Thursday, March 31, 2011

April 2011: Poetry Strike

The provisional avant-garde (provag) has announced a poetry strike for the month of April 2011 to protest Canada's war on Afghanistan. Provag (the provisional avant-garde) has released an audio message of recommended inactions, and i have mirrored it on tumblr:

i am resigned to provag, the provisional avant-garde, but i in no way represent the provisional avant-garde (provag).

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Of Wyrms and Women pt. 4

[part 1] [part 2] [part 3]

The floor is brown from the city muck that the students track all over the building. I push the mop forwards, watching the sluice of water become murky as it slides across the tiles. Outside the snow is banked onto lawns, leaving the sidewalks under an inch of slush. The progress of winter in Toronto can be tracked through the gradations of grey; December is almost white, January is the dappled colour of a horse, and February looks like old asphalt. The clean swath of floor behind me is off-white, which means it continues to look dirty. Soon I will need to get some new water to replace the muck in my bucket. Most of the other custodians don’t bother. You can see the smears their mops leave at the end of the night, big long streaks across the hallway floors. Sue, one of my coworkers, told me that the trick is to make sure that you start to mop from the opposite end of the building from where you began the night before, so you wash with clean water tonight what you washed with filthy water yesterday. That way, no one area gets too dirty and the bosses won’t notice. I prefer not to take shortcuts.

My mother hates my job. When I told her I got work as a custodian, she was silent. I thought I’d lost the phone connection. Eventually, she asked “Why don’t you go back to school?” She was thinking why don’t you get a real job? But she said that I was smart enough to be whatever I wanted, and she hated to see me throw away all that potential. To help her be less ashamed of her janitor daughter, I explained that as a university employee, I get to take free classes. I heard the smile come back into her voice: “That’s great, Sam!” She could tell her friends about my job after all. I imagine her explaining that “my Sammy is working at the university. It’s just a cleaning job, but it means her tuition’s taken care of.”

I notice I’m panting. Lost in thought, I’ve been mopping more and more rigorously. Now my back is moist with sweat. I put the mop down in the bucket, and go to get a drink of water. The library is warm and stuffy. The air is always dry in this building, the moisture absorbed by thousands of thirsty books. I’ve been meaning to buy a metal water bottle. At least each level has a water fountain. It gives me a reason to take little rests. My first night on the job, I was repulsed. The fountain was covered in green scum, and old wads of chewing gum were clogging the basin. I put on my rubber gloves and got to work. Now I disinfect the fountain’s head every night. One evening, before the library was closed, a student noticed me scrubbing the drinking fountain. He came over and thanked me. “That shit was undrinkable before.” I should let my Mom know that I’m changing the world, one dirty fountain at a time.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Of Wyrms and Women pt. 3

[part 1] [part 2]

She stood in front of her parents. Her hands clasped, her eyes cast downwards. Her bearded father reached for a small cloth bundle on the table beside him. He unwrapped it to reveal a shining necklace torc of simple design.

“We thought it was time for you to have this,” her mother said.

“Wealhtheow, you’ll be going away soon.” Her father looked at her. Wealhtheow was young and slender. He glanced at her mother, who was once also young and slender. Her mother’s gaze remained on Wealhtheow, unblinking.

“Yes, Father.”

Every warrior of the hall wore a torc similar to the one her father held. He had presented countless men with ornaments much finer. Unadorned Wealhtheow was no warrior; wore no treasure. Though the daughter of the king, she was just a daughter. The gold of the torc glinted in her eyes.

Her father had contracted her marriage, she knew. He would give her jewellery; she would display his wealth and power with fine gold.

Her brother entered, steaming from the rain outside. He had been learning to wield an axe from one of the weathered warriors. Seeing the torc, he approached their father.

“Whose is that?”

“It belonged to your Grandfather. It was won in battle from Onthrel the Swede.”

“May I see it?” Her brother took the torc and fastened it around his neck. Her father looked down at the boy.

“It is befitting of a young warrior,” he mused. He placed his calloused hand on the boy’s shoulder.

Wealhtheow’s face flashed as she fought for composure. She closed her eyes and regained herself. Her brother could have the heirloom. There would be others for her, newer and nicer, once she was wed. Wealhtheow stood straight, returned her face to its smiling docility.

Her mother watched her through half-lidded eyes.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Of Wyrms and Women pt. 2

[Part 1]

I enter The Lair, an independent coffee shop—owned, I’ve always assumed, by the middle-aged barista with a plethora of tattoos and a shock of bleached hair. The Lair looks to me as if it was decorated by a fourteen-year-old. The walls are covered in posters of dragons and superheroes. My favourite spot to sit is below a picture of a purple rampant dragon, grey smoke curling up from its nostrils. The dragon perches on a cliff above rolling fields. In the distance, a little hut burns, presumably torched by the scaled beast. Beside the dragon poster was one of Batman, standing on a rooftop, blue undies front and center.

The Lair’s coffee isn’t the best on the block, but it’s cheap, and I enjoy spying on the barista as she works the machines, the tattoos on her arms rippling as she moves. I admire her: her funky hair, her brightly inked arms, the wrinkles around her eyes. This woman wears her life story on her body; she’s beautiful, edgy, adventurous, but also quietly efficient. She’s my secret hero. She is the queen of cappuccino. I don’t even need to order; she saw me come in and has a big cup ready for me by the time I reach the counter. I pay, and retreat to my booth.

The other patrons of the cafĂ© tend to be punks and arty-types. There’s a woman with a different tutu for each day of the week. A man with a crown of spikes, each dyed a different colour. A group of young girls with matching hot pink sneakers. Adults with leather jackets patched with band logos. Teenagers with scarves that pose a tripping hazard. People who wear nothing but black. People who wear every colour at once. I feel ordinary and frumpy next to them. What must they think of me? I can guess: a conformist, a nobody.

The barista’s name is Tia. Tia’s tattoos are all dragons. They writhe around her body. There is a pair, somewhat obscene, twining down her forearm in the midst of a mating flight. The dragons are different types, Western and Eastern, in blues, yellows, greens, and reds. She actually had the Eastern-style one on her left arm done in Japan, when she had been doing her post-college globe-trot. The mean one on her shoulder was done in London. It is the only completely black tattoo on her body. One artist had done two of the tattoos: matching dragons on the outside of each calf. They aren’t the prettiest of her dragons; their lines are distorted and starting to blur. The one on the left is the colour of faded jeans, the one on the right is supposed to be golden, although it’s really a murky yellow.

Suddenly, the barista pulls out a chair, and sits at my table.
“Hey, you.”
“Um, hi.” I fidget with my cup.
“I see you in here a lot.”
“Want to come to a little party?”
“A party?”
“Here. I like to get to know my regulars. Decide which ones I’m going to sleep with.”
“I’m kidding.”
“Sorry to disappoint,” she smiles. Her teeth are stained.
“I’m Sam,” I blurt out.
“Tia,” she reaches over to shake my hand. “And I’ve got to get back to work. See you Saturday?” 

“Okay.” I swig the rest of my drink and scurry out of the shop. Take a deep breath. It’s just a party, she’s just being nice. I should go. I think of turning back into the shop, to ask Tia what time I should show up, and if I should bring anything. I stop myself. Calm down. It’s Thursday. I’ll be back in tomorrow. I’ll ask then.

There’s no reason to let her think I’m overeager.