First Couple Paragraphs of a Short Story I’m working on

On those dark winter nights, long after the final wisps of smoke from our candle stub had drifted out of the room, the serpentine trails of the stories my sister told would weave themselves together like tapestries in the air above our heads. The imaginings of dragons and queens and enchanted gardens threaded through the dark attic, and our chilled and childlike bodies forgot the scratchiness of our blanket and transported themselves to glittering islands in the East, to a tree house in the depths of the Black Forest. A faint sliver of moon would shine in through the porthole window above our heads and make us believe that we were Peter Pan and Wendy, flying away from our house and into a starlit night.

If my tired eyes had not fluttered closed before the end of the story, I would beg my sister to tell just one more story. Her voice would come firm and fearful in the dark :”Quiet, Madeline, they’ll hear us!” But I would plead on in my songbird voice, and my sister would relent, and we would feel weightless as our feet again wandered miles away from Hamilton, free at last. And as our braided heads jostled for space on the single lumpy pillow at the head of our bed, she’d board us again onto a tall ship bound for the ends of the universe.

Most nights, the rustling of our feet beneath stiff bed sheets was enough to draw our mother’s attention up to our room, and when she came up we would squeeze our eyes shut and pretend to be asleep. There were nights, though, we were so enveloped by the stories that we didn’t notice her footsteps on the stair, or her hand at the door turning her handle. We were only aware of her presence when her voice came, cold and strict from within the murky fog of the hallway. On those nights, Frieda tried to suck the sound of her voice out of the air above us and back into her lungs. I willed the creatures under our bed to come out from underneath and scare her. I willed the fairies living in our ceiling to come and carry us away.


Mechanical Edmonton

Here twilight blue skies ripple into
Chemical clouds a deep smoggy red
And underneath the pavement of the highways the
Spinning soils tumble into
The North Saskatchewan’s ice floes,
Chisel away its banks,
Inching it closer to all the fluorescent-lit
High-rises on the northern shore.

Mechanical motorized Edmonton rumbles
By, the No. 4 interior dimly lit
Against the falling of night that
Whines a B natural, one half step above
Nature’s normal hum of green and loam.
The lone passenger opens his vintage Fahrenheit 451
Book, the temperature burns
On the bus, he unzips himself against the
Heat, pulls the cord, then closes it, and puts it
Back into his satchel, his requested stop nearing.

He steps off, patent leather
Shoes crunch into the graying spring ice,
And feels the whirring electric wind of
Streetlights and sidewalks and speeding cars
Down roadways and rivers of melt that
Run down the ridges of time
And space, and the sky up above
A cacophony of peeking stars
And clouds and smog,

And hides, just a silhouette on his Android,
Clutching his satchel with his book all bundled up and
His parka zipped to his neck and his mittens on
Against the slow coming of spring
Inside the plexiglas bus stop with blue trim. Over
His head the twilight blue sky sits for a moment
And then slips away unnoticed into a deep
Deep black moonless night.

On the opposite horizon, moments before,
The sun sank down a delicate pink and orange,
Burning up the last pieces of daylight that smelled
Of motor exhaust and too many LED screens.
I stepped into a yellow streetlamp buzzing away
Patches of blue-gray night,
The first sweet whispers of spring rippled through my senses,
Replacing the throbbing in my head
With green and dampness, and my black boots
Splashed away brown and sooty snow

And beneath the bare and towering
Oak trees and an ever-darkening sky
I zipped down my jacket,
Removed my hood, let the
Resonance of the night breeze
Catch my crumpled hair.



Comfort my people,
Says the Lord.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.
Tell her that I have seen her tears,
And that I still know my plans for her.
Tell her that though she has been
Beaten down, that she has
Run away from me and
Cried my name in fear and longing,
That her dry bones shall yet be raised up.


There is no comfort.
My feet wrap themselves fearfully,
Step by step, around the perimeter of possibility
And all the thousand blades of grass
That stand in between.
The evening sun beats down beyond my hiding places:
A forest of broken alders to protect me,
A grove of brambles to shield me.
For today, sweet blackberries and loneliness are enough
To keep my bones, my muscles moving.


Comfort, comfort my people,
Says the Lord.
There is still healing for this broken
And worn-out body
While I yet remain in the land of the living.
There is still hope
While the possibility of love
Intermingles with the scent of fresh-cut hay
And the desperate sweetness of July corn.


Comfort, comfort my people,
Says the Lord,
And do not let them be afraid.
See: this valley, too, is already being lifted
This rough place is being made into a plane.
It is being made plain,
And all your sorrows are scattering.
See, a new day is dawning,
And the hope of new life
Is raising its head again, is moving again
Over the tall, free-flowing grass.

First Fruits

The first fruits of the sky
Drip down towards the earth,
A filmy gloss greening the surface
Of what we know.

All around,
The dust falls quiet.
Leaves curl together in prayer,
Above, the gray ceiling
Fills its lungs.

Between field and gravel path,
The soft mist of sky whispers
To the wilting and skeptical soil
Of resurrection.

Hope sneaks in like a fog
And new life,
A possibility the dogwood
Threw away months ago,
Moves, again,
Over the face of the land.

Psalm 27 (in the Spirit of Langley, BC)

I return into the spirit of Langley, BC
My parents’ backyard, that former small town
Whose side streets and goat fields now balloon,
Reel under the weight of thirty thousand more people in seven years
Eighteen more Starbucks and
A Porsche dealership under construction on the Bypass:
The Bible Belt of BC that has come to care more
About its own personal salvation into health and wealth
Than about the 99%,

And I am unsettled.

