Letter from the Editor, Darcie Friesen Hossack
When we decided to create an Autumn and Winter Holiday-themed issue of WordCity for December, we had hoped to gather together a celebration of as many religious, cultural and seasonal offerings as possible. We hoped. We held our breath. And then, poets and writers began to respond.
We had known to expect Christmas offerings, but when we received, one by one, stories and poems of Hanukkah and Diwali, and Solstice, as well, we understood that what we were compiling was going to be so much more than a collection of separate, holy-day-themed works. Instead, what we had was a coming together of people and places, where our editors and writers and readers wouldn’t just be celebrating each our own cultures, while giving an interested nod to others. We knew that this season, WordCity would be a meeting place of love and wonder, across lines that are not always, or eagerly, crossed.
With that in mind, a few of our writers this month have also helped us to set a table.
Scattered here and there throughout the journal, you’ll find the occasional recipe, sometimes built into a story or a poem, or added afterwards to further lift a grandmother out of the words that contain her, and into your home.
Mitch Toews does exactly this with his Christmas story, bringing us a Mennonite family cookie recipe. And I mention Mitch in particular, because he and I come from the same place: our Mennonite grandmothers’ kitchens.
This month, we’re also bringing you a holiday gift-buying guide in the form of mini book reviews.
There you’ll find everything from a Young Adult novel with a strong female protagonist, to a motorcycle journey, to books of poetry, to another novel that’s a humorous look at life in a small Mennonite town on the Canadian prairies.
As always, we begin with an audio interview by Jane SpokenWord, who speaks this month to Cécile Savage, a remarkable woman who has made her way through, and made her mark on, the male-dominated world of jazz.
Just before that, however, I’d like to introduce you to my own grandmother, Anna Friesen, long since passed, with the first of our seasonal recipes:
When my Mennonite grandmother
was alive, I asked her how to make rollkuchen.
“I’ll show you,” she said, and handed me
a chipped enamel bowl and a fork.
Three eggs from an ice cream pail, fresh
from Uncle Bill’s chickens;
Grandma, delighted when I could crack them with
just one hand.
“Some cream,” she said, and gave me a jar from
Uncle Harry, so thick I needed a spoon to get it out.
Grandma pinched salt and baking soda,
placed the fork in my hand, took my hand in hers, and
from the hundred pound barrel in the cold room downstairs.
A little, then a little more
until the mixture came together.
On Grandma’s table
I pushed the dough away with the heels of my hands, then
with my fingers, gathered it back towards me.
Just for a minute, while
Grandma set a pot of lard onto the back of the stove to melt, then
turn hot enough to burn down the house.
“Listen,” she said,
and tipped a spoonful of water into the pot,
causing it to hiss and scream
as though the devil himself had been dropped
into the fat.
We rolled out the dough,
cut it into rectangles with a butter knife,
cut slits into those, and
folded the dough through to make each into
a knotted rag.
Two at a time, the rollkuchen fried
in the lard, while Grandpa came inside with
a watermelon that
could never be anything
¾ cup cream
1 cup milk
2 ½ tsp salt
1 Tbs baking powder
4 ½ (approx) cups flour
Chill dough before rolling out. Heat a pot of lard to 375F. The rollkuchen are done when they’re golden on both sides. Serve with thick slices of ripe watermelon.
In the Spring, we look forward to bringing you Ramadan and other beloved celebrations. Thank you so much, dear readers, dear writers and editors, for everything you’ve done to make WordCity a place for love and life in 2020.
