflies here. Their bodies littered the ground and their crunch was the one in the sliding frame of her study window, where bodies of tiny insects had collected and hardened into an ill-packed mass. Her spine always felt tight in her chair with her back to the door and Sy’s hands were lodged there now, pulling at her so that her breath built up and escaped from the back of her head in a shimmer. Her torso was forced parallel to the ground and as tense as a hand curled in the process of forming a fist. A lick of her hair smudged the corner of her vision. “Does - my - bottom - look - too - big - in - this?” Each breath was ripped from the air and grew rough edged as it went in. The muscles in her arms no longer moved in smooth consultation with the rest of her body, they were becoming knotted and bunched with splinters and buds springing at odd intervals, an errant tree branch coiling stubbornly upon itself. A spot between her shoulders, the one you need another person to reach, prickled uncomfortably from the line of sweat that was crawling down her back. Her body moved forward as if through treacle, and the fluffs of pollen that skimmed the air in front of her—she could see glints of white even high up near the darker tops of the trees—only made everything feel more viscous. It was peaceful, even fitting, and she could spend her whole— “What are you doing to that man?” A thin boy with over-large eyes bulging from his head. She had over-exerted herself. She was hallucinating. “Oh. Hello.” “Is that your car? What happened to it?” “Er, yes. Are you lost?” “Did you run over that squirrel?” Oh God. “I didn’t know there was a squirrel there.” “You shouldn’t be driving where-where there aren’t any roads. There’s a road right up there. How did you get off?” The questions were a relief. Coming from this boy they did not seem like preparation for taking offence. He stood there scratching the strap of his satchel, clutching a jam jar with some dirt in it. The trees above him separated weightily in the wind and then came together with a low crash. “Do you live near here?” The boy pointed a toe conversationally. “On a farm. My daddy has two of those big combinavesters and nobody else has two. They all just have one.” “Combine harvesters?” “Combinavesters.” Show off. She did not want to share. It had been her very own solemn mission and now, Sy was something to be ashamed of and the exaggeration of having crashed into a tree was newly painful. There was also the worrisome urge to impress this boy in some way and make him so attached to her that he would cry when she left. “What’s your name?” “Licken.” “What? Like the chicken?” “Which chicken?” Farm humour. “All right, never mind, tell me, does my face look all right?” He looked at her and made a show of squinting, closed one eye and then the other and slowly narrowed them until barely open. Then he shrugged. “I don’t know what you looked like before.” Pleased with himself. She felt incredulous, what was this, intro to philosophy? It was all a big joke that she was not in on, she thought as she glanced down at Sy, feeling uncomfortably sure that he was not really unconscious but surreptitiously feeding the boy lines. This was the kind of thing he would come up with on the first day of class. Licken. That whenever she turned around to drag him, whenever she did the work like always, he opened his eyes and waggled his eyebrows to laughter from an invisible audience. “Help me drag him to the road.” Licken stood uncertainly. “Who is he?” “He’s my husband.” “Okay. What do you want me to do, then?” She looked around. There wasn’t anything for him to do. “There isn’t anything for you to do, so you can go home if you want.” He did not go home. He followed her, becoming more and more excited, asking her why she was doing this, playacting, yelling when Sy hit something or when the blanket snagged and breathing very hard. He threw down his satchel frequently. By the time they reached the road he was beginning to frighten her. She arranged Sy by the side and crouched down. Licken was whining about the heat and how she had tricked him into coming here. Down the road, an engine shifted gears and they both turned their heads to stare. A large lorry was coming their way. She stood up and waved her hands. There were people cheering and singing in the back of the lorry, someone playing a flute. The music stirred the branches and the leaves and the grass and each blade twitched as if part of the same slumbering instrument. “Hey!” Licken was jumping with her, they were both yelling. They were nearly level when everyone in the lorry waved back at her. A man wearing nothing but a cape held his arms out as if to embrace the whole world as they passed them without stopping. “We are hurt!” She screamed in full throat. “We are hurt, stop!” She heard someone laugh and toot a novelty horn before the sounds of the lorry faded. A plate of pain stretched from her throat to the front of her forehead when she breathed. Sy would wake up. He would wake up. She would know then. She slowly sat back down. Licken had dragged out a copybook from his bag and was brandishing a pencil that was too large for him. He had crossed his legs to make a bony desk and was scribbling away. She leaned over and saw that he was practicing the alphabet in careful three-line intervals. Savage, corrosive triumph rose up in her as she took the pencil from him and drew a perfect “g.” After a few minutes, his hand stole over hers as he watched her carve the same few letters into the paper. Her neat printing slowly turned into a jagged, demented scrawl as they sat waiting and the page ran out.
Searching for Duke

After years of whispers in her Polish community, Anna finally learned the truth about her father. And then she decided to go to Sri Lanka to find him.

