“Seeds” – Erin Flegg

meditation

For two weeks straight we lay flagstone, my head emptied of any thought that isn’t engage your core, what happens when we’re married, lift from your legs, how do bodies shift, protect your wrists.

We work every day, more hours than we’re used to, to finish the job before a deadline imposed by a surgery that will change everything, but only a little.

When we finish you tell me you have a surprise for me. We get in the truck packed full with tools and gravel and lunch scraps and you drive me to the nearest nursery, tell me I can have any plant I want.

In my excitement I forget to lock the passenger door, drop dust and crumbs from my clothes as I touch dry hands to shelves of zinnias and calibrachoa, different colours than the ones already hanging in a pot on our deck. On the boulevard is a bed of poppies, paper thin and swaying yellow and orange. I’ve been trying for years to grow poppies but the morning glory always ravage them below ground. Shadowy invaders hide behind pale blooms and grow large on a diet of my tulip and crocus bulbs. Seeds and seeds and seeds and no fruit.

In the spring I planted seeds in plastic pots indoors, hoping to keep them safe on the second floor. I worry about them more than I did last year, probably something to do with turning 30, ticking clocks and revolution.

In the back of the nursery there are Icelandic poppies, big and showing pink at the tips of their pods, about to burst. I consider one, its stalk thick and hardy, its tallest pod independent but inviting. I imagine it in the backyard, then take a step back from the display. I think about my existing allegiances, the potential still buried in poor dirt and plastic. I want it, but I shouldn’t. Too much is already at stake, too much time spent comforting my own frilly green leaves as they attempt to sprout stalks and pods of their own. I have to give them a proper chance. They’re so delicate, the comparison might crush them, and I can’t sacrifice any more flowers.

One shelf over are the anemones, white with yellow centres. They’re nice but they’re not enough. Don’t fuck it up, you say, poking me gently in one rib and smiling. This is very important.

There’s a plant I don’t recognize. There are no flowers, just wide flat green leaves on narrow stems, fanned out like enormous nasturtiums. On the tag is a dark flower. It’s a hollyhock, or at least it will be. The tag says it will bloom deep burgundy and solid, almost black except for tiny yellow centres, by late summer. I pick it up and try not to imagine what it will look like, leave space in my mind for it’s unfurling.

I carry it on my lap in the passenger seat, dig a hole in the ground in front of our house and plant it. I press the dirt in with my hands and sit down next to it. Everything will change, but only a little.

 

these words by Erin Flegg were inspired by the work of Olaf Hajek

“Breakfast” – Kate Shaw

Kevin Calixte-Sukhasana-Cel-1024x683

The views expressed in the texts do not necessarily represent the views of the artist.

 

She sipped her coffee soundlessly. It had always struck me, how little noise she could make over breakfast these days if left unprovoked. Her fork never plunged all the way through a waffle to clink! the plate, her knife never scraped or dinged! the fork. She drank her coffee, and the mug didn’t make a sound when placed back on the cork coaster.

“What time will you be home from work tonight?”

A guffaw during silent worship is more acceptable than words over breakfast with her. Startled eyes flashed at mine from over the orange juice. A silent sip. A hiss of a word, “Eight.”

I nodded, castigated. She deposited her dishes in the sink with a clank! that resounded as she exited the kitchen. There was shuffling in the den as she gathered her things, and soon the door closed behind her.

“Yes, this is Amadeo’s? I’ve got a reservation for tonight under Polowski. P-O-L…Exactly. I need to cancel.”

 

these words by Kate Shaw were inspired by the work of Kevin Calixte

“On How to Say No” – Annie Rubin

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The views expressed in the texts do not necessarily represent the views of the artist.

 

It was unsettling to be back there alone. An impulsive decision spurred by the phone call—or lack thereof—and now she was sitting in the square by her old apartment on a bench in the dark. She checked her phone—it was ten. Still no messages.

She’d taken a seat between the trees that shook gently in the wind, and a rain repeatedly sprinkled and let up as if on a loop. She figured it would be better to be out of the house if he did decide to ring. Public spaces always felt more manageable, controlled: don’t make a scene, Ma used to say; Dad followed her words like they were law.

He slammed the door when he left, causing the dishes to rattle on their shelves. She feared for the porcelain set of four plates and bowls—hand-painted from Sorrento—they’d bought together on holiday. One of them had chipped once and she’d read somewhere you were supposed to throw it away after that but she never did.

She was walking now, in circles up and down the block that smelled like home. Tomorrow she would change the locks. There was no guidebook on how to say no. Only repeated frustration, feigning forgiveness until she overflowed, erupting with all that was never said.