by Contributing Editor Jane SpokenWord
Cécile Savage in Conversation with Jane SpokenWord
In this month’s podcast we introduce you to Cécile Savage, a jazz musician, composer/improviser, singer, poet, and single mother. In our interview she shares her personal experience of parenting a bi-racial child and shattering the glass ceiling of the role of women in jazz. Throughout history, women have made significant contributions to this male dominated field without recognition. Women, especially professional single mothers have often been overlooked, undervalued and dismissed. At the forefront of the Feminist art movement of the 60’s and 70’s Ms. Savage openly addresses the role of women in jazz, how she is perceived, evaluated or appropriated according to gender and parental stature. ~ Jane SpokenWord
Edited by Sylvia Petter
The call for the December issue was to celebrate world religions – Christmas, Hannukah and beyond. Therefore, we are pleased to bring you fiction by Moscow-born writer and poet Nina Kossman, namely two chapters excerpted from The Hasmonean Chronicle, as well as three short stories from the extended edition of a 2008 novel by former Soviet -born Mark Budman, entitled My Life at First Try, which Robert Olen Butler calls “smart and funny and compelling”. Lakshmi Kern Devadass of Switzerland shares a flash of Diwali, and Canadian Mitchell Toews returns with a short story entitled “Our German Relative”. And recipes can be many things, as AstridL´s “Cherry Strudel” shows. ~ Sylvia Petter
Lakshmi Kern Devadass
Diwali is the Indian puja with oil lamps burning luminous at dusk
Fireworks burst, color paint the sky with dreams for tomorrows
Joy, hope, children and families feast and dance everywhere
Singing boisterous mantras for happiness
Crowds of flames leaping higher opening heaven’s gates
Inviting the Goddess of Diwali to homes made sparkling for her
Darkness and dust drown in fireworks, laughter
The Hasmonean Chronicle
Judah, son of Mattathias, entered Jerusalem limping. He didn’t think a severed toe was a big sacrifice, considering the might of the Seleucid army and all those finely sharpened swords that outnumbered both swords and men in his own army. There was the further disadvantage of his men refusing to fight on the Sabbath, while it was precisely on the Sabbath that Antiochus IV had ordered his army to attack the Jews. He was smart, that Antiochus. He knew the piety of the Jews was an impregnable fortress that would bury them. A thousand of them were slaughtered that day: men, women, children, all letting themselves be pierced by Greek swords. Better death with God than life without Him, they reasoned, and burned like candles in the night.
It was known well beyond the boundaries of their land that the Sabbath of the Jews was untouchable and that made them all the more touchable themselves. On another Sabbath, when the Greeks expected another easy victory, they thought a band of disheveled, poorly armed men was a vision sent to them by Dionysus, the god who gifted them with much drink and merriment the night before. It’s a vision, Antiochus’s men cried as they fled, while Judah, son of Mattathias, son of Hasmon, was more of a vision than others, walking in front of his men, a sword in one hand, a stick in another, and a toe cut in half, leaving a bloody trail. He stopped only when they reached a village where his family temporarily stayed. He signed to the one who walked directly in his bloody footsteps and with words, “Nehora will do it!” dispatched the man to bring his wife.
When Nehora appeared, her black hair cascading down her shoulders and her white robe delineating her charming form, he offered her his foot as a greeting. He knew her so well that he was certain of her response. She took his foot with its hanging toe and surveyed the haggard troops with their swords and sticks and stones.
“Whoever has the biggest stone, step forward!”
Lights were dimmed, candles lit. Out came the platters of Christmas cookies from the warmth of Grandma’s oven. Fresh baked, we had been smelling them since the stories began, all of us waiting for them to arrive. I will never forget the candy taste of the pink icing, the buttery aroma with just a hint of vanilla. I can still see the glint of the crystal sugar in the candlelight. Best of all, dee tjinja got first pick from the overflowing trays!
Grandma began her special story once everyone had their cookies and we chewed as quietly as we could to listen. The room hushed as Grandma rose and drew herself up tall, her back straight, to tell our favourite story.
Lucia loved food. She loved the look, the taste, the feel, the smell, even the sound of it as she kept it that second longer in her mouth before she let it slip away. Maybe the reason she loved sex was because the first time she was seduced, her hands were deep in some pearly dough.
Lucia worked in a restaurant kitchen, learning, among other things, to knead the dough for strudel. Bruno, the Austrian cook, had convinced the restaurant owner that strudel—not just apple strudel, but cherry strudel, plum strudel and even rhubarb strudel—would be novel additions to the dessert menu of The Hungry Taste Bud.
Bruno was an artist and like most artists preferred to get on with the creative part, leaving the routine of preparing the strudel dough to the kitchen help. Yet he always kept an eye the preparation of the dough.
