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The Writer’s Group by Alan Ross

          On the outskirts of the tiny village of Nakusp, in South Central British Columbia, sat an old barn with a gambrel roof.  Once, it had been red but the paint had worn off and now the dry, weathered wood was ripe to be remade into chic furniture and sold to the seasonal visitors who came every summer to enjoy the uncrowded hiking trails, hot springs and lakes that encircled the isolated town. Many years ago, a photo of the barn had graced ‘April’ in the United Church Calendar. More recently, the Volunteer Fire Chief  had decried the barn a fire hazard but, at least so far, it had been left untouched. Citizens of the village disliked change and most agreed that it would be a shame if anything were to happen to the barn.

          The Nakusp writers’ group met at the public library, a busy little place that boasted an admirable collection of popular books that were actually borrowed and returned, again and again. The group was comprised of eight members. Meetings  were held under a bank of unforgiving fluorescent lights and around a no-nonsense wooden table, the kind where a person wouldn’t be surprised to find a wad of chewing gum stuck to the underside. The group met on the second Monday of each month, except, of course, when they didn’t. Thanksgiving, Remembrance Day (some years) and the day following Easter meant that some meetings had to be postponed to the third Monday or, regrettably, cancelled entirely. Eight writers was a large number for Nakusp. For perspective, it  was the equivalent of  60,000 writers if the village had suffered the same population as Toronto. Of course, not all of the members could attend every meeting but every member wrote and every member provided extensive editorial comments on all submissions. It was an enthusiastic and energetic group.

          Of the eight, there were four that comprised the humming nucleus. Lorraine, the retired manager of the local Credit Union, was the high-functioning executive leader. She ensured that agendas were prepared and strictly followed and that all members read and adhered to the ‘Terms of Reference’. Beth, who made a living writing sex education booklets targeted at young children on the autism spectrum and with same sex parents, was the group’s editor in chief. Carefully and firmly, but with patience and understanding, Beth deleted the soft modifiers that cluttered the work produced by the group’s emerging writers. Karen was the best actual writer, and gardener, in the group and was accepted as mistress of both comma and orchid. In recent months, Karen had focused more on flowers than writing as she recovered from the emotional devastation brought on by the desertion of her partner, Daryl. He had abandoned both her and their two cats and rushed into the arms of a thick-waisted woman with greasy hair. Daryl now cohabitated with his new lover in a dilapidated mobile home parked, illegally, near the barn at the edge of town. Finally there was John, the local United Church minister and the solitary male in the group. John was an ambitious and prolific writer of depressingly small talent. He had more time to write than any of the other members. There were only twelve people in his congregation and, of those, only five, on a good day, were sufficiently ambulatory to attend Sunday services.

          The January meeting followed the usual format and the agenda circulated by Lorraine. A writing exercise, devised by Beth, occupied the group for exactly twenty-five minutes, precisely the time allotted. Each member was asked to recall their most awkward recent Christmas experience and write the dialogue that made it so. The group then turned their formidable collective attention to the pieces that had been submitted. These were comprised of two poems detailing the difficulty older women  encounter when shovelling snow and yet another riff authored by John on ‘The Prodigal Son’, this one set in a naturalist colony in winter.

          The meeting ended with Lorraine reminding the group of the looming deadline for a short story contest sponsored by the Okanagan campus of UBC.

          “All entries must be submitted before January 31st.  If you want the benefit of the group’s editorial comments, and I’m sure you do, you must circulate your story and be prepared to accept comments by email.”

          January and February was a quiet time in the quiet village. There were a few visitors bound for the heli-ski and backcountry lodges and, being the largest centre within a hundred -kilometre radius, there was  occasional regional traffic thanks to the generously sized Save-On and the small but effective hospital. Mostly, however, a person could walk down the middle of Main Street without fear of encountering traffic. By late January the lake looked like liquid graphite but still didn’t freeze.

The February meeting, however, was chaotic. A late breaking item had eluded Lorraine’s emailed agenda and ignited an emotional firestorm that whipped the group into an agitated, open sore.

          “I received a message this afternoon from a friend who is one of the judges in the short story contest. Apparently, somebody from Nakusp named simply  ‘Daryl’ has submitted a piece that has all the jury talking,”said Lorraine.

          Fourteen eyebrows were raised and seven pairs of eyes focused on Karen.

          “Daryl, as you all know, is my former boyfriend and an utterly useless piece of shit,” said Karen.

          “I didn’t know he was a writer,” said Beth.

          “He’s not. He’s a waste of skin. The note he left on the kitchen table when he deserted the cats (and me) could have been written by a dyslexic six year old. What the hell does he claim to have written?”

          At this, Lorraine passed out eight copies of a 2000- word (double-spaced) piece entitled “The Writers of Nakusp.” The enormity of the situation was crushing. Lorraine was an enthusiastic environmentalist and had never before printed a hard copy of anything. Eight copies, double -spaced and one -sided no less, left no room to question the gravity of the crisis.

          For the next twenty minutes each member of the group read and reread the offending piece. Armed, according to individual preference, with yellow, green or pink highlighter, red pen or black sharpie they each slashed, circled crossed out and scribbled. It was a good thing the library was not at that hour open to the public. They groaned and yelled and then swore as if undergoing a group root canal without the benefit of anaesthetic. Anger shared was anger amplified (and focused) and Daryl was the sole target.

          It would be useful, in the preparation of a compendium of swear words and phrases in the English language, to provide a written record of what was said and in particular what Daryl was invited to do in the purely anatomical sense. Suffice to say that an exhaustive list of suggestions was made with reference to every imaginable excretory, sexual and religious action or context.

          “The sleazy prick has taken early drafts from all our submissions in the last year and cut and paste them into a sickening collage of blank verse, dead end character development and graffiti like illustrations,” said Lorraine.

“He hasn’t even incorporated our editorial suggestions,” said Beth.

          “He is mocking us. He wants people to laugh at us, to think we are feckless writers,” said John.

          “Clearly,” offered Karen “it’s my fault. He must have infiltrated my laptop. I am so, so sorry. Wait until his new girl friend receives the links to his favourite porn sites.”

          “His actions are born of inestimable depravity,” said Beth.

 “We have suffered a security breach but it could have happened to any of us. Who among us doesn’t leave their lap top open when they make a cup of tea?” asked Lorraine.

          “We must draw together,” said John “Collectively we must convince the vile plagiarist to withdraw the story and admit what he has done.”

          “Withdraw the story for sure,” agreed Karen. “But this is a sort of reverse plagiarism. The putrid lump of shit has taken original work and transmogrified it into something horrible. I don’t want anybody to know I wrote some of the words he now holds out as his.”