It came out as glitter, bursting into his crevices, filling him with remorse, and an anger as uncontrollable as the thundering laugh she was once able to evoke from him by singing his name. He used to call her his.

Now she wanted to be her own. Didn’t quite know how to do that either. She stared at the ground, hovering before the doorstep of their building. She ached to know what it takes to rebuild.

 

these words by Annie Rubin were inspired by the work of Kevin Calixte

“f e t u s” – Jo-Ann Zhou

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The views expressed in the texts do not necessarily represent the views of the artist.

The pounding was growing louder and louder, like the thump thump thump of an insipid beat on a dancefloor. It was closing in around her, pressing on her back, her temples, her chest. Breathing became difficult as the air around her thinned. Her body ached from exhaustion, as the walls—thick with red grime—loomed closer and closer.

“You’ll never make your way out.” The taunt seemed to come from all sides, echoing inside the dark sickly warm space.

“FIGHT BACK!” the voice inside her insisted.

“You won’t amount to anything substantial. You don’t have what it takes to make it out there.” The call reverberated, cutting through the hot dense air, ringing in her ears. It filled her heart with dread, punctuated by that incessant thump thump thump that echoed deep in her chest.

Maybe her captor was right, she thought. Maybe she was in safer in here, in these familiar red walls.

“NO! FIGHT BACK!”

She took a breath of precious, scarce air and reached out with her fists, hoping to face her tormentor, but her hands were met by thick red clots punctuated by a sweet metallic smell that was engulfing her nostrils.

“You clearly aren’t trying hard enough. You could do so much better than this. What is wrong with you?”

The little voice inside her head considered this. Was this true? Was she not trying hard enough?

“No,” she thought. She needed to get to the other side of the walls that were closing in around her; she needed to see her tormentor. “I will find a way out.”

Blindly, struggling through the darkness and the tightening space, she reached up above her, thrusting through the red mucous to grab hold of the wet spongy walls. The thumping continued to crescendo, reaching a feverish pitch that vibrated through her core as she hoisted herself up. The walls contracted, forcing her back, but she pushed upwards again, and the sheer effort of the movement was taxing with so little oxygen. Finally, her head pierced the pulpy membrane, bursting forward into a rush of cold fresh air.

As her shoulders, then arms emerged from the hole, she opened her eyes and looked out, ready to face her captor. It took a few moments for her eyes to adjust to the light, and when they focused she saw her at last—an anxious gaunt face covered in blood glancing at her through a single pane of reflective glass.

 

these words by Jo-Ann Zhou were inspired by the work of Kevin Calixte

“Cut From the Same Cloth” – Tristen Sutherland

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Mrs. Anita Thomas loved her rocking chair. For hours, she would sit, rocking back and forth, humming to herself, blanket tucked neatly in her lap. Sometimes, I would watch her from across the street, as I toted my schoolbag home. She was a creature of habit. Always in the same spot. Staring at her blanket, like a statue.

On a day when I was feeling particularly brave, I crossed the street to get a closer look at Mrs. Anita Thomas. I peeked at her porch from behind one of her neighbour’s bushes, when she spotted me and called me over. Sheepishly, I approached, eyes downcast. Her face was hard and her brows were furrowed. I prepared myself for the reprimanding, keeping eyes on my scuffed shoes. Then, there was laughter? I looked up at Mrs. Anita Thomas, who was wiping a tear from her eye. Her face was soft, her smile seemed to disappear into a sea of welcoming wrinkles. I smiled weakly, not understanding the joke.

“I’m sorry,” she said, composing herself a little. “I couldn’t help myself. What’s your name, little girl?”

I told her and the next thing I knew, I was sitting alongside her nibbling an almond biscuit. It was strange to see her up close. She wasn’t a statue at all. As she spoke, she gesticulated, her chair rocking more severely when she was impassioned. I watched her as she spoke, transfixed by her whole demeanour. That was the day I became a part of Mrs. Anita Thomas’s routine.

Every day after school the scene would be the same: Me, sitting next to Mrs. Anita Thomas, her in her rocker and me on my chair, her weaving together a tale. Every story began the same way. I would take a bite of my biscuit, and Mrs. Anita Thomas would point a dark root-like finger towards the green and red blanket on her lap. Each day, her knobby finger would point to a new section of the blanket. Once settled, she would begin: “This is a story of our ancestors, and it begins with this piece of cloth…” Every time she said this, I would marvel at her use of our. It implied that we were one in the same, cut from the same cloth somehow. That was always my favourite part.

I remember asking my mum where we were from and her responding, without looking up from the newspaper, “Halifax, sweetie.” But that was not the answer I was searching for.