Anna Kopec always knew she was different. Until she turned eight, she thought it was because she was adopted. "Even just sitting at the dining table. I looked around, and I didn't look like them. I didn't look like my family," she says. That's not entirely true. There is a resemblance between Anna today, at age twenty-seven, and her mother Maria; she has the same aquiline nose, dimpled chin, and dark brown hair. But her dark complexion, skin the colour of caramel and eyes like pools of amber, stand out in the framed photos that line the walls and mantel pieces of her Polish family's home. Back in the '90s, when she was growing up in Edmonton, there were whispers in her tightly-knit Polish community. Heads turned when Anna attended Sunday mass; she could feel the eyes boring into her back as she sat attentively during the service. But the whispers and close attention didn't get to her until, at around age five or six, she started Polish dance classes. Even though Anna was dressed in the same colourful outfits as the other kids, a red skirt and white shirt worn with a black vest and white lace apron, decorated with multicoloured floral embroidery, she stood out. The students called her chocolate—which didn't bother her at first, it echoed a nickname from her grandfather. But, for the two years that Anna attended the classes, she would often end up sitting by herself in a corner, reading a book. The Polish woman running the program occasionally got her own son to dance with Anna. When Maria found out that her daughter was being ostracized, she was furious. She yelled at the dance teacher and said Anna wouldn't be coming back. "That's when I realized something was going on." Every now and again, Anna would ask her mother why she was brown, why she was darker than everyone else in the family. Her mother would say she would tell her soon or change the subject. When Anna's sister Barbara was in grade four or five, she asked their mother the same question. Why did Anna look different? "She had told my sister that because I was born premature, I was put in an incubator," says Anna, shaking her head. Barbara repeated this explanation to her friends at school, and Barbara's friends went back home and told their mothers, who told them that's not how it works. Kids can be cruel, and Barbara became the laughingstock in the schoolyard. One day, after a shopping trip to buy Anna a figure-skating dress for an upcoming performance, her mother took her to McDonald's. Anna was excited to get a Happy Meal because her mother didn't usually buy fast food. "I can still remember the skating outfit was hanging off the back of a chair," says Anna. "I was eating Chicken McNuggets." That's when Maria told her that Woody, the man Anna had grown up calling Tata, was not her biological father. Her real father came from Sri Lanka. His name was Duke.  When they got home, Maria gave Anna a picture of Duke. Anna felt a sense of relief. Her mother was still her mother, and she didn't feel any different towards her Tata. Her siblings Barbara and Lukasz were still her sister and brother. A few days after her mother told her about Duke, Anna wrote the following entry in her journal, in alternating purple and blue glitter gel pens: It wasn't until years later, when Anna was entering her teenage years, that she started to ask probing questions. Who was Duke? Where in Sri Lanka did he come from? Was she like him? Maria didn't seem to understand why Anna needed to find out more about her Sri Lankan side when she already had a family that loved her. The rest of Anna's family was sympathetic to her search but couldn't help. When she was sixteen, during an annual trip to see her extended family living in Germany and Poland, Anna decided to try to find out more information about her biological father herself. It was a spur of the moment decision, which she hadn't discussed with her family in Canada. Her parents had divorced, and Anna was living with Maria. While Maria didn't seem to understand Anna's quest, Woody encouraged her to find her own answers. She enlisted one of her German cousins in her search, and managed to find a date of birth and date of death for a man named Duke Santhira. Woody's mother showed her a few more photos, but that was all Anna could find out. A few years later, in October 2013, a chance conversation with one of her university professors put her in touch with Sri Lankan Canadian academic Amarnath Amarasingam. He was travelling to Sri Lanka in January. He asked Anna if she wanted to come along.   "I didn't even have to think about it," says Anna. Immediately she wrote back: Yes.   Ten days before Christmas 2013, Anna and her now-husband Gurvinder Gill travelled to Sri Lanka. This is all they had to go on: A name, likely assumed. Duke Santhira. Duke's birthday and the date of his death. A few pictures. Poland: When Woody Met Maria Wlodzimierz Kopec first saw Maria Czweryn on a bus in Warsaw, Poland. It was the early 1980s. She was eighteen, and he was twenty-three. At the time, Poland was still under the rule of a communist government that played by the Russian rulebook. Wlodzimierz saw Maria on the bus on his way to work at Mazowieckie Centrum Rehabilitacji Stocer, a hospital in Konstancin-Jeziorna. It was a long bus ride from his home in Warsaw. He was working as a nurse's assistant there. Maria's bus stop, on her way to a horticulture school, was a couple of stops before his. "Caught by her beauty," he says, he asked if he could walk her to school just as she was about to step off the bus.   Wlodzimierz, who started going by Woody after his move to Canada, sits in the dining room of his Edmonton home. He's wearing a white shirt and jeans, his blue eyes piercing through a pair of Hugo Boss glasses. He speaks in short, Polish-accented bursts. When he stops speaking to collect his thoughts or search for the right word in English, he stares out into the distance, looking through the glass sliding doors that open into a small backyard blanketed in snow. As it happened, Maria lived very close to Woody; he passed by her apartment every day. They dated for a year, and then Maria wanted to get married.  Woody had lived an idyllic childhood. He came from a middle-class family. His father had served in the army, and when he was a child, both his parents worked at Fabryka Samochodów Osobowych, a famous automobile manufacturer. The family lived in a hotel for factory workers, sharing one room separated by curtains to create a bedroom, kitchen and living room. Just before he started school, the family moved into a new apartment in Warsaw.   After finishing school, he went straight to work at a newly opened factory for retreading old tires. He got the job after meeting the director of the factory through his father. After a stint working at the hospital instead of military service, an assignment that was the result of his poor vision, he returned to the tire retreading factory. "It was a new plant in Poland, with Italian equipment. [The boss said] there might be a chance to go to Italy for a course," says Woody. "Getting a passport was impossible. Only party people had them. Regular people stayed in Poland and worked where they were told to." Maria's father had been a middle-ranking officer in the Polish army. When Maria was seven, he died of carbon-monoxide poisoning. Maria's mother moved with her four daughters to Warsaw in 1972, where the army gave them an apartment. "We weren't poor-poor, but we didn't have much money," says Maria. She's moving around her kitchen in Edmonton, putting together a meal of pork tenderloin and vegetables, while constantly apologizing for not being able to make a proper dinner. Maria lives a short drive away from Woody. Compared to Woody's minimalist home, with neutral beige walls punctuated with family photos, Maria's home is warm and cozy, with a large Christmas tree standing tall in the living room. Dressed in a chic blouse and pants, her eyes sparkling with flecks of glittery gold eyeshadow, Maria is charming to a fault, constantly offering a glass of wine or a cup of tea.  "My mother had major depression, and she was bringing up four daughters. I was practically raised by myself … My sister Anna had left for Germany when I was in high school. I didn't have the greatest relationship with my mother." Outside their family home, an apartment in an historic part of Warsaw that was rebuilt piece-by-piece after being obliterated in WWII, tanks were rolling down the streets following the announcement of martial law in 1981. "You had to be home by 8 p.m. There was rationing of meat and sugar."  While she aspired to become a psychologist, Maria took a practical look at her options, and told Woody she wanted to get married. And so they did, in 1983. Life was not easy after marriage. They had to contend with the challenges of living in a communist society. "Corruption was enormous," says Woody. "It was the main reason to leave." Barbara was born in 1984, and Lukasz in 1986. The family was living in a simple cottage in a small district in Piaseczno County. Woody was doing shift work at the tire factory, also making some money under the table, and he and Maria were fighting. "Main reason for Maria was that I drink too much." He did drink a lot, he admits. It was easy to buy vodka, and much harder to refuse his friends who wanted to drink after work. Besides, he wanted to stay away from Maria's screaming. Maria remembers being stuck at home with two little kids and washing and boiling an endless load of diapers. "I got twenty diapers, you know how? Each gynecologist gave you ten diapers for a baby. Cloth diapers, not the modern ones like now. So, I went to two different gynecologists," she says. "I was twenty-two years old, with no running water, no heat … We didn't have milk for the kids. Only vodka for the men to drink and get angry."  Maria's three sisters were already in Germany. Woody went to Germany in 1988 and started to work in the black market  doing industrial renovations-drywall, taping, cleaning work spaces and delivering materials. "What I made in one hour in Germany was worth more than a month's work in Poland," says Woody. His idea had been to stay in Germany for a few months at a time to work in the black market and spend the rest of the time in Poland. Life was tough while Woody was in Germany, says Maria. "I used to wake at 5 a.m. and take a stroller that was made in Czechoslovakia and walk five, six kilometres to the nearest market. It was a big used stroller, so no bus would take me. I would get eggs and the best meat," she says. "But sometimes there was no food. I had to go around and barter for milk. So, one day I put on my nylons and lipstick, and one of my sister's friends came and took me to the German embassy. There were people sleeping on the streets for three months to get a visa. But somehow, when I went, the person opened the gate and I walked out with a visa. We went with my sister's friend in a car to Germany. Woody was not impressed when I showed up there." Maria arrived with Barbara and Lukasz in Germany in September 1989. "Maria wanted to apply for asylum in Germany. I thought it was a stupid idea, but all the sisters persuaded me," Woody says. Germany: When Maria Met Duke In 1989, communism fell in Poland, and getting asylum in Germany was tough. Maria, Woody, and the children were facing deportation. Maria had heard Canada was taking in refugees from Germany and had written 180 letters to Canadian and American sponsors. A sponsor in Edmonton agreed to take them in, extending their temporary refugee status in Germany. While they waited for the papers to get processed, the family was sent to live in a small town called Rüthen, where many other refugees were also sent to live. They were given accommodation in the upper portion of a two-storey home in a lower-income housing complex, a place that the family came to call the refugee hotel. Although they were given an allowance to meet their living expenses, Woody continued to work under the table. Every week, he travelled to Cologne, a two-hour trip one way taking a bus and train, to save up money for the airplane tickets they would need to travel to Canada. "That's when Maria met Duke, Anna's father," says Woody. Duke worked in a pizzeria in Dortmund. When he wasn't working, he'd visit a friend living next door to Maria. In Rüthen, Maria walked everywhere. To the market, to take the kids to preschool. "With my luck, it was always raining. One day, this red car stops, this red Ford, as I'm walking. It's Duke. And he says, 'Don't be afraid.' I got in and he took us to the daycare. I left the kids and went grocery shopping with him. Then I invited him over for tea." Woody knew Maria was lonely in Rüthen. "She was complaining I was out of town, staying with friends. I was drinking," says Woody. He told her, "I know it's hard for you. But listen, we decided we are waiting to go to Canada. I have to suffer, you have to suffer." Meanwhile, Maria says, Duke took her and the children to McDonald's and the zoo. They started becoming very close. He told her some stories about life back in Sri Lanka, how his father had the first car in Jaffna. But he didn't talk about why he had left or the civil war that had started in 1983. Instead, she found out through his friends that he had been tortured. "He had scars on his body," she says. "He had the biggest smile. He didn't laugh loudly, but his smile was beautiful. He sang in Tamil, he was always whistling. And he got these beautiful letters from his mother, the [writing] was like artwork." They fell in love. "He was a really gentle man, a gentle soul. And I had lots of suffering inside me. We had our little talks, but people who go through things, we don't talk about that stuff. It's not what you want to remember."  When Maria found out she was pregnant with Duke's baby, she was shocked. Her first instinct was to go for an abortion. She even visited a doctor with her sister Elzbieta but couldn't go through with it in the end. She told Woody about the pregnancy. "I was devastated," says Woody. A deeply Catholic man, he decided this was God's will. He told Maria, it's "something not for you or me to decide. I know I wasn't maybe very good to you. Maybe I have made my mistakes. Maybe that's the price I have to pay for it. And I forgive you everything. Let's start life together. It's new life in front of us, new country." Coming to Canada Anna was born on December 29, 1991. The Kopec family left for Edmonton in May 1992. "It snowed the day we landed in Edmonton. It was a huge snowstorm, there was a big dump of snow," says Anna. "My mother used to joke that she should have known to go back right then."  Like many new immigrants to Canada, they struggled at first. They started out living in the same house as their sponsor, Piotr, who had a younger brother, Jacek. Woody started helping Piotr paint and do renovations, eventually found a job in landscaping and gradually started picking up piecemeal work in construction. Maria worked three jobs, sending the kids to visit their grandparents, aunts, and cousins in Europe regularly. She learned English by reading Danielle Steel novels, and cleaned townhouses to help with the family expenses while Anna napped in a stroller. Eventually, she became a nurse.   For four years, Woody and Maria stuck it out despite their differences. They were immigrants in a new country, and it made more sense to live together. Moreover, given his faith, Woody did not want to get divorced. But in 1996, they decided to go their separate ways. They got a divorce in December 1998. The transition to Canada wasn't without bumps for Barbara, Anna's older sister, either. She has fond memories of growing up in Poland. Barbara looks straight ahead as she talks, as if watching a movie about her own life, trying to rewind and pause. Sitting in the expansive kitchen of her large suburban Edmonton home, light filtering in the large windows, Barbara pushes her bottle-blonde hair behind her ears and pulls on the sleeves of her sweater. She's lithe, petite, a no-nonsense version of Renée Zellweger.  In the beginning, life in Canada was an adventure—a new school with new friends, new experiences like making snowmen outside the house, Jacek dressing up as Santa Claus for Christmas. But Barbara started to notice the strained relationship between her parents. On a road trip one summer, Barbara remembers telling her brother Lukasz that she thought Jacek was in love with their mother. Barbara struggled with the tense atmosphere at home, disappearing into the basement to hide her tears.   "When I visited my dad, I would take cutlery or cans of food because he left with nothing," she says, tears rolling down her cheeks. "That was my Grade 4." Meanwhile, Barbara was also dealing with the constant chatter in Edmonton's tightly knit Polish community about Anna not being her real sister. "I hated going to church, hated going to religious class because it was all Polish. I hated going to the Polish Saturday School because a teacher pulled me aside one time and asked me, 'Why is your sister brown?'" Her animosity towards the Polish community and the Polish church deepened further. When she was hanging out with her non-Polish friends, there were no questions. Her resentment was so deep that she didn't even want to go for her Communion, dressed up in a hand-me-down outfit, her hair in a formal 'do. The classes leading up to the religious ceremony had been unpleasant, with kids whispering loud enough for her to hear them question whether Anna was adopted, and whether Woody was her real father. Barbara remembers being about thirteen when her mother Maria showed her a picture of Duke. All the resentment she had felt about dealing with the rumours at school and in the Polish community turned towards Maria. She says she told her mother that Anna needed to know the truth. Barbara had pulled away from Anna. It was partly the age difference between them, and partly the bullying she faced because of Anna's parentage. So, when Maria decided to tell Anna, Barbara wanted no part in that conversation. "I feel like I ignored her until she was about fifteen, sixteen," says Barbara, overcome with emotion. She walks away for a few minutes, composes herself before taking her seat again. It wasn't until Anna was a young adult herself, and Barbara was getting engaged, that they truly bonded. Even so, a few years later, when Anna started to look for her father in earnest, Barbara couldn't help her. "I could not remember anything." Anna's Story The dreams started when Anna was about twelve years old. At first, they were simple. She saw herself going for a walk with Duke, who was always in a green shirt, the same shirt he was wearing in the photograph that Maria had given her when she was eight years old. This was around the same time that Anna had started to ask more questions about why Duke hadn't come looking for her. Maria told her that Duke had been sick with some sort of blood disease, and he'd died because he'd stopped taking his medications, collapsing in the pizzeria where he worked.  By the time she was fourteen, the dreams had turned into nightmares. Anna dreamt she was holding a bottle of pills, Duke's medicine; sometimes he was sitting by her bed, sometimes on the floor and sometimes kneeling over the toilet, asking her for them. But for some reason, Anna couldn't give him the pills. "I would wake up sweating and crying. I was terrified," says Anna. Barbara had been right about Jacek and Maria—the two married when Anna was around twelve. "He'd been in our lives since day one in Canada. He was always there," says Anna. Jacek became like a father-figure. When Anna started having her nightmares, she first confided in Jacek. "He said, you need to talk to your mom."  Despite Anna pestering her for details, Maria didn't tell her much about Duke beyond the fact that he was born in Jaffna, Sri Lanka. When she asked Maria why Duke didn't visit her before he died, Maria explained that Duke had kept in touch for a while, but he couldn't get a visa to Canada. She remembers her mom telling her that he asked for Anna to visit, but by the time their family got their Canadian citizenship, allowing them to travel, Duke was dead. But the stories also kept changing. Anna remembers that Maria told her that Duke and Maria had stopped talking. In one version, she told Anna that Duke had managed to get as far as the United States border, but that he was sent back. "The story was never really the same," says Anna. "Sometimes she would give me little stories. That he loved spicy food. Or that the civil war had been really hard on him. Or one day we were sitting on the couch painting our nails, she had a nail file in her hand, and she said, 'I don't know what to say. He laughed a lot.' I randomly started thinking that maybe he's alive, she doesn't want me to see him. The rebellious teenager in me started thinking, maybe I will find him." When she was fifteen, Anna wrote to Dr. Phil and Oprah, hoping one of them would help her with her quest. She didn't hear back from anyone and decided to take matters into her own hands. Anna had been travelling solo to Germany and Poland to visit her extended family since she was nine. By the time she was sixteen, her relationship with her mother had started to deteriorate. Anna decided to go back to Europe with a mission to find out more information about Duke from her other family members. She didn't tell anyone about her plans until she landed in Germany, and contacted an older cousin, Michael, her godfather. Michael lived near Dortmund, the city where Duke had lived. After Michael agreed to help her, Anna told her aunts about her plan. They didn't have much information about Duke. Her grandparents didn't have much to add either, even though Anna knew about Woody's father's animosity towards Maria and her infidelity. But her grandmother was understanding about Maria's situation. Her own marriage to Anna's grandfather had been more for convenience than love. She showed Anna photos she had of Duke and shared her memories with Anna. "She told me, 'I could tell they were in love. I could tell something was there, that it wasn't just [a fling] to her."  Anna visited a hospital where she had stayed as a baby and the housing project where Duke and her mother met. She and Michael went to Dortmund's registry offices, to look for Duke's birth and death records. At first, the officials weren't prepared to give Anna the information, because she wasn't legally on his records. Anna was crying out of frustration and said her piece to a woman in the death office. Anna isn't sure what she said, or how she said it, but something struck a chord with the woman. After they left, the official started looking through stacks of paper files. When, at first, she couldn't find a record, Anna's hopes lifted for a moment; maybe there was a chance that Duke was alive. But Anna got a call later that night; the woman had stayed back at the office, searching for hours. The official gave her a date of death, April 24, 1995, and a cause: a brain aneurysm. Duke had no grave. His ashes had been scattered.   Anna was distraught, and called Maria in Edmonton, hysterical. But Maria didn't understand. "Well, you knew he was dead," she said. When Anna returned from Germany to Edmonton, she went to a cemetery with Jacek and Woody to set up a little plaque for Duke. Her relationship with Maria continued to break down. Going to Sri Lanka When Anna was in her third year at the University of Alberta, one of her professors introduced her to Amarnath Amarasingam, a Sri Lankan Canadian academic who has studied the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora and its politics. Amarnath was working on a project on post-war reconstruction in Sri Lanka. The professor suggested that Amarnath may be of some help to Anna in her search to know more about Duke. Anna sent Amarnath an email on October 27, 2013. It was a Sunday afternoon. "My story is a little complicated, but I will do my best to tell it in a swift and quick manner as to not take up too much of your time," Anna wrote. She provided a brief summary of her story, including her father's name, which she acknowledged might be an alias: Duke Santhira Sathusigaman Pillai. When Amarnath received the email, the first thing that struck him was how little information there was. "All she really had was this name Duke, and the fact that he came from Jaffna. That's like me saying I need to find a guy called Duke in Toronto. Actually, scratch that. It was like, I want to find a guy called Duke in Ontario." Anna had attached two pictures of her father, as well as a picture of herself and a tiger pendant that Duke had given Maria. It was like a puzzle. The name wasn't a common Sri Lankan Tamil name. Then there was the tiger pendant, suggesting an affiliation with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), also known as the Tamil Tigers, a militant organization that sought a separate Tamil state in Sri Lanka. It added complications to asking questions about Duke and his family. Nevertheless, Amarnath could understand Anna's desperate attempt to look for her father. Amarnath asked family and activist connections back in Sri Lanka if they could help by tapping into their community network. However, there wasn't enough information to go on. A few weeks passed, and it became apparent to Amarnath that any meaningful search would need to happen on the ground in Sri Lanka. "Especially with that pendant. Usually people don't want to have anything to do with any Tiger-related stuff … We knew nothing about his connection. It could have been nothing. Or he could have been some high-level guy. We didn't know why he fled to Germany," says Amarnath. "People are usually more willing to talk face to face."  He had been planning a trip to Sri Lanka to conduct field research and interviews with former LTTE fighters who had undergone rehabilitation. A friend, Kumaran Nadesan, a Sri Lankan Tamil Canadian who works as a senior business consultant with the government of Ontario, was going to join him. Kumaran was looking to do some ground work in establishing a not-for-profit that provides assistance in sustainable development in the north and east of Sri Lanka. On October 31, 2013, Amarnath sent his flight plans to Anna. Anna's email and subsequent phone conversations with Amarnath had shown her how little she actually knew about Duke or her Sri Lankan heritage. While Anna had read up briefly on the civil war that affected the country for twenty-six years, she wasn't aware of its complexities. Every time she corresponded with Amarnath, he was full of questions: which town in Jaffna was Duke from? Are you sure you've spelled his name right? However, the minute Anna read Amarnath's email about his upcoming trip to Sri Lanka in January 2014, she knew she was going to tag along. The only person who knew about her plan at that point was her now-husband, Gurvinder. The flights to Sri Lanka during peak season were expensive. At the time, Anna had no money and Gurvinder was working, so he fronted the $3,000 for the airfare for the both of them. "We booked the tickets without talking to my family," says Anna. "I was totally not thinking rationally." Anna finally told her family a few weeks before she and Gurvinder were supposed to leave. Her sister was skeptical but supportive, Woody was excited, and Maria was shocked. As the date for their departure crept closer, Anna got more and more excited herself, but it wasn't until shortly before the flight to Sri Lanka that the anticipation really hit her. An avid journaler, Anna kept a record of her visit in a black-and-gold embossed notebook. It's titled Sri Lanka: Dec. 15, 2013-Jan. 11, 2014. A Journey to find myself. The first entry reads: As they stepped out of the airport into the humidity of Colombo, Sri Lanka's capital, and started the drive towards their hotel in Mount Lavinia, Anna was struck by the lush landscape, where the palm trees grew in clusters. But as the highway gave way to an urban environment, she started to truly get a sense of the chaos of a large Sri Lankan city. The buildings looked older, dotted with large, brightly coloured billboards, the traffic was a mess, with a car honk signaling, "Oh hey, I'm gonna do this, okay?" Their hotel room had a view of the waves of the Indian Ocean slamming into the shore. After a quick shower, Anna went for a walk on the beach with Gurvinder. They came across a snake charmer with a cobra and a monkey, crude boats and shanties. Anna started thinking about the poverty she was witnessing in the midst of the beautiful surroundings. "I think back and wonder what he lived in, what his family, if alive, lives in now," she wrote. The entry for the day ends with: "I feel like it hasn't hit me yet, except in some particular moments. But I am ready to embrace me, my other half. Daddy I feel you, please be my tour guide." Discovering Sri Lanka Navigating this new place was a daunting task, and one that Anna wouldn't have had to figure out if Duke had been there to guide her. Every time she noticed the local men, she thought she was seeing Duke. It would be almost two weeks until Amarnath and Kumaran joined them. Anna and Gurvinder spent that time taking in some of the spectacular sightseeing spots in Sri Lanka. They explored Anuradhapura, one of the ancient capitals, the rock fortress Sigiriya, the Dambulla cave temple and the city of Kandy, which houses a sacred Buddhist relic in one of its temples. "One of our tour guides, he was Tamil. I asked him how it was for the Tamil people in Sri Lanka, and I got a kind of a crash course," Anna says. "I liked it that way, physically being there … But then there were times when I disconnected from Sri Lanka." While the landscape was breathtaking, their mornings started with delicious local food and fruits, and evenings ended with one spectacular sunset after another, the devastation of the decades long conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE fighters was apparent behind the facade of the tourist attractions. Anna had long had an interest in political science. She had studied various conflicts in Africa and travelled to Kenya after high school after saving up money from working a few retail jobs. On the flight to Sri Lanka, she skimmed through Amarnath's PhD dissertation to augment her Google searches on Sri Lanka's painful past. She was "aware of the Sinhalese-Tamil divide" from an academic perspective but didn't know much about how the country was moving forward in its reconciliation process. When she first saw large billboards of then-Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa dotting the landscape, he seemed like a "wannabe Putin." It wasn't until Anna and Gurvinder accompanied Amarnath and Kumaran to the northern parts of the country that had seen the worst of the conflict that she could appreciate the devastation. For the moment, however, it was too much to take in. Instead, Anna concentrated her mind on the task at hand—finding any information about Duke. A Motley Crew The vacation part of their trip was over. The day before New Year's Eve, Anna and Gurvinder met Kumaran and his friends at a restaurant in Colombo. Kumaran and Gurvinder instantly hit it off, joking around like old friends. Over crab and fish curry, which Kumaran insisted they eat the traditional way—with their hands, which was a novel experience for Anna—he and his friends heard Anna's story. "It just sounded like such an amazing adventure," says Kumaran. "And I was impressed that Anna had decided to go on this journey." Over the next couple of days, as they met more of Kumaran's friends, Anna would tell and retell her story. She was taken aback by how touched people seemed, and how everyone wanted to help her in some way. They would try to fish out more information or ask her questions about things she may not have considered in her search.   For people who heard the story, it was kind of a contained problem, says Amarnath. "It's not like we were trying to fix world hunger or something. We just needed to find this person called Duke. Plus, Anna came off as quite charming and innocent. People wanted to do something and help."  For Anna, the help she was getting from relative strangers was completely at odds with her mother's apparent lack of interest. As each day passed, she was feeling more and more aware of how little information she had to go on.   Amarnath arrived in Colombo on New Year's Day. Amarnath, Kumaran, Anna, and Gurvinder walked around the city. While Kumaran and Gurvinder joshed around, and Amarnath maintained his circumspect air, Anna's frustrations continued to build.  The next day, the frustration she'd been dealing with the day before had manifested itself as a throbbing headache. A sense of helplessness and self-pity gave way to anger. She and Gurvinder stayed in the hotel, stepping out only to grab a bite of pizza. Anna finished reading Secret Daughter, a book by Canadian author Shilpi Somaya Gowda, about a young woman who was adopted out of India as a baby by an American woman, and who travels back to India to search for her roots. The not-so-happy ending reminded Anna that her own search may not end the way she hoped it would. It helped her come to terms with her own situation. The quartet left Colombo for Jaffna, the capital of Sri Lanka's northern province, on January 4. It was a Saturday, and sitting at the airport, Anna was anxious, trying to keep her expectations low. The drive of about 400 kilometres from Colombo was covered in a little over an hour by a small propeller plane. From the sky, Anna could see green trees and bright red dirt. But the bus ride from the airport to their hotel showed a different landscape, in stark contrast to Colombo. The buildings in Jaffna were older and looked poorer, many houses missing half of their structures. While the protracted civil war affected much of Sri Lanka, it was nowhere more apparent than in the northern region. The LTTE's stronghold, it bore the brunt of a sustained offensive by the Sri Lankan government.   At the time, former Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa was still in power. It had been five years since the brutal end to the civil war, but not much had been done to heal the deep wounds of the long battle and its grizzly finish. Facing heavy criticism from Britain and the United Nations calling for an investigation into human rights violations in order to properly launch efforts at reconciliation, the government continued to deny allegations of war crimes committed by the Sri Lankan army, refusing entry to the UN team tasked with the investigation. Meanwhile, rebuilding homes, returning land, and dealing with displaced people weren't given as much importance as repairing physical infrastructure such as roads and electricity networks. A military presence continued in the north, and many former LTTE rebels as well as civilians spoke about living under a constant sense of surveillance. Anna was slowly becoming aware of some of these realities. In Jaffna, the group had been mulling over the idea of taking out a newspaper advertisement, looking for more information on Duke. A journalist working for one of the Tamil papers cautioned the group against publishing Anna's story, suggesting instead that they look at the government birth registry. Working on the assumption that Duke might have been Catholic—because his did not sound like a Hindu Tamil name—the group visited a Catholic priest Amarnath knew, Father Vasanthan. Father Vasanthan suggested that if Duke was indeed Catholic, there would be a record of his sacraments. However, with records dating back to the 1700s spread out over thirty parishes, they needed to narrow down the search. Time was running out; within a week, Anna was supposed to leave Sri Lanka. On Sunday morning, Anna attended mass. Father Vasanthan and another priest were running the sermon, about the biblical Magi, or the Three Wise Men, and their journey to find Christ. She wrote that "the priest said how it is a journey we all take to find ourselves. Directly speaking I am on that journey. Finding out more about him means finding out more about myself." After praying at the church, Anna and Gurvinder walked with Kumaran to a temple. They stood in front of Ganesh, the elephant-headed god said to be the remover of obstacles. Anna closed her eyes, and asked for help. On Monday, with five days left in their planned stay, the group, along with Father Vasanthan, went to the Jaffna Divisional Secretariat to speak with a civil servant. Nothing. The rickshaw driver they had hired called two of his friends who lived in Germany in the '90s but came up empty. The priest asked one of his friends who also lived in Germany, but it turned out to be another dead end. With every no she heard, Anna's heart sank further. Based on some Facebook research conducted by Amarnath's reporter friend, the group visited the Catholic church in a nearby village and looked through the baptism records there. They found an entry for a man named Duke, but it wasn't Anna's father. Annoyed, Anna stepped out of the church to call her mother, who was again unable to give her any more answers. Anna lashed out and hung up. Anna's calls to Maria were frustrating for everyone, says Amarnath. "We felt she had more information that she was not telling us. That became difficult to get beyond. So, I told Anna to stop calling her. I figured either she doesn't know, or she won't tell you," he says. Gurvinder was cracking jokes and trying to make Anna laugh, but sometimes ended up exasperating her further. They were like an old married couple, says Amarnath. Meanwhile, wanting to get on with networking for his own project, Kumaran would have to leave the group for meetings. And he wondered, even if they manage to locate Duke's family, how they would react to Anna. As a last resort, the group went with Father Vasanthan to the offices of Uthayan, one of the largest Tamil newspapers in Jaffna. The visit to the newspaper's office once again brought home how brutal the Sri Lankan civil war had been. "There were posters everywhere with pictures of dead journalists and other dead workers who were murdered by the army or the LTTE," wrote Anna. "There were bullet holes, some with casings, still in the wall. It was insane." They took out an advertisement with two of Duke's photos, giving Father Vasanthan's contact information in order to dissuade chances of spurious claims. They met the newspaper's founder E. Saravanapavan and Anna told her story once more. Saravanapavan forwarded Duke's picture to someone he knew in Germany. After the visit to Uthayan, the group broke for lunch. Amarnath told Anna that he would post Duke's photo to online news sites in Toronto, while Father Vasanthan would pass the photos around in other parishes. A Breakthrough The advertisement was black and white, printed on the side of the seventeenth page. Anna saw people waiting at roadside stalls and standing outside their homes reading the newspaper. She hoped someone would recognize the photo and call. In a small town called Puthukkudiyiruppu, the group visited another Catholic priest who talked about the many challenges faced by the people of his community, ranging from issues of child abuse to prostitution. At another town called Putumattalan, they saw remnants of a blown-up school that was used as a makeshift hospital towards the end of the war. All that remained standing were parts of cement walls. There were still medical supplies strewn about the rubble. A new school was being rebuilt on the same spot, and the group met a few of the students. On the way from Putumattalan to Amarnath's home in Mullaitivu, they stopped by a hospital. Although the area had been a designated safe zone, doctors claimed the building was bombed during the final stages of the war by the Sri Lankan army. The claim was denied by the Sri Lankan government.   On the way back to the van, Father Vasanthan got a call. The woman was calling from Germany. She identified herself as the sister of the woman in one of the pictures of Duke. Father Vasanthan put the call on speakerphone, with Amarnath and Kumaran huddled around. Anna looked on, bewildered, unable to understand the conversation going on in Tamil. When Anna tried to ask questions, the others shushed her. The woman in Germany remembered Duke as one of her husband's friends, but her husband now had dementia.   Suddenly, Father Vasanthan said a name: Manipay! He was repeating what he was hearing on the phone, making sure he got the name right. It was the name of the town that Duke came from. The group couldn't believe their luck.   Manipay Manipay is a smaller town in Jaffna, about a twenty-minute drive from the downtown core. The group started their search with the local Catholic church. The priest there didn't know anyone by the name of Sathusigamani Pillai, and the name didn't turn up in the baptism records either. But the priest called the caretaker of the church, who recognized the last name as that of a man he used to work with at a cement factory, who was now dead. The priest told them to visit an old woman in the village, who knew all the families in the '80s. It was a long shot, but the group decided to take a chance. When they arrived at the woman's house, she wasn't there. About to turn around to leave, they noticed an elderly woman walking towards them. She invited them in. When Kumaran explained why they were there, speaking to her in Tamil, and told her Duke's last name, the woman smiled. Kumaran says they knew the woman knew something. "You could just tell, the way she had smiled. I was sure she knew exactly which family we were talking about. But we couldn't do anything. She said she didn't know and asked us to leave, so we left." At that point, Anna told herself it was over. But the rest of the group persisted. The tuk tuk driver took them to a Hindu priest he knew. The priest's mother told the group to try the village doctor's house since he knew everyone. Anna stopped herself from rolling her eyes, and the group made their way to the doctor's house. As they stopped to ask for directions, Amarnath noticed an old man slowly cycling down the road. He told Kumaran to ask the old man if knew the family name. It turned out that he did know the family, and where they had lived. For Anna, the old man, Mahendran, was like an angel on a bicycle. Amarnath says that's how villages work. "You want information, you find the old people."  Mahendran led the group to a big house with a bright blue gate. The ladies who owned the house didn't have any information but Mahendran took them to another house a few doors down. The couple living there knew the Sathusigamani Pillai family quite well, even their son, Duke.  They pointed them in the direction of the house of a relative who lived a few blocks away, and the group rushed there. The houses in the neighbourhood had brightly coloured boundary walls, sloping, tiled roofs, barred windows and an entrance decorated with potted plants. The group found themselves knocking at an elaborate gate. A woman in a sleeveless dress appeared before them, her hair down, a puzzled look on her face. The woman's name was Sitha. She invited the group in and told them what she remembered about Duke. The living room was filled with wooden cabinets and display cases, a family photo hanging on the wall. They sat around a coffee table, Amar and Kumaran talking to Sitha in rapid Tamil as Anna smiled. Duke was one of eight children; he was naughty but studied well. Given Sri Lankan Tamil cultural traditions, Sitha could have been engaged to marry Duke. And she told them about one of Duke's sisters, Sarojini, who didn't live too far from her house. Duke's mother also lived somewhere in Jaffna District. As she left Sitha's to find her aunt's house, Anna couldn't help crying. Anna thanked Mahendran, who also had tears in his eyes, and wouldn't accept any money. At Sarojini's home, introductions were a little more abrupt. Initially, Sarojini and her husband were perplexed to be introduced to Duke's daughter, as they knew he had not married. Anna's uncle said he'd seen the ad in Uthayan but was confused because it had mentioned a daughter searching for relatives. Again, Anna couldn't understand most of the conversation in Tamil, and Amarnath and Kumaran translated. Although the aunt and uncle welcomed them, and answered their questions, they looked guarded. Anna found out that one of Duke's brothers had died. Sarojini's husband told her that he used to take Duke to the movies, that he was a patient young man, but also got into some trouble. He also told the group that Duke had been sympathetic to the LTTE and had been interrogated and beaten by the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF). Sent to Sri Lanka in 1987 to disarm the militant outfit, the IPKF found itself embroiled in the conflict, and has been accused of human rights violations in the course of its operations. When Anna asked if they had any pictures of Duke, they showed her one where Duke looked bigger but was wearing the same green shirt that he wore in the picture that Anna had. She also saw a painted portrait of her grandfather. The couple wasn't in contact with Anna's grandmother, they added, and suggested that she might disown Anna given that Duke was not married. Throughout the meeting, Anna felt as if she was causing some trouble by being there. Still, her aunt hugged her several times, with tears in her eyes. The group grabbed lunch before setting out to find Duke's mother. Answers Duke's mother Gunalakshmi lived in Valvettithurai. Sarojini hadn't given them many details or an address. The group asked around, stopping passersby on the roads, but they weren't getting anywhere. They asked at a convenience store, but no luck. Then they noticed an old woman sitting outside her house. At first, they asked the old woman if she knew where Gunalakshmi lived. The woman said no. However, based on a photo that the aunt had given them, Kumaran and Gurvinder were convinced that the old woman was Gunalakshmi herself and started accusing her of lying. Meanwhile, another woman approached them. She had heard about their search for Gunalakshmi and offered to take them to Gunalakshmi's house. They took a winding path, through a house and long backyards. When they reached the house, an older woman came out. They asked if she was Gunalakshmi, Duke's mother. The woman started crying and said yes. The group went inside and arranged some chairs in a circle. Kumaran asked the woman if she knew that Duke had children. Gunalakshmi told the group that Duke had told her he had met a white woman. Kumaran pointed to Anna and told Gunalakshmi that she was Duke's daughter. When Anna took out Duke's picture, Gunalakshmi got up to get out her glasses. She burst into tears. For the next two and half hours, Gunalakshmi talked to them about Duke.   Gunalakshmi told Anna that Duke was named after one of his father's European friends. That he was handsome and got into a lot of trouble, loved school and wanted to be an engineer. He was the baby of the family. He had been affiliated with the LTTE for three months and was shot by the IPKF. Fearing for her son, she had faced off with one of the main leaders of the LTTE, Colonel Kittu. He was known for his fierce loyalty to the cause, and his ruthlessness. He told Gunalakshmi that Duke couldn't escape his association with the LTTE, that he would get killed either by the LTTE or one of their enemies. Gunalakshmi told Colonel Kittu that if she could not save her son, she would shoot him herself. Gunalakshmi had Duke shipped off to Colombo, and then to Germany. Every six months, she'd travel to Colombo to place a call to him. Then one day, her older son stopped her from travelling to Colombo. News had come from Germany of Duke's death. Anna's grandmother turned out to be a feisty woman, who had decided to live by herself to avoid squabbling family members. During the group's visit, she was cracking jokes, questioning Kumaran's marital status and attributing Amarnath's shaved head to his kids. She asked Anna if she had a lover; when Anna pointed to Gurvinder, she told them that they'd better be married when they came to visit her next. It was turning into evening, and the group had to head back to Jaffna. Anna and Gurvinder had to fly to Colombo the next day, and then leave for Canada. Anna and her grandmother hugged several times, as if unwilling to let each other go. Anna felt Duke in Gunalakshmi's arms. She told Gunalakshmi that she would learn Tamil, and promised to write and send photos, and come back to visit. The group had a celebratory dinner at a restaurant back in Jaffna. The driver remarked that what had unfolded that day only happens in movies.   Last Days in Sri Lanka The night before Anna and Gurvinder's flight out of Jaffna to Colombo, Anna barely slept. She kept waking up with a start, not believing what had happened. Their last day in Jaffna was a beautifully sunny one. As Anna and Gurvinder said their goodbyes to Amarnath and Kumaran, Anna struggled to express herself. After the flight that took them over the lagoons and coast of Sri Lanka, Anna and Gurvinder made their way to a friend's home in Piliyandala. That's when Anna called Maria. Their conversation was awkward and distant. Anna remembers answering Maria's questions about Duke and his family dispassionately. Maria doesn't remember asking any questions at all. Anna still could not believe that her mother didn't have more information that could have helped in her search.  Anna and Gurvinder spent their last day in Sri Lanka walking the beach at Galle Face. After a quick trip to shop for souvenirs, they were headed to the airport. During the drive, Anna felt a sense of peace. She was leaving with answers she had only dreamed of having. Afterthoughts Sitting in his living room, Woody says it was a miracle that Anna managed to find her grandmother in Sri Lanka. After living for so many years with so many questions—about Duke, why he had ended up in Germany, why he died—Anna had found some answers. She had strangers helping her through some of her darkest moments.   He uses the word miracle again, this time to describe Anna herself. "Anna is like the glue for the family. She's the fire extinguisher because sometimes our family is almost like a bomb," he says. He pauses for a few minutes and looks outside the glass doors of his living room. His eyes are glistening when he turns back, and he asks, with a catch in his voice, "Do you think I'm a hero?" His question about his decision to acknowledge Anna as his own child is rhetorical. "No. I'm not. I don't think I did anything special. I wouldn't have been able to look myself in the mirror." "Our life is like karma—whatever you do comes back to you, or sometimes even harder. Everyone makes mistakes." Maria maintains that she didn't know much about Duke's history other than what she had already told Anna. Maria and Anna are on better terms now; Anna's marriage to Gurvinder in the summer of 2018 brought the family together for the wedding celebrations. But Duke remains an unresolved issue between them. And Maria felt disappointed by Anna's estrangement. When Anna went to Sri Lanka, Maria says she was scared for her daughter. She was unsure whether Duke's family would accept Anna. But Maria says, "I believe in the power of the dead. I was sure Duke would look after her." There's no question in Anna's mind that she needed to look for Duke in order to find herself. When she tells the story, there's always a reaction of disbelief, as if something magical happened. There's some truth to that, Anna says. "Yes, it was a magical experience. But it was also very difficult. In a way, I didn't have that fairytale ending. If someone were to read this story as inspiration for whatever their search may be, I would say that you may have questions, and all you can do is try to find the answers."
The Queer Appetites of Ismail Merchant

