“Caged” – Francine Cunningham

Chelsea Rushton_Vesper xiii 300 dpi

we’ve never seen the sunset,
just the reflection of it
on the mountains
our windows face

we could drive to the other side of the island,
i guess
we’ve talked about it
packing a picnic
all of it
but we’ve never done it

tonight, we sit on the patio
bathed in the noise of buzzing mosquitoes
loud and piercing when too close to the ear
the smell of citronella not helping,
it never does

the light fades on the mountain side
light and then dark green

when twilight envelopes us
we rise on stiff legs
hobble to the bedroom
silently undress
i don’t know anymore in which emotion we look at each others bodies
indifference, boredom,
maybe even hatred
sliding under stiff sheets offers
and in the darkness our dreams take hold,

what wondrous things they are


these words by Francine Cunningham were inspired by the work of Chelsea Rushton

“Vancouver to Edmonton, 2017” – Erika Thorkelson

Chelsea Rushton_The Heart's Prayer

We’re driving back to the prairies for your niece’s wedding. Hottest day of the year and the truck’s AC is broken. The mountains are blue ghosts under a gauzy sky. On the radio, the news is bad. Riots in Venezuela, squabbling world leaders, white supremacists. Everyone wants more than they have, even if they already have everything. The air tastes like wildfires and cow manure.

My horoscope says to stay positive, but I don’t buy it. You say you have a headache and my brain sidles into worst-case scenarios—a stroke, a tumour, viral meningitis. To cheer you up, I sing show tunes, but I only know the chorus to “Good Morning” from Singin’ in the Rain.

I’m supposed to be navigating, but I never speak up in time and you never listen. I tell you to take the next exit, but you keep going straight. We have to cross a bridge and do a U-turn to get back on track. A couple hours later, after lukewarm sandwiches under anemic shade trees in Merritt, I ask you to pull over so I can get my bearings, but you’re already turning. Now we’re flying toward Peachland instead of Kamloops.

Peachland. Again!

I tell you to turn around the next chance we get, but the map says we’re locked on the wrong highway for at least 20 minutes. Voluptuous hills with sun-bleached grass rise and fall on either side, offering no shade. The air in the truck gets heavy. It’s pressing on my lungs, my jaw, my shoulders. We sweat in silence, waiting for the other to talk, waiting for the other to apologize.

My horoscope says to stay positive, but I’m with the stoics on this one. Our strength shows not in good times, but in bad. That’s when we learn our hearts are not petals in the wind.

Where we’re going, there will be a beautiful wedding for a young woman who’s already seen more than her fair share of grief. There will be a family who drinks a little too much but only argues over the rules for crokinole. Your dad will be doing okay since he came off chemo and got a better hearing aid. He will hear your voice for the first time in years. It will all be fine, but I don’t know that yet. I’d rather not take any chances.

I swallow and speak first, knowing it’s the best way past this. We’ve been on this road before, I realize; we’ll travel it again. We get better at it every time.


these words by Erika Thorkelson were inspired by the work of Chelsea Rushton

“Summer 2017” – Alex Leslie

Chelsea Rushton_it is supposed to be raining 300 dpi

The fire puts a hand into the earth puts down roots spreads underground interpsychic hillsides blooming all at once. As a child I watched planes open their stomachs make room scoop water from mountain lakes and limp across the sky rescue plans fleeing to the smoke several islands always I wondered, my mind reddening, where they were going

Here they are circling the death of seasons like buzzards around a house holding out for peace. Shadow images of horses running yellow running orange into the camera an RCMP officer with Caution tape looped around a donkey’s neck, uniform and fur burned together they float into the sky together perched in the belly of crisis the donkey swims through the murky heat tree sap boils in veins I watch the sky for planes water on its way

The shore is the only place without an evacuation order unless the ocean rebels. We are trapped between two extremes now, blue above black below. Overcast or clouds refugee smoke cover can’t tell the difference between migration and evacuation. My yard on the coast is full of birds screaming for sugar and wet. The sky is thick with endings none of them prescriptions for rain. Those planes when I was child always knew where they were going, they aimed for one hot spot on the horizon, rash in a green mountainside, when fire was fire not

Rhythm, the newscaster recites, the fire could leap, with no elaboration on this process and how it occurs. The way a fear travels from one mind to another. The way, when you look at me, I have instant recall of our history of eye contact. The fire lives most of its life in the air. Red hand plunged into the earth. Above, imaginary pastel world, drifting castle of rivers and trees, ignite like a stick of dynamite on a raft in the current. Just push off into the slipstream rage and watch it ride.

Here is the fire jumping and here is the mountain wobbling in the oven. Here is the blood-brown band between earth and now. The sky blistering in the background. The fire could leap at any time, the news anchor repeats. Where? Oxygen is unlimited travel. Breath dancing out there in the waves, soaring among the tidal pools of the ashen coast, skipping rocks through the windows of bedrooms


these words by Alex Leslie were inspired by the work of Chelsea Rushton


“Tiny Stones” – Leah Horlick


Whether or not it was you
who set off the firecracker in my backyard, all that matters
is that I thought
it was you,

writing to the landlords I’m just sending this to you now
so that in the morning
I don’t think that this was a dream.

I await the presence of someone who understands
the genetic impact of a siren. I pull a siren
around me and glow silent, I pull a web of nerve endings

over my own face and touch everything like it is covered in dust—
dust is a shawl, dust is a veil of static. I reach a hand through
thick white noise towards a feeling.

