Letter from the Editor, Darcie Friesen Hossack
Welcome to 2021: Year of the Vaccine.
To say that we are all aching towards a time when the Covid19 pandemic has been lifted from us, and the shroud of solitude and loss along with it, would understate how desperately we all wanted to turn this calendar.
Nothing much has changed yet. Nothing except the hope of so many shots in the arm. It’s coming, though. Finally, it’s coming.
Meanwhile, we turn to the things that sustain us. And since you are here, it’s likely that written art is one of those salves that not only rests your soul but ignites it with the remembrance of life. It’s also what brings us all together, over these pages, celebrating these writers and poets and the depth of human connection they bring.
This month, we have something extraordinary for you: an entire class of fourth year poetry students from the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. Together with their teacher, Diana Manole, we have a poem each from 17 emerging poets, who spent their entire semester learning over Zoom.
When Diana sent me the selected poems, I read with my hand on my throat, then my heart, my head, with tears in my eyes that I haven’t let fall since the pandemic began, nor since the start of the political turmoil that has swirled around it across the Canadian border.
Reading, often aloud, I felt every longing of these students to be seen, be accepted, be loved, be at home, be at peace.
Dear readers, in this feature you will find honesty, strength and hope. You’ll find glimpses into each poet through what they say of themselves and the world around them. And you will see the love and dedication of a teacher who is not only a gift to the classroom, but to the broader world of poets and readers, as well.
This New Year, in which we are all hoping towards a shared tomorrow, it is such an honour for WordCity to do its part in sharing with you these emerging, already powerful voices.
Also this New Year, I’m pleased to connect WordCity to the International Human Rights Art Festival (IHRAF) by way of leading a writing workshop under their banner. Writing for Change, beginning in the last weekend in February, will not only be a month-long class, but will bring together both WordCity editors and contributors to help guide the writing of personal experiences, whether through fiction, memoir or narrative poetry.
Meanwhile, we once again have an issue bursting with works from around the world. The poetry portfolio is so rich, varied and full that when it came time to order the pieces, with few exceptions, I wrote the name of each poet down on a card and shuffled them.
I hope you’ll find the writing here, and over the next months, is an inoculation of sorts: against the feeling that we’re still all so separate and distanced, and against the wait we know is still ahead.
WordCity, and the connections made here have been that for me, and so I thank you for showing up each month to experience it with us.
Thank you and thank you and thank you.
P.S. After I wrote this yesterday, I turned on CNN, which was broadcasting the unfolding, armed insurrection in the United States Capitol. The President incited this violence. The President-Elect called for order, for peace. May the words of the latter be taken to heart, and may writers, poets and artists around the world continue to reflect truth and hope in our work.
Podcast with Jane SpokenWord
In this month’s podcast we introduce you to John Pietaro, a life long New Yorker, author, poet, and musician. In our interview he shares his personal experience of inner city life, his involvement in the struggle for affordable housing caused by gentrification, politics and the effects of Covid 19, as well as his extensive knowledge of the historic NYC underground scene.
~ Jane SpokenWord
John Pietaro was born and raised in Brooklyn NY. His long list of credits include: Columnist/critic of the NYC Jazz Record, curator of the Café Bohemia West Village Word series, his newest completed poetry collection, ‘The Mercer Stands Burning’, a book of short fiction written during the 2020 covid lockdown, ‘Enduring Neon Moments’. His current project is a collaboration with photographer Sherry Rubel, ‘Beneath the Underground’. Pietaro is currently in the final stage of a non-fiction collection On the Creative Front: ‘Essays on the Culture of Liberation.’
John is a contributing writer to Z, the Nation, the Wire (UK), Counter Punch, People’s World, All About Jazz, Political Affairs and other progressive periodicals.
For more visit his website: http://JohnPietaro.com
Edited by Sylvia Petter
This month´s fiction offerings include flash fiction, a short story and a novel excerpt.
There is flash fiction by theatre-driven Catalina Florescu, prolific flash fiction and short story writer, Vineeta Mokkil, and poet and story writer, Kelly Kaur, whose birthday it will be on 23 January.
