Friday, May 29, 2015

Burdens

A field blanketed in cumulonimbus.

The dewy soil mounds between graves.

One man alone drags his shovel to the final plot.

He is old and sore, relentlessly carrying out his duty.
Kneeling in stiff denim work pants, he sweeps the dirt with gardening gloves, narrow enough for a young girl, about twelve.

Approving the size of the eternal bed, he pulls his wife’s bandana from his back pocket to wipe his brow and neck. The visible humidity slaps his pride as if saying you’re not strong enough.

His head turns toward the child laying face down near his boots, moldering on the grass.
Tufts of her golden hair flip to and fro with the wind.

Beyond the distant hills, thunder rumbles.

The man hunches and stands slowly at the sound above.
Heavy breaths roll over cracked lips.
He stabs his shovel into the ground once and folds his hands over the top, pulling his face toward the earl grey sky. Thin eyelids fold.

This man is the last man on Earth.

He is burdened with the world’s final occupation… Gravedigger.

The clouds open.

Raindrops stream down his wrinkled forehead and bead, like the tears of God.





by Arianne Berryer

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Interview with Catherine Cooper

Catherine Cooper is a Canadian writer of fiction and non-fiction. Her first book, The Western Home, was published by Pedlar Press in 2014. Her first novel, White Elephant, will be published by Freehand Books in Spring, 2016. She lives in Prague, Czech Republic.

 

Cafe Aphra: When did you first realize that you wanted to write as an occupation?

It crept up on me. I chose English literature as a major in university because I enjoyed it and I was able to reliably get good grades, but I don’t think I had any particular interest in creative writing. In my mid twenties I started to write short stories, and since then I’ve continued to write. I’m sure that I will always write, because I love it and it helps me a lot in my life, but I’m still not sure that I want to do it as my primary occupation, because I find it hard to live in a balanced way when I am writing full-time, and it doesn’t pay well.



CA: You did a Creative Writing Masters course some years ago in Canada... tell us about that. How did you find out about it and what did it bring you? Would you recommend it to other aspiring writers?

I did my MA in Creative Writing at Concordia University. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to others, because it might not be helpful for everyone, but for me it was helpful. I had teachers who inspired and encouraged and challenged me, I had access to excellent resources for writing my research-heavy historical fiction book, I learned not to take either praise or criticism too personally, and I met some of my best friends. It was also my first experience of being part of a writing community, and that’s something I definitely would recommend to other aspiring writers.


CA: What sort of thing are you interested in reading? What are you reading at the moment?

What I’m reading depends on what I’m writing, and I usually read several books at a time. I tend to work on projects that require a lot of research, so I read a lot of nonfiction. For the past year I have been reading mostly about addiction and psychedelics. I really enjoyed Supernatural by Graham Hancock. I don’t often find novels that I love, but when I do love a book I read it again and again. In general I am much more interested in writing and reading about people struggling to overcome their own limitations and weaknesses than I am in writing and reading about people overcoming forces of antagonism outside of themselves. At the moment I am reading Good to a Fault by Marina Endicott.  


CA: What sort of thing are you interested in writing? What are you writing at the moment?
My first book was a collection of short stories about American folk music, the second is a novel about a Canadian family who move to West Africa and now I am working on a story about rehabilitation programs where psychedelic plants are used to treat drug and alcohol addiction. It sounds eclectic, but looking back on it I can see that I was exploring similar themes and working through similar questions in all of them.  



CA: Tell us a bit about your experiences of trying - and managing - to get published. Where have you had your work published and how did it happen?  

I don’t think there is anything useful I can share about my experiences with publishing, because for the most part it has been a matter of luck and good timing. The publisher of my first book approached me after reading one of my stories in a magazine, and my agent just recently found a home for my second book. I don’t have any advice about whether or not it’s a good idea to have an agent, but I am certainly glad to have one.  


CA: What forms or genres are you interested especially in writing? Or do you like to experiment with different forms?
I am mostly interested in writing fiction and creative nonfiction. I am starting to be interested in science fiction as well, so I’m exploring that. 



CA: Tell us a bit about your most recent book, The Western Home. Where did it come from and what is it about?  

The Western Home is a collection of stories and an essay about the American folk song “Home on the Range.” My mother’s father died when she was a child, and she used to talk about him a lot to me and my siblings while we were growing up. One of the things she told us about him was that his favourite song was “Home on the Range.” When I was about 26 I happened to read a full version of “Home on the Range” in a book called Good Poems, and I was very moved by it.

I realized that what I had thought was a sort of silly song was actually a really beautiful and poignant poem about the longing for home that brought settlers to the West and what that meant for the people who already lived there. Somehow this resonated with my own longing for a home and this kind of yearning for paradise that I have carried around all my life, probably because my family moved all the time, and my awareness of how limiting and even dangerous that can be. I went online and read some more about the history of the song, and I found it fascinating, so I decided to use the story of the song and the people who shaped it over time to explore some of the themes I have returned to again and again, especially the connection between faith and healing and failed (or reframed) pursuits of ideals. 