The late film producer’s cookbooks reveal a subtle, coded queer sensibility.

Though he was hoping to see Rock Hudson or Doris Day on the street, Ismail Noor Muhammad Abdul Rahman didn’t see any stars when he first arrived in New York in 1958. The 21-year-old Indian man lived in a drab room on the sixteenth floor of Martinique Hotel in Manhattan’s Herald Square. The neighborhood was nothing like he pictured. Given the number of movies he’d seen featuring New York City, he was a naïve believer in the cliché that each street was paved with gold, so he was spooked by the sight of the homeless people who clung to liquor bottles.  Animal desire drove him to the city. On August 11, he boarded a boat that snaked its way from his native Bombay to Genoa, hopped on a train to London, and then flew to New York. He had finished his degree in political science and English literature at Bombay’s St. Xavier’s College, where he spent his last year applying to American business schools. He was desperately hoping to gain admission to the University of Southern California, which would provide easy passage to Hollywood. Cinema was his great love in life, after all. The world would come to understand him in such terms when he re-christened himself Ismail Merchant, paired himself creatively and romantically with the Oregon-born James Ivory, and produced such films as A Room with a View (1986) and Howard’s End (1992) under the Merchant-Ivory label. These films trafficked in lush imagery, their moods carefully calibrated to convey the inner lives of characters who found themselves unmoored in the world and struggling to express their longings. Some films, like The Bostonians (1984) and Maurice (1987), came out in the thick of the AIDS epidemic and reckoned with queer desire.  He ended up going to New York University instead. It only took hours after arriving for the young man to wonder if he made a mistake in moving to the city. Most disorienting of all his new home had to offer was the food. He was puzzled by a place called Horn & Hardart, a clinical coin-operated food operation unlike anything he’d ever encountered. The sense of sterility extended to the grocery store, where all this food was sheathed in cellophane and he had to silence the impulse to touch and smell the food as he could in Bombay. He couldn’t make peace with the hot dogs and hamburgers in America. Not even the street food consoled him.  Maybe he should have foreseen this disappointment. The Bombay of his youth was a gastronomic wonderland, where bazaars felt like tactile museums: He could poke the poultry, sniff the melons, pinch the produce. He walked through Null Bazaar’s seafood stalls, made from marble slabs wobbling on wicker baskets. He gazed at the fruits and vegetables at Crawford Market as if they were jewels, filtered through forgiving skylights. He saw 20, sometimes 30 chickens cramped in straw baskets as they cawed and clucked, listening to their screams before slaughter. The absence of refrigeration in his Bombay home meant that any meat was cooked the same day his family bought it home from the bazaar. Merchant didn’t do any of the cooking, though. The men of his middle-class, Muslim family were discouraged from entering the kitchen, primarily the domain of women like his mother and six sisters, though the hired help tended to be men. Merchant relays these stories in two of his cookbooks, 1986’s Ismail Merchant’s Indian Cuisine and 1994’s Ismail Merchant’s Passionate Meals, both published well after he became an esteemed producer. America, Merchant explained in his cookbooks, was always the imagined destination. Once he had his business degree in hand, he found himself jobless, and he could only afford to eat meals from coffee shops like Chock Full O’Nuts. By then, he was trying to get financing for a short film, which would become 1961’s Oscar-nominated The Creation of a Woman. He needed a way to entertain his potential investors. The only way for him to survive was to learn how to cook. In New York, he had the latitude to perform all the kitchen tasks he couldn’t in Bombay: cooking, serving, entertaining. Cooking came naturally to him. As if by osmosis, he’d unknowingly absorbed the lessons of his family’s cooks. He could make a simple dal or a keema of minced lamb and peas. These skills always lived inside him, awaiting articulation. Cooking became a form of currency for Merchant, capital he used to ingratiate potential investors who could help finance his career in films. He knew it was odd for a would-be producer to feed investors himself rather than take them out to restaurants. But his food was a great equalizer. “I like to think that my cooking and the occasion softened some of them up a bit,” he wrote of his guests. Merchant went on to achieve greatness in the culinary realm, making meals that had become legendary in their own right, particularly amongst the artists in his orbit. Actress and cookbook author Madhur Jaffrey called him “a shrewd horse-trader” in the foreword to his 1994 cookbook, a man who could “inject a sense of easy camaraderie between those high up in the entertainment establishment and those barely on the rise” through food. (Jaffrey, one of America’s doyennes of Indian food, has credited Merchant with kickstarting her culinary fame. He persuaded Craig Claiborne of the New York Times to write a 1966 piece on Jaffrey’s culinary talents in a bid to generate publicity for 1965’s Shakespeare Wallah, a film Merchant and Jaffrey worked on together.) “In India we say that the ability to create flavor is in the hands,” Jaffrey wrote. “Some people just have it. Ismail certainly does.” In the kitchen, Merchant was a creature of instinct. Cooking was not a merely iterative process oriented towards producing a favorable result for him; it was an opportunity to experiment with abandon. Merchant’s greatest fear, he wrote in his second cookbook, was boring his guests with a static repertoire. “I disobey all the conventions and laws of cooking, preferring to improvise and make new discoveries all the time,” he wrote. His recipes flaunted the rules he knew in Bombay. He tossed leftover lemons that were sitting in his refrigerator into his masoor dal. He cooked fresh ginger root and green chili into his burgers. He cooked shrimp in Dijon. The food was sly, giving convention a knowing glance before tilting it ever so slightly.  When Merchant wrote of his distaste for the rules that guarded cooking, he was, of course, referencing blind devotion to ingredients and techniques. Implicit in this statement of culinary rebellion, though, was his skirting of the rules of a world that told him that a cook must be a certain kind of person, must be a certain gender. On trips back to India, he tried his best to keep his culinary inclinations a secret from the women in his family, until he couldn’t hide it any longer. His mother became too sick to cook one day, so he prepared a meal of large prawns in mustard sauce in fewer than fifteen minutes. His mother and sisters never quite got used to the idea of the family’s only son inhabiting the kitchen, though. It was as if he was committing an act of transgression, a man who took on a feminized trait and performed it. There are codings in Merchant’s food writing that remind one of the unavoidable fact that Merchant himself was a gay man who was never publicly out, moving through spaces that could have very well been inhospitable to him had he been an openly gay man. Merchant died in 2005, at age 68, following surgery for abdominal ulcers. His widower, James Ivory, has recently stated in unambiguous terms what was once unspoken: The two men were in love.  In a 2018 interview with The Guardian, when pressed as to why he and Merchant dodged questions about the nature of their relationship, Ivory suggested that keeping them both in the closet was a shrewd way of protecting Merchant. “That is not something that an Indian Muslim would ever say publicly or in print. Ever!” Ivory told the paper of Merchant’s sexuality. “You have to remember that Ismail was an Indian citizen living in Bombay, with a deeply conservative Muslim family there. It’s not the sort of thing he was going to broadcast. Since we were so close and lived most of our lives together, I wasn’t about to undermine him.”  Understanding that Merchant maintained his public life in the closet shades his food writing with notes of queer desire, as if the kitchen gave him a chance to fulfill yearnings he had theretofore repressed. In these cookbooks, Merchant conjured a fantasy world, the kind some may associate with the prototypical domestic goddess. Merchant became the impresario who spun wonder out of groceries from Gristedes in the stuffy confines of 5 ½-by-8-foot kitchen equipped only with a four-ring gas stove and oven. “A great cook should be able to do something well with the snap of a finger rather to toil over it,” he wrote in the introduction for his first cookbook. “He or she should be inventive, be someone who can whip up something from nothing.” A culinary wizard, to his mind, could practically assemble a salad from two strands of straw. Tucked in his recipe headnotes were the names of people most of us have only seen on celluloid: Maggie Smith, Christopher Reeve, Raquel Welch, Vanessa Redgrave. He summoned an existence a casual reader may dream of when standing inside their own kitchen.  The brand of domestic performance that Merchant perfected has long been coded as female. As writer Emily Gould noted in The Cut in 2017, the kitchen can cloister women as much as it can provide them a stage for expression. It follows, then, that when Merchant’s first cookbook was published in 1986, the most visible Indian cookbook authors in America were two women: the aforementioned Madhur Jaffrey and Julie Sahni, a dancer-turned-architect-turned-cookbook author who’d grown up in a Tamil Brahmin family.  Merchant published his first cookbook when America was finally disabusing itself of the notion that Indian food was too intricate to bring into the American kitchen. (Merchant’s first cookbook shows its age when it includes a recipe for fried paneer that calls for Cheddar cheese.) Both Jaffrey and Sahni had, the spring before the fall publication of Merchant’s first cookbook, published two cookbooks, A Taste of India and Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking, respectively, illustrative of the point to which the genre of Indian cookbooks had grown.  But Merchant’s cookbook was not an Indian cookbook, per se; he certainly didn’t classify it as such. To start, he was operating from a different center of gravity than Hindu Indian food writers, having grown up in an Indian Muslim household who regularly consumed nonvegetarian food, thus disrupting the worn myth of the Indian national who is automatically vegetarian. More crucially, the cookbook is neither national nor regional in scope. Instead, as Craig Claiborne of the New York Times noted, it is “simply one man's inspired notion of what his native land's cookery should taste like. It is tailored to his own sophisticated and remarkably original palate.” Only Merchant could have written these recipes, in other words. Sitting alongside this cultural history of women inverting the trap of the kitchen into a province of creativity is an obscured history of gay men pulling off a similar magic trick. The kitchen has long been an arena for expression for gay men, too, a tradition that food writer John Birdsall unwrapped in his 2013 piece for Lucky Peach, “America, Your Food Is So Gay.” Birdsall gestured towards a working definition of food shaped by gay men (Claiborne, one of the 20th century’s most influential culinary gatekeepers, was one). This was “food that takes pleasure seriously, as an end in itself, an assertion of politics or a human birthright, the product of culture.”  Birdsall wrote of his own impulses as a young line cook working in a casually homophobic San Francisco kitchen. He weathered prejudice routinely in these spaces, resulting in a fury that he soothed into spirited artistic output. He was “fueled by sublimated rage, the outsider with something to prove, taking the ingredients I was handed and making sure they transcended their limits.” Merchant’s writing suggests a similar cognizance of the fact that his cooking possessed a whiff of radicalism, as if he was overcoming the boundaries others had set for him. His friends came to regard him as a master chef. He interpreted the compliment as a testament to his boundless imagination and fearlessness in execution, rooted in a desire to prove his own worth. In his eyes, as he wrote in his first cookbook, a master chef “must have imagination, a flair for mixing conventional and unconventional ingredients, an appreciation of different seasonings, and a desire to satisfy his or her ego.” Today, some of the most prominent male voices in America who have written cookbooks borrowing tenets of Indian cooking—Nik Sharma, Suvir Saran, Raghavan Iyer—happen to be gay men, as if Merchant’s culinary spirit echoes in this current generation. Call it coincidence. (This is to say nothing of the queer women, like Preeti Mistry, who have written cookbooks.)  Reading Merchant’s gentle pleas to “be adventurous and not be afraid to make discoveries” in the kitchen brings to mind Sharma’s Season, the 2018 cookbook that brims with similar refrains. “Mine is the story of a gay immigrant, told through food,” Sharma writes, as if explicating what Merchant could communicate only in hushed tones. “It has been a journey of self-discovery I embarked on more than a decade ago, one that taught me to recognize the inherent tension between originality and tradition, and to opt for the former without rejecting the latter.” Sharma’s is a philosophy that tosses curry leaves with the buttermilk batter for popcorn chicken; that grills pork chops with chaat masala; that puts paneer in places some may least expect to find it, like a salad of cauliflower and lentils. He, like Merchant before him, is guided by reverence to tradition without unwavering fealty to it. His is cooking that moves towards freedom, mindful of the worth of culinary tradition and carefully breaching it. Merchant developed a vocabulary of cooking that was entirely his own long before these men, his queerness contained in whispers. He encouraged the curiosity that motivated him to take cooks places they may not otherwise have imagined. These recipes flowed from him freely, as if he was, in the kitchen, a man who had nothing to hide.
‘There Was a Desire to Write Myself Back Into Existence’: An Interview with Kate Zambreno

The author of Screen Tests on allowing for randomness, accusations of naïvety, and productive nap times.