If you´re wondering about what flash fiction is or does, do check out Nancy Stohlman´s Going Short: An Invitation to Flash Fiction, which in itself takes the form of a novel in flash with each chapter under 1,000 words, the limit for pieces of flash fiction.
Keeping to the flash fiction length, we have an excerpt from Marthese Fenech´s historical novel, Eight-Pointed Cross – a Novel of the Knights of Malta, the first in Fenech’s Siege of Malta Trilogy.
Finally, a short fiction examination of religion(s) in Nick Gerrard´s “Trotzky in the Amazon”.
Hoping you enjoy this issue and that 2021 will be a year more clement for those in need. ~ Sylvia Petter
Two Sisters Discuss the 7th Commandment
“She said she wanted to get married.”
“Who said that?”
“But she is married.”
“I know that.”
“Is she having an episode or what?”
“An episode of what? She does not have episodes.”
“How about last month when she said ‘they all die so young’?”
“When did she say that?”
“Last month when we were at the market.”
“I thought she meant the apples. Like in they rot too easily.”
“She meant men.”
“How do you know?”
“You stupid or what?”
“Look, our mother was never monogamous.”
“So, when she said ‘they all die so young,’ what did she mean?”
The Owl On My Shoulder (First Published in Jellyfish Review)
“The owl on my shoulder is my father,” I tell people at work on Monday morning. “He has taken this form to escape his adversaries.” I get incredulous stares and eyerolls from the doubters. They stay away from me all day as if I have a contagious disease. A few colleagues are intrigued by the bird. They come to me, hungry for answers. Was my father a wizard? Did he stand under the moon and chant a spell to pull this off? Were his adversaries wizards too? Did they have magical powers?
“Sorry,” I say. “I’m not allowed to give away any secrets”
The owl snoozes peacefully on my shoulder while I get on with my typing. At lunch hour, I take him to the cafeteria with me. He watches the people crowding around the counter with some interest. They are too involved in placing their orders to notice him. I pick up a chicken salad and a glass of coke. “You can have half my sandwich,” I tell the bird. He nods as if he understands. Eva joins us at our table. She is drinking a cup of black coffee because she is not in the mood for food. She never is. I think she lives on air. And gallons and gallons of coffee.
My high-pitched wails permeated the humid, grey-walled hospital room. Loud, angry protests of being rudely thrust into the crap of life. My mother shed bitter tears of regret. Not the coveted son my father wanted. A second daughter. A woman who could only deliver girl children. Useless. My mother gazed indifferently at my face in curious scrutiny – a replica of the man, my father. She traced the handsome lines of my cheek bones, locked eyes with my strong, defiant gaze and absent-mindedly tapped my crooked, prominent, quivering nose. My father did not show up at the hospital for two days. Only a girl.
An excerpt from Eight Pointed Cross – a Novel of the Knights of Malta, the first in Fenech’s Siege of Malta Trilogy.
Angelica pins a freshly washed blanket to the line, smiling at Katrina’s lively description of the sword Augustine gave Domenicus last night. Angelica just doesn’t know what to make of this girl.
“It’s glorious! Fit for the Grand Master,” Katrina gushes as she wrings dirty water from a sheet, her forearms running with greyish suds, cheeks pink from rising steam. The hospital’s heavy back door whines suddenly on its hinges. Out shuffles Censina, a broad-shouldered laundress with large grey eyes and coarse black whiskers above her lip. She drops a full wicker basket at Katrina’s feet, gives her a hostile once-over.
“You shouldn’t work outdoors. Open air is the breath of the devil.”
Trotsky in the Amazon
We had never been religious in our family, well there was one Uncle and Aunt who we hated visiting as they always dragged us along to Sunday school meetings. But I didn’t mind that in the end as I got off with Julie Clarke, the best looking girl; and she wasn’t religious at all as I found out in the cemetery after class.
In school one of the best lessons we had was Religious Education. And that was saying something as it was a crappy school; full of corporal punishment and depressed teachers, so mostly we just fucked around or fucked off to a mate’s house to wait out the day.