          “We must compel Daryl to write a comprehensive letter of withdrawal and apology,” said Lorraine.

          “Abject apology,” added Karen.

          By this time it was two minutes to six o’clock and the librarian, reeling from the language she had just overheard, was closing up and urging the group to vacate. Absolutely nothing on the agenda for the meeting had been accomplished.

          “We are writers,” declared John. “Together we shall write  a letter of withdrawal and apology for Daryl to sign.”

          “A wretched, self debasing apology,” interrupted Karen.

          “But with no ‘soft’ and an absolute minimum of redundant  modifiers,” insisted Beth.

          As the librarian, who later considered filing  for a leave of absence by reason of PTSD caused by the group’s rage, nudged them out of the building, John declared he would write the first draft and circulate it to the group by noon the following day.

          True to form, he botched it. For reasons best known to John, he chose to write in the second person and flitted like a budgerigar between the future and present tense. No amount of editing could overcome the problems in his piece. In frustration, Beth wrote a simple two -sentence letter for Daryl to sign. The letter said that Daryl had taken other people’s work and mashed it all together to embarrass the true writers and waste the judges time. Nobody, except perhaps John himself, could understand his letter and so, like most of his writing, it was not spoken of again.

          An emergency meeting of the Nakusp Writers’ Group was held, at the public library, to discuss how to force Daryl to sign the letter Beth had written.

          “It’s easy,” said Karen. “He left his stash of party drugs at my house. I’ll text him and tell him I will put his stuff in the old barn next to where he and his fat bitch are living.”

          “Perfect. We will put the letter we want him to sign together with a note demanding he sign it next to his drugs,” said Lorraine.

          “We can secure the barn door from the outside and tell him we will be back in an hour to let him out when he has read and signed the letter,” said John.

          John’s idea sounded a bit melodramatic but everybody went along with it, in part perhaps because they felt badly about ignoring his draft of the written apology.

          The next day, Karen placed a Save-On grocery bag full of assorted medicaments together with the note of instructions and the apology letter on a small stack of square hay bales in the old barn. Having done her part, and wishing to avoid Daryl, Karen drove home. In accordance with the group’s plan, John waited, unseen, outside the barn. Daryl walked over to the barn from the trailer he now called home. Once Daryl was fully inside, John pointed out where the goodies were, insisted Daryl give him his phone and rolled the door shut. John then shoved a stick of re-bar through the clasp, effectively incarcerating the miscreant in the barn. The plan called for John to wait outside the barn for Daryl to sign, take the letter and, then and only then, let Daryl out. Instead, John yelled to Daryl that he would be back in an hour and that he would let him out after he had time to sign the letter and “think about the terrible thing he had done”.  John then drove over to the Halcyon Care Home to have coffee with one of the members of his congregation. This particular senior suffered from mild to moderate dementia but was, John suspected, in a financial position to make a generous donation to his church.

          Back in the barn, Daryl was ecstatic to be reunited with his stash and, realizing that without his phone he had at least an hour to waste, sat down on a square hay bale and rolled himself a juicy, fat joint. It had been several months since Daryl had squirrelled away these particular drugs and he had forgotten that a portion of the marijuana was “special” in that it had received a light dusting of fentanyl. Daryl drew a huge, satisfying toke and almost immediately started to feel quite drowsy. As the smouldering joint slipped from Daryl’s hand on to the tinder dry hay littering the dirt floor of the barn, he would have remarked, if he were not at that very moment slipping into opioid induced unconsciousness, that a little fentanyl can go a very long way.

          The seniors’ care home was adjacent to the fire hall and as John listened to the wail of multiple sirens he wondered where the fire could be.

          The volunteer fire chief believing that the barn was empty ordered the crew to let it burn. The chief knew of the avidity for all things combustible shared by his volunteers and, as the surrounding area was blanketed in snow, he instructed his people to “enjoy the fire from a safe distance.”

The incineration of the barn dominated village small talk for the next several weeks.

          At their March meeting, Lorraine mentioned that her friend the judge from the short story contest was trying to reach Daryl, so far unsuccessfully, to inform him that his story had been shortlisted for the grand prize.

          “Apparently the judges consider Daryl’s story to be a bold and imaginative examination of the existential crisis faced by aging boomers. They are drawing comparisons to Knausgaard,” said Lorraine.

“ I thought the character I was developing had potential,” said John.

Also at the March meeting, the Writers’ Group welcomed the librarian as a new member. She confirmed that she had read and would abide by the Terms of Reference.

          “Seeing that I am here anyway and seeing that the library is not open to the public during these hours, I thought I should participate in the group,” she said.

          “You are most welcome,” said Lorraine “and you said you had some ideas for a writing prompt.”

          “Thank you and yes” replied the librarian “Imagine, if you will, that a man living in a tiny village goes missing without a trace and the local RCMP have no clue what has happened to him. A few weeks before his disappearance, a reputable woman in the village overheard, quite by accident, a group of people viciously attacking the man’s character and enumerating all of the terrible things they would like to see happen to him. After the man has vanished, the woman dials the missing man’s phone number and believed she heard the phone’s distinctive ring tone in the pocket of one of the members of the group. The woman doesn’t know what she should do with her information.”

          Everybody in the group agreed that the librarian’s imagined scene had the makings of a good story and, for the allotted twenty-five minutes, they all set to work assiduously writing their preferred versions of the conclusion.

The Poorest Postal Code in Canada by Meredith Joy Macdonald

I am Canadian, and my identity as a Canadian is something I cherish. I feel grateful because I was born in a country with a vibrant landscape where every person has access to healthcare. All children can receive an education and an opportunity to be literate. As a country, we appreciate the diverse cultures, the customs, and beliefs of all many types of Canadians. Despite all these beautiful strengths, there are still places in Canada where people are struggling, and one of those places is in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver.

I was born in North Vancouver, although I lived in Nelson from two years old until I was thirteen years old. Hume was my elementary school and I spent two thirds of grade eight at Trafalgar. By the time I was fifteen, I had moved back to Vancouver, and by the age of sixteen, I was living in the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver. The DTES was my home for years, and there are lots of people who still consider the DTES their home. My thoughts are filled with my memories from the DTES because it was the place where I felt I belonged the most.

  In January 2018, I returned to Nelson. There are people in Nelson who have never lived in the DTES, but they refer to it as if it were a terrible place. It is a difficult place to live. But when I lived in the area, I learned that it encompassed far more than just the suffering and the misery that people assume is there.