‘250 gm of flour, Lucia. Mix it with one eighth of a litre of water.’ Bruno paused in his instruction as the girl in her white wrap-around apron gingerly measured the flour, tipped it into a bowl and added the liquid.
Lucia glanced up at the man. She needed him to give her time, time to see that it didn’t matter if some of the flour powdered onto the marble top counter.
The First Song
It’s 1954. I am four. My mother in her black fur coat and valenkies, felt boots, pulls me in a sled over the crisp Siberian snow. Fur is still cheap at this latitude. My two-year-old brother sits behind me. His mittened hands are clutching my sleeves.
I am a reindeer driver. I sing a song about what I see. I sing about a tractor pulling a wooden pole behind it to clear the road of snow. I sing about the general store where a giant poster the color of squished strawberries shows a worker and peasant hammering enemies of the state. I sing about a man lying on the sidewalk with his face down. He’s probably drunk, but I sing that the enemies shot him for defending the village. I sing about two men hitting each other in the face. They must be boxers in training, ready to defend my country. I sing about a policeman in his squirrel hat, its earflaps down, in his greatcoat made of deerskin, criss-crossed by shiny leather belts. A rifle is slung over his back. He says, “Move along, folks, move along,” to the people who watch the boxers. He is one great-looking warrior. If I were in charge, I would give him a medal. I sing about a girl in another sled, who lifts the scarf from the bottom of her face momentarily to stick her tongue out at me. I think it’s a girl because she wears a red coat while my brother’s and mine are black. I also have a scarf over my mouth. My words come out garbled, as if I am a foreigner, which I am not yet.
When I learn the alphabet, I’ll write this song down.
Edited by Olga Stein
In “Christmas at Kakuma,” WordCity Monthly’s own Nancy Ndeke sets her poetry and activism aside to contribute a documentary-style piece on Kakuma, the largest extant refugee camp in the world. The camp is located in northern Kenya, but is a temporary home for those who fled wars in South Sudan, and brutal fighting or unrest in larger Congo, Eritrea, and Somalia. Ndeke writes: “Kakuma is a loose Swahili word that stands for ‘Nothing’. Looking closely, one sees that nothing presents itself in many forms.” These lines encapsulate perfectly the human tragedies, the scarred bodies and psyches, that crowd Kakuma and many places like it. Kakuma is rife with more recent tragedies, particularly those of female children and adolescents, who become commodities traded by desperate (or greedy) fathers to older men willing to pay for young wives. In giving us an overview of Kakuma, Ndeke also makes certain to commemorate two adolescent girls who took their own lives rather than allowing themselves to be bartered into arranged marriages. Ndeke ends her account on a somewhat hopeful note. While the tragic deaths of the girls reverberate through the camps, its inhabitants force themselves to welcome Christmas anyway. The holiday is a reminder for Kakuma’s various refugee groups that—whether due to religious beliefs, or communal bonds and traditions—some kind of celebration must take place. But also that for members of each community that they must go on, if only to make certain that their own daughters will get a chance at a better life in the future.
The theme of holidays, in all of their religious and tradition-shaped diversity, is woven with care and sensitivity through this issue. Rona Altrows’s “The Fifth Night,” recounts Altrows’s earliest childhood memory of Hanukkah. Altrows was four years old, and only just becoming aware of the significance of a Jewish holiday. That particular Hanukkah, which began with the joyful celebration of this very old holiday, was shattered by the unforeseen death of a young relative. Altrows’s story, like Ndeke’s account, serves to memorialize not just the tragic loss of a young person, but also the act of remembering itself through the medium of the holiday. A traditional holiday becomes an occasion, for Altrows, for observing a newer, more personal and deeply meaningful tradition.
The story of the origins of Hanukkah is given to us through excerpts from Nina Kossman’s novel Queen of the Jews (NL Herzenberg, the name on the book, is one of Nina Kossman’s pen names). Published by Philistine Press in England, the novel as a whole is set partly in contemporary New York and partly in 2nd century BCE Judea. In the contemporary part of the novel, a Jewish woman living in New York City is writing a book about the ancient Hasmonean dynasty. The excerpt we include in this issue is from the very beginning of that book within a book, “The Hasmonean Chronicle.” A blend of history and witty, whimsical reimagining, her account centres on Judah Maccabee (or Judas Maccabeus), a heroic figure and the founder of the Hasmonean dynasty. History and surreal fable are deftly combined here, sending the reader on a journey back in time to when the ancient Israelites were fighting the Syrian Antiochus IV for their survival as a people beholden to one God. That is the historical context for the miracle of Hannukah.