But for a change, in R.E we had a cool guy who taught us about ethics and about different religions; and when he started the sex class by writing ‘fucking, prick and cunt’ on the board we knew this was something to pay attention to.
He took us on trips to all the local religious centres around our way; Mosques, Synagogues, Hindu temples and even a Quaker meeting house. So, we learnt firsthand about these religions and how they did things. It didn’t make me want to be involved in any religion but it was interesting to know about them.
Edited by Olga Stein
This spring I walked across the bottom field of my farm, crunching my way through the tall canary grass that had formed grey-green mats over the field, and reaching for the light, baby fir trees, barely sprung from the wet ground. Land everywhere records its history and then buries it. Buildings buckle and fall down; pavement cracks with fungi, and then grass and tall strong plants like thistles and burdocks appear, precursors to the forest that will one day grow there if the land is left alone.
I am watching the farm transform. Every day, I walk among ghosts: dead orchards, dead house, parts of machines. Old paths. Old ways. The old names we made as children. I will take them with me into the house of the dead.
I thread my way through towers of bright timothy, tansy, burdocks. The grass is high except for the places where the geese and the elk have eaten their fill. But no one eats the tall grey grass going to seed. It should have been cut for hay. The cows should have eaten the pasture down to its roots. There should be hay piled in the shed. There should be a bright rainbow of chickens happily chasing grasshoppers.
But the tall grass has its own presence.
I don’t know how to feel about this.
Who Will Save Batman?
(Translated from the Russian by Philip Nikolayev)
There is a yard in Cambridge bordered by a brick hospital wall, a side street, and a large parking lot. It lies adjacent to Somerville, but there is nothing symbolic about this fact, since the two towns are barely distinguishable. The green street signs turn blue, that’s all. Ambulatory patients mill about the yard. They are allowed a smoke every two hours. I mill about with them, dressed in my usual jeans and t-shirt. The back half of my head is shaved clean right up to the top, which is why I put on a baseball cap backwards every morning before leaving for the clinic.
What caused my nervous breakdown? A trifle. I had discovered that I had lice. I went to a hair salon and the hairdresser informed me: “I can’t do your hair. I’ve found a louse. We maintain sanitary standards here.” Humiliated, I shuffled off home under the reproachful gazes of pristine passers-by. At home I looked up instructions for removing insects from the surface of the human body. The section on lice recommended that I grease up my hair with mayonnaise and leave it like that under a plastic bag overnight in order to smother the lice. It turns out that these piddling critters want to breathe, too. I applied mayonnaise methodically and lay down next to my husband after covering my pillow with a towel. He didn’t even notice.
Sleeping in mayonnaise up to your ears is like sleeping with your head in a bowl of Russian salad. I lifted it (the head) from time to time to wipe a mayonnaise tear from my face. What fortified me was the expectation that no shampoo was as radically effective, as the instructions promised. In the morning I washed off the mayonnaise and asked Philip to take a look.
Two book-related essays by Gordon Phinn from his recently published book It’s All About Me: How Criticism Mirrors The Self
The day I began to compose myself in order to write this review, the author’s introduction reminded me that the war in Angola has been grinding on since 1975, and the Globe and Mail noted that a bomb planted on a train track by UNITA rebels had halted an express, enabling them to attack and kill approximately 252 people. You can call it coincidence, but I’ll stick to synchronicity, just as I did when starting Peter Maass’ 1996 Bosnia reportage, Love Thy Neighbour, the very day Slobodan Milosevic was finally helicoptered into confinement.
You see chance in a world rich with randomness, and I see causal connections mysteriously designed and delivered on cue. We may honour or snicker at each other’s attitudes, but we know it takes all sorts to make a world, and in our lovable liberal democracy we blandly tolerate a vast number of norms, agreeing to disagree on just about any topic placed on the table. Opinions proliferate and flourish in their consensus reality (can this be rephrased?) climates. We may swat flies and mosquitos, but we no longer swat each other—at least not too much.