Kate Zambreno is drawn to the ambulatory nature of the photographer and writer Moyra Davey’s work, how she uses texts to roam through an idea. A film by Davey features her pacing—a visual metaphor for the monologue she's speaking—through her apartment, talking evenly into a microphone that picks up the gulps of air she takes before her next sentence. I picture Zambreno, the author of books including Heroines, Appendix Project, and most recently, Screen Tests (HarperCollins), as she works, physically moving in the same way Davey does, roaming through genre, time periods, and mediums. Zambreno works within the same interdisciplinary nature that once caused Anne Carson to be accused of naïvety. We can hear Davey speak in the film, but she’s not necessarily speaking to us. It feels like she’s making a voice note for her own reference—layering the life of Mary Wollenscraft with that of her own and her sisters, the timeline overlapping like tracing the contours of a drawing with vellum. Who is Zambreno speaking to? In Screen Tests, short texts are removed from the reader, allowing them to process each sentence in private. This distance begets texts that feel more personal than Appendix Project. The second half of Screen Tests is saved for essays—or rather, fragments linked together to form an essay, further proving Zambreno’s knack for lack of specificity. In both books, Zambreno gives the reader insight into the ambulatory nature of her process, a generosity atypical of writers. The following interview provides further insight into Zambreno’s nesting doll mind, motherhood, bad reviews, and the nature of performance.  Tatum Dooley: In Appendix Project, you're using French philosophy and children's books as a lens to view your life in a way that it becomes an autobiography. Kate Zambreno: I’ve been thinking about not how to fill a text with myself, but how to empty myself from a text. Recent work, since Heroines, has been characterized by an ambivalence towards the first person. A lot of the specificity is emptied out of Appendix Project but it penetrates through almost unknowingly.  The children's book stuff is my favourite part of Appendix Project. I think my meditation on the strangeness of these children's books is about how these appendices, these lectures, were written in pure exhaustion. There's this pure ghostly state of exhaustion. Exhaustion is so much like grief and grief is an exhaustion where everything is slowed down and so you notice the strangeness of everyday life. I read each talk in Appendix Project as a mind map. A single talk connected William Mumler to Roland Barthes to your own photo albums to the film Wanda to Goodnight Moon. How do you make those connections? I think that's definitely what I intended with the talks, for them to be about the connections the mind makes and about finding surprising connections between things. The truth is I just read the same things over and over again. Bhanu Kapil's work is so much in Appendix Project because I teach her work and I read her work over and over again. I feel like Roland Barthes is throughout everything. Appendix Project is my failure and my attempt to write about the last couple of years of Roland Barthes's life. I'm really interested in the sort of ambulatory, or the idea of, like, walking in an essay. I think about the writer and photographer Moyra Davey a lot. She'll take on a subject for a book, like the notebooks of Jean Genet, but then she'll drift through all of her reading and put everything in connection to each other. For each of the talks I had about five or six objects that I was thinking through. I allowed for some accident and randomness.  You've mentioned that you had writer’s block after you published Heroines until your daughter was born. Was that a symptom of something larger? Do you have an idea of what brought on the writing block? I was used to writing books that had very little readership except a small community. Heroines broke through and it kind of astonished me. It surprised me and I think it estranged me from myself. Some people had very, very, very strong reactions to Heroines when it came out. I found that paralyzing.  Then I moved to New York. I felt very much closer to New York publishing which is closer to thinking of writing as a commodity. People began to ask me what my next book was and wanted it to be something as buzzy and as loud as Heroines was. I found myself withdrawing and wanting to go more into a private space which is the space of writing. I had to almost revolt against what New York wanted of me and what publishing wanted of me. What came out of that was a rich period of writing. I thought I had writer's block but really it was that I chose to think and read for a while. As soon as I gave birth, I stopped feeling writer's block. The demands of my life meant I had to take on more commissions and I had to be a little less precious about being paralyzed. I had to have a little bit more confidence. I've noticed in Appendix Project and Screen Tests that you keep returning to the origins of things, the town you are born and also motherhood. Book of Mutter only cracked the surface of me trying to write my origins. I feel like that's something that writers are uncomfortable about, it has a lot of shame associated to it.  Those tend to be some of the most interesting areas to write, but they can take a long time. One of the areas my work has started to think about is childhood. I haven't really wanted to write [about] childhood or origins and since I don't really want to write it, the work kind of has a bruise under the narrative. I was surprised to find, in Screen Tests, how much I write about my father. In a recent Paris Review interview, you said, "With the talks and shorter appendixes I felt more liberated to try to think through a weird collage of concerns and ideas, a live-wire essaying. I allowed myself to exist in this space of unknowingness. Maybe it helped that I was not planning on publishing them as a book, until they became one. They were more ephemeral, they were refusing the monument.” I wonder, is this writing similar to what you're interested in with the artist On Kawara—is the text a performance that's ephemeral? I think that there was a lot of desire not to have the talks printed. I thought that that would have been really wonderful for me to have resisted having them made into a book because I think that would have been truly a tribute to their mortality and the performance of them. There was a moment in the book where I write about the writer Sofia Samatar, our dialogue about our desire to write a book and distribute it in train stations without our names. How literature can have this energy of performance, which is a desire of mine. The first talk is a meditation on the daily paintings of On Kawara. I was really interested in this idea of painting as ritual and painting as process and painting a date much like Roland Barthes writes a journal in his Mourning Diary. The paintings stand in for a life lived. What is art but time and transcending time?  I have this quote I've been thinking about a lot lately, which was in one of my notebooks from three years ago. It's from an obit of a painter who is really a critic. I don't have his name. He never sold his paintings, but he kept on painting. This is what he said about why he started painting again: "Although my guess is that the art object is done with. I myself go on making paintings but this doesn't have much to do with making saleable physical objects, making them is more like philosophical investigation, art criticism, or yoga.” I think in some ways the appendices were art criticism, philosophical investigation, and yoga. And so, my desire for writing to have that process feel to it.  The last sentence in each of the short stories in Screen Test twists the knife in the same way Lydia Davis does—it almost becomes like a poem. There’s a cadence to the stories that is enunciated in the last line. I feel like I'm a prose writer who will never be seen as a poet, but everything I write is a desire to be a poet. When I finished Heroines, which felt like this very maximal work in a way, all I wanted to do was write one sentence stories. I'm really drawn to short forms, to the fragment, to smallness. I'm a huge Lydia Davis fan and also of Diane Williams. Anne Carson writes, in the Gender of Sound, which you write about, how she's been called naïve in her use of bringing together different time periods and sources. And I wonder if that's ever been an accusation lobbed at you. Yeah. That passage is about the accusations that she's been naïve in the past for bringing in all different time periods and styles. There was a review last week that brought in Heroines as being incredibly naïve. So much of Appendix Project is a talk about talks—it’s very meta in terms of being aware that I'm often invited as a wild outsider who does this naïve form of scholarship that would be considered very criminal in the university and academia, which is why I don't have a full time job. The truth is I don't identify as a scholar. It’s hard for me to imagine Anne Carson being called naïve. Maggie Nelson has spoken about earlier reviews of her books where she's been called similar things. When Heroines came out, the writer Sheila Heti sent me a very tattered copy of a book called Manet and his Circle, which is about when Manet's paintings came out he was derided as completely naïve, as a plagiarist, as a copyist, and that his paintings were incredibly ugly. It's very hard for us to realize that because Manet is in museums and these works are so beautiful but they were seen as, like, not painting. The idea that in certain time periods if you do something that's considered naïve or ugly you're threatening. You write that Anne Carson says she always has six books by her side when she's writing. I wonder if you do as well, and what are those six books?  Well, it just changes with every piece that I'm working on. I'm currently writing a book about Hervé Guibert's To The Friend Who Did Not Save My Life. I'm thinking through Guibert's Compassion Protocol. And then I have Moyra Davey’s Burn the Diaries and The Station Hill Blanchot Reader and I have Foucault's Birth of the Clinic and I have Anne Carson's Decreation.  When people ask me if I'm reading, what I'm reading, I'm like, I'm just reading Hervé Guibert all over again in translation. I’m thinking back to when you said you started writing when Leo was born. Alice Munro talked about starting to write when she had children, that there was an urgency to write and finish a story as her children napped. So did Raymond Carver. There’s an urgency to write to provide, but also time constraints. Ninety-nine percent of the Screen Tests and Appendix Project were written when Leo napped. Some of the times I had childcare and some of the times I did not. I sat next to Diane Williams [at an event] and I spoke to her about that, I think she started writing when she had children too. One of the things I said to her is that when you're a mother you're a ghost, there’s a sense of you being in the dark and being quiet for the baby. This difficult thing happens, your identity is through another. There is almost a loss of the self that happens, especially at first. It's about the baby. For me, this extreme loss of self was also a form of decreation. I think that's why I really desired to write. Writing is a way into and out of existence. I often write when I'm feeling the most ghostly and I felt extremely ghostly right after I gave birth. There was a desire to write myself back into existence, to mark, like the On Kawara paintings, I am still alive.
‘My Only Real Loyalty is to the Truth’: An Interview with Patrick Radden Keefe

The author of Say Nothing on the Troubles, the difference between narrative non-fiction and history, and reporting until you solve a murder. 

The eight masked men and women who took Jean McConville from her West Belfast housing complex flat in December, 1972, had to contend with her ten children. Jean, panicked, asked the kids to help her—they clung to her, wouldn’t let her go until they were reassured that Jean would return in a few hours, and that eldest son Archie could accompany her. Before Jean was pushed into a Volkswagen van, Archie was told at gunpoint to “Fuck off.” Having little choice, the 16-year-old did just that. Jean McConville was never seen alive again.  New Yorker writer Patrick Radden Keefe found his way to this story through the obituary of Dolours Price, a former I.R.A. terrorist, who claimed that Jean McConville was an informer for the British army, and was executed by the Unknowns, a paramilitary unit of the I.R.A. Price claimed that the order came from Gerry Adams, who was later to become the leader of Sinn Fein, and a crucial force behind the Good Friday Agreement. Adams has not only avoided claiming responsibility for this crime, he’s denied ever being an I.R.A. member.    In Say Nothing (Doubleday), Keefe has expanded his 2015 article exploring the McConville vanishing into a book that explores the Troubles without making a perhaps-inevitably doomed attempt at being definitive. Keefe’s focus on the McConville crime, and on the journey of sisters Dolours and Marian Price through politics, terrorism, prison, hunger strikes, and decades of consequence, makes for a painful, character-centred story with a truly unexpected ending. Many of the survivors of the recent history that Say Nothing describes seem to want leave it unspoken and unremembered, but they dwell in its aftermath, every day.  Naben Ruthnum: The title—Say Nothing—suggests one of your themes: collective denial. How does this story, and the effects not just of the McConville vanishing, but the entire unresolved trauma of the Troubles—how does denial come into it?  Patrick Radden Keefe: Maybe as a journalist and a writer, I have a bias. My bias is for openness and for truth. I tend to think that you can ignore the past, but that’s not going to make it go away.  That was something that kept coming home for me. This sense of really profound irresolution. In the absence of some process—not even for accountability or justice, but just some truth process. Not even necessarily reconciliation, but just a truth process. To talk about what happened. I do think that everyone ends up in this strange purgatory where they’re unable to move on, and they’re trapped in the past. The image I always come back to is that moment where [Jean McConville’s son] Michael McConville, as an adult, gets into a taxi and realizes that it’s being driven by a guy who took his mother away. And he doesn’t say anything. And the guy doesn’t say anything. Neither of them say anything, and the guy drops him off.  There’s a metaphor in there, and it’s a metaphor of paralysis.  Addressing this paralysis—in a sense, just getting anyone to talk to you, especially in the wake of many people involved with this story having been compromised by supposedly locked, archival interviews they conducted with Boston College being given over to the authorities—just having people speak to you about the McConville case must have been difficult. It was different [from the Boston tapes] in the sense that people knew that this was going to be public. Initially I was writing a magazine article, then the book. It was a slow process. Some people never did talk to me. Some people started talking and then changed their minds. And others, slowly, I persuaded them I was responsible and wanted to tell the story as truthfully as I could.  It’s funny. I’d written this 15,000-word magazine article, and with some people, that hurt me, but with others, it helped. I had a calling card, I could say to people, “Look, this is my approach, the book is going to look something like this.” Most people, when they read that, thought, “Okay, he’s serious, he’s thorough, he doesn’t necessarily have a particular ax to grind.” But not everyone. Gerry Adams was not more likely to talk to me after reading that piece. The people who did begin to speak to you and then took it back—how did you treat those interviews, ethically? And practically, if these people had given you information that you could act on? If we’re on the record, I’m very big on ground rules up front. Part of the reason I do that is to avoid any ambiguity on the other side. You and I are talking on the record right now. Tonight, I might suddenly have some crisis about something I said and call you up and try to take it back. But it’s my view that it’s totally your prerogative, whether or not you’re going to do that. You don’t owe that to me. We had a deal. The tricky thing with a story like this, is that some of the people you’re dealing with are pretty sophisticated about the press, and others are not. In my general career, there are people I deal with who have publicists and are old hands at this, and others who are real civilians who, in some instances, have never dealt with a reporter before. What I try to do is always be very clear with everyone about what I’m doing. In some instances, there are people who start talking to you and then kind of dry up, or say they’d prefer not to be in the book. If the deal we had in the beginning is we’re on the record, then I’m disinclined to make changes. The way I think of it is my only real loyalty is to the truth. We can make a deal, a contract, and I have to honour that. But at the point where I start pulling punches, because I like you and think you’re a nice guy? I’m really not doing my job. You talk about that New Yorker article, “Where the Bodies are Buried,” being an ambiguous calling card—how it worked in your favour with some people, with others, no. What about being Boston Irish, and having the name you do? I love the brief section in the book where you discuss coming up in ‘80s Boston but not having a particular stake in the Troubles.    Originally, I wasn’t going to be in the book at all. Then I sort of had to be in it, because of the revelation in the last chapter. But the reason [that section you mentioned] is in there is because my English publisher said to me, “You have to talk about your name. People are going to wonder.” What I wanted to do is to raise it up and then swat it aside. I had thought that it would be more of a thing when I went over there. That unionists would hear my name and think that I came from a Catholic background, think that I had certain loyalties. That didn’t happen at all.  I think there’s a lot of Irish Americans, Irish Canadians too, who feel very connected to the old country. But then you go over there, and... I’m American. Inescapably. I think there was a sense that, when they saw me, I may have this Irish name, but I was clearly an outsider. I was very much an outsider, which actually ended up helping. It neither counted for me nor against me that my name is Patrick Keefe. Weirdly enough, the fact that I immediately registered as American, not a partisan who fit into the grid there, that actually helped. In your “Note On Sources” in the back of the book, you write about how so many of the books about the Troubles are partisan. But your interviewees would get a sense from you that partisanship wasn’t part of your book. Yes. People were more likely to just assume that I would tell the story as I found it.  The identity thing is a weird one. For The New Yorker, I go to Ecuador and write a story in Ecuador, I go to West Africa and write a story in Guinea, I go Amsterdam and write a story on Astrid Holleeder—and honestly, I thought of Northern Ireland the same way. It was no different in my mind. I was a foreign correspondent parachuting in to try to understand the place. You’re really definitive, in the book, that what you’re writing and what we’re reading is narrative non-fiction. It’s not history. But then you immediately follow that statement by explaining that if you see somebody’s thoughts in the narrative of Say Nothing, it’s because that person told you that’s what they were thinking. You’re emphatic about the lack of speculation in the book. What is the real crucial difference between narrative non-fiction and history, when you’re writing narrative non-fiction about the past?   I don’t really have any one answer. Part of what I was trying to do with that passage you’re referring to was to defend the book against a certain kind of reading. It could be read as a history book, but: I was very adamant that I was telling the story that I want to tell. I’ve picked a handful of people, I’m going to follow them, tell you about their life experience. This is not a full-spectrum history of the Troubles. Don’t foist expectations on this book that were not my ambitions in writing it. If I sound defensive, it’s because so much of what gets written, so much of the discourse about the Troubles is so vexed. There’s a tendency, often, for people to really have the knives out when books come out. So, part of it for me was that. Yes, I don’t talk about Loyalists much in this book. If you want to read about Loyalists, there are plenty of good books for that. Please approach this on its own terms. That was the genre question. But that flows right into these questions about narrative non-fiction. In some narrative non-fiction, there’s an imperative to try to make everything as vivid as possible and to try to be as close as possible to your characters. And I think sometimes people get a little too conjectural for my tastes. In terms of talking about what people may have been thinking, this kind of thing. So, I wanted to be clear that, if the genre here is narrative non-fiction, I personally don’t want anything on the page that you can’t go to an endnote and see: “here’s where he got that.” The book was fact-checked by the New Yorker fact-checker. If there were things (and there were a few places where I was a little out over my skis in terms of assuming certain things), he would say—is that really in the source? He would go back to the source note. And I dialed back a bunch of stuff, because it was important to me that everything be grounded in fact. Were you approaching the true crime element of this as a way to unlock the Troubles, or was it the reverse—that you needed to explain the Troubles to make the crime story resonate? There was never any intention—the book started and the magazine piece started with me wanting to write about this story. It wasn’t that I wanted to write about the Troubles and then I found the story as a way in. It was always about the story, and if I could get some part of the Troubles—but it wasn’t the primary impetus. I like writing about crime. I’ve written a fair amount about crime, and it can be useful as a way of looking at communities, and families. It’s almost like little seismic shocks. You have something like a murder, it affects a lot of people in different ways, and you can trace those effects. The idea for the book was: what if you looked at one murder, and you looked at both the victims and the perpetrators, saw the ripples of this one act, but tracked that in time, down the decades.  I’m a little bit uncomfortable with the moniker "true crime." But it’s certainly the case that there are conventions of that genre that are here, and it’s a story about a murder. A lot of the reviews of the book have said, "it’s a whodunit, we find out who did it at the end!" But the truth is, if I hadn’t figured out who did it, people wouldn’t describe it as a whodunit. That was something that was interesting to me—structurally, it works so perfectly that you did, improbably, find out who killed Jean McConville. But it was an accident. I was wondering, in the construction of the book, were you always going to centralize the characters that you did? Or did discovering the killer cause you to go back over the draft, to shift priorities?  This was the weirdest thing: it was never my intention to find out who the killer would be. My big north star writing this book was to approach it like a novel, where there’s half a dozen characters, and if they saw or experienced something, we’d see it in the book. If they didn’t, no. I didn’t want to give you a history of the Troubles where you get obligatory asides. My feeling was that [Jean McConville’s] shooter was probably Anonymous IRA Gunman #3, and that my reader, by that point in the book, wouldn’t care if I wrote, “And then there’s this guy Joe, who we’ve heard nothing about in the last 300 pages, and it was him!!!” The weirdest thing was discovering that it was somebody who was already a character. I had this moment where—now that I know that it’s X—I should really go back and build in some foreshadowing. I started going back in the book, and the strangest thing is that all the foreshadowing was already there. Not being immersed in the history of the Troubles, part of what struck me in reading this, particularly as you’re assiduous about tracking the consequences of these acts, these times, to the current day, is the immense fallout in terms of trauma, of fractured mental health. To isolate just one thing, that the Price sisters emerged from their prison hunger strike with eating disorders. On the eating disorders thing. Some of what I was trying to do—it wasn’t the impetus for the project—but women have often been written out of the Troubles in a way. Part of what was appealing to me was that Say Nothing was the story of two women, Jean McConville and Dolours Price. When we think of the hunger strikes, we think of Bobby Sands and these ten men and Long Kesh. The idea of looking at this earlier hunger strike that we’ve heard less about, and seeing the long-term physiological and psychological damage—it was a rich vein. In terms of the toll? I think there’s a huge amount of trauma. You still feel it there today. Substance abuse has been a big part of that. Alcohol, various types of prescription drug abuse, going right back to the ‘70s, when it was tranquilizers, minor tranquilizers that people were taking in crazy numbers. There are studies that have been done about trauma passing down through generations. The weirdest thing is that even within these families—in part because of this say-nothing culture where stuff doesn’t get aired out—you have kids who’ve grown up after the Troubles who have residual trauma because they’re surrounded by all these people who are so traumatized.  Asking you that, I felt embarrassed about how little I knew about the Troubles, going into this book—I thought I knew quite a bit about the social context, the outlines of the conflict, but quickly learned I didn’t. How did you balance telling the story you were interested in and affording readers the context they needed for it to coalesce?  That is one of the biggest things I wrestled with. I didn’t want to write something that would read like an encyclopedia. There are a lot of those books out there. The trick of context was: how little context can I give you? That was a process. Some of it happened in editing, just sort of paring back and focusing on the story. Some of it was that thing I mentioned earlier—my rule was that if it didn’t happen to these people, then you don’t need to know about it at great length.  To take just one instance, Bloody Sunday, which is the seminal event of the Troubles, about which whole books are written, films have been made? It’s a paragraph in my book. [The reader]’s not even really there, because Dolours Price was in Dundalk [Gaol] when she hears about it. She’s hearing about this thing that’s happening offscreen.  Fortunately, Northern Ireland is a small place, where everyone knows everyone. So, if you’re just going to follow a few people and see history as they saw it, you can see a lot of history.
‘The Great Question Machine’: An Interview with Max Porter