Chris Corbett’s “A Conversation with Ram Dass on Finding Hope in a Dark World” is an important reminder that spiritualism and personal enlightenment can be found through any number of religions. Corbett’s conversation introduces us to Buddhism, Indian philosophy, and one of their most beloved and respected practitioners. According to Ram Dass, the centre of awareness—and of everything that exists, as I interpret it—is love. Awareness of love, and the overarching requirement to be loving (much easier said than done), is one way to survive the darkness—in the current time and always. What better lesson is there during the holiday season?
And because gifting books is largely about love, it is a great pleasure to include Gordon Phinn’s mini book reviews, as well as two longer pieces, which are excerpted from his recently published collection of literary essays, It’s All About Me. Let me say first that Phinn is a stalwart supporter of Canadian literature. He has been reading and writing about its poets, essayists, and writers of fiction for a long time. His judgement is very good; this is to say that I recommend taking his book recommendations seriously. Second, I have to point out, blushing slightly, that many of the book reviews and essays in It’s All About Me appeared in the literary review, Books in Canada, while I was editor. It has been a pleasure to rediscover them in Phinn’s book. They remind me that the writing (and writers) in BiC were good, and that we did right by Canadian lit culture.
It is with some amusement then that we present Phinn on Harry G. Frankfurt’s On Bullshit, a book that was published in 2005, and which originally appeared as an essay in 1986. Bullshit and bullshitters never go away, and Phinn’s take on it is as fresh as the day it was published. It is crucial for us to see that in the past four years bullshit has increased exponentially, and that accusations of “fake news” are themselves almost always full of it. Sadly, too, given the number of votes Trump managed to get, it is clear that too large a part of the American electorate still needs lessons in discernment. Among other things, Phinn’s essay proves that some types of conversation are always worth having.
Finally, we welcome aboard Mark Budman, a Russian-born novelist and writer of flash fiction who lives in the US. His first of three semi-autobiographical short stories, excerpted from the extended edition of My Life at First Try, begins, appropriately, with a scene in the winter of 1954, when the protagonist is a four-year-old, and living in Siberia with his parents and grandparents (“Stalin sent my grandparents here to chop wood, and my parents volunteered to live with them,” he explains with the conviction of a child who makes due with a ‘romantic’ version of events). What follows is a series of hilarious observations of life in a gulag village (or forced labour camp). Yes, there were children there. They went to school, and were subjected to heaps of ideological bullshit. But not everyone bought the official version of the new Russia. Budman’s little Siberian resident confides: “When I see Stalin’s portraits, I whisper, mothersucker. He’s got a big mustachio, so he probably tickles his mother’s tits. I’ve never seen her portraits, but she deserves it because she raised a son like that.” Along with suffering and death in this desolate place, there was also budding life, resilience, and some occasions for feeling joy: “And Now, my breath settles on my scarf and turns to ice as fast as I exhale…I am a happy reindeer driver.”
Happy holidays dear readers!
CHRISTMAS AT KAKUMA
At this corner of the Northernmost frontier region of Kenya—touching on one side, South Sudan, a little bit of Ethiopia, then Uganda at the point furthest North—is what is infamously known as the largest refugee camp in the world. Hosting close or slightly more than two hundred thousand individuals, the site is as humbling as it’s touching. Here, people live in close proximity in plastic tents. Turkana, the County under which the camp is situated, is a dry zone where water is a scarce commodity. Winds carrying dust from all of the neighboring countries blow into the furrowed brows of many an adult staring into space, dreaming of a different time and place.
No Christmas carols are to be found around this settlement. No music of any sort either. The Christmas noises here are loud arguments from disgruntled youths, who are drunk on local brews. The elders just sigh and stare out in silence.