Edited by Geraldine Sinyuy
BETWEEN STOLEN GLANCES
REVIEW BY PROF RAHMAN SHAARI, MALAYSIA
SPECIALISED STYLES OF SITI RUQAIYAH HASHIM
An effective poem is a poem that drives readers to see or figure out things from different angles. This condition is a definition of a poem, which is foreign and different from familiar ones. This definition, in addition to stating the secrecy aspect, is rarely mentioned in poetry discussions.
For example, when people give ‘Salam (Peace Be upon You)’, then generally people think of goodness, without question to whom the wishes are made. I consider Siti Ruqaiyah Hashim’s poetry entitled “Peace Be upon You Davos” effective because of the presence of the question: “But, for whom?” at the end of the first stanza. The question is already foreign from familiarity. The foreign effect is then added in the cynical statement of the third stanza:
Peace be upon you Davos
Yes! I know
American fighter jets need to be sold
Sophisticated Israeli drones
Need to be researched and produced
So that more could be killed
Literary News and Writing Advice
with Sue Burge
In this month’s literary news I’m very excited to chat to Jennifer Wong. Jennifer was born and grew up in Hong Kong and is now living in the UK. She’s a writer, translator and educator with an MA in creative writing from the University of East Anglia as well as a PhD in creative writing from Oxford Brookes where she works as an Associate Lecturer. Jennifer’s brilliant collection, Letters Home 回家, is her third book and was published by Nine Arches in 2020. These poems explore the liminal space between cultures and what home means, both physically and psychologically. It is poignant and haunting while at the same time being grounded in the everyday needs brought about by homesickness and longing. Jenny’s generous creative spirit is a strong presence in both the UK and Hong Kong poetry scenes and I was pleased to be able to explore these worlds with her in more depth.
Edited by Nancy Ndeke and Clara Burghelea
Collected Poetry from the
University of Guelph Creative Writing Program
In the last twenty minutes on the airplane
They opened the window shades
And we watched the sun rise over Tel Aviv.
This is not a metaphor,
This is only about the rotation of the earth.
Somebody had warned us before we left
That airport security in Israel was the best in the world.
We didn’t need the reminder; on the plane my mother
Worried that they’d check her Facebook page.
When the lights were out, I came out to my brother.
Somebody in the row ahead of us
Was watching a movie full of terrorists
Who looked like my Republican grandfather.
Kathy met us past the gates, kissed both my cheeks
And said my then-name with that familiar muddle
Of Arabic and southern twang that made it
Almost excusable. I’d told my brother I didn’t want to use it anymore,
But for our few days in Bethlehem, the people we met wore it out.
I let them. They said, I have a sister with that name.
A daughter. I wasn’t a sister or a daughter, but I wanted to stop
Feeling like a white tourist, or a missionary. I wanted them
To keep making me, even passively, a relative.
In the Israeli airport again, on our way out,
A security officer took issue with my mother’s middle name.
Nabeehah. What kind of name is that?
It’s Lebanese, said my mother.
He looked suspiciously at our huddle of pale family members.
Is that where you’re from?
Well, she said, My father was Lebanese American.
Oh, you’re American, he said, relaxing,
And waved us through.