The truth is, the DTES is a community filled with intriguing people. The people there live unusual lives and have interesting stories to share. It is home to artists, writers, poets, comedians, and Native carvers. The residents in the DTES all have unique stories to share, but their reasons for living in the DTES are similar: most are suffering from addiction, mental health problems and untreated trauma. As a result of those problems, the residents in the area are poor. But they still have dreams, like people everywhere.

It’s difficult for me to align my own experiences or my sense of comfort in the DTES with the provocative language that I read, usually written by people who haven’t lived in the area. I’m left feeling like the people who authored the articles have cheated the residents out of speaking their own truths.

The people who live in the DTES have always accepted their fair share of misery, bad luck, and death, but they pour those all together and mix them up with a few blissful moments, blessed weather, laughter, endless gossip, and a reversed clock, so day is night, and night is day. Drama is the currency that wakes everyone up and then keeps them going, without sleep, often for ridiculously long amounts of time. In the doorways, and down the alleyways around East Hastings Street, resilience forms despite the struggles people face. Nobody has a plan for tomorrow, because finding the things someone needs for the day always takes a precedence.

I feel a protectiveness towards this area of Vancouver. Hastings Street is sometimes called the worst street in North America. Newspaper articles describe the Downtown Eastside and Chinatown as, ‘scary and dismal’. Articles characterize the area as solely focused on ‘theft, violence and extortion’. I wonder if that misinformation is intentional. These negative stories judge the residents, then silence them, without ever allowing them to voice their thoughts about their home. People view the neighborhood based on those kinds of depictions, but they don’t appreciate its distinct culture.

The rest of the city feels different. It is a place full of prosperity and wealth and the opportunities those things provide.

The residents who live in the DTES live in poverty, without access to skills training, with limited mental health treatment, and unstable housing. Yet, they live only steps away from the propertied, affluent people who live in the neighborhoods that face the waterfront, and are moving closer every year. The two polarized neighborhoods live on the doorsteps of one another.

The first room I rented in the DTES was at the Metropole Hotel, on the corner of Abbott and Cordova, when I was sixteen. I rented a room to share it with my best friend, Rebecca. Rebecca was impressive. She carried her wrinkled clothing and her black eye makeup and lipstick, in a little ripped, red plastic suitcase. She wore her hair dyed black, parted down the middle, and when she bent her head to light a cigarette, her hair fell forward, covering her face and eyes. Her eyes were beautiful, cerulean blue, so blue they seemed unnatural, like the painted, plastic eyes placed inside a ceramic doll. A perfect black circle outlined each blue iris, and her eyelashes were long, like sweeping butterflies. When she spoke, her eyelashes were like butterfly wings, opening, and closing. She let me wear her clothing and use her makeup and her pre-grunge style, was refreshing, compared to how other teenagers were dressing. We both wore black patented Fleuvog flats with extremely pointed toes. We pierced our noses with a safety pin, sitting on the old, worn out bed in the Metropole, the same bed we shared, and slept on, pushed together for warmth, because our one solitary blanket was threadbare. We left the large window in our room wide open because it faced Abbott Street. It allowed us to hear people calling up to our room if they wanted us to come downstairs. Rebecca organized everyone. She was bossy and talkative, and good at finding new things to do, and even better at finding people who wanted to do those things with us.

Rebecca was fifteen, but the cheap hotels allowed renters without an ID or a credit card, and without an age restriction. All through the nineties and long before, people young and old rented rooms in the hotels on Hastings Street and Granville Street because they were cheap and accessible. By the early 2000’s, the provincial government stepped in, and acquired twenty-three single room occupancy hotels, to use for social housing. Part of the historic Woodward’s building became social housing. The social housing floors face Hastings Street, and from Cordova Street there is an entrance for the apartments rented for market value. Those rentals are modern, luxurious and include a doorman.

             The government hired non-profit agencies to manage the hotels. For the residents living in the hotels, it was a huge adjustment. Prior to that, the most important rules the residents followed were unspoken ones, but everybody understood them, and the people who followed them were much better off than the few people who ignored them.

             The rules were simple. There was a hierarchy inside of the hotels: at the top was the drug dealer who claimed the hotel, and beneath him was his girlfriend, and then his people who worked in the hotel. The drug dealer had the final say about everything that happened in the hotel. That was the first rule. The second rule was that a tenant needed to pay for their own drugs and pay for their guest fees. Occasionally, someone would show up in a building who had never lived in the DTES, and quickly they started asking the other tenants for constant favors, like for cigarettes, or to borrow money, or they didn’t want to pay their guest fees, or they would beg the dealer for free dope. People did ‘cuff ‘ drugs and pay later, but only if the dealers knew them for a long time, or they bought drugs everyday and paid off their debts. If a person ignored the rules, the dealer kicked them out of the building and barred them from returning.

The ubiquitous guest fees caused more problems and screaming arguments and physical fights than anything else in the hotels. Every hotel enforced a mandatory guest fee to go upstairs and to see a tenant. When someone refused to pay the guest fee, the desk guy locked the elevator with a button installed underneath the desk, in his plexiglass office. The best way to fix a guest fee problem was to negotiate a deal with the desk guy, so he allowed your guests upstairs. He accepted drugs or cash as a payment.

The desk guy was usually an older, male resident. He worked a twelve-hour shift, from seven PM to seven AM. It was normal for the hotel owner to pay him forty dollars per shift. He sat inside the office, and he watched everyone who came into the hotel, and he collected their guest fees. The desk guy had access to the keys, for the rooms upstairs, and if the police wanted to open someone’s door because the tenant had warrants or because they wanted to search someone’s room for drugs, they needed to get the keys from the desk guy.

If I lived in a hotel for any length of time, I became friends with the desk guy. Once we were friends, he would phone me upstairs in my room when the police got on the elevator and warn me if they asked him for the keys to my floor.

The old hotels in the DTES have rickety, ancient elevators, and God help you if one of those elevators breaks down, and you get stuck between floors. There is no company to call with the parts for a hundred-year-old elevator. Only the fire department can pry you out, and it takes hours. If I dropped something small and expensive as I stepped off the elevator, inevitably it would fall into the slot where the elevator doors opened onto the hallway, but the hallway floor didn’t meet up with the edge of the elevator’s door. If that happened, I was out of luck, because even my guy at the desk wasn’t going down to the basement to retrieve what I dropped. The stories about the basement were real. Anything could be down there, from cockroaches to rats, to a body.