Kakuma is a loose Swahili word that stands for ‘Nothing’. Looking closely, one sees that nothing presents itself in many forms.
photo by Lucy Altrows
The Fifth Night
My mother taught me that at the moments of our greatest joy we must still remember that people suffer. That’s one reason a traditional Jewish wedding ceremony ends with the shattering of a glass. But a person may create a new ritual to represent the convergence of emotional opposites, a ritual that holds significance only for the person and her family. Does the observance of that ritual, from year to year and generation to generation of that family, count as a tradition? And how do tradition and ritual fit in with the growth of awareness?
The first Chanukah I remember arrived two months after my fourth birthday. In later years I would come to understand the significance of the holiday as an assertion of identity in defiance of oppression, and as a celebration of religious freedom. But at four, what I cared about was fun, food, family. For supper my mother would grate and add and strain and fry as she cooked latkes, luscious potato pancakes, which we slathered with sour cream. She would say a blessing over brightly coloured candles—red, yellow, blue, orange. For each of the eight nights of the holiday, an additional candle would be added, always being lit from the shamas, the helper candle.
My father and my older brother taught me how to spin a dreidel, a little four-sided top with a Hebrew letter printed on each side, and we played lots of dreidel games. I wasn’t a good spinner and got anxious about that, but my father said not to worry—that I’d catch on with time and practice. It turned out that I was already showing signs of the poor eye-hand coordination that has been a hallmark of my life. Still, I revelled in the dreidel games, and my parents treated my brother and me to Chanukah gelt—gold-foil-covered chocolate coins. What’s more, I loved winter, and this was a wintry December in Montreal. Could life get any better?
A Conversation with Ram Dass on Finding Hope in a Dark World
I was first introduced to the book Be Here Now in 1972 by the big sister of my high school sweetheart. I had already been reading books like Autobiography of a Yogi, Christopher Isherwood’s book on Indian philosophy, and anything else I could get my hands on relating to Buddhism, Zen, Sufis, and Western mystics. Still, there was something special about this book by Ram Dass, which brought everything together with a Western sensibility and playfully confirmed the value of a spiritual life. His book inspired many people to look in the same direction, like Steve Jobs, who, after reading the book as a teenager, went to India in search of a teacher.
Ram Dass was continually active in pointing the way to inner peace until he sadly passed away in 2019. I had the good fortune to have a couple of hour-long video chats with him as I was writing my novel Nirvana Blues, and his insights and knowledge were most valuable. Listening to the recordings brought back a flood of good memories. We were constantly laughing, taking turns cracking each other up. It was like having a conversation with a New York stand-up comedian who had studied Eastern philosophy most of his life.
Edited by Geraldine Sinyuy
This month, we have a small library of gift suggestions from our editors and other writers. We have everything from a humourous novel about life in a small Mennonite town, to a Young Adult selection featuring a smart, strong girl making a life for herself, to a novel about a woman reckoning with her family’s past in World War Two-era Europe.
Here’s a look at just one of our picks!
Andrew Unger (Turnstone Press)
Review by Jeremy Robinson
With a humorous and folksy style, Once Removed is a fond look at the foibles of small town life. Timothy Heppner is a struggling ghostwriter whose experience is set in a fictionalized Mennonite town in southern Manitoba. As he struggles with a feeling of helplessness and his own lack of self-confidence, he also grapples with sinister local politicians led by Mayor BLT Wiens – convenient villains who seem to be responsible for all of the town’s ills. However, the politicians’ very cartoonishness serves to indicate that they are merely representatives of a more widespread, much more insidious evil. As Timothy Heppner soon learns, even while we intend to do good and try to live well, we are forced into economic and moral compromises. Can tradition and progress coexist? Is remembering the past still worthwhile as we move towards a hopeful future? What should we preserve? What should we change? Is our economic necessity an excuse for our complicity in a corrupt and self-destructive system? Questions such as these are not easy to answer. And yet, Unger’s light-hearted approach is hopeful and life affirming. The gentle humour of the novel reassures the reader that things can come out right. As Timothy Heppner grows and develops throughout the novel – a bildungsroman of sorts – the reader, too, is challenged to move towards constructive personal action. This is not heavy handed advice, but rather kindly forgiving of Timothy’s (and our) frequent failures. And, underneath it all, the comedic elements of the novel also serve as an act of defiance, mocking and resisting the dominant narratives of progress, and encouraging us along our way.