Mim Teagan Haworth
Thoughts on WordCity
by Nancy Ndeke
A magazine toddler,
An open handed stranger,
A time zone barrier breaker,
An open yard for all to bask,
Taking in the tidal voices,
Aching to say it’s piece,
A market where banter and glee greets a new comer,
A counter serving goodwill,
Each a treat to the whole,
What makes you tick,
What another halts in fear,
What makes you laugh,
What another hesitates to embrace,
A global village arena,
At the wealth of each contribution,
The highest good of all takes the front pew,
Gentle attraction to what makes us thrive,
Each reaching a lesson,
Each impacting a notion,
That difference is beautiful,
That diversity is incredible,
Hence this flag of white roses,
Running the seven seas and oceans known,
Seeking only to enrich,
The rhythms of words in our world,
In this virtual city,
Places that have no names
places that have no
names spring in
my mind insisting that
their existence is
a fact irrefutable
the places that have no
names have people without
faces floating in
the after-death decay
of ocean contamination
the places that have no
names with faceless people floating
in the ocean of decay exude
a cold rotten vibe killing all
that grows that swims that jumps
that sees that speaks that
faces the world alive
in the ocean of decay
people without faces
that are open
Close your eyes
dead fish float in an ocean of decay
Close your eyes
a thumb and a forefinger
shuts them close putting
the dead to eternal sleep
but the dead
their eyes stay open
people without faces
in the nameless places
that stay open
and the day
can we say
that the faceless people
who did not need to hide
IN THREE STANZAS
I, too, am America, but…
The dinner table
Admits privileged company still,
My colour continues
To be a strike against me,
Despite the claims of equality,
The back door
Is still the only entry point
And the dinner guests
See me more
As far less
Today, Justice is…
Holding an intense conversation with me
At home about the crimes this country
Here, a clothesline,
a slender horizontal
pedestrian with a duty
teeth in the wind.
This House is Old
When I was born - seems long ago -
This house already knew that woe
And joy are mixed by time's slow flow.
That mix (plus bricks) births quid pro quo
A pact all ancient houses know...
Old houses secrets keep, below
Until a digger seeks to know
And I know souls, so long ago
Before my birth, in candleglow
Moved through these rooms
That I now know
And climbed these stairs
Their feet where my feet
Now must go
Here sounds, rebounding from these walls
On the streets after quarantine
We relearn the grass, weeds, dandelions,
tangled in the street bench.
We calculate distance, protection radius.
The trees breasts, full and vernal, have always
given these masks against the sun?
On the sidewalks, shining over cobblestones,
oranges or tangerines, bloating, rotting, eaten by maggots.
See the street, steep and narrow, is what we used to call loneliness.
We are children again.
We point out everything, trying to record names.
We call the square—square, tree—tree, pond—pond.
We look at each other, uncertainty in our eyes.
Are the words right to begin this new world?
The miserable are still miserable.
Who are those walking beside us?
We buy bread and coffee.
Do they still have the same name?
A new language is necessary.
I hid all the sorrows of the world
My cry is not enough
An unbearable burden
The silence is perfect
The lightening over the lake
Is a butterfly’s blink
The essence that explains
The creation of the night and day
In which the sky and the rain
Are smaller than my sadness
The Sign on the Dead End Road Says Reunion
“The illusion of detachment,” a chronicler once said,
hand leaning on sequoia, looking up as if all history
was born from its branches. I held my breath briefly,
cleared my throat, crystallized that moment, took pleasure
in the voice that refused to sing with an out-of-tune chorus.
A kind of reverse osmosis. A molecule moving freely,
ungoverned by the limitations of absolute zero.
When the con
we’ll build more cages in Texas to house children, kill dreams,
and it will be justified beneath the umbra of inflated thoughts.
There’s a language for every moment. Syllabic flames
clinging to tongues like tight silk to skin.
What is known and unknown lies between pauses.
Ageless cosmic dandelions floating in a soup bowl.
(To 167 passengers and 9 crews perished in flight 752 Tehran on 8th of January 2020)
And still I am waiting for
something to happen somewhere
without knowing what and how.
One year has passed since
the downing of Flight PS752, and
still cruel politicians are
to protect themselves
and spread the meaningless words
in press conferences
to make an announcement
about how just they are
while they are in power
by unjust relations
and their holy words are only
haggling the priceless lives
and loves that were
perished by them.
Since they bargain for
more modern weapons too.
I am waiting like my ancestors
and like their handprints
on the cave’s wall, that are
still waiting like me,
for the essence of morality.
I walk on seashells
I walk on seashells, I walk on oyster shells
And tread the fine-grained sand between,
Gaze at the rippling water’s pearly sheen
Stretching to waterfront lawns of grand hotels,
The ebb and flow of the tide, the swells,
And wonder again what might have been.
For I lost it all, yet still I dream
Of castles, bells and citadels.
I gather my skirts, hold my head up high:
He bruised my body but not my mind,
My penurious family turned a blind eye
Pray tell me, on whom could I rely?