             When I was twenty-two, I rented a room in the Brandiz Hotel, on the 100 block of Hastings. Lloyd lived in the Brandiz too, and he was my friend. His door was beside mine, on the fourth floor, close to the elevators. Lloyd was a thin, pale skinned Native man with brown eyes and brown hair. He wore oversized glasses, the type given away for free, or sold in a cheap second-hand store, like a store owned by a church. His lens made his eyes look huge. Lloyd kept his small room spotless, although he owned few possessions. In his room was a single bed, made up neatly, and a chair. There was an old desk which doubled as a table and a small closet. Sometimes, he owned a television, but often he did not because if he was too broke he would sell his old TV for ten dollars. He allowed wayward girls to sleep on his bed; often three girls sprawled across his bed, fully clothed, while he sat upright in his chair. He never complained or asked them to leave. He just waited. Sometimes he waited for twenty-four hours before he could lay down.

Lloyd only ever raised his voice for one reason: when he was terrified thinking about bugs or because he thought he could feel bugs on his body. If he reached over his shoulder to scratch and felt something, he thought he felt bugs on his back, then he thought the bugs were underneath his clothing. Lloyd’s thoughts terrified him to the point of becoming hysterical. He would run up and down the hallway, ripping his clothes off and screaming,       “They’re on me, they’re on me!!”

            If I heard Lloyd shouting, I would come out of my room to try to calm him down. It was difficult to get his attention.

            If I could get him to stop for a minute, and he turned around, I would rub my hands over his back so he knew he was okay, the bugs were gone. But other times, nothing calmed him down.

            I feel ashamed because the first time I saw Lloyd having a ‘fit’, I laughed at him. He was naked and in a frenzy. I thought he was joking. The friend I was with told me to shut up. He told me not to laugh at Lloyd. My friend asked me, “Are you better than Lloyd?”

            I stopped laughing.

            I don’t know why Lloyd focused on bugs since his room was always clean, and he never had bugs in his room. While I was living in the Brandiz Hotel, the drug dealer in the hotel took a liking to Lloyd and hired him for odd jobs, like making runs to the store or folding the lottery paper envelopes used to package drugs to give him extra income.

            When I was twenty-eight, I found myself living in the Brandiz again, on the fourth floor, but down the hallway from Lloyd. My door was propped open when the old man, Big John who lived across the hall from me called me over to his room. John was overweight, gruff, a silver haired, old man who had spent years working in mines. He was not a friendly person, but I had known him for years, and he also liked Lloyd because everybody did.
            “Lloyd’s sick. He’s in St. Paul’s hospital and the social worker is trying to find out if he has any family members who can come to the hospital.”

            I felt shocked because I’d seen Lloyd just a couple of days before. Lloyd told me that he had a brother somewhere in Vancouver. I told Big John about his brother.

            Everyday, I went to John’s room to ask him how Lloyd was, and if they found his brother. Big John said Lloyd wouldn’t be leaving the hospital, not ever. Also, they had not found his brother. I felt heartsick. The fourth floor of the Brandiz, at that time, was the place all my best friends lived. There was me, Neil, Kenny, Chanel, a transgender woman, Dan, Lloyd, sometimes Robin, and Rebecca. Rebecca lived on the third floor, but because of the way our rooms were situated, my open window faced her open window. I found Kenny and Dan, and the three of us took a cab to the hospital to see Lloyd. When we arrived, I realized it was an intensive care unit. I asked the nurse if we could see Lloyd. The nurse said that first we needed to know that Lloyd was on life support. She said, if you’ve never seen a person on life support, it can be upsetting.

            Poor, sweet Lloyd, all alone and dying in the hospital. Not one other soul came to see him. He was laying on the bed with a tube breathing for him. I touched his hand, and I said, “I love you Lloyd.”

            The next day at the hotel, Big John called me back over to his door. He told me that the hospital had found Lloyd’s brother.

            I knew John was lying to me. Lloyd hadn’t seen his brother in thirty years, so it was probable his brother wasn’t even alive. Big John, who was always complaining about the traffic to my door, wanted me to believe that the hospital had found Lloyd’s brother so I wouldn’t feel sad.

The darkest part of living in an impoverished area is the outsiders who pray on the women living there. Throughout the 1990’s, women were disappearing from the neighborhood. Relatives who stayed in contact with their family in the DTES were reporting to the police that suddenly, they lost all contact. Women who for years rarely strayed outside of a ten-block radius were gone. They left their government cheques at the social services office, or their mailed cheques were never cashed. The street nurses began to keep lists of woman’s names if they were regular visitors to the outreach van at Wish or the woman’s drop-in centre and had stopped coming.

The police were quick to point out that women living in the DTES were a transient population. Still, they were a predictable group of people with regular routines. The women needed to support their drug habits, and the drugs they needed were downtown. The residents of the DTES and those who worked in the DTES for years felt the females were not missing; someone had murdered them. Nobody familiar with the DTES could understand why the police seemed so reluctant to help.

In 2002, the police arrested Willy Pickton who admitted to an undercover cop that he had killed 49 women. The police only charged Pickton with the murders of six women, although they found the DNA and other evidence showing 29 of the missing women had been on his pig farm.

One of the missing women was Sarah Devries. Sarah was my sweet, beautiful, thoughtful friend. We shared hotel rooms at various times. She often left pieces of paper scrawled with her poetry, or her private thoughts around the room. Sarah told me her family had adopted her when she was a baby, and although her parents and her siblings were white, Sarah’s ancestry was a combination of Black and Native. Her skin was light brown, and she had warm, brown eyes. Sarah’s hair was black and curly, and she was exceptionally pretty.

The last time anyone saw Sarah  was April 12, 1998. She was 28 years old when she went missing.

One day I was unlocking my hotel door when I noticed a business card tucked in the doorframe. It was from a Vancouver police detective, a woman, and on the back of the card she wrote that she wanted me to call her number because she was one of the detectives working on the Willy Pickton case. She thought I might be able to answer questions for her, questions that could help the police build a case against Willy Pickton.  It was confusing because I knew nothing about Pickton. What I did know was the cruel way members of the police treated the residents of the DTES, so I was hesitant to trust the police. They failed my community when they allowed a serial killer to continue targeting females, unhindered, due to their lackadaisical efforts.

  After thinking things through, I called the detective back. We met in my room. She asked if we could sit down, so I sat on the edge of my bed. She sat on my only armchair.

  I always decorated my hotel room; it was pretty and clean. I usually paid someone to paint my room, and I bought velvet pillow covers and used an eyelet bed skirt to hide the bottom of an ugly bed. Flowered bedding covered my bed and I bought prints and artwork from a small store in Gastown to cover my walls. I watched the detective checking everything out.  “I know that it’s just a hotel room,” I said, “but I tried to make it look nice”.