Introducing two new books by Time of the Poet Republic founder, Mbizo Chirasha, together with James Coburn, Nobel Peace Prize Nominee David Swanson and WORLDBEYONDWAR.ORG
The poets in this book are from many corners of the globe, a lot of
them from places with wars. What does it feel like to be “collateral
damage”? Does the violence the world gives you surge past the poverty
the world gives you in your list of immediate obsessions, does the
violence of war differ from the violence that follows wherever war has
been, does the hatred needed for war dissipate faster than the
chemicals and radiation, or is it redirected less gruesomely than the
As do the souls of Men reflected on their actions and words in this
arena of the incessant flow of the River of life that answers to
humanity. From the land of the Brave (USA) and other accolades from
history, comes James Coburn, a world acclaimed master story teller in
verse. From the heart of Africa, the cradle of man, is the great griot
black poet Mbizo Chirasha who has remained a fugitive from his home
country of Zimbabwe for his courage and bravery in daring to question
the leaderships in office about corruption and human rights abuse.
What a twosome!!
Book Reviews by Gordon Phinn
In a recent New Yorker I discovered, much to my amusement, the unvarnished truth about the book-summarizing service Blinkist, whose users care not to lumber through such tomes as Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, Michelle Obama’s Becoming or Ghislaine Maxwell’s 500-page deposition for her upcoming trial. Fans recounted the huge benefits of gulping down texts in a 15-minute Uber ride. Recalling the ten-line summary of Homer’s Odyssey in Aristotle’s Poetics, professor Jonathan Arc commented, rather wryly I thought, “This is a new version of an old way of reading.” The real shocker is that Blinkist has fifteen million subscribers. Run for the fire exit if that brings you comfort.
In the following I hope to encourage you to buy and read with lasting pleasure the poetry and prose under consideration. All four seem to be fine, if not damn near perfect, gifts in this season of kindness and good cheer.
The Story of a Long-Distance Marriage
by Siddhesh Inamdar
Review by Geraldine Sinyuy
As I walked in the book section of a mall on Hosur Road, Bangalore, India on January 12, 2019, searching for interesting books to take back home to Cameroon, my curious eyes fell on Siddhesh Inamdar’s novel: A Story of a Long Distance marriage. My eager hands immediately reached out for a copy and I shoved the attractive book into my shopping basket and raced towards the counter. Siddhesh Inamdar’s The Story of a Long distance Marriage was released in 2018. The plot of the novel is so intriguing that one will not put it down until he/she reads the last line of the story.
Set in Delhi and New York, the story line revolves around the marriage and love relationship of a newly wedded couple, Rohan and Ira. The novel points to some of the throes that a couple who are both career persons have to undergo if they must make ends meet and also attain their career goals. The author begins the novel with an exacerbating shock and an excruciating pain because just a year after their wedding, the couple has to part for some time as Ira has to travel to the United States of America for further studies. She has just been granted a partial scholarship in “the Department of Arts History at a prestigious university in New York”(4). This offer comes just a single month after Rohan and Ira’s wedding anniversary. In spite of Rohan’s sadness with regards to the fact that Ira will have to be away for one year, Ira is determined to fulfill her dream.
LITERARY NEWS AND WRITING ADVICE
by Contributing Editor Sue Burge
This month’s literary news is very exciting – there’s a new poetry retreat experience available to black poets of African descent. It’s called Obsidian Foundation and its founder is Nick Makoha. Nick is frantically busy fine-tuning the Obsidian Foundation experience ready to receive its first batch of students so I was delighted that we were able to speak. Nick is a Ugandan born poet, playwright and creative entrepreneur. He has lived in Kenya and Saudi Arabia and is now based in London and is a strong presence in the UK poetry scene. His latest poetry collection “Kingdom of Gravity” (Peepal Tree Press 2017) is a hard-hitting examination of the civil war in Uganda which ousted Idi Amin.