The author of Lanny on ghost stories as love stories, how countries think, and leaving doors open. 

This week, Hazlitt's new publishing imprint, Strange Light, is launching its first two books. (Obviously, we have impeccable taste and these books are really good.) One of these new books is Lanny, a novel from English author Max Porter. Porter is the author of the genre-bending novel Grief Is the Thing With Feathers (winner of the International Dylan Thomas Prize and the Sunday Times/PFD Young Writer of the Year Award, and adapted into a sold-out stage production starring Cillian Murphy), and takes a similarly visceral approach to his new book. Lanny takes place in a small unnamed village outside London, and the first half splits the narration between four wildly different characters: Jolie and Robert, recent transplants from the city and parents of the precocious Lanny; Pete, a revered but reclusive artist hired to give young Lanny art lessons; and Dead Papa Toothwort, a mysterious folkloric creature who listens to the nonstop chorus of voices from the village and takes particular interest in the titular character. Then, Lanny disappears, and the residents of the village are forced to confront what they know about themselves and each other.   Porter had just started his book tour last week when I interviewed him and spoke to me from his hotel room in New York City. He is an energetic and gregarious speaker, different than the impression his prose had left me with. I had called him on his British cell phone number given to me by his publicist. Anna Fitzpatrick: I accidentally wrote down your number wrong and dialed Germany, twice.  Max Porter: Really? Were they nice Germans? It was an answering machine, and I wasn't sure if it was yours. It was me just doing my funny German answering call prank. Just in character for this book tour. But not a character that anyone is familiar with. I go off script. So, congratulations on having one of the inaugural books out with Strange Light. I didn't know what it was about when I started reading and I didn't know it was going to be really scary, so thank you for that. I was house-sitting for a taxidermist and I was alone with all these dead animals. Oh, shit. It's interesting you found it scary. What did you find scary about it? Papa Toothwort?  Yeah, the giant dead plant monster who maybe kidnapped a kid, and then [redacted for spoilers] and [redacted] and also [redacted]. Like, what part of it do you not find scary?  Okay, cool, yeah. I get that. I guess I've forgotten that because so much of the conversation I have around that book can't really include what happens at the end, and can't really include Toothwort, you know. I tend to talk about, when I'm doing events, I talk about family and myth and childhood and England and all this kind of stuff, and then I sometimes forget about part three [of the book]. Even just lying in bed because I couldn't sleep last night because I'm so jet-lagged, I was like, "Oh yeah. He does [redacted] in the [redacted]." [Laughs] Anyway, thanks for reading it. I'm going to have to figure out how to transcribe this interview without giving away the ending.  Oh yeah, it's hard. The main one, the really hard one, when I talk about the book, because I want to talk about the kind of moral framework for the book, as well as some of the formal concerns of mine, it's really hard not to mention the ending, where you find out that Toothwort himself is [redacted]. That's really hard, because I desperately want people to discover that on their own. You simply can't talk about that in advance of reading it. But that explains so much about the book, about why he behaves the way he behaves. It feels like a very subtle reveal. You have to be paying attention to get that. I hope it's less of a reveal than a kind of clicking into place. It's almost like, in musical terms, a repetition of a refrain that you had heard somewhere before but you hadn't quite realized is an important refrain. Just like a coda or something. Well, there are elements of horror and mystery to your novel, but it's not a whodunnit.   Well, we done it. We wielded it. Ah, society done it. Once again. And I hope that's sort of the point. The reveal is not a literary device or anything like that, and it doesn't really have anything to do with me as the author or any of the characters in the book. The reveal is an invitation for you to have done a certain amount of thinking throughout the book. It's to do with the relationship between book and reader, and it should kind of cast its light differently on everyone. That was my thinking about it, that your ending or understanding of him as a character, or even Lanny as a kind of an absence of a character, is very bespoke. It's yours. Hence some of the white space in the book, and some of the absence of things that you would expect to be in a novel. Even you talking about the scariness of it, or the horror, or the unease of it, that's, I hope, very unique to your encounter of it.  [[{"fid":"6705281","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"1":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false}},"attributes":{"class":"media-element file-media-original","data-delta":"1"}}]] Photo Credit: Lucy Dickens Talking about separating your art from the artist, that's kind of a theme in your book. Lanny's mother is a former actress turned crime novelist, and that kind of comes back to her when Lanny goes missing. People start dissecting the content of her book. That happens to some extent with Pete's artwork, where he's being interrogated about some of the adult subject matter of some his paintings in conjunction with the missing kid. Was that something you were trying to work with in this book?  To be honest, I didn't really think about it. I made them artistic people because I'm interested in those people and I felt that was relevant to the themes of the book. But I suppose—yeah, it's nice to have some clarity on that, from your question. I suppose one of the big issues of our time is how to separate the art from the artist and what to do about bad people who make great art. These are pressing questions. But, to me they are questions that come from the artificiality of the role of the artist. I think we put the artist on too much of a pedestal anyway, so the question of whether we should care whether they were bad is sort of like, "Didn't you know they were bad anyway? Why did you think they were special?" Why in the culture industry did we need to elevate them onto pedestals, pretending they were perfect? None of us are perfect, and artists tend to be more flawed. So, it seems laughable to me to discover that these men are all creeps, because of course they were. Didn't you read the work?   So, I'm interested in that, but one of the things I'm worried about now is that art becomes a more rarefied thing and becomes only defined by its cultural worth or its place within the cultural system, but art is deeper than that. Literature is the common language, and in the same way art has a deep and important role in our society more than just pretty things in galleries to be sold. What I wanted to do with Pete particularly was to create someone truer to that, and I wanted to show how society has been unkind to those people, has othered them. I wanted the artist as threat to be explored around Pete. I didn't need to specify too much about the kind of work he made, but it kind of made sense that the kind of work he made was accepted in an avant garde context, but then becomes utterly terrifying to people in a localized, social context, where the apparatus of understanding is less developed. The classic thing of, what sense does someone like Louise Bourgeois make in a psychoanalytic context, or a context of art theory or surrealism or the New York art scene of the 1970s, and what context would that work make in a French farmhouse when someone who isn't in that world is confronted by those themes? That's always been a fascinating theme to me. But more than thinking about if artists are just good people or not, I was thinking about the ways art is viewed as autobiographical, even when it's not. I know that's a response your own work has gotten a lot.   That's why I made Jolie a writer. I was kind of yelping against a particular current in UK literary culture, which has upset me in recent years. Anti-intellectualism and misogyny go hand in hand to block the work of fiction writers, particularly when they're women, to write about lives other than their own, or to write well about their own life in the context of fiction. You have it in your own literary culture I'm sure, but it is dismaying to watch the way we don't allow women to be novelists and clobber them around the head with the kind of biographical fallacy. It happens everywhere, but it upsets me in the UK when there have been books that I’ve greatly admired either as a publisher or a reader, and then see them reviewed as if they're autobiography. I wanted to set her up as a little case study of that, but I realized I didn't need to get bogged down in the type of work she makes, or even the type of person she is. You can do that kind of deftly with that one kind of tabloid thing where it's like, let's look at the woman who writes this work, behind the mask as it were. I see that as the manifestation of the whole critical impasse anyway, that kind of moralistic judgement.   I saw Sally Rooney interviewed at the Toronto Public Library a few weeks ago, and she was saying that she purposely tries to abstain from revealing too much about her personal life, and that she feels like she's disappointing people when she reveals that her books aren't based on true stories, and that she just makes them all up.   Even still, there will be this desperate desire for personal information, an, "Oh yes, someone found out Sally Rooney lives with her partner who is a teacher, he must be Connell." Or Sally Rooney must be writing for him or around him. The desperation to do that is an astonishing thing in 2019, X many years after postmodernism, a hundred years since Virginia Woolf. It's quite extraordinary that fixation, almost fetishization, of the biography, is still so powerful in literary culture. And how boring, of all the things you could talk about with Sally's works, that that is a thing that people want to talk about. It's sort of crushing. It's a way to kill the possibilities of the form as well. The novel should be one of our most radical forms but you'd never guess from a lot of literary engagement. So, my next question is, are you Lanny? Who stole me? [Laughs] Besides society, of course. God, I've never thought about that. I did get stolen! From who! It's not funny. I've never thought about this. These questions are really unlocking me. I got stolen at the Oxford Covered Market when I was about eight or nine years old, yeah. I was just chewing my jumper, not really paying attention, and this guy just led me away. Did you get... put back? Are you okay? I suddenly looked up and started to go, "Oh, uh, er, help..." and my mom came barrelling around the corner, swinging her handbag like an ax and knocked this guy around the head. I don't think he was actually a predator or anything like that, I think he was a kind of confused drunk or something.   Was he made of plants?  Yeah, and he was shapeshifting. Lanny is the title character, but like you said, there's this space in the book. For the first part of it, you have four narrators, including Toothwort himself, but you never hear from Lanny directly. It's one of my preoccupations—I tried it in my first book and I'm going to try it again—but I'm only interested in how accomplished readers are at building characters beyond the writer's determination of them. I remember being really sorely disappointed as a child when a character was overly illustrated, or when exposition was just heaped onto a character in a way that removed the imaginative possibilities for me. Lanny does say a few things, and there is some dialogue, but not very much. I want the book to be a series of mirrors, and Lanny exists as a reflection of other people's idea of him. To Robert he's a kind of reprimand and in some respects a threat or emblem of disapproval, and to Jolie he's a kind of muse, and there's a lot of maternal and almost erotic obsession with the surface of him, and him as a kind of projection and site of trauma for her. Same with Pete and their friendship, which becomes a kind of natural thing but becomes loaded up with societal suspicion. I didn't need to write him, I just needed to create him as accurately as I could in absentia through other people's consideration of him. There were a few times when he did appear a bit more, and I realized the damage I was doing to the book as a warp and weft of ambiguity. There's a textural thing made up of other people. I did great damage to him when I put him in any great detail. There was a bit where he had a long conversation with Pete about sexuality, and I realized I was removing all possible hint and suggestion and interest for the reader to gauge their own sense of Pete as a sexual person. More happens when I took stuff out. I find that really, really, really, really pleasing to do, realizing how much the reader can do if you just give them a bit. Same in the second part. You know you can get to a person, both a character and a role within a community, and their kind of whatever, psychosexual or socioeconomic type. You can do that in just half a line. You just set them up deftly in relation to other things. It's not what they are on their own, it's how they're responding organically to other things in their ecosystem. Same with Lanny. I limit him. I make him smaller for the reader, the more I tell you about him, where I want him big. I want him up in there floating. Also, for me as a writer, he was the one character I didn't do any work on. I didn't imagine him at all. I don't have a vision of him in my head, whereas everyone else I have a hyperrealistic sense of. I know what Robert looks like naked, I know how he eats, I know how he chews, I know how he blows his nose, I know his sexual predilections, everything about those characters. Whereas Lanny just needed to remain for me an absence as well. I don't remember reading if you even gave Lanny an age.  No, I didn't. You don't need to know. I have a sense of how old he is. He can't really be teenage, and some of the things he does and some of the intellectual currents he's surfing on with the adult world means he can't really be much younger than the certain age, but yeah, I never name it. Same as I never really need to name where the place is. There's so much I don't need to tell you, which is the point for me. It's something the characters do to each other, especially in the latter half of the book. They fill in the blanks when they have their suspicions with each other, particularly when it comes to Pete but also between Jolie and her neighbour, Peggy. The point of having the kind of floating village voice which is sound rather than literature, one of the reasons is to train the reader in a way of kind of half listening, half reading, where they're not reading it as if it's normal literature. They're kind of floating over it, picking up traces and scents of things, so later on things prickle or echo or reverberate according to that texture, and so that's what I want you to be doing. I want you suddenly like, "God, had I completely abdicated my responsibilities? Why was I as a reader not alarmed that Pete was spending time with this kid? What kind of person did I think Robert was?" A bit more like a musical experience, I want you to be like, “He taught me how to play this music in part one,” and that “my notes are sounding in some of the stuff that the village is saying.” Even if some of them are kind of unsubtle. Obviously, Mrs. Larton is unsubtle and obviously I'm talking about a particular type of person, the moral judgement of a particularly religious person or the vicious gossip of a more unpleasant person in the village, but I hope they're not caricatures. I hope they reflect realistically and truthfully the way all of our minds work, even the things we don't say that become personally taboo. As if we're all moving around in microclimates of our own taboos, our own questioning of what is an inappropriate thing to think or say. The village is not just a model of individual consciousness, but also off of how our relationships work. Things you'd say to your partner that you wouldn't say to a stranger, and things that a community says to itself that it wouldn't say to its newspaper, and vice versa. It becomes a map of an individual relationship, and so a small place, and then a big place, and then I hope also of like a nation state. This is how countries think. This is how we write history. This is how we contextualize our past and so on and so forth. For that to work as I want it to work in a reader's head, so much of it has to be white space. You compare it to music, but it's a story so suited to the form of a novel. Just from the way you literally place the words on the page, to what you choose to reveal or not. You said you had a similar approach to the last book, but you adapted that to the stage. I'm wondering how your storytelling technique changes in a visual medium like the theatre. The thing about Enda Walsh who made the play is, he's a very, very visual theatre maker, and he's very collaborative. He chose to make Grief an assault on the senses. He wanted to make the book come to life in the most vivid way possible. He realized to do that, he had to focus on the wordiness of it. It's not like that guy's obsession is, you know, Chuck Berry. That guy's obsession is poetry. His trauma manifests itself through literary jokes, literary devices. The play is really, there's words dripping off the back of the stage, there's huge words scraped in the thing, typewriters come alive, bits of paper are all over the thing, the dad is always drawing stuff and always saying, "ah, look at this drawing I've done," or, "I'm writing this note." For me, the visual I had in my head writing it became very literalized on stage as words. I guess that wouldn't happen again. That was completely unique to Grief Is the Thing with Feathers. There is always a death, because with both books I talk about the ambiguity and wanting interpretive doors left open. With Grief Is the Thing with Feathers I wanted no door to be closed. So like, the idea of the crow being a metaphor, or the crow being a manifestation of the dad's obsession with Ted Hughes, or it being a joke, or it being a real crow, or it being the children's fantasy of a crow, I want them to all be possible. I once read a review, and I mean I've gotten horrible reviews and stupid reviews and all sorts of things, but the saddest review I ever got just said, "Okay, I get it, the bird's a metaphor for death." I was like, "Oh no, please don't do that!" [laughs] "You just shut all the doors. What a shame. What a shame for you, and what a shame for the boys, and what a shame for the dad, and what a shame for the bird." Where was this review? It was a famous person I shan't name on Twitter. And, fine, to each their own. Totally fine. I just felt that will be a pity for them, because there's so much colour and noise outside of that interpretation. But anyway, the theatre obviously has to make choices, and he chose to make crow and dad the same person. It's an astonishing thing, it allows for a really truly virtuoso performance. Cillian Murphy is like, I've never seen anything like it. It's a performance I'll never forget as long as I live. But it nevertheless closes down other interpretive avenues on the stage. You have to do that. The stage has power literature can't have, and literature has power that the stage can't have, and one of those powers for me is the openness.   I want to close with a softball. What is the role literature in today's society? [laughs] What is the role of our literature in our society? Or just, art in general. What's the point of art. I was just in Sydney with lots of amazing writers, but one of them was George Saunders, who was reading my books. It's amazing to meet someone you admire as much as I admire him, and him be reading my work, ‘cause it kind of charges the conversation in an unusual way, especially when there's a kind of, you know, mentorship or admiration thing going on. Like, I'm on my knees, admiring George Saunders. Lincoln in the Bardo is a book I thought in some ways parallels yours. There's the missing or dead boy, and the chorus of voices. They're loose parallels, but it was a comparison I held in my mind when reading. I love Lincoln in the Bardo. I'm obviously massively flattered by the comparison. I do remember when I was first reading Lincoln in the Bardo I was thinking, finally, here's the book I want to read. Finally, here's a ghost story that is a love story. That is sort of the meaning of literature to me, how to connect us to each other and to our past. For me, the best books are the ones that teach us to mourn better, to refine and revitalize and interrogate the ways in which we relate to each other, now when we're alive and after we've died and before we've been born. Squash the space time continuum. I'm relatively unapologetically old-fashioned about the idea of the novel as an empathy machine. I do think that is the case, even if that's too cozy a formulation. I read an incredibly intelligent article recently by Namwali Serpell about how that now clichéd idea of the novel is too easy. It lets us off the hook. Because we can say, "Oh, I've read books about that, so I care." And that's not real care. In fact, that might be part of a terrible Western failure to act, because we're busy looking at art that makes us care. I’m probably paraphrasing her terribly.   It's a charged question, right? I see a controversy bubbling this morning on the internet about this boat that's being exhibited at the Venice Biennale, a boat in which a bunch of migrants died. Whether you think that's good work or bad work, the work is asking the question. I guess personally, literature is about a way to worry and a way to think more carefully, and a way to express fear and love, but for all of us generally I think it should be the great question machine. If we stop asking questions as a society we become lazy and we become formulaic and we become obedient. Literature is just the way to dismantle, to ask back all the important things. Anyway, to bring it back to George Saunders. He called it, the idea that it's small entertainment for a bunch of verified people, we cannot allow that to be the case. It must be the lifeblood of our society, for everyone and relevant to everyone and being written by and for everyone. I uncomplicatedly agree with that.
I Know You Are You, and Real