   Why did I care what she thought? At that moment, sitting across from a woman whose entire life was diametrically different from my own, the only thing I felt powerful enough to do was to apologise to her because I thought my room wasn’t nice enough. I should have asked her if she felt guilty when she considered women like my friend Sarah who was tortured and murdered because the police didn’t think finding the person who was killing them was important enough to use all their resources, the way they would if any other group of women were missing.

All through the 1990’s, the police refused to acknowledge what every person on the street, including the volunteers, nurses, and outreach workers, all acknowledged. Someone was targeting the most vulnerable females in the DTES. The person found his victims while he was driving around the DTES track, at night, only one or two blocks away from the building where the entire police force worked. The street nurses were also driving around at night, in the areas where the woman frequented, giving out condoms and harm reduction supplies. They reported watching a man drag a female into his vehicle. They tried to reach the man’s vehicle before he drove away, but they were unsuccessful.

The police were driving around the same area, but they were unable to find a person of interest until 1998. In 1998, the police received two tips, each one naming Pickton, as the man responsible for the disappearances of the DTES women. Even with that information, and a third tip that also named Pickton (which they disregarded because the police claimed the informant wasn’t credible) police and the RCMP didn’t bother to interview Pickton until 2000, two years later. During the interview, Pickton offered to allow the RCMP search his property. The RCMP never bothered to follow up on Pickton’s offer.

            A paid informant eventually told a rookie constable that he had seen a gun at Willy Pickton’s farm. The RCMP constable asked a judge to issue a search warrant, for the Pickton farm, and the judge agreed. On Pickton’s farm, police found samples of DNA from dozens of missing women from the DTES and other evidence that Pickton murdered the woman on his property.

            The police detective sitting in my room handed me a stack of photographs. They were pictures of females from the DTES, and she asked me if I could tell her the names of the women in the pictures. I looked at every picture and told her the first names of the girls, if I knew them. When I came to the picture of a young, Native girl, 17 or 18 years old, I recognized her, and held the picture up to show the detective the girl’s face. I told her the girl’s name was Olivia. I explained to her when I had seen Olivia for the last time. The detective said,

             “Thank you, it’s very helpful to know her name”.

            When I finished looking at all the pictures and naming the women I knew, the detective collected up her photos and left. Later, I felt perplexed. Why did a police detective come to see me for names she must have already known?  She had pictures of them, she must have known who they were. Why did she write on her card that she wanted to see me to ask me questions about Pickton when I had never met him?

             After living in the DTES for a long time, I felt apprehensive around the police. I watched while they did things, things that the childhood version of myself wouldn’t have believed the police would do. Not every person who belonged to the police force, or the RCMP, was a bad person. But the ones who were? They were hard for me to forget.

            When I was still a teenager, two police drove up to apprehend a man, a stranger, who had grabbed me while I was walking down East 8th Street. He was trying to violently assault me. I thought the police had come to help me. They handcuffed the man and put him in the back of their police car while I sat on the ground, shocked. I listened while the police radioed the man’s information from his ID to the police dispatcher. The dispatcher quickly answered with the man’s history. He was from another province, and he had earlier convictions for assaulting woman.

            Even so, the one policeman approached me and asked, “Do owe this guy money or something, bitch?”.

            Even today, I’m unsure why the female detective asked me to name the females in the photos she showed me, but I do know that the police did not do everything they could do to protect the women who lived in the DTES. As a result, women died, alone, on a dirty, miserable farm, in the dark, at the hands of someone who enjoyed destroying them.

            Dave Dickson is a former police constable who retired from the city police, and he was hired to work at the Lookout Society. He was a well-liked policeman in the DTES, and a policeman for over twenty years. If you were from the DTES and you didn’t recognize Dave’s face, you would have recognized his name because he was a well-known advocate for women.

He was walking downtown one day, carrying a pack of cigarettes in his hand, so I asked him for a cigarette. We got to talking and I asked him if he was still a policeman. He told me that he retired because he was frustrated with the attitudes of his fellow police officers and his superiors. During the period when the women were disappearing, Dave Dickson brought lists and information to his bosses. He was insistent that he saw a pattern. He felt one person was causing the disappearances, but his bosses refused to listen to him. The men he worked for referred to the missing women as “crack hoes” and “a waste of time”.

           That type of hatred is familiar in my life.

But I know that a person’s value is not decided by their address, and a person’s value is not decided by the people who choose to hate them. The people who live in the DTES are valuable. They are valuable because they are human beings.

I loved every part of the DTES, from the hidden laneway behind Gastown to the hotel rooftops that people hopped across before the buildings started to be torn down. I loved the alleyways through Chinatown. Those unlit, hidden places, only the residents know about, are not places for the faint of heart.

The DTES had a way of chipping away at all the layers of my exterior, until each layer crumbled and fell to the ground. My soul, raw and jagged, was exposed, and it was all I had left. Then, like all the people who live in the DTES, I learned how to survive, depending on my own crafty resources, and the people I met who cared for me and helped me in thousands of ways.

My heart belongs to the area referred to as the poorest postal code in Canada. Because I have seen and felt so much hatred in my life, I choose to be kind. When I have not acted kindly, I stop to ask myself, “Do you think you are better than they are?”

Then, I think about my old friend Lloyd.

My Name Is Romero by David A. Romero

It happens
Telemarketing Juliets
Calling from their ivy-covered balconies
Calling for their star-crossed lovers
“Is Mr. Romeo in?”
I’m sorry
Romeo went to go grab a burrito
Mercutio to cruise Whittier Boulevard
And Shakespeare to take some ethnic studies classes
In other words…
Romeo isn’t in!
My name is Romero!
I am not Italian
Spanish blood
Coursing through these veins
Though my parents are not from Spain
And despite the Southern Californian accent
That allows words like
And “sick”
To tumble gracefully from these lips
I’m not a white guy!
I’m a Mexican!
My name is Romero!
Romero like Archbishop Oscar Romero
Zombie filmmaker George A. Romero
Cesar Romero
Jack Nicholson
Heath Ledger
A brown man
Played the Joker
They dressed him up in green wig
Purple suit
And white face
Though he would not shave
His trademark suave
And sexy
Latin mustache
He was a Romero!
I am a Romero!
My parents had dark skin
And dark eyes
When I was seven
My brother lied
Told me my father
Was the mailman
“How could you be the son of our parents
With your blue eyes
And white skin?”
Well, brother
Like Jerry Springer or Maury
The DNA results are in!
I am a Romero!
And I know what some of you are thinking
That I’m just another white guy
Trying to prove he’s a Latino
Or just another Mexican
Beating his chest
Beating whatever reputation he has left
Trying to convince you
That his family
His country
His nationality
Are better
Than you!
I know as well as anyone
That we are all the children of Africa
Roots of no single family tree
But of a flourishing forest
That grows majestically
Towards a magnificent destiny
Radiating beauty
Just please
Close your eyes
And you can see it…
But the name of this poem isn’t,
“We are the world”
“We are the children”
The name of this poem
Is “My Name Is Romero!”
Because if you’re not proud of who you are
Then what’re you gonna be proud of?
And if you don’t know where you come from
How’re you supposed to know where you’re going?
And I know one thing:
That the name of my father
And my father’s father
And his father’s father
Before him
Was Romero.