CA: Tell us a bit about your forthcoming book, White Elephant. Where did it come from and what is it about?

White Elephant is a novel about a Nova Scotian doctor and his family who move to Sierra Leone in the early 1990s to do humanitarian work, d
espite the fact that the country is in the early stages of civil war. My family lived in Sierra Leone briefly in the early 90s, and that experience left a huge impression on me, so I wanted to write about it somehow. I wrote a short story set in Sierra Leone for a fiction workshop at Concordia, and my thesis supervisor encouraged me to develop it into a novel, so that was how it started.

I went back to Sierra Leone about four years ago to do research while working on a Christian hospital ship and then traveling a bit and writing an article about meetings between traditional and western medicine, and those experiences also influenced the direction the book took. The book was my way of exploring questions that troubled me, but it’s also just a story about a family struggling with their own problems in ways that make them quite blind to what is happening around them.

I guess if it’s about something it’s about empathy, and the limits of empathy. Like my other book it also explores the connection between faith and healing and the pursuit of some kind of ideal, whether in the form of a place or a person or a state of being. It will be published in Canada in May, 2016.




Sierra Leone, photograph by Catherine Cooper.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Goats

The goats were as happy as they could be. Every winter the bucks urinated on their own faces, combed it through their fur, and head-butted the other bucks out of the way. The does wagged their tails and offered themselves to the smelliest and strongest, and because these bucks couldn’t be everywhere, the old and young males took their chances.
            Thus it was. Thus will it always be.
This is who we are, the strongest and smelliest goats said.
            One year, near the end of the breeding season, perhaps because the grass had fermented, or she had discovered a new herb, or she had eaten an apple, one doe said, We could do things differently. I don’t want the strongest, smelliest buck to father my kid. I want a relationship.
            The other does and the weaker, less smelly bucks agreed.
The strongest, smelliest buck felt too exhausted to sire another kid anyway and the breeding season was almost over. Why not? he said.
            The traditionalists opposed but the new movement had the majority.
The next breeding season the bucks stood up-wind on rocky outcrops and flaunted their muscles, horns and pheromones and the does chose. Couples formed.
The free-thinking does avoided the traditionalists who did not know how to change their behaviour. Moreover, those goats were used to being led. Without a leader they weren’t sure they were goats at all.
What shall we do? The traditionalists bleated. What shall we do?
The strongest, smelliest buck was bored with his few does and the whole season lay ahead. We need to formalise our relationships, he said.
The traditionalists agreed.
And for that we need a leader …
And a committee …
which voted to go back to the old ways.
            Thus it was.

Moral: The price of freedom is freedom itself.


by Joy Manné

Monday, May 4, 2015

Listening In

 
In the locker room a mother
and small-voiced daughter enter
adjoining showers.  I hear
their voices rise above their
twin cascades.  Hear the ping

on the metal divide between
their matching work to remove
this morning's ocean salt and all
of the beach that clings. The daughter
calls out to let her mother know

she was able to reach the soap. 
To let her know how the water
helps her rinse off all the soap.
All by herself. 
She inquires if her mother likes

her shower too and her mother
laughs an answer which flows
above, below the divider to reach
the child's upturned face. 
Her soapy feet. 

I have had only sons and never
minded until this steamy room.
Not a longing, really, but a blossoming
a mother and daughter happened
to include me in.



Patricia O’Brien

Friday, May 1, 2015

Every Rut and Bump



We found every rut and bump in the road, flying off our seats each time we hit one. Frankie howled with toothache behind us, rolling around the backseat, kicking us in our backs.

“We’ll get you some medicine, soon as we can, honey,” drawled Joan around a cigarette. A cracked window sucked the smoke around her head like bandages. In the silver black moonlight, she looked like a Forties film star, a real candidate for wax.

Through sleeping villages, country roads; Frankie didn’t let up for a second. I was fumbling through Joan’s tapes - a choice of the Cramps, the Cramps or the Cramps - when her top half suddenly swivelled, 1-80 degrees.

“We already passed that Fiat dealer earlier,” she said. I braked, Joan thumping the dashboard with her palms, and threw us squealing into reverse until we were idling in front of the blacked-out forecourt. She looked at me for a second, cigarette tip making little circles, then jerked the door open, which is when Frankie slipped out after her and into the night.

We looked for him for hours, calling his name until we were hoarse. We tried every street of the village, twice, stumbled over fields as the sun rose coldly around us. The sea air carried the sound of him to us but we could never work out from where, and they grew increasingly faint.

Back in the car, Joan looked scooped out, as close to crying as I’d ever seen her.

Damn hound. 

by Nick Black 

(Picture courtesy of https://cassetteeater.wordpress.com)