Continue to Sue’s Interview, along with Writing Advice from José Ramón Ayllón Guerrero, winner of International Poetry Award, Blas de Otero
Edited by Nancy Ndeke and Clara Burghelea,
with Guest Editing by Lori Roadhouse
What I (roundly) made, a prose poem
This is a mandarin cake, I made it. It’s orange as you see, the brightest, deepest orange, and it’s made with four whole mandarins (or two whole oranges, or four clementines), one-and-a-half cups of ground almonds, two tablespoons of orange blossom water (which comes from Lebanon), and a couple of other things, less important.
My mother made this cake in Florida, where oranges are abundant as you know and where the sun shines all the time, and she gave me the recipe. Then later, in the snows, I found the recipe or a version of it in a book about Spanish cakes, or Mediterranean cakes, or Sephardic Jewish cakes, something like that. I don’t remember exactly what book it was, it was a book on a shelf in a snowed-in house, a white shelf.
The orange blossom water I found in a Lebanese shop down a street which was also snowy, bowed under with snow, but the orange blossom water comes in a bottle, a slim glass bottle with black-curling Arabic script and a picture of trees stencilled on, perhaps they’re orange trees. The oranges are blossoming, or the blossoms are oranging, and the bottle is now on a white shelf in a white cupboard in my snowy kitchen.
Lori D. Roadhouse
THAT GLORIOUS SONG OF OLD
Wheelchairs and daybeds pushed into the main lounge
Patronizing smiles of local touring songsters
bob condescendingly, fearfully, up and down to jingling bells
lights twinkling in odd syncopation
fruitcake doled out to those without restricted diets
Virgin Mary and virgin eggnog
Raise a toast in palsied hands and swallow your meds, please
Fresh pine in the foyer cannot mask
the reek of age-related accidents
Former choir director in her finest sweatsuit
flailing St. Vitas arms
lurching antlers for Rudolph and his gang
Reclusive withered man from down the hall suddenly
stands and Harks the Herald
Solstice Song bury me in ashes bury me in bone bury me in mountainland a thousand miles from home bury me the depth of my height the width of my wonderment and want toss yellowed roses onto freshdug mound let each poet stand and speak one single syllable unutterable truth for I have lived my seasons each
First December in Lawrence, Kansas
I spelled its name in my mind, extatic,
eyes on the fresh visa in my Romanian passport:
A M E R I C A. I hadn’t foreseen
crossing a baseball diamond on foot
in Lawrence, Kansas, the shortcut
to the University bus station.
Early morning. Snow up to my knees.
No one told me the first things I needed:
a driver’s license, a vehicle, winter tires.
I wrap my neck, my chin in the scarf
my grandmother knitted, hid in my suitcase.
I touch my cheeks, expecting to see blood
on the tips of my fingers,
after the wind gust that slapped me.
I part my lips: A M E R I C A.
Each letter sound drops at my feet,
an icicle, or a snowflake.
The Numbering at Bethlehem
After Pieter Bruegel
They have not gathered to enjoy themselves,
their full pockets will soon be emptied.
A mother struggles to hold her little boy
next to the tax gatherer’s desk.
A woman cooks outside,
her two children play nearby,
her husband hurries to help;
the axe on the long trunks.
Some other men, husbands no doubt,
stop working to chat. The pond is crowded
with ice-skating kids and men
with backs bent by baskets.
On a mule’s back, a woman in a blue mantle
and a man slip in among the others.
The carts left outside overnight
are covered with a mantle of snow.
Christmas Time, Christmas Time and Prayers,
Prayers for peace, a peaceful refuge,
Welcome light, with lights on trees,
Green and white, in colored deluge;
Décor delight diversity diverted;
All hope one, all call one, all pray one;
Life to begin, or life, to cease?
Christmas Time, healing time and tremors,
Tremors of blasts, killing blasts,
Farewell love, with flags on caskets
Red and blue, in deathly solitude,
Sacred silence, spirit severed,
All around flowers, all fresh now
All withered now, none in baskets;
Festival of Dashain Dashain comes again in Canada from the back alley of busy routine on a Monday watches my two hands multiplied ten a battle of usual weekdays to my daughters, Dashain is a story I tell them in the car, until we reach the school every year, the same story ends to different stops their curiosity demands details on goddesses riding lions, about multiple hands of the mothers their tiny hands clap sharp on the celebration of victory their faces gleam for the day
Damascus there was a time I thought it would all make sense the mysteries unravel a secret knot revealed on the inside spindle of everything. was sure there was a certain age when magic tricks and miracles became transparent.