Huck Yeah! By Stephanie Henriksen

Moving to Nelson, British Columbia changed my relationship with skiing. It was never my passion. I was introduced to the sport by my Canadian father, but we spent most of our time in Indonesia, swimming in a warm ocean. The snow globe of Winter sports is unique because it requires one crucial element: snow. Where I grew up there is no snow, there are no seasons, constant Summer and tropical rain. In observing the cultures of my mother’s and father’s countries of origin I am left in awe at the creativity of humanity; our traditions deserve to live on and we are allowed to be proud of them.

Honestly, ski culture seemed self – indulgent and elitist to me, always on the outside looking in. Yet it was I who decided to move to a secluded mountain town. Skiing on the mountains makes me feel alive, less depressed. How can I judge a way of life that has accepted me and helped me to heal? Well, I can’t. What I can do is use my privilege to generate momentum for causes that matter, like slowing down the rate of global warming. West Kootenay communities relish their right to privacy, luscious and abundant Summers, colourful and crisp Falls, true Winters, followed by the re – birth of Spring. What will happen if our planet continues to heat up at the current rate? Parts of our world, like where I grew up, will become inhospitable. Forest fires around the world are burning increasingly often, turning clean air toxic, and ruining Summers. People will have nowhere to go but North. Mountains will see less snow, and the culture of skiing, like many cultures of human history, could very well die out before they should.

To truly adapt to the culture of Winter sports, I believe, one must immerse themselves in a community that worships the mountains. Ski culture has been refined over centuries of evolution from its initial inventions in China, Russia, and Scandinavia for the specific reason of getting around. It has not only become a physical outlet but a spiritual art form. Fluffy white snow suspended in the air, gently falling down, and compiling on the earth will always feel magical to me. Navigating my way through the snowy mountains makes me feel like I’m meditating. Global warming is threatening this precious and fragile ecosystem which gives purpose to many communities, and an entire culture built around Winter could become inaccessible or erased if humans continue to contribute.

I am thrilled to report that recently, on this most tumultuous year of 2020, I watched a documentary featuring pro – snowboarder Jeremy Jones, Purple Mountains, by Jeremy “Bones” Butler and a ski film, Huck Yeah! by Matchstick Productions, starring a young local legend by the name of Sam Kuch, which both highlight the detrimental effects of climate change on Winter sports. Purple Mountains is available on YouTube and entirely focused on debates between Jeremy Jones and global warming non – believers. Jones created a non – profit organization in 2007 aptly named (POW) Protect Our Winters, providing ways to contribute to the cause. Jones is trying to preserve a sacred tradition for his family and fellow mountain lovers. Professional athletes in the world of Winter sports or any sport really, are judged from the outside looking in. And yes, they are privileged. So, when this privilege is used to promote awareness on important causes such as the global issue of climate justice, I feel like I can breathe a sigh of relief.

My friends and I bundled up on a chilly Friday evening to watch Huck yeah! from the sidewalk overlooking Nelson’s new drive–in theatre, created as a response the Pandemic. An event organized by the only movie theatre in town, The Civic. Tickets were sold out for the movie despite the steep price of $40.00 per vehicle. Proceeds for the event went towards supporting the West Kootenay Eco Society and The Civic Theatre. When I discovered this, I couldn’t help but feel an approving smile slide up my face. Positive change can come from supporting professional athletes! I am reminded to take action on a local level, within the community that has accepted me. But does this community accept everyone? To be continued.

All that I learn about contributing to this community, that is committed to renewable energy, can one day be applied elsewhere, where the fires are burning too often. The West Kootenay Eco Society has pledged to work towards having 100% renewable energy at the community level by 2050 with signed agreements towards this goal from the villages of Kaslo, Warfield, Silverton, New Denver & Slocan, the cities of Castlegar, Rossland, and Nelson. I’m especially grateful that the Eco Society hope to “support low – income people, help Indigenous people, and retrain workers from the fossil fuel industry to jobs in renewable energy and energy efficiency.” I entered a raffle to win an e – bike today! Maybe one – day our children will all ride e – bikes to get around.

After the screening of Huck Yeah! my friends and I went to a bar and celebrated being together in our group of six. The bar closed at 10:00 P.M. (lame I know, but there is still a Pandemic going on) and we walked uphill towards the home of a very friendly group of new friends, all excellent skiers, and I know this for a fact. It started to gently snow, fluffy white flakes suspended in the air, gently falling down. A moment in time, modestly perfect with old friends and new in his mountain town, that for now, I call home sweet home.

Straight A Student: Evolutions in Researching Myself by Tressa Ford


A brief study of certain adjectives and how they form personality and personhood. This study draws on both dictionary definitions and lived experience.


Agender (adjective)

-Of, relating to, or being a person who has an internal sense of being neither male nor female nor some combination of male and female: of, relating to, or being a person whose gender identity is genderless or neutral (Merriam-Webster)

A label first suggested to me by friends in high school, a term that felt audacious even then. The linguistics are simple. You start with the prefix A-, signifying “not” or “without,” which is then glued to the base morpheme GENDER. A word that by nature connotes an absent space, a discordance in the “natural” order of things. In practice, it signifies a state of incomprehension, of looking inwards, searching for an internal label that pronounces definitively “male” or “female.” And never finding one.  

My curious mind cannot let this matter rest. I pass people in the street and wonder how rude it would be to sit them down with a recorder and notepad and ask, “Excuse me sir/ma’am, where exactly in your inner constitution does it even say Woman? Man?”

I cannot tell if GENDER is friend or foe, and the antagonism of A-GENDER exhausts me. There’s no place to stand when living in the state of A-, no place to be that’s not in conflict with GENDER. And my quarrel was always with other people’s perceptions of gender anyway. Not gender itself.

I ease away from this term, turn instead to the appealingly modern NON-BINARY. If the first is a battleground, then the latter represents a neutral territory, a safe house located off the map. NON-BINARY doesn’t exclude that mystifying concept of GENDER – only stipulates one that isn’t confined to a binary existence.

Today, I look inside and find no battleground. Only uncharted lands and an internal label proudly proclaiming Here There Be Dragons.