Between the summer’s U-Pick shifts and sorting strawberries in the back of the market,
I try to keep the concrete faith that the greats in the Bible seemed to possess
I make goals, write poetry, try to untangle my thoughts
And try to not be consumed by either frustration at wealth
Or the pacifying current of its apathy.
I have dreams, want to go upwards, to reach the holiness of heaven,
But God calls me out upon the waters,
Out into the monotonous confusion of my increasingly foreign hometown,
And I wonder whether his hand has been trapped in the concrete.

In all this chaos, I want to ask questions like David did.
He, human, experienced turmoil,
But he wondered that the Lord was the stronghold of his life,
So of whom should he be afraid?
And this sounds very comforting:
Questions with concrete answers.

But he is not my fortress!
He is my earthquake, avalanche, mind flood
He turns the dry ground to liquid pavement beneath my feet
He is beauty and truth, but he is also confusion, destruction
He is a temple, he is a man overturning tables in the temple
Unsettling expectations.

Do I perceive him to be unsettling because I am unsettled?

Lord God, teach us to be confident of this:
That we can see and experience your unselfish goodness
In Langley, BC, amidst the chaos of this concrete-filled suburb.
Lord God, teach us this:
To wait for your goodness, your action.
To be strong, to take heart, and to wait for you.

Well, That Was One Way of Doing It

After plucking away for three minutes and fifteen seconds, Millicent looked at herself in the mirror for the first time after tearing open the package of her new mint green Emjoi eRase e60, manufacturer guaranteed to remove hair and leave her skin feeling like a baby’s for up to six weeks (she was counting on at least three days, because she still liked to leave a little room for optimism in her life). She’d bought the gadget after Vanessa, an acquaintance from GoodLife Fitness who had perfect eyebrows recommended it to her. Vanessa also had decent forearms and generally managed to still rock her side-shave side pony well into the 17th rep, so Millicent aspired to be like her. Millicent, who was now pushing 23, had felt defeated by life ever since 7th grade when she realized that her parents had basically picked her name straight from a nineteenth-century baby book. When she’d argued with them about it, her parents had told her that they liked the name, which meant industrious, because it was a practical name. But practically speaking, at this point, she just had no friends. Her other friend, Naomi, whose first name was Bettina, advised her to start going by her middle name, but Millicent’s parents had not had the foresight to give her one.

Millicent was beginning to understand that it wasn’t helpful to focus only on the negatives in her life. At 22, she had decided that she was too young to write herself off as washed-up and ready to get old and retire, and at 23 she’d started taking more proactive steps towards real life change. Three months ago she’d found herself a life coach, and now the tweezers. Next stop, who knows, Miss All Canadian. Miss Universe. That’s why she was trying to put the past behind her and move into a future where she wasn’t defined by her dated name, her saggy posture, and her inability to land herself a hot boyfriend. She’d started going to GoodLife 3x a week, she’d picked up smoking for five days – thinking it would make her look appealing but discovering all the coughing wasn’t worth it. And, just today after work, she’d purchased this eyebrow plucker, because she thought it would go straight to her sex appeal.

Well, like we mentioned, at 3:16 on the stopwatch she looked up. She imagined spending weeks afterword trying to figure out why she hadn’t used the mirror at the same time as her brand-new eRase. She imagined spending months trying to draw on her eyebrows with shaky hands brought down by years of longing to be beautiful. She imagined spending years reliving the moments she hadn’t even noticed were passing, the moments when she’d accidentally taken off half of her left eyebrow, leaving her with a sort of permanent sarcastic eyebrow-raise situation that had forced her to remove the brow in its entirety. Vanessa would laugh, and Millicent became increasingly convinced that her life coach wasn’t going to quite understand this one.

Twenty two minutes later, it dawned on Millicent that she was being presented with conformity at its finest. If she was looking for ways to fix her slightly too bushy eyebrows, shaving them off was one way of doing it. Mirror in hand this time, she picked up her eRase and took off the other eyebrow.


In some nearby future, we turn into pillars of ash.
Behind us, slightly to the left of your vision, lies the salt.
Not a single gull is left to fly overhead while
The rising tides corrode us, sulfur eating our fingertips.
Are there any good ones left?
A good soul is hard to find.

Far away, next to the roar of the distant Pacific,
I have been speaking to the barren pines
About why they might save us.
I have been explaining mercy
To stars I can hardly see beneath the molten city.
I who can hardly forgive my innocent father.

The hope of forgiveness rises up,
A cross, a bronze snake among the ruins of desert:
Forgiveness that would cleanse every stain
Of our abusive ignorance.
Would it not?
I have pleaded for life, not even for myself,
But for the good ones.
Are there any good ones left?

What holy mystic spoke
About second chances bringing untold revelations:
Yeshua, how we trusted him.
And this is at least our seventh chance with
Still no salvation from the fumes we
Exhaled into the stumps of cedars.
Only salt.

Far away, in Lebanon
Where the trees used to grow,
Us few who have made it:
We can order champagne
And rest our feet in baths of purified water
In the middle of our own catastrophe.
Are there any good ones left?
The good ones are dying.

Gomorrah begins to weigh upon us,
Its putrid salt and sulfur stifle our vision.
So for today I’m drunk on Bud Light and fear.
Redemption: what an idea, a joke:
Our trust in its religion brought us down.
Are there any good ones left?
Our trust in its morality is eaten up
By vacant and nameless forests of ash.