Now, what wouldn’t I give to swim in my sister’s dirt?

One year after my sister is dragged to the Farmhouse I place an ad in the newspaper that says Let’s Go Swimming The woman I later meet at the edge of the lake is perhaps three times my age and so thinI laugh as I imagine her scanty dinnersA bowl of brown riceA single steamed green vegetableThe simmered stem of some ascetic flower She is disgusted by my smoking My matted hair She snatches the cigarette out of my mouth and slaps meacross the face and my tearsWhich have been so long absent Are suddenly there and my vision is bright and clean Beside us The lake steams Apple cores and beer cans float around its rim She strips to boxers and then she takes off my clothes too The trees are so thickly green I don’t worry about my nudity—the Town is a mile away And I know I’ll seem to be part of the greater landscape As in a bad painting When she kneels and starts working on my shoes I close my eyes and place my hand upon her head I want to test the water with a finger or foot but watching her diveMakes me ashamed of my hesitancySo I climb an overhanging tree And sit for a moment in the fragrant creaking alien arms And then I drop into the lake from that height Not knowing if there will be rocks below In the moments before I hit the water I love her more than I’ve ever loved anyone The lake is so silty and fetid It feels like when I was a child And forced to use my sister’s old bathwater After she had been lifted out and towelled dry Now What wouldn’t I give to swim in my sister’s dirt? There is nothing There’s nothing I would not give How could our parents have thought that water fit for another personAfter they had washed her thin oily hair in it After they’d cleaned the dirt from her toes This water is as warm as saliva and the bottom is covered in strange lumpsMy companion is miles ahead already A muddy blurI want to ingratiate myself to her I want to receive the full measure of her attention Without doing anything to provoke it And certainly without revealing That her attention matters to me in any way In other words I am ordinary I want to tell her I know how to suffer With my swallowing and my injecting With my snowbanks and my hangovers With the terror that turns My organs black and sour She insists we follow the river that feeds the lake We swim against a ruthless current until we can go no further Until we are swept back cursing Still she says nothing Still I learn nothing I await what I know will never arrive I await what I wouldn’t recognize if it did (My suffering acquires a mock-spiritual cast) [[{"fid":"6705231","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"1":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false}},"attributes":{"class":"media-element file-media-original","data-delta":"1"}}]]   We reach the bank I want to thank her then break her Gently apart at the joints like a chicken But there on the bank in front of my eyes She dissolves like sugar whisked into water I emerge from the lake less clean than when I enteredOur Town’s nightwatchman circles the water Even though it is nowhere near eveningHe wears huge black goggles and reinforced rubber boots In a very short time, I lost everything. The way forward is hidden from me, as is the way back. And I cannot remain here, of course.He taps his way forward with the aid of a walking stick I lie back in my round iridescent-pink sunglasses I think pink is the most influential colour in the world People motor by in a boat They’re laughing and passing around a baby I feel my usual revulsion at laughter and babies and groups I look into the opal on my finger and if I unfocus my eyes I can see my sister swimming inside the fiery lake at its core Lately I cannot decide What I believe Do I believe in releaseDo I deserve release Will I be released   Listen to this piece from the audiobook edition: [[{"fid":"6705241","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original"},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"3":{"format":"media_original"}},"attributes":{"class":"media-element file-media-original","data-delta":"3"}}]]   From I Become a Delight to My Enemies by Sara Peters, a Strange Light book.
The Inventor of Mother’s Day

Anna Marie Jarvis spent years fighting the holiday’s commercialization. But her attempts to keep control of her creation may have hastened its descent into Hallmark territory. 

Bereavement means staring into a personal void. I want my mum, but she doesn't exist. She is absent, but I vividly recall her presence. This leaves me longing for a character who lives in my mind's eye, wishing she would climb back into the real world. I want to receive wisdom that is not available, hear a voice that is inaudible, see a face frozen at an ever-receding point in time. One of my best friends lost her dad when she was young and we agree that grief evolves like an ever-widening spiral. Immediately after death, the spiral is tight and the loss keeps hitting. As time passes, the spiral widens and the hits spread out. You acclimatise to life without them and when they arrive, it’s a shock. This year on my mother’s birthday, I am surprised to learn, nine years since her death from cancer, that I am still susceptible to this terrible ragged yawning feeling that nothing—no tears, no poetry, no love, no sex—can placate. I tried it all and grief still pitched me into an inner world of magical thinking. I don’t want to be ambushed again, so I prepare for the next hit by looking up the date of Mother’s Day in the UK. It falls on the anniversary of her death. I have never bought into Hallmark occasions. I disregard Valentine’s Day, Father’s Day, every other “Day,” but Mother’s Day jabs at a nerve. The blasé marketing images of mothers and daughters feel like a personal slight. I don’t get to ignore this holiday. This holiday ignores me.  The malicious twist of timing has me researching the origins of Mother’s Day, and its commercialization. This is how I discover Anna Marie Jarvis, who went further than anyone to try to manifest her dead mother’s spirit in the world.  Anna Marie Jarvis, born 1 May 1864 in Virginia, is popularly credited as the founder of the American Mother's Day.  Jarvis's vision of Mother's Day had been in the works since her mother died, in her presence, in 1905. The two shared an intense bond. Anne Reeves Jarvis, who regretted her lack of formal education, drove her eldest to study at Augusta Female Seminary. They corresponded frequently and intimately by letter after education led to opportunities for AMJ to leave home, first to become a bank teller in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and then to be the first female literary and advertising editor at Fidelity Mutual Life Insurance in Philadelphia. When ARJ got sick, AMJ spent the last year of her mother’s life caring for her. She described the moment of her mother's death like this: "light like a heavenly benediction on a blessed soul, that the angels did come and bear away their 'snow wings' this precious mother to her 'immortal home.'” The inaugural Mother’s Day in Jarvis's adopted home of Philadelphia was held at the Wanamaker Store Auditorium, where 15,000 people came to listen to her speak for over an hour about the domestic sanctity of mothers. This high attendance was the culmination of her flair, perhaps solidified during her brief advertising career, for writing persuasive letters to influential people. For years she had been writing to the owner of the store, John Wanamaker, who ended up using his local advertising space to publicise Mother’s Day. Simultaneously, a more intimate ceremony was taking place in what had been ARJ’s local church in Grafton. White carnations were ARJ’s favourite flower, so Jarvis donated 500 white carnations to the congregation. She left instruction by telegram that the purpose of the day was to "revive the dormant love and filial gratitude we owe those who gave us birth." Her focus—then as always—was on a daughter-centric view of motherhood and celebrating the love that flows from the mother to the child in private domestic spaces. Obsessive focus began in earnest in 1912 when Jarvis quit her day job at Fidelity Mutual in order to work full-time on the business of popularising Mother's Day. Death had taken both her parents (dad Granville died in 1902) but had given her inheritances which she used to create the Mother's Day International Association (MDIA). She sent circulars articulating the sentimental function of MD as “a day of family reunions, of home-comings; a day of gladness and of beautiful memories, a day of uplift and inspiration;” went on promotional tours around Western Europe and continued her letter-writing campaigns to, amongst others, President Woodrow Wilson. Jarvis had a lifelong habit of writing to American presidents. Although she didn't have much luck down the line with Franklin D. Roosevelt, in Wilson she had a sympathetic ear and in 1914, he heeded her persistence and issued the first Mother's Day proclamation. Mother's Day was on the national calendar. But the more popular MD became, the longer her list of adversaries—those who wanted to use the day for ends contrary to AMJ’s wishes. She pitted herself against, among others, Eleanor Roosevelt; Frank Hering, an American football player who tried to style himself as the Mother’s Day founder, and John Wanamaker, the friend who helped her get the day off the ground. She reportedly bought a salad in a Wanamaker’s store only to throw it on the floor after realising it was being sold as a “Mother’s Day Salad.” Many of her battles represented an idealistic war against the use of her day as a marketing ploy. The floral industries had been quick to capitalise on the growing appetite for white carnations, steadily jacking up the price of what had been cheap at half a cent in 1908, to 15 cents in 1912, to $1 in the 1920s. Once demand exceeded supply they introduced red carnations, marketing them as symbolic of a living mother, and repurposing the white carnation as symbolic of a dead mother. In Memorializing Motherhood, Katharine Lane Antaloni wrote, "From 1912 until her death in 1948, Jarvis was unwilling to relinquish control and accept the status of her day as a public holiday and, therefore cultural property. Repeatedly she threatened to sue those who designed their own Mother's Day Celebrations (whether merchant, minister, or mayor) without her express permission, especially if she recognised the celebration as a blatant act of commercial gain. At the peak of her battle against the commercialization of Mother's Day, she allegedly had thirty-three pending lawsuits." It was not just profiteering that AMJ objected to, although she maintained a fierce integrity around this subject and refused all conciliatory attempts by the likes of Hallmark to cut her in on their gains. It was also any deviation from her vision of how the day should be observed. When patriotic associations like the American War Mothers, or female welfare charities like the Golden Rule Foundation, tried to use the day to spotlight their causes, she came after them with righteous vehemence. In 1925, she made headlines after she was arrested for disorderly conduct. She had crashed an American War Mothers convention in protest of fund-raising based around sales of white carnations. The judge dismissed the charge, impressed and enamoured by her mother-centric passion. During her lifetime, AMJ put up a valiant and vocal opposition to the forces of commercialization. Yet market forces have a greater life expectancy than any single human. This year, as Mother's Day in the UK draws closer, an email from UK Teeth Whitening poses the rhetorical question: “What better Mother's Day gift than pearly whites?” Someone at TOPSHOP bashes out a list-feature for their newsletter on “The most inspiring mother-daughter duos in movie history.” I go into a cafe in the leafy suburb where my mum used to live and count four laminated A4 sheets and one chalkboard advertising that afternoon teas can be booked for that “special weekend.” Every email subject line and sandwich board to weaponise the word “mother” stabs at me, reminding me of what I do not have. I feel a throbbing kinship with my dear departed and an antipathy to the living bodies who mindlessly slap that word onto anything they’re trying to sell. I understand why Anna Jarvis, in her grief, clung to the sense of sacredness around her bond with her dead mother and turned it into a fight against the world. For the intimately bereaved, connections to the dead can feel more urgent than connections to the living. And yet...  Anna Marie Jarvis, zealous defender of her Mother's Day vision, tireless warrior against warped versions of her ideal, misinterpreted her own mother's legacy by some considerable margin. Her mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, was an outward-looking progressive whose concept of Mother's Day had a far wider social remit than the domestic love-bubble blown into the ether by her daughter.  ARJ had organised Mother’s Days Work Clubs as early as the 1850s. These involved bringing physicians to give advice at church gatherings in an attempt to combat public health crises around poor sanitation. She was a gifted public speaker and gave lectures with evocative titles like: Value Of Literature As A Source of Culture And Refinement and Great Value Of Hygiene For Women And Children. She believed in a mother's service to "humanity in every field of life" and was driven to do public good through community activism, attaining the status of local hero during the Civil War for the impartial care she offered to soldiers on both sides. In 1868 she organised a Mother’s Friendship Day designed to reconcile those who had fought as Confederates and those who had fought as Unionists. The day went ahead despite threats of violence. “It was a truly wonderful sight to see the boys in blue and the boys in gray meet, shake hands and say, ‘God bless you, neighbor, let us be friends again,’” recalled eyewitness Hop Woods. Her humanitarian efforts were eventually dialled back by the toll of a difficult marriage and the tragedy of losing between 7 and 9 children (accounts vary) to measles, typhoid and diphtheria. Yet a sense of unfinished business still burned, hence her dying wish that AMJ continue her work. “When Jarvis memorialized her mother, she minimized the complexity of ARJ’s legacy,” wrote Antaloni, "she rarely portrayed the power of motherhood beyond its traditional boundaries and thus never directly acknowledged the aspects of her mother's life that celebrated a public facet of motherhood." How Anna Marie Jarvis, who was so close to her mother and fought for her legacy till death, so fundamentally misinterpreted the nature of her wishes is a question lost to the grave. That she did gives me pangs. I wonder how Mother’s Day would have evolved had AMJ battled for a community-centric celebration instead of the day that she promoted, which, eventually, was uprooted from its origins and now belongs to the culture and makes it impossible for the motherless to be involved. It slices us cleanly out of the purview of the occasion, despite the fact that the founder made her efforts in testament to a kinship that transcends physical absence. Like AMJ, I was present when my mother died. There is no feeling like watching a human lose their soul. When breaths start to get further apart, each exhale is a cliffhanger until the relief of another inhale. The cycle begins again and all is well, for she is alive still. The slowing tempo is not adequate preparation for a full stop; and the death rattle. Suddenly there is no one occupying the familiar body I am looking at. I am not religious but the feeling is mystical. Where did she go? The form is her but not her and never will be her again. Immediately there is a desperate urge that will recur at various intervals for the rest of my life, a desire to reverse this incomprehensible transition. To make like Orpheus and descend into the underworld to try to bring her back. Her death makes no sense so believing that she will live again does not need to either.  Grieving is the process of coming to terms with something that scans logically—everyone dies—but does not scan emotionally. This person is alive! They live inside you. They are not gone! So as not to seem mad, you want to memorialise them, create a tangible monument to their identity. My act was to make a short film, not about my mum per se, but about our ongoing relationship in her after-life. This is not quite the same as starting a Mother’s Day movement, still, it stems from a similar place. The woman who created Mother’s Day didn’t do so for commercial reasons, but out of an all-consuming drive to keep her mother alive in the world.
How Canada Fell in Love with the Stanley Cup

From fans to telegraph operators to a troupe of determined players from the Klondike, here’s how Stanley Cup Fever spread across the country.