Aromantic (adjective)

-Characterized by or involving no romantic feelings; experiencing or expressing no feelings of romantic attraction or attachment towards others (Oxford English Dictionary)

A term that debuted in my life the first time a boy told me he loved me, and my heart seized with a special kind of dread. “No,” I wanted to say. “No, that’s not going to work out for you. For either of us.” Not out of insecurity or self-deprecation, but the fear of an unhappy future. A future where a relationship is worn down, eroded, through presumptions of sentiment, an unequal meeting of emotion. But how do you tell that to someone?

Not even sure if this deviation is a facet of me, my brain, or my environment, I at first accept the state of A- vs. ROMANTIC. I begin the conflict tactically, attempting to separate ROMANTIC from its mystique. Attempting to turn it into something logical, definable – something I can defeat. But it eludes my grasp, twisting and morphing, until I’m staring down the barrel of the far grander concept of LOVE. And like with gender, I question whether this is really the foe I want to face.

I retreat, turn in on myself, begin drafting the terms of a ceasefire. In the end, I am unable to externalize my conflict with ROMANTIC, unable to lay it at the feet of society and call it a day. The space between A- and its target is a gap fueled by my own confusion – bridgeable, but only when ROMANTIC starts making some damn sense. In the end, I let this label pass from my life.

Asexual (adjective)

1: lacking sex or functional sex organs

2a: involving or reproducing by reproductive processes that do not involve the union of individuals or gametes

b: produced by asexual reproduction

3a: not involving, involved with, or relating to sex: devoid of sexuality

b: not having sexual feelings toward others: not experiencing sexual desire or attraction

4: not having or showing a particular sexual identity: neither male nor female


This final piece clicks into place to form a solid triad of dissonance, setting me solidly adrift from the human experiences of gender, romance, and sex. In a sci-fi story, I’m better suited to play a dispassionate vessel of AI than the relatable human protagonist. Still, I’ve got flesh and pulsing blood beneath my skin, so back to the drawing board for those looking to pin down that “Universal Human Experience.”

For many A-SEXUAL is a term exclusive to a textbook or a lab, but the clinical simplicity of this term doesn’t bother me. With it, I flip the narrative, transforming myself from subject to scientist, replacing the minority under the microscope with the majority.

Through observation and the subject interviews, I find that there is an observable force, like gravity, that exerts itself upon the majority of the populace. A force from which an estimated 1% of the population is exempt. Further qualitative research shows that this force is so great that many subjects struggle to imagine a reality in which sexual desire plays no role. What a luxury that must be – to be so comfortable in your normality.

I wrap up the results of my study, concluding that the dissonance is external and not my own. I shed it, gladly. 

Autistic (adjective)

2a: Of the nature of or relating to autism; affected with or characteristic of autism.

b: In weakened use and colloquial (potentially offensive even when used without derogatory intent). Displaying any of various traits which might be considered suggestive of autism, such as awkwardness in social situations, restricted interests, or repetitive patterns of behaviour.

Fittingly, this label arrives last – the alphabet itself acknowledging my hesitation. I cannot attest to a formal diagnosis for this label, nor can I be confident in it while a sign over my head declares Imposer! Imposter!

But what I can attest to is that my brain straddles two worlds – the one I experience, and the one that everyone else does. Each world has its own rulebook, knowledge of which is difficult to ascertain. Information is gathered through careful observation of others, taking notes on things like public comportment and voice inflection. Compiling files labelled “Oversharing,” “Small Talk,” and “Eye Contact.” Social and communication skills are maintained at a passing level through constant revision and self-editing. And every instance in memory where I failed to read a room is archived and analyzed so that the next conversation will go better.

And when my world is rocked with the waves of the other, well… In the privacy of my own space, I don’t have to pretend as hard. I seek comfort in the repetitive motions of braiding hair, the predictability of a favourite episode. Chewing on the same story for months, years even, regardless of what else in my life changes. Though these practices are well-established, new words like “stimming” and “hyperfixation” sneak into the internal dictionary of my world. Words that I can research and understand. Words that tell me I’m not the only one.

But in the end, I retreat to the safe neutrality of N’s once more. This time I find refuge in the fluidity of “NEURODIVERGENT” – a term that is just broad enough to be sure I fit. Good enough for now.


The final “A” of this study is “Abnormal,” whose effects on personality and personhood require a lifetime of diligent study. The art of taking pride in abnormality even more so.

Education in Hand by Cari-Ann Roberts Gotta

One day, I told a student I was going to be away the following week to take a course. His response was, “Ms. Roberts, don’t you think you’ve been in school long enough?” That was two degrees and a diploma ago. My family thinks there is no reason to go to school if you have a job. I disagree. I’ve spent most of my life in schools because there has always been something I wanted to learn or wanted to teach. 

Many years ago, I went to school because I wanted to learn American Sign Language. I loved the language learning but loathed the social politics of my classmates and the field of sign language interpreting, so I left after completing the first level of training and moved to a small mountain town. One day, a friend told me about a job posting at the local elementary school for an educational assistant that knew sign language. Knowing that I had less training than was ideal, I was reluctant to apply. But it turned out that I was much less unqualified than anyone else available.  My main job responsibility was to sign everything spoken and to voice everything signed. This was okay until he got older and the teacher talk time became longer. By time the student began grade eight so much signing had caused severe tendonitis in my wrists. My hands couldn’t do up the buttons on my clothes or cut my morning eggs, so they certainly couldn’t sign. With the help of many heath care professionals I nursed my hands and went back to school.

But the student didn’t really continue with school. He was officially enrolled for a year or more after that, but his attendance was so sporadic that eventually the school stopped employing an interpreter for him. I remain shocked that authorities allowed an underage student to stop going to school, but I don’t blame the student for dropping off. Once school was not about learning through play, he was isolated from his peers. He did not have any role models. He didn’t know that deaf people can do everything hearing people can do except hear. Once I took him on a field trip to a school in the city that had a program for deaf students. There he saw Deaf teenaged sweethearts talking by the lockers. He was enthralled. He didn’t know deaf boys could have girlfriends. My capitalization of Deaf is not a typo. To be lower case d deaf is a disability; to be capital D Deaf is to belong to Deaf culture – to belong to the language and stories and history and community of the Deaf. For all the years I worked with the student, I advocated without success for him to go to the school we visited, or any other that had a program for deaf students. This would have given him language, peers and education. But his family refused to relocate or send him away to school in the city. The school refused to force their hand by admitting it couldn’t meet his needs. Today he is almost 30 years old and lives with his grandfather. He has less than a grade eight education and he does not have the literacy or language skills to work. He does not have agency. 

That was my first lesson in education as a social justice issue. 