Mrs. Anita Thomas’s stories were always about our ancestors. She spoke of complicated plots involving star-crossed lovers, with mahogany skin and dueling families and traditions that I never heard of. When I pressed my mother further about our family’s origins, citing Mrs. Anita Thomas’s stories, she would assure me that those were just stories. As far as my mother knew, our family was from Halifax. We were Canadian through and through.

Despite my mum’s insistence on our Canadianness, I believed in Mrs. Anita Thomas’s blanket. I imagined our ancestors weaving together the cloth, infusing it with their stories. Knowing the stories of our ancestors made me feel strong. There was an our.

Mrs. Anita Thomas passed and left her blanket to me. I was 12 at the time, still clinging to my childhood, still clinging to her stories. I was shattered when I discovered the “Made in China” tag on the underside of the blanket. In that moment, I accepted my Canadianness like a bitter pill. There was no our.

When my daughter walks in, to see me in tears holding an old red-and-green blanket, I don’t know what to say. She stands in the doorway, peering at me, eyebrows implying an air of concern. After a moment, I spread the blanket on the floor and invite my young daughter to sit on my lap. I take a breath and point to a section of the blanket. I begin: “This is a story of our ancestors, and it begins with this piece of cloth…”

 

these words by Tristen Sutherland were inspired by the work of Nick Liefhebber

“Grandma’s Hands” – Josh Elyea

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As I sit on the bus, I look to the lady next to me. She has severe hands, crooked fingers with hard knuckles. My grandmother had hands like that. I used to stare at them, gnarled and hooked like talons, as she tried to teach me to play the piano. She used to laugh when I’d play only the black keys, and she’d sing softly, almost at a whisper, when we’d play her favorite hymns. She had a terrific voice, my Gram—one of the all-time greats. It was a voice of contradictions, hers—polite but gravelly, blue collar but lyrical—and she had a funny way of speaking, an off-kilter cadence to her voice that was somewhere between southern drawl and Irish poet. She hated her voice, but it made for the best stories and the best Sunday mornings.

My grandma’s hands used to drop the needle on her old Crosley, and somewhere in the fog of my memory I remain a child, wide-eyed and dumbfounded, awed that such a primitive system of bumps and ridges could summon forth the soul, the smoulder of Sam Cooke with apparent ease. The needle of the record player was hypnotising, intoxicating, but there seemed to be no immediate correlation between the movements of the needle and the sound of the soul music cascading through the room. I couldn’t understand, and when I asked my grandmother why this was, she told me that you couldn’t see soul, you just had to listen for it.

 

these words by Josh Elyea were inspired by the work of Shanna Strauss

“Diaspora Blues” – Nailah King

SHANNA STRAUSS_ Hadithi Njoo_ Mixed media on wood_ 24in x 30''

“Where are you from?”

He was asked this often and the answer was always difficult. What they needed to understand was his journey didn’t start here but a place miles and miles away among lush earth and under a coral sun. Massive ships sailed to the shoreline taking whoever couldn’t escape, headed to the unknown. Those they captured cruised through seas and oceans but many died along the way.

He imagined that his ancestors made a break for it and ended up in the Caribbean. Warm shores, tropical fruit, sun, sand, but far from home.

Some of his friends talked about creating family trees on the internet, talked about their families. Uncle John is married to Auntie Lynn. They met in university in the ’80s. How nice to have an ancestry so clear and defined, despite having robbed others of the same.

He often thought about them.

It made him angry to think about a known point in his bloodline where the stories stopped. He couldn’t get stories about any time before his great-grandparents. Even those stories were limited. His parents couldn’t even remember their names.

They talked about carnival, Kadooment days of the past, in great detail. The costumes, the music and the food. Who they saw and who they danced with. They didn’t want to think about that dark history; about who before them could have been slaves.

What he knew of any place was a story. Even in Canada.

He’d never been to Whistler—or even Banff. He remembers the Rockies from a train ride they took when he was very young. His mother told him that the mountains were beautiful and breathtaking. He just remembered a flash of brown and grey rock and wanting to use the bathroom.

Sometimes, he remembers the beaches. The smell of the sea and the sound of his grandmother’s voice.

He wondered, did she think about them, his ancestors?

His friends often questioned him about his heritage. “There’s no information earlier than your great-grandparents?” they’d ask him.

Depending on his mood, sometimes he understood their incredulity. With modern technology like ancestry.ca, and 23andme, he should have been able to make inroads, progress.

Still, he didn’t want simply names. He wanted their stories.

He wanted to know what Africa was like, what life was like before lives were taken. Before histories were skewed, erased or lost.

It was good enough for them to have their meaningless anecdotes about how their uncles, aunts and whoever else got together. He wanted more.

Each year, a new patch of information came to the fore through old photographs, family connections or new stories.

Still, he wondered about them.