Winter Solstice Rose-colored burnishes bright By the western wall, Majestic mauve clouds Sweep the sky. Hues wax radiantly, Glow momentarily, Coalesce, Vanish into voids. Immense stars Gather Into ancient patterns Night materializes. Silver flings her mantle Over all creation. Horses, fields, flower Stand frozen in white time. Shifting pearly fog Enamels frigid air, Etching frosty snowflake As it freezes. Suddenly the sun streaks Blinding flashes, pointing to Pink paths. Day emerges. Day and night So fragile, so finite Til the time The sun implodes And no one is left To linger.
Drowsy leaves of pine-
December-snow has become the white page
Across Europe –
There, I’m writing a letter.
Letter, engraved on the ice
While my hands are getting frozen.
You are searching, on the way to Bethlehem
Walking and walking, many decades before.
Still I have no idea
If my letter, written on ice will reach the destination
Towards your country of pebbles.
Solstice I hate this season of aerosol expectations, too much chocolate, stale traditions, efforts to saturate teens with nostalgic spirit when one family evening is a lifetime stolen from their real world of friends. I cling to outgrown games to slow my daughters’ inevitable drift —empty arms. What ballast can I add?
Taste the auburn smell of autumn glance,
Different shades of coloured leaves that dance,
Flowing rhythm of striptease in a trance,
The last leaf persists, awaiting its last chance.
Flowers gaze at elusive beauty of leaves,
Half green, half yellow carpeting on streets,
Enduring grace of drying petals crease,
Broken branches float in brooks at ease.
Perfect blossoms now a grieving pale,
Enchanted weather of most soulful season
Amen Long time ago, once the star war started. I quit beholding the sky, Moon and planets around it, and in silence uttered a dreaming heaven Rain for me and sea for you I fled with burning feathers. AmI afraid of falling in love? What about you? Choose either absurdity or pain. Live without any pretext in this giant circus. I need someone todream for me If it’s impossible to dream of heaven let it be in its very primitive shape. Rough eyes and fiercely look, such as the sweat of wine and liquor that could be smelled from the armpits. Like the freshness of grape vines in a misty garden, as if some galloping horses had left there; dust, sweat and manure.
Opal Jewelry and Beckoning Bread For Nana She was old, at least As if that won’t be us tomorrow. As if life continues on forever and doesn’t snap shut— a screen door while you’re still on the threshold. She wasn’t in her right mind As if the times she watered tulips or mixed up paint in Styrofoam bowls weren’t consequential, didn’t carry over with her into days emptying out on yellowed linoleum. She’s at Home now As if I’m not remembering how I always felt peaceful around her, the self-contained pool— timidly gathering brown eggs beside her calm body. As if I can just continue to go on without her saying my name or giving me orange sherbet.
The Christmas Scene Mothers rush in and out of kitchens Each making her best to present the best meals. Fathers rush in and out with chickens Each making sure the chicken’s neck is ringed. Children keep themselves busy with Christmas trees. Lights blink on the trees; it comes on and off. Sweets and balloons hang like oranges on the tree. The shop-keeper’s safe is full of red coins Gotten from sweets and balloons. Business people swell the prices of goods, It is Christmas, it’s time to make profit, they say. Transporters double the transport fares, Yet, desperate passengers fight to pay, It is time to be with family, they say. Quarrels break out in some homes. Two or more girls scramble for a dress. “Mother loves you more than me” One says to the other.
The Tourist Visa “The North Pole is melting so where do we go?" "Why, off to the Jungfrau, she's covered in snow. I'll call myself Rudi," the last reindeer said, "and we'll fly down to earth and just park our sled." "But what about visas? They're sticklers, I hear. We can't say we do chimneys and spread loads of good cheer."
Three Six Five A new year will bring The cleansing sensation Of new beginnings Or the bitter reminder Of old regrets
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Photo gallery by Dean Hossack
Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrel gathering Mountain Goat wool for its winter burrow
Jasper National Park. Alberta, Canada.