My husband is seen as wealthy and kind –
But I’d rather the boarding house nearby!
Tell me something I don’t know,
that the mirror has three faces, if not more.
Or that easy does not necessarily does it.
It does not!
That the good outweighs the bad,
perhaps, for all we know.
Tell me again, if you’ve learned
that your thoughts are worth more than a cent,
that to fuck up is divine and it’s human to repent,
that well said can be even better than well done.
That the good outweighs the bad, not doubt
for all we care.
Tell me more now. Just say yes:
Can I call a spade a dove, or just a spade?
Can I hope for something new under the sun?
Aren’t things almost always what they seem?
Does the good outweigh the bad?
We know it does! For all we stand.
Originally published on March 2018 in the anthology “Persian Sugar in English Tea” by Soodabeh Saeidnia
“Mobile garden dress” by Nicole Dextras, as seen in installation at Todmorden Mills, Toronto, July 2014.
an ekphrastic poem
What I want
What i want to know is, yellow lady, light midsummer light
yes you, yellow-skirt
on Pottery Road
potting about lady
mellow yellow-dappled hoop
under pleated wear
basket-boned, pot-bellied pot
how many children under there
madame, my dame?
i want to know how many children
It’s easier to love you on paper
where everything is polished up
Where every word walks
from your hands
to my eyes
and looks a lot like sunset
Looks a lot like a garden
Looks a lot like me
not so much
Pui Ying Wong
May the old roof hold off the rain,
the garden staying a garden and not a grave.
May there be coffee in the morning cup
and sunlight, even a sliver suffices.
May there be clean dishes, napkins
on the table, two of each.
May this house be fortified with memories
and the bread of poetry.
THE CROW'S ECHO
I've come looking for a poem
and found a white eraser
left on the sidewalk.
What a child has left behind
leaves me pondering,
"Do I know the sky?"
Crow, I see now
a difference in reliance
as I call and call.
Being between empty buildings
my voice is stopped
not by the appearance of you, no,
leading one of my ears to a door,
leaving each caw sounding as if
it echoes through what I
peer into and would say
are rooms and a hallway.
I stop and smile, briefly,
ask out loud, asking someone,
"Try to imagine the crow's echo,
try to, just once."
empty sky, empty heart.
the rush, rush, rushing of water.
an old man on a mountain top,
watching a bird in flight.
stepping on to the path
here in the emptiness—the empty, emptiness of self.
sitting on the top of a mountain li po and i
shrouded in clouds of ancient wisdom,
unlocking the landmines of the heart,
until all that is left
is the mountain
and a bird song.
Michael Lee Johnson
It’s going to rain tonight, thunder.
I’m going to lead the group tonight talking
about Rational Emotive Therapy,
belief challenges thought change,
Dr. Albert Ellis.
I’m a hero in my self-worship,
self-infused patient of my pain,
thoughtful, probabilistic atheism
with a slant toward Jesus in private.
Rules roll gently creeping
through my body with arthritis
a hint of mental pain.
Sitting in my 2001 Chevy S-10 truck,
writing this poem, late as usual.
It’s going to rain, thunder
Bengal tiger, Chinese dragon,
Asian elephant, African lion,
Sea of fire, lake of salt –
The clouds can take on any form!
Now white pillows on a blue sheet,
Now speeding space ships, wherever from,
And now a grey ceiling blocking the sun’s heat –
I love to watch the clouds transform!
Back when I was a young lad,
Rather than play football or skip ropes,
I used to lie on the grass, facing skywards,
Just to see the clouds perform!
I’ve seen Washington crossing the Delaware
And Jesus Christ giving a sermon.
’Saw Napoleon at Waterloo but before I could yell, “Beware!”
The clouds changed again, as is their norm!
Down into dusty subterraneous
passages where trains race.
Silver rods sped through dream
stations transforming tunnels
with bolts of blue white sparks.
On a steel car looking out the
window. Careening in pitch black.
On edge, through trees into lights,
crashing fast against buildings.