Just 20 years old, Weldon Champness Young was already a veteran with the Ottawa Hockey Club when he went to the Russell House hotel for a formal banquet in March of 1892. The evening was hosted by the Ottawa Amateur Athletic Club to celebrate the end of his team’s season. When Weldy and the other guests sat down, they found menu cards that told two tales. One side, as usual, set out the fine fare the hotel would serve that Friday night. The other side showed the names of the Ottawa players and an account of another impressive winter. In ten matches, the squad had won nine times, scoring fifty-three goals and allowing just nineteen. “This was the record,” according to the Daily Journal, “of a genuine amateur team playing for pure love of sport and treating all comers as they wished to be treated themselves.” More than seventy-five people had gathered in the hotel dining room to honour that success, and by the end of the night they’d have even more to cheer about.           Located a short walk from Parliament Hill, the five-story Russell House was the finest hotel in the Canadian capital. Oscar Wilde stayed there in 1882, and many politicians lived there; Wilfrid Laurier called it home for a decade, including during his first year as prime minister. It was also popular with Ottawa’s high society, who enjoyed the luxurious public rooms and excellent food. The 1880s and ‘90s were the hotel’s heyday so it was the obvious choice for a banquet that attracted many prominent gentlemen—including guests from Montreal and Toronto—and featured music from the Governor-General’s Foot Guards band. Around 9:30 or so, women joined the festivities, taking seats in a wing of the dining room, and the hotel staff served coffee and ices for dessert. At 10 o’clock, J. W. McRae, president of the OAAC, began the formal proceedings. A lengthy round of toasts was a regular part of such gatherings and, by tradition, the host always led off with one to the Queen. After McRae had done so, Philip Dansken Ross, the publisher of the Journal and past president of the OAAC, drew cheers for his toast to the Governor-General that included complimentary remarks about the Englishman’s staunch support of sports, especially hockey. In 1888, an aging Queen Victoria had tapped Frederick Arthur Stanley, the 47-year-old son of a former British prime minister, to be her Canadian representative. After serving two decades in Parliament as a Tory MP, Baron Stanley of Preston entered the House of Lords in 1886. Going to Ottawa, not exactly the most glamorous—or warmest—city in the British Empire, sounded like a retirement posting. Initially, he declined the Queen’s vice-regal offer, but Lord Salisbury, his prime minister, talked him into becoming the Dominion of Canada’s sixth Governor-General. When he arrived in Ottawa in June 1888, he was a middle-aged aristocrat with a stout build. He kept a grizzled beard and above his broad forehead, his hair was thinning and starting to grey. The New York Times described him as having “a commanding and soldier-like appearance” and being “decidedly good looking.” He’d never seen a hockey match before coming to Canada, but Stanley came from a sporting family. In 1780, his great-grandfather, the 12th Earl of Derby, created The Derby, the most prestigious of the three races that make up the British Triple Crown. Stanley shared his family’s passion for horse racing as well as its love of hunting, fishing and cricket. He and his wife, Lady Constance, had ten children, eight of whom survived to adulthood. The family quickly embraced winter in the great white north, enjoying snowshoeing, tobogganing and, most of all, hockey. Unable to attend the banquet for the Ottawa Hockey Club, Stanley sent something better. His aide de camp, Lord Kilcoursie, delivered the surprise by reading a letter from His Excellency: “I have for some time past been thinking that it would be a good thing if there were a challenge cup which should be held from year to year by the championship hockey team in the Dominion.” Even better, he’d already asked a former aide, who was now back in England, to order such a trophy. The thrilled guests at the Russell House applauded enthusiastically. When McRae proposed a toast to “the hockey team,” friends and supporters stood on their chairs to drink. Then each player stood to respond. Team captain Herbert Russell went first and made everyone laugh. Young earned a special round of applause for raising a glass to the good fellowship that existed among the clubs of the O.A.A.C. and their members. The last player to speak, Chauncey Kirby, added emphasis to his words by climbing onto the table. Eventually, Kilcoursie was on his feet again with a song he’d composed. Called “The Hockey Men,” it began:                                       There is a game called hockey—                                     There is no finer game,                                     For though some call it “knockey”                                     Yet we love it all the same.                                       ’Tis played in this Dominion,                                     Well played both near and far;                                     There’s only one opinion,                                     How ’tis played in Ottawa.   The verses that followed were about the members of the team and were, if possible, even cornier and more ridiculous than the first two. The stanza about Young, who played cover point, one of two defence positions, went:                                       At cover point—important place—                                     There’s Young, a bulwark strong,                                     No dodging tricks or flying pace                                     Will baffle him for long.   Everyone loved the performance. More songs, toasts and speeches followed until the guests sang “God Save the Queen” and then belted out “Auld Lang Syne” before heading home or moving on to the next party at midnight. The evening had been a great success. The delight at the Governor-General’s promised gift on that evening had come from hockey people: players, league officials and other hangers-on. Still, their excitement over a trophy to recognize the country’s championship team was indicative of the growing ardor for the sport. But not even these insiders could have imagined what the Cup would come to mean to Canada.        *  Stanley had picked just the right moment in hockey’s development to donate a trophy. The modern version of the sport began in 1875 with an indoor match at Montreal’s Victoria Rink. Eight years later, at that city’s first Winter Carnival, three teams—the Victorias, McGill and Quebec City—played a round-robin tournament in what was billed as the “novel game of hockey.” Soon it spread to Ottawa, Kingston and Halifax, where an early version of the sport had long been played. By the end of the 1880s, there were matches in Toronto and the Ontario Hockey Association formed in 1890. More and more Canadians were playing—and watching—the game. But Stanley’s gift wasn’t just good timing. Although the nation had emerged out of a collection of colonies in 1867, Canada was technically just a self-governing dominion and definitely still part of the Empire. In fact, people born in Canada or naturalized immigrants were British subjects (this didn’t change until 1947 with the Canadian Citizenship Act). So colonial thinking lived on. Most English Canadians were ardent Anglophiles and if a member of the British nobility—indeed, the Queen’s own representative in the country—approved of this new game enough to bestow a trophy, people took it seriously: hockey must be something Canadians should enjoy. And so they did. The sport had already made it to the prairies. Local businessmen, including Jack Armytage, launched the Victoria Hockey Club of Winnipeg in 1890 and three years later, the game had “attained an immense hold in the public estimation” in that city. A multi-sport athlete, Armytage was renowned as a trainer and kept himself and his teammates in excellent shape with rigorous drills. In 1895, his Vics toured Ontario, Quebec and Minnesota and won four of five matches. After Winnipeg beat the Montreal Hockey Club 5-1, the teams went to the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association clubhouse for the post-game festivities. While there, Armytage spied the Stanley Cup in a trophy case. He was determined to win it. In February 1896, the Vics hopped on an eastbound train, accompanied by a handful of their hardcore fans. They were going to play Montreal’s own Victorias, the new Cup holders, in a Valentine’s Day match at Victoria Rink. (Sure, two teams named after the Queen meeting each other in a building named after the Queen sounds like a royal parody, but it was just an indication of Canada’s devotion to the monarch.) Adding to the fun, the two teams wore similar colours. Garnet with gold trim and a gold buffalo on the left chest for the westerners and maroon with distinctive yellow Vs on the front of the sweater for the easterners. Few Montrealers gave the challengers much of a chance. Fans liberally placed bets on the assumption that the westerners would get schooled by the hometown squad. The 2,000 or so in attendance included twenty-five Manitobans who “gave an excellent exhibition of Western lung power” in a vain attempt to match the volume of the locals.               The fans back in Winnipeg were no less excited. The phones never seemed to stop ringing at the offices of the Manitoba Free Press as people called the newsroom to get the score. Hundreds of others had congregated in three of the city’s hotels—the Manitoba, the Queen’s and the Clarendon—to await game updates, sent via telegram. Only a few years old, the Manitoba Hotel was the city’s poshest. Built in the French Chateau style by the Northern Pacific and Manitoba Railway, it set the tone for many future railroad hotels in the country. Numerous towers, turrets and gables adorned the roofline of the large red sandstone and brick building. The highlight of the interior was a large, high-ceilinged rotunda. That’s where John Tait, city manager of the CPR Telegraphs, disappointed the fans by announcing, in his distinct Scottish burr, an early Montreal lead. But he soon read another bulletin from the branch office in the hotel. The goal had been disallowed because the play was offside. Eleven minutes into the match, the fans cheered: Armytage had scored. A second goal followed nine minutes later. The telegrams tracked only major developments, such as goals and injuries, so there were stretches of anxious wondering about what was going on more than 1,800 kilometres to the east. In the second half, there was a long, worry-filled wait when nothing at all appeared to be happening until word came in that Higgy—Winnipeg cover point Fred Higginbotham—had broken his suspenders, leading to a delay until someone could find a new pair for him. Finally, at 9:50, Tait announced, “in stentorian tones, which reverberated through the great rotunda,” the final score: 2-0 for Winnipeg. The response was triumphant cheers and gleeful handshakes all ‘round, followed by the sending of many congratulatory telegrams to Montreal. Over at the Bijou opera house, the announcement of the final score during the performance of Princess Toto elicited “a perfect shriek of delight” from the audience. Meanwhile, back in Montreal, supporters of the western Vics made their way to the Windsor Hotel to collect at least $2,000 in winnings for their well-placed wagers. After the traditional dinner with the host team, the Vics headed home in a private car on the CPR train. They took with them their share of the gate—just $160—and the Stanley Cup. A crush of fans packed the platform and cheered as the train chugged into the CPR depot. It was flying the Union Jack and had hockey sticks and brooms, denoting a clean sweep, stuck in its cow-catcher. As a brass band played “See the Conquering Heroes Come,” the players climbed into the open sleighs waiting for them. The Cup sat in full view in the lead sleigh as the procession—including the band and the fans—made its way along Main Street to the Manitoba Hotel, creating the first Stanley Cup parade. [[{"fid":"6705001","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"2":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false}},"attributes":{"class":"media-element file-media-original","data-delta":"2"}}]] A crowd of several thousand greeted them at the hotel. After the mayor and the president of the hockey club had made speeches from the bunting-draped balcony, Armytage stood up in his sleigh. The team captain said he was too hoarse to give a speech, which made the crowd laugh, and thanked everyone for the warm welcome. Then the players and dignitaries made for the hotel’s smoking room where they filled the trophy to the brim with champagne. Drinking from the Cup would become a ritual that subsequent winners would gleefully follow. Losing had been a bitter blow for the Montrealers. A Free Press story claimed the Victoria Rink’s caretaker “was so worked up over the defeat that he shed enough tears to almost fill the big trophy.” The eastern Vics issued a challenge in mid-November and on Christmas Day, the former champions travelled west for a return match scheduled for December 30. This time, there was far more coverage in newspapers across the country. A large crowd went down to the train station and greeted the challengers with “a ringing cheer.” The next morning, 700 people showed up to watch them practice at the McIntyre Rink. In the hotels and shops, and on the streets, all anyone talked about was the big game. Montreal’s Star marveled at the unprecedented excitement and predicted the police would need to focus on keeping order “to prevent the anxious crowds who cannot obtain tickets from storming the rink.” Along with removing the gas lighting and adding four additional electric arc lights as well as opening large vents in the roof in hopes of solving the problem of mist obscuring the fans’ view, the building’s management increased the capacity from 1,200 to about 2,000 in preparation for the game. Even that wasn’t going to be enough. The price for one of the 250 reserved seats was a steep two dollars. But that didn’t stop scalpers from doing brisk business, getting as much as $25 for a pair. A man who’d come in from Calgary to see the game paid $15 for one and another fan traded two-and-a-half tons of coal for a ticket. Lord Stanley had appointed two respected Ottawa men as trustees of the Cup: P.D. Ross, the newspaper publisher who’d been at the 1892 banquet, and John Sweetland, a doctor and the Sheriff of Carleton County. One of their responsibilities was to appoint referees. Weldy Young often reffed hockey and lacrosse matches and was someone both teams could agree on. So the trustees asked him to travel to Winnipeg to handle the game. He started the match a little after 8:20 and before long it was hard to hear his “dainty little whistle” above the crowd noise. The play was fast and close and exciting. The home team thrilled its fans by storming out to an early lead, firing the first three goals. But Montreal roared back to go ahead in the second half. When Winnipeg scored late to tie it up at five goals apiece, the eruption impressed even the Montreal seven. “I have played many exciting championship games, but I never heard such a wild burst of cheering as went up when the score was made even,” one member of the team said later. “It was like a great and prolonged road of thunder rolling again and again from end to end of the rink.” When Montreal scored again, it put “a damper on the crowd but they could not restrain a cheer for the fine work of the visiting team.” The final was 6-5 and as the Daily Tribune observed, “Winnipeg is in mourning for her lost Valentine, her Stanley Cup.”      Young praised the crowd: “During all my experience in hockey matches both as a player and as an official,” he said, “I never saw such an intelligent, impartial and well conducted audience.” Whether he knew it or not, the audience was far larger than just the crowd in the rink. The CPR and Great North Western telegraph companies had arranged to provide detailed coverage of the game with direct wires to the arena. This had been done for other sports, especially boxing, but not for hockey. The Manitoba Hotel had promised that “every move of the puck will be announced.” Several hundred people made the rotunda reverberate with cheers, and groans, as they followed the play in only slightly delayed real-time through frequent CPR bulletins that were written with the help of a hockey expert stationed beside the telegraph operator:         “Merritt has just stopped a hot one.       Grant has just had a run down the rink and made a shot on Winnipeg’s goal, which was well stopped by Merritt.       The play is very fast—and just 8 minutes more to play.       Merritt has stopped several hot ones.       Montrealers are keeping the puck at Winnipeg goal and raining shot after shot.       Winnipeg on the defensive. Montreal is playing the best game.       The Winnipegs are wakening up.       Another shot on Winnipeg goal was beautifully stopped by Merritt.”       In Montreal, the Victoria Rink was hosting the skating club’s first fancy dress carnival of the season and the Daily Star had set up the twelve-foot square Star Bulletin Booth in the centre of the ice. News of the game went up on eight large bulletin boards that rotated on pivots to allow one side to be visible to skaters while the other side was being updated. A brass gong sounded with each new telegram, which came so quickly that five Star employees struggled to keep up. Although Winnipeg’s reign as Cup champions lasted for less than a year, a team from outside Montreal had finally won the trophy and fulfilled Stanley’s desire to create a national honour. The matches in February and December served notice that westerners were just as good at, and just as passionate about, the game as anyone else. Enthusiasm for the sport was exploding, the rinks were packed and the press had made the Cup a big story. Stanley’s gift mattered now. Best of all, fans in two different cities, in two different provinces—and, indeed, anywhere else in the country where people were interested—were able to experience the same game at the same time because of the telegraph. More than an influential precursor to broadcasting, these play-by-play transmissions brought Canadians together through their shared love of hockey. * Having been one of the first people to hear about the Stanley Cup, Young would find it impossible to shake his desire to win it. He and the Ottawas came close a couple of times but failed. Seven years after attending the banquet that launched an obsession, Young moved to the Klondike, leaving his team and his hometown—but not his hunger for the Cup—behind. During his first couple of years in the sub-arctic, he offered occasional updates on life in Dawson for people Outside, as Yukoners called anywhere beyond the territory’s borders. In a summer 1900 letter, he covered local politics, a mild smallpox outbreak and the doings of several former Ottawa residents. He also made an announcement that must have seemed particularly outlandish given the Northern town hadn’t even existed five years earlier. “And now, by way of warning, let me break the news gently, a challenge from the Dawson Hockey club, for the possession of the Stanley Cup, is now being prepared,” Young wrote in the Citizen. “And let me further inform you ‘outsiders’ that if a team is sent you do not want to hold us too cheaply.” The son of Ottawa’s fire brigade chief, Young grew up in a fire hall. Older brother George had been an original member of the Ottawa Hockey Club and Weldy joined the team in 1889. Nicknamed Chalk, he had plenty of skill and speed. As early as 1893, he began scoring, or setting up goals, after making end-to-end rushes, among the first cover points to do so. [[{"fid":"6705006","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"3":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false}},"attributes":{"class":"media-element file-media-original","data-delta":"3"}}]] Although Young was respected as a referee because he had “a thorough knowledge of the game and a reputation for squareness,” he could be a terror as a player. He wasn’t particularly large—he was a wiry 165 pounds, about average for players of the day—but he was tough, loved to indulge in a physical game and could be hot-headed. Many opponents felt his stick across their ankles and he often found himself at the centre of brawls. During a late February 1898 game, in the days before nets, with the score tied 4-4, the umpire signaled a Quebec goal. Everyone else in Ottawa’s Rideau Rink was sure the shot had been well wide. An incensed Young skated up to the umpire and pointed to a path the puck had made along the slushy ice. That, he said, proved the puck hadn’t gone between the uprights. The umpire, who later claimed that Young had jabbed him with his stick, jumped at the player. Young responded by punching him, which brought a crowd of people, including two or three cops, onto the ice and led to a skirmish between players and fans. Since the police weren’t much help in calming everyone down, it fell to Ottawa’s captain Harvey Pulford, known as the Bytown Slugger, to break it up. Off the ice, Young was an affable and gregarious guy with many friends. One day in 1897, while on his way to a Montreal football match, he asked a boy on the street, “Hey, kid, want to see the game?”             “Sure do.”             “Come on, I’ll take you in,” Young told him. When he asked the lad if he liked hockey, the 13-year-old said yes, though he’d really only recently started playing. “Right. I’ll be here with the Ottawa team next winter,” said Young. “How’d you like to be the stick boy?” Serving as stick boy for Young and his teammates when they played in Montreal ignited Lester Patrick’s love of hockey. He went on to be a star rushing cover point on the Brandon team that lost a 1904 Cup challenge to an Ottawa team that included several players he’d fetched sticks for. By the end of his Hall-of-Fame career as a player, coach and general manager, Patrick had won the trophy six times. “It just goes to show what a thoughtful act will do for a boy,” he later said. “Maybe I’d have got into hockey some other way but that gesture by Young set me on my way.” * After moving to Dawson, Weldy Young played for the Civil Service team, which issued a Cup challenge in 1901. Winnipeg’s Vics were once again champs. The Ottawa Journal reported that while the trustees had asked about suitable dates, they never heard back, suggesting the Yukoners had decided against going that winter. But it’s also possible the trustees had discouraged the team; they often used scheduling problems to squelch unwanted challenges. Perhaps Ross, Sweetland and Winnipeg captain Dan Bain appeared accommodating in public out of courtesy but were privately reluctant to entertain a challenge from a team they considered inferior. The Vancouver Daily News printed what the trustees may have been thinking. Dismissing Young as too old, the paper added, “It will no doubt be an enjoyable trip, and the Dawson boys can loosen themselves of their nuggets, but no Dawson team can lift that cup unless all the Vics drop dead.” Three years later, the plan to send the Civil Service team had given way to the idea of assembling an all-star squad made up of the best players in town. By this point, Young’s former club, led by the sport’s original superstar, “One-Eyed” Frank McGee, had a stranglehold on the trophy. A letter to Ross and Sweetland went out on August 24, 1904: “The Klondyke Hockey Club of Dawson, Y. T., hereby challenge the Ottawa Hockey Club, of Ottawa, to a series of games for the Stanley Cup, emblematic of the hockey championship of Canada, said series of games to be played under and in accordance with the regulations governing the trophy in question.” To help the cause, Young wrote a long, less formal, letter to Ross. He laid it on thick about all the success Ottawa’s sports teams had experienced since he’d left. Cleverly dealing with any concerns Ross might have that Young was past his prime, he wrote that it was “particularly gratifying to see that five of the last winter’s unbeaten champions were teammates of my own as far back as ’98 and to me it exemplifies beyond doubt the truth of the old adage ‘The old dog for the hard roads, etc.,’ and holds out for me, I must admit, no little consolation.” Young was referring to an Irish proverb—“The old dog for the hard road and leave the pup on the path”—about the advantage of experience in the face of a difficult task. Young also sought to put Ross at ease about the other players. “Speaking of the team itself, I can assure you that they are as likely a bunch as ever happened,” he wrote. “True we are badly handicapped by so little competition but unless I miss my guess by a large majority I will produce at the right time as good a forward line as ever went a-hunting for a Stanley Cup.” The postscript dropped the name of Joe Boyle, who would represent the team in the east and had full authority to arrange dates. The swaggering Yukon mining promoter was a regular at the Russell House, where Ottawa’s powerful and connected, including Ross, hung out. By mid-October, the Winnipeg Tribune reported that Ottawa had agreed to a best-of three series with Dawson—giving Young another chance to finally win the Stanley Cup. * Late in the year, just a few days before the Winter Solstice, the Klondike enjoyed precious few hours of daylight and the Dawson townsite, at the bottom of the Yukon River valley, received no direct sun at all. So it was dark and cold—a frigid -23 Celsius—when three players left town on foot at 7 a.m. on December 18. They had planned to let a dog team pull their gear, but so little snow had fallen that wasn’t possible. They walked down the Overland Trail wearing moccasins and parkas and carrying their gear on their backs. Many residents cheered the trio off that Sunday morning and the Yukon World noted that the team was going east to “show some of the old time cracks how the noble game should be played.” Accepting the role of long shots simply wasn’t in the Yukoners’ nature. The next morning, four more players hopped on their bikes and rode out of town under clear skies with a north wind behind them. The cyclists hoped to make it to Whitehorse in a week. Setting out to, as they put it, “win fame and the Stanley Cup,” the hockeyists, as players were often called in those days, figured it would be a straightforward eighteen-day trip to Ottawa. Straightforward by Yukon standards, anyway. Eventually, each of the cyclists had to abandon his broken-down wheels and join the walkers. After travelling more than 500 kilometres in nine days, the team arrived in Whitehorse, tired but on schedule. The next morning a blizzard shut down the narrow-gauge White Pass and Yukon Route railway. When they finally reached Skagway, Alaska, they’d missed their steamer to Vancouver by two hours and had to wait three days to board a Seattle-bound ship that made many of the players severely seasick. Worse, Young wasn’t with them. Although he’d been named captain and had helped select the team, if he left with the others, he’d lose his civil service job. He’d have to finish handling the election returns first and then try to catch up.   [[{"fid":"6705011","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"4":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false}},"attributes":{"class":"media-element file-media-original","data-delta":"4"}}]] Even if their star player could make it in time, most hockey people in the east refused to consider Dawson City a serious contender. The team was from a small sub-arctic town and no squad from west of Brandon had yet challenged for—let alone won—the Cup (though none of the Dawson players was originally from anywhere west of Manitoba). The prevailing wisdom was that the game was at its best in Montreal, Ottawa and Winnipeg, while the play in the Ontario Hockey Association, which Ottawa had long ago quit, and the Maritimes was inferior. But there was more to this than hockey snobbery. Even during the Vics versus Vics matches of 1896, the newspapers played up the conflict between the “effete east” and “the Wild and Woolly West.” Hockey wasn’t the root of the country’s endless regional squabbles, but it didn’t escape the wrangling either.     The Ottawa team had insisted the Klondikers not play any exhibition matches en route. This wasn’t to ensure the challengers would arrive unprepared—it was to avoid any lopsided losses that might dampen ticket sales in Ottawa. Despite the cynicism, and the need for the Dawson hockeyists to assure reporters their challenge was no joke, the team’s journey generated a lot of enthusiasm. And there was more to it than an affection for hockey and underdogs. The Klondike Gold Rush was over, but Canadians continued to romanticize the Yukon and the long journey from “the mining centre of the golden North to the Capital of Canada” only added to the story’s charm. All along the route, people cheered the team. And it was no different in the home of the champions, where the Citizen reported, “The matches are creating the greatest interest of any Stanley Cup contests yet played in Ottawa.” At a quarter to five on January 11, 1905, three-and-a-half weeks after leaving Dawson City, the hockeyists stepped off the train and onto the platform of Central Station where a large and appreciative crowd gave them “a right hearty reception.” An executive from the Ottawa Hockey Club led the players away to the Russell House. Despite the cordial welcome, the hosts weren’t about to grant the visitors’ request for a one-week postponement before starting the series. Meanwhile, the challengers denied rumours they’d threatened to default the opening game and focus on the second and third ones rather than play unprepared. The first match would go ahead as scheduled, with Earl Grey, the new Governor-General, “facing the puck” at 8:30 p.m. on Friday the 13th. After nearly a month on the road, and with no time to practice, the exhausted and far-from-game-shape Klondikers, still waiting for Weldy Young, would take on the Stanley Cup champions before a sell-out crowd of 2,200 fans at Dey’s Arena in just over forty-eight hours.  * The Klondikers lost the first game 9-2. Joe Boyle followed an already well-established custom for losing teams and blamed the referee. Then, in the Bijou Hotel bar, Ottawa right winger Alf Smith overheard a Klondiker—Boyle, according to some accounts—trash “One-Eyed” Frank McGee, who’d scored only once: “Who the hell’s McGee? He doesn’t look like much.” Although this may not have been the first example of “bulletin-board material” in hockey, it remains one of the most regrettable. Dawson lost 23-2. “Ottawa simply skated away from them at the whistle,” reported Toronto’s Globe, “and continued to pile up the goals with a merciless monotonous regularity which was farcical in the extreme.” McGee scored fourteen times. The humiliating blowout didn’t mean the two teams were about to dispense with the tradition of celebrating together after the game, though. Eventually, the party became a little too boisterous and, according to legend, Harvey Pulford attempted to dropkick the Cup over the Rideau Canal. It landed on the frozen water and no one thought to recover it until the next day. Young’s teammates were in the Maritimes on a post-series barnstorming tour when he finally caught up with them. These games on the east coast as well as in the United States and Ontario were to fund the players’ return to Dawson City. While the Klondikers had proven no match for Ottawa, they did much better against other teams. They won thirteen games, lost nine and tied one before large and appreciative crowds. The eagerness of the Yukoners to make such an audacious journey, and the public’s response to the whole adventure, revealed just how deeply Canadians had fallen in love with the game. And how quickly. Stanley’s trophy had been a powerful endorsement and technology such as trains and the telegraph had helped spread the sport from Cape Breton to Dawson City, but it was the unlikely mix of grace and ferocity at high speed that really struck people. In the dozen years since the trustees first awarded the Stanley Cup, a niche, largely regional sport with a small fan base had captivated the country. Hockey was now the national pastime.
Dayspring