When I first returned to school, I was enrolled in an English degree program; however, one of my first instructors suggested transferring to the Human Services degree program. As it turns out both were right for me, as I ended up following up my degree in Human Services with a diploma in teaching English. The intersection of social services and teaching was perfect training for the next part of my career – teaching English to newcomers to Canada. My adult students were primarily from east African countries like Ethiopia, Eritrea, Nigeria and The Sudan and all had what was referred to as limited formal education. They were not just drop outs. Some had left school because of war or famine or severe poverty. Others had to care for children, and some would have had to move to cities to go to school. Many had suffered trauma. I taught them the English language and Canadian culture and they taught me so much more. Two such lessons came from journal writing. 

There was one student who was in my class for several semesters who always wrote the most superficial journal entries. They read like grade four social studies reports. I pressed him repeatedly to write more personally, and he did, and I was mortified. I was mortified because I had unwittingly pushed this student to talk about his most traumatic experience. In class, we had read a story about a natural disaster, so that was the writing topic that week. In response, the student wrote about the night a flash flood hit his village. Most of the adults drowned in their sleep. He was part of a group of about 30 young people and children who survived the flood and who walked across the desert for weeks looking for help. The youngest children died along the way before the group was eventually picked up by a UN convoy. 

Another time, the class read a story about a dog who rescued its owner from a river. As a Canadian born person, I expected the journal entries to be feel-good stories like the one we read. This time a student wrote about the time she was kidnapped by rebels because her father was high ranking in the military. She was held in the jungle for two weeks before she heard her father’s voice calling out in the night. The rebel guarding her used her as a human shield. A sniper shot him as he held her, and she was freed.  

Reading these stories were invaluable lessons for me. They taught me that I might not know, or even have the capacity to truly understand, the students’ realities. They taught me about overcoming barriers unimaginable to someone Canadian born. They taught me about resilience. They taught me that education gives people the power to control their lives. They taught me that the purpose of adult education is to make lives better in ways a lot of people with agency take for granted.

That was my second lesson in education as a social justice issue.

For those first two lessons I did not have the terminology, social justice, to apply to what I learned from students. I didn’t have the terminology for it because in my own life, I had it and took it for granted. I learned that what I was learning was social justice when I returned to school to complete a master’s degree. As an English language instructor, I had taught students from over 35 different countries and those students taught me that I wanted to know more about adult education beyond the confines of ESL, so I studied adult learning and global change where I learned that not having education is a social justice issue. Even if you have a job. 

I now teach high school English in an academic upgrading program at a small community college. Our adult students are mostly from this area. Some simply need a pre-requisite or two for further study at the college or a university, but many have had a very bad relationship with school in the past. Many of them don’t know it, but they are strong and resilient and trying to make their lives better.  Many prospective students have not made it back yet. In our province, almost half of our citizens do not read well enough to understand newspapers, instruction manuals, health information and basic legal documents such as rental agreements. And, two years ago, only just over two-thirds of grade twelve students graduated from our local high school. Yet, the number of students in academic upgrading at the community college is not overwhelming. I attribute this to a belief in our culture that the purpose of education is employment. If you have a job, then there is no reason to go to school. This sentiment makes me cringe. Because I know education is a social justice issue. Students teach me this over and over again.

Last year, a class I was teaching was reading an example of an essay that mentioned labour unions. One student stuck up their hand and stated that they did not know anything about unions and didn’t think any of their friends would either. Of course, this resulted in a lengthy discussion about labour unions that revealed that many other students were equally in the dark. At the end of the lesson they all walked away knowing that the union’s job is to protect the workers. That in the future, if they had a union job, they could go to the union when they felt mistreated.  They also had the new knowledge that the students’ union is there to advocate for students and that they could get involved with student advocacy.  Sometimes the diversion from the lesson is the real lesson.  

In another class a student shared about how they had recently learned that education was a right. They had never understood this through their troubled school history where they felt that their struggles in education were a personal failing. With this new understanding, the student now feels entitled to education. This was important because we all need to feel we have the right to be where we are and if we have that right, then we can stand up for it. That is agency.  

These were my most recent lessons in education as a social justice issue.

I may return to school one more time. Those who view education as a means to employment have asked, “what is the point of that?” I respond to this with an answer about contributing to my field and the merits of post-retirement teaching, but my inside voice silently responds, “because the students still have more to teach me.” A student once told me, “education is good, but you need your culture in your hand.” I think this is true, but we have two hands, one for education and one for culture. Clasped, they hold us up in life. 

Creating in the Time of COVID 19

In May, we put out a submission call. Send us your work, we urged. Tell us how you’ve been writing your way through the pandemic. Show us what this moment means to you.

Contributor Sarah Beauchamp asserts that “it is the misfits of the world, the artists, the poets, the writers, and the sensitive souls who have this unique ability to capture and reflect the state of the world through art and through language.” We see evidence of this here with a thoughtful, emotional collection of poems, art, even a personal essay based on an Instagram pandemic diary.

As editors, we revelled in the opportunity to stare into the maw of these poems, witness the courage it takes to write them, and then for the poet to hurl them into the midst of this maelstrom.  We are reminded that this is the poet’s job – to allow, permit, and witness, and these poets are living it. Aside from the attention to cadence, rhythm, assonance and line, these poems are a true whispering of the heart’s felt experience, raw and expectant, hopeful and alert.  We were moved by the lines “tell me who I am…the memory is sure/like I’ve been here before” and the longing and ache in “Six Feet Like Oceans”.  These are only small measures of specific moments these poets have offered up to the universal experience in this issue.   

“There is so much to say in turbulent moments like these, and there’s so much importance in saying what needs to be said,” states Jaryn Hollowink in her introduction. We at the Black Bear Review offer up this art and writing as a promise to continue to call out, voice our undying love for you.  From the safety of our den to the light of your home, the comfort and wisdom of these submissions will find a way to reach you.

Thank you for reading~

Almeda Glenn Miller, Leesa Dean, and Renée Harper

Day 8, by Andisa Shayi

During this time the few words I’ve been able to muster have been representative of the profound sense of stagnation I’ve felt within myself and with my relationships in these past few weeks, and in general. When you have no time for anything writing can be a delicious escape, but now with all the time in the world, I’ve come to also see it as scary and a huge imposition on me, as if the words are now saying ‘show us what you’re capable of now that you have no more excuses’. I teeter constantly between shooing this away, and then welcoming it with open arms.

Day 8

morbidly, you whisper
when asked for silence
restless children fill their mouths with
their forearms to kill the sound
and almost choke on creased cotton sleeves

What is there to do?
I am high on the scent of this house.