Who did they love, or lose? Did they know it was the last time they’d see their lands and what would happen to the generations that followed? Did they have hope they’d return?

“Dude, you totally drifted off.”

“Oh, I’m from Vancouver.

 

these words by Nailah King were inspired by the work of Shanna Strauss

“Little Trophies” – Michelle Kelm

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I wanted to run to the smaller car, the older model Toyota, its front end crumpled like a paper bag. I wanted to run to the aid of the grey-haired woman who was visibly shaken but not visibly injured, hands over her mouth, unsure of whether to get out of her car or not. I wanted to ask if she was okay, had she hit her head, was she dizzy. I wanted to say don’t get up just yet, catch your breath, does anything hurt, help will be here soon. But I was worried she’d brush off my assistance. I was worried someone else would run faster, get there first, and I’d be left breathless in the middle of a wreck, everyone wondering what the hell I was doing.

I wanted to call 911 and report the accident, two cars, one pulling onto a busy street, poor visibility, a tough spot for a left turn, the other going too fast, but I was sure someone else was already calling, and I’d just clog up the line. I was sure someone started dialling as soon as the tires squealed and the glass fell like ice in a warm front. The operator would be audibly annoyed at another call about the same accident. I might be the third, fourth even. I’d hear it in their voice.

I wanted to help the old man sweep the debris from the intersection. He’d come out of the barbershop with a push broom and worked methodically in neat lines. He was used to pushing hair across linoleum, and the tiny slivers of glass on the rough concrete fought him, springing into the air like mist under a waterfall. He rested often, and I thought about offering a hand, but I didn’t know if he’d be insulted. If he would think I was suggesting him incapable of the assistance that he so freely provided. That he might scowl and shake his head at me, certain I must be too senseless to identify my own way to be useful.

I wanted to comfort the passenger from the other car, the newer model SUV. She was probably the girlfriend or wife of the driver, the tall man who was pacing, concerned only about his vehicle. The passenger, the woman, was now sitting on the curb, shocked and in tears. I wanted to acknowledge her upset, to see what she needed. I could go in the corner store I was standing in front of and buy her a bottle of water, a package of tissues, but I thought maybe she’d think that was stupid or the ambulance would arrive while I was in the store and they’d wrap her in a blanket and give her water and tissues, leaving me to walk home carrying water and tissues that I didn’t need, left to sit on my kitchen table. How many days would I stare at them for? Little trophies of my ineptitude.

 

these words by Michelle Kelm were inspired by the work of Sylwia Kowalczyk

“Unplugged” – Josh Elyea

Smoke circle

When I was a child, my father would rake leaves in the front yard and when the pile was big enough, he’d pick me up and throw me (almost callously) into them. My father was wild in his younger days; he rode a motorcycle and played bass in an underground funk band. He settled down though, when he married my mother. He had a daughter, and found work as a cashier in a record store of dubious structural integrity but impeccable cultural acumen.

He killed himself when he was sixty-one.

***

There’s something slyly atavistic about the way the leaves, dried out now since they’ve fallen, feel against my hands as I rustle them gently. From behind the mountain, a small line of smoke stretches thin across the setting sun. Smoke signals at sunset, he says.

We’re quiet after that, for a long time. Uma Thurman had it right; you know you’ve found someone really special when you can just shut the fuck up and sit comfortably in silence, if only for a minute. Silence is a rare thing, and people don’t bother to make time for it anymore. How could they? There’s too many distractions, too many addictions. Screens everywhere, and sitcoms and internet dating websites, reality TV shows and political debate shows and the horrid, overwhelming cascade of contemporary pop music. There’s education and employment, no alternatives, and you’re left to choose between an outdated, meritocratic institution or the dreaded 9-5, an existence that’s so alarmingly mundane it’s turned an entire generation into alcoholics, assholes who waste their weekends on outrageously priced booze and horrific hangovers so as to forget that they owe their time, their lives, to companies who speak only in terms of profit. There’s internet pornography, advertisements and an endless supply of empty entertainment, assailing our senses and undermining our character, our concentration and our connections.

It’s all a joke, a joke with a vicious punch line that relies on the inherent irony of a situation whereby the most connected civilization in the history of humanity is destined to die alone, each and every one of us connected to the internet and nothing else. Where in this hilarious chaos can one be expected to sit and think on the endless potential of the universe, or even the endless potential of the self? I look again to the man beside me, and I tell him I’m afraid that not even the autumn leaves can save me from my vices, from my addictions both good and evil.

Don’t worry, he says. We’ll take refuge in the wilderness.

Don’t worry, he says. Once you’re unplugged, everything will be alright.

these words by Josh Elyea were inspired by the work of Daphne Boyer