And the Word became flesh: coarse hair, crooked smile, the taste of salt on his clavicle. I am the disciple whom he loved.

    In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things were made by him and through him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. And the Word was life, and the life was the light of all. And the light is a light that shines in darkness, and the darkness comprehends it not. And the Word spiraled outward into a cosmos of orbits and counter-orbits, into a billion subjectivities and a trillion perspectives. From the Word came a multiverse of matter and energy interfluxing, a dazzling, bewildering, volatile orrery, a wondrous, widening gyre: a going forth, to multiply. And the Word became flesh: coarse hair, crooked smile, the taste of salt on his clavicle. I am the disciple whom he loved.   [[{"fid":"6705121","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"1":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false}},"attributes":{"class":"media-element file-media-original","data-delta":"1"}}]] When I remember what came before, I see a black sky, a flash, and then hear a sound like the roar of rushing waters. I lay sprawled in the tangle of rope thick and bristled in the stern of my father’s boat. The wood by now is dry, wherever its carcass is beached and whatever now scuttles there, but then it stank of its hundred hauls of ancient fish and its cedar hull that was busily sweating gum that matted the hair on my legs. All day and into night we had caught nothing. And so half-dozing, I stared at a costive sky while my brother, stripped to the waist in the heat (but still wearing his silly hat, all the lanker for the atmosphere’s dense press) minded the net. He whistled a song of my mother’s. I remember her singing it, but not now its words. I remember her singing it, but not quite her voice. I wasn’t there when my brother died. I am thankful for that. They sowed his bones in fields remote, to be seed against a harvest none of us will live to glean. Instead I remember that sticky day before everything, seeing from prone the desperate throb of light stagger in zig-zag, and hearing my brother laugh as the humid summer air at last cracked open and drenched us cold and clean. “Come and see!” and I saw: the whole sea’s skin rippling with the rain’s contusions, and beneath it a net swarming with silver life.   *   tell me a story after that? aren’t you tired? didn’t you, I mean I thought— no, I did. obviously. i touch his hand to the stickiness on his stomach, now growing cool and tacky in his hair oh right. ok. um, In the beginning there was the not that. a real one …ok. ok. so. the night I was born there…there were a lot of animals. it doesn’t matter why ok ok. so there were doves in rafters high, and sheep with curly horn, and um, a cow all white and red and a donkey shaggy and brown around a baby? where were you born in a very funny. so it was cold, because it was winter— wait i open my eyes and pull my head away from the fuzz of his chest when is your birthday? mid spring, when the shepherds are in the field. that’ll be important later. listen; nevermind. it was cold, because it was christmas he pushes my head back to his chest not altogether gently and starts to trace slow curlicues into the back of my hair so i was shivering my baby ass off. so my mom asked the animals to help what the fuck dude i whisper, softly, into the pleasant stink of his armpit listen—so the cow blew his breath all soft and warm her breath what? cows are girls oh. right. ok whatever. moooooooo. cattle lowing, all that good stuff. so I blessed the cow sure but the fucking donkey is all “eyy-onh, eyy-onh.” super cold whinnying. you know, like donkeys do. do donkeys do that? of course they do that. haven’t you met a donkey i mean, i guess. i mostly fished so I go up to the donkey— as a baby? so i go up to the donkey. and I say, “what’s your name?” but he just keeps going eyyy-onh, eyy-onh all cold. so I pull his ears wayyyyy up and say, “your name is DONKEY.” And that’s why donkeys have long ears. It might also be why mules are infertile; I might be confusing the details, and it might be funnier in Portuguese. i roll away from his side and out along the length of his arm, to bring my face to rest inside his open hand, and stare out into the darkness beyond our little light. let me get this straight. donkeys didn’t have long ears until you, as a baby, punished them for breathing on you too coldly? i mean… I am the Way the Truth and the Light. the infinite utterance which speaks all being into being and so am unbound by the laws of cause and effect, chronology and chemistry, space and time, so… why did all the donkeys have to be punished for that one donkey who was only doing what you made him to do? dude, that is kind of my whole deal is that a true story? of course it is. I am the Way, the Truth, and the— did that really happen oh. no. this bedtime story sucks. tell me a better one.   *   I remember the day he came to my brother and me, on the shore as we knelt untying my father’s skiff. Rosy-fingered Dawn was unstitching Night’s design, and then: there he was. In the flesh. Come with me, he said, reaching out a hand that in the years, short years, to come I would kiss until I knew its every callous and curve. Until the Romans broke it, as they break everything, and left it a mangled pulp for us to scrape from their torture post. Until the angels made it incorruptible and a beneficent sign for all to see. Until both left it perfect and golden and alien and unrecognizable to me. How can you follow anything, he said, if you are down upon your knees? Get up and walk. We have work down the road. What could I do but follow straight? We never saw the boat again.   *   One time he got really fucking furious at a fig tree. Just absolutely screamed at it for like forty-five minutes.   *   From silence speaks the light. In the beginning was the Word. The symptom of language then is reality; we speak these stories and these stories speak us over and over until I am not sure if we are anything but history indulging a bad habit. We are the atoms of history: dust that has gathered on sandals. And dust upon sandals, and dust upon the road—who knows the revolutions of dust? My mind is not what it was. Let me try again.   *   Incarnation means nothing more than in the meat, and it was the meat of him I loved—red and raw, the stinking sweating heft of him   *   A father commanded his two sons to work in the vineyard. “Yes father,” said one, but did not go. “No father,” said the other, but he went. Which of these, then, has done his father’s will? I thought, when he asked, that I knew. But I was young then. And now I am old, old as he never was nor ever will be, and I know now that love sometimes makes a promise it cannot keep, and sometimes no toil can fix the clockwork of a heart dropped from the mantle smearing glass across the floor. Sometimes you must say “yes” when you mean “no.” There is a kindness that he never learned in the lie.   *   ok a story once upon a time a nun on an important mission was crossing a river with her donkey laden with supplies. and the beast stumbled, and it sent all her goods, her clothes, her books, tumbling into the stream. and as she tried to recover her ruined things I appeared on a rock, and I said, “that, teresa”—because her name was teresa—“is how I treat all my friends.” “and that, lord,” she said, “is why you have so few of them.”   that story also is not very nice. and it’s kind of the same story as the donkey one yes they all are. the same story   *   He sits in a house cool and dark as the mob presses in. From my post amid the knit of the crowd outside I hear the scratch of his barked laugh tumbling over their bodies like a brook breaking over thirsty stone. A twinge of jealousy dances over my ribs for a second, and is gone. A street away there is a bustle. Men, square and strong, with a beauty that is familiar and a cruelty that is not, are moving through the press, entitled and rough. With them is a woman, older but not old, who watches the crowd part like she is afraid, but not for herself, and not quite of them. From her scarf falls a serpent-coil of hair and I suddenly understand why I know and do not know the features of the young men jostling on her behalf; and I know, not just from the lock of unmistakable tawny brown but from the precise nervous choreography of her sudden gesture to tuck it back behind her ear. I know, with an electric, genetic certainty: this is his mother. She stares at me as she waits outside, while what looks to be the oldest of these men barks into the house, barks with a bark so much like his, with a bravado I will get to know in later years is slightly shrill to mask this man’s nerves. James was my brother’s name, too. In reply from inside the house, I hear the burble of his voice, its words indistinct, and a laugh cascade lazily again through the crowd. He will not see her. In front of me their mother’s eyes are still staring, glassing now, and I feel the heat in my cheeks, the embarrassment he never seems to have the decency to feel, that has left me a raw nerve and forever seeping apologies in his wake. But today, for her, I have none. How could I. How could he. And I know: this is how he will leave me too. A swift, cruel blow that will shatter all my bulk. A surgical strike from above, hurling masonry through the streets like leaves of concrete. I will scream, desperate in the temple precincts, looking for a lost boy I had mistook for kind, who will laugh at my panic: didn’t I know he should be with his father? And the learned and the holy will praise his wit, and his insight, and the bravery with which he left us behind. He will skewer steel through the raw pulsing meat of my heart, to wild acclaim. I watch his brothers swear and push their way back out of the crowd, the sweat darkening their shirts. She glances once, hopefully, over their broad desultory backs shaped so much like his, and I realize I recognize their cruelty after all.     [[{"fid":"6705126","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"2":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false}},"attributes":{"class":"media-element file-media-original","data-delta":"2"}}]] From my house at Patmos I see a serpent blot out a third of the stars, belched hot from ruined Hell to gnaw at the root of a world suspended from a golden chain, and dragging behind him the debris of a universe of death. And as the light from our world hits his scaly skin I wonder how it feels against his scars. He and I both know what it is to outlive our allotted grace. He and I both know what it is to slither over cracking stone in a wilderness grown parched and seasonless. Our God has made monsters of us both. Our God has made us witness to his glory, and dared us to cry out while he ripped the thing we love apart before our eyes. And I watch the Great Serpent who is called Satan make planetfall and drop to crawl through the underbrush and hot dirt, with a brand of hot fire in his tail, side-winding through a world of kindling. And I go back inside. The death of God might have been endurable if he had not then plunged his corpse into the well and poisoned all the earth with wormwood. So let this dead sphere bury its own dead. Tear out the eye that makes you sin. Shake off the dust from off your sandals. Tear down the Temple; build a new one. He always hated nostalgia. It’s what I remember most fondly.   *   wake up please wake up The grass is cool and damp from the night air and the broad flat carpenter pads of his hand are smoothing my hair too roughly. I fell asleep. When did I fall asleep? His nose against my face is slick. A dog, pawing, whimpering. Even in the dark i can see his eyes are wild and wet and his brow soaked and chilled. Through the slit of my white sindon my baffled, dozy erection nudges, which he is cupping desperately and absently. I sleepily try to pull him down to me before I process something is wrong. listen nearby peter’s snores rumble the stone while my brother sleeps face-up, open-mouthed, gulping lazily like a dying trawl. His hand tightens gently and then I hear it: a troop of men, clanking and cursing, are coming up the garden path. what if we ran yes we could run. we would lose peter i would lose my brother but i have lost everything for him before lost mother and father and town the children and wife and dignity i will never have and i cannot care—just dust on the road behind us what would it profit a man to lose his soul just to save some petty world but suddenly there is light everywhere as torches catch the vicious crags of faces. There is a boot in my gut and i am hauled from the turf. “which of these faggots is it?” they throw the sniveling little crabapple traitor into the ash around our cold fire and he scrambles and sobs and clutches at his master’s cheek mewling his apologies and frantic slobbered kisses with a rage i did not know i had i throw him again to the ground and their arms are everywhere on me but the linen is loose their armor is heavy and on him they have not yet even laid a finger and suddenly peter is awake and roaring, brandishing a sword i did not know he had the sense to carry “we run,” i whisper to him while peter holds their attention, sliding from my sleeves, his forehead to mine. “if they kill us they kill us but we run now” in his eyes i see the light that lit the stars the dark that sat brooding upon the waters and i have loved you more than i have loved anything. you can’t forget. Never. Never. the whole of my life before and since I have broken every promise I ever made so that I might more perfectly serve that one. and so i bolt, wriggling from the white robe in the soldier’s hands, slipping from the net like a flash of living mercury. naked and shining under a scudding, lambent moon and laughing, to be so free (at least st ambrose believed it was me)   *   But when I turn breathless on the hilltop, he is not with me. Instead there he stands rooted, right where i left him, stalwart and righteous as a Goya by their torchlight. Still not a hand upon him. Not a man had followed. No one had cared. And i crumble, naked in the grass, and weep til morning light     [[{"fid":"6705131","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"3":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false}},"attributes":{"class":"media-element file-media-original","data-delta":"3"}}]]   when i wake again it is morning and the sun is hot. nearby from a tree hangs the traitor, the cord of his belt around his neck, his expression an ugly scarlet bloat. Upon his brow is a wound i might well have given him. Soon his blotching face will split like sweet rotting fruit and the birds of the tree are inquisitive but not yet brave enough to feast. i take his piss-stained clothes and stumble into town to watch the world end.   *   still i keep my testament and so i am supposed to write. supposed to claw into the rock of history some phrase that will last when I am dead and gone and though all the world cannot conjure the contours of my face it will remember the flinty brilliance that I sparked here in the dark alone and the rock of his majesty against which i struck that light but my heart is so broken. broken is not even right. it is a pulverized thing. a bruised uncabled tissue, its fibers relaxed and purpling with pooling, cooling curdling blood. fruit rotting to succulence when i sleep i remember days that never were. i dream a life i never saw and which i now see he never wanted did you not know i would be in my father’s house? he left, and i do not know what now becomes of me   we are supposed to endure. but the truth of history—the real fact of the record—is that some lives do not matter once they’ve passed out of them we live, but we live in the footnote how is it that they could kill him but i am what died   writing does not heal. the document does not make whole. poesis is not a therapy it is thrusting a filthy digit into the spot where the lance has pierced you and it says: look, here. ascend and transcend all you like; this is the wound that will not close. this is the precise spot you have been marred forever   *   i watch them drive a rivet through a foot that i kissed i know not how oft feet i cooled and washed with my own hair: the delicate, beautiful ball of his ankle, swooping to curve down into ridges dusted with errant tufts of hair, a faint sourness from leather and grit and the thoughtless joy with which he walked and ran and even once danced, scooping me up in his arms in a nighttime waltz in an upper room when all the world was asleep and there was no music but my jackhammering chest and i asked him in a child’s whisper to draw shut a window-curtain lest the neighbours see and which to my secret thrill he did not smashed and ruined and unmade   *   so why do you hate donkeys so much i don’t hate donkeys. he is playing with my fingers, dandling them in the space above our heads, as dust-motes plays in the light i love donkeys. they try, and they fail. donkeys are cute, and they do their best, and they end up hobbled, maimed, broken in a stream every day a stress test, til breakdown. to be a donkey is to know the truth: God always gives us more than we can handle. he presses my finger into the centre of his hand. ok. well, I like the nun. i thought you would.   good night.   and he kisses me on the forehead, and in his arms I dream of the smell of hay and the breath of beasts