Everything you say sends me further into myself
whether you like it or not, whether you mean it.

I fell off the horse into a bush of thorns and it was a choice between
the thorns and the hooves—can you guess which I chose?

I overwhelm my house with peonies.
When I go home I shut the door and my

eyes and my phone in a drawer
and I sleep. In the morning I look at the Internet to remember

what I look like. I drink so much water
I boil everything—

basil and rose petals,
yarrow and chamomile,

eyeliner and sitting in the dark theatre.

I slowly weigh myself
down with tiny stones.

I hide another set
of eyes beneath my dress.

I slowly accept that this new scar will come out
every time I sit
in the sun.

Sometimes I call it having a flashback.

Other times I just
like to have everything
in one place to get a good hard look
at my life.


these words by Leah Horlick were inspired by the work of Olaf Hajek

“Seeds” – Erin Flegg


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

“Star gazer” – Alex Leslie

Kevin Calixte-Garudâsana-Kay-1024x683

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


In night, your strained vocal chords form a glowing band around the moon. You do not know what you are asking for this time. Shapes assemble at the perimeter and call themselves fingertips, cheeks, inkblot torsos. They have been here before. People you love are recycling names the way the world recycles seasons. Bees with frequency, voices turn on spokes, slow in the days, adrenal dive through the green substrata, decade roulette, but what is the true indicator of new life. The future sits across from you in the greasy spoon diner, saws into pancakes with ketchup on top, wields a steak knife, lectures you about making better choices, the long hall of unintended consequences. And if you can. If you looked harder it would come to you; if you could just focus for once, this wouldn’t be so hard. Clavicle and tracery of eyes would make themselves present, no diagnostic mist, this time. Shutters tumble around your fingers, rising in the darkness. You understand something about tone, about how to lie down in a throat and fall asleep like you own the place. You have always excelled at Rorschach tests, can read suggestion in the shift of shoulders, some air seeping from a mouth at a specific tilt, a thread you can grab and twist. A mimic fish spreading over eyes, cheeks, collarbones. Every face, a display plate on a simple white stand. Star gazer. When you were small, a big kid taught you to cut a slit down the luminous belly of a green blade of grass, break it open with your breath, and make music, and it was the first weapon you ever made. You aimed it at the sky, blasted an escape hatch. But now there is a shift, a settling. It’s dark. Portrait game. Voices turn on spokes, more slowly now. The faces carousel around the small hot triangle of your hands. Milky light seeps through the seams in commuter traffic. When you narrow your eyes, your fatigue blurs into the tactile future. Haloes, overexposures cast into the deep pools of other minds. Butterflies pressed behind eyelids. Drape all the mirrors. Learn how to pray.


these words by Alex Leslie were inspired by the work of Kevin Calixte

“Little Trophies” – Michelle Kelm


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

New Poetry by Francine Cunningham: “Whales can’t save us all—but they try”


The child waits,

drawn with shaky fingers
the thick lines of a blue whale’s eyes come into focus
out of the abyss of the great white ocean
the form is coaxed into being
and with the life ink has given stretches its fins

scratchy and ruthless the strokes of the pen dig into the paper
tearing tiny holes into the surface of the water
but nonetheless,
the whale grins as bubbles tickle its thick heavy body

the sound of thudding boots on carpet makes its thunderous arrival outside the door
and still the child waits
shoulders hunched around ears
eyes trained on the figure
silent in the middle of the page

a splinter of sound against the door
the pen lifts, the child listens
thrashing in the stagnant water
the whale gasps for the breath of true life
follicled mouth
begging for movement

the pen smashes down against the eye
and in desperation, blots more black against it
willing it to see, to see, to see
to witness
and for a moment out of the blackness
there is a hazy figure, blue paint, red carpet, pictures shaking against the wall

but then suddenly the pen digs too deep
crashes through
and the whale sinks
deeper, deeper, deeper
until neither can see
only wait


these words by Francine Cunningham were inspired by the work of Daphne Boyer

“There Must Be A Name For This,” by Leah Horlick


How to feel like how you imagined the city? A blur of light steps out of a cab. Stem of a glass in a ring on a wet table. Slink, slink. Would it have been better if you had moved into that little beehive level with the SkyTrain, whoosh all day, glow all night, little hexagram. One stool, one door, two windows at an angle with the tracks, tracks, track. Two windows! Rattle rattle goodnight all day. You imagined glass and water, heels and click, the film of alcohol across everything, city city. Little dots of light, little swipes. A secret: Vancouver is actually a series of small caves, mould like a dust of sugar powder, did you know? Saturday night aesthetic: the Chevron station for yachts in Coal Harbour, hovered out in the water, glossy black, little ring, orange light. How long did it take me to realize the white-hot squares at the top of downtown are penthouses? How long did it take me to realize those very regular fireworks are private planes? Why can’t I have, why can’t I have, why can’t I? What if we just kept living together, what if I just tried harder, what if I had moved to Toronto? All the women in this city say I love you, they say centered, we say seawall, we go home and murmur Toronto Toronto Seattle Toronto in our sleep. You don’t understand. I have an obligation to a girl in a barn, to a girl in a car, to a girl in the forest; she says Get Me Out Of Here, she says My Own Apartment. Is it possible to be dissociated not from me but the city. Like here I am arms and legs, here I am oh New York.

these words by Leah Horlick were inspired by the work of James Gilleard