Exercise in Setting

John Cockshutt, third-year

From the height of a primordial shore, I saw for miles in every direction. Down below, the bay was stretched out before me: the bright blue reflection, the white caps, the chill swells and the brisk.  Gulls careened this way and that, never beating a wing, carried about on the powerful arms. The sun was out, but it was not sunny. Nor was it cloudy. It was a mysterious sort of day, with a sky that beckoned azure but gave way indiscriminately to a kind of haze that dampened the light.

The wind carried inland from the bay, sifting through the now bare woods of late autumn. On it went, in my direction.

Eventually it met the foundations of the primordial shore, now the ridge. Nowhere to go, it ascended. The wind went over the dales and the brooks and the clear cut valleys of sweet maple and virulent pine and barbed firs. It cut through the dripping wet rocks and over the crunch of the leaf floor that covered everything. The wind came for me, standing alone on the edge of that hilltop that had once been its own shore, countless years before. What mineral deposits lay under me? What crustacean fossils were embedded deep within the igneous shapes? I was buffeted constantly by the ascending wind, which swept over and around and through me, howling giddily on my ears.

My polyester coat rubbed the wind and chafed it, making all kinds of zipper like noises.  The palms inside my red mittens were sweaty. I was very Canadian in that moment.  There was not even a shred of dread that I could draw out of the whole landscape. This was where my grandfather had spent his last years. 

What did he see? Was it what I was seeing? Was that all?  Was it all just sentiment?

I looked out again and the uncertainty cast itself over the bay. A cloud must have rolled by overhead, obstructing the day star. The gulls had gone, down over the shore. The wind had picked up.  Now it was overwhelming.  I moved back onto the path, the satisfying crunch of leaf bones heralding my every move. The path was wet pebbles. It was that season — everything was inexplicably wet.  The path crunched under my feet too, but this sound was more pleasant, and as I listened to it while I walked, I fancied that it sounded like the steps of multiple people in unison.

An army perhaps?

Ahead, two pine trees guarded either side of the path as it led into the empty woods.


Roberta Natale

Only a few words spoken and everything is different.

The seam suddenly separates and the ground disappears.

Centrifugal force called to action,

Don’t look down.

I am a diver treading the murky waters of a disturbed ocean floor

With heavy chest and weary wringed lungs.

The golden key is floating within my reach—like a baited hook.

Stand naked on the other side or stay here, cloaked in armour;

I simply cannot decide and the moment passes.

Standing where I was, cracked ground beneath my feet,

The three sisters snicker—how foolish to think I had a choice.

Roll the rock uphill, again and again.

Imagine what could have been, the never-ending game

And play out what I would have done if Hercules was my name.

Requiem for Those Who Matter

James Lee Lord Parker, third-year, humanities

Afraid they’ll talk about him in the news?

It wasn’t at a major intersection.

Here’s to you, oh, Hitler, Stalin,

Gandhi—names we won’t forget.

The ones we’ve chiselled, painted, spoken

of, composed as silhouettes

for future youths to know the moral

dos and don’ts that they should follow—

lessons bigger than the whole or

holes in which the dead must wallow.

Tell me now: If death’s a measure

of the absence of your presence,

what’s the value of some jumper’s

pin-sized crater of importance?

Bathroom and Hallway

It’d been about five minutes now, the mirror light flickering; you could see how it made you look paler. My breath was fogging the glass, and everything seemed more vivid. The velvety air seemed different in this part of the house, and I effortlessly followed the dipping and turning of my face as it moved with the mirror. Then I looked at my upper lip (a metal pipe), nose (falling down the stairs), ears (sporting events), and eyes (birth). I squatted down, releasing air out of my knees; you could hear the clap-clap-clap of water running in the toilet. I could feel everything more than I would have liked to.

Then I turned my back to the mirror.

I guess this is what it feels like, when you suddenly notice you’ve aged.

The prevailing voice in the room, myself, reminded me that I was brooding. I thought about the places I had spent the worst nights of my life: dark nightclubs, bars, movie theatres, street-events, beaches, people’s faces, homes, and cars (places I went searching for comfort and wound up feeling nothing but uncomfortable). That thing, that ghostly wraith that flies through the world, that thing that had killed my mother, was in the room with me. I wasn’t confronting it, I was embracing it. I suspect, in exceptional cases, self-loathing is healing. It’s a tough thing to do, being honest with yourself.

I shut the tap; I listened to the puttering of the sink end. 

The hallway looked endless, I wondered if I would get lost walking down it, if it would really never end. Then I began to walk towards the bedroom. Then I went into the washroom, cleaned my teeth, and splashed some more water on my face. I measured the length of the bathroom, some five or six feet long and eight feet high. Then I went back into the hallway, turned around, breathing rapidly, a sinking feeling in my chest, and went back into the bathroom, back onto the toilet seat, back to looking at the room’s height and width.

I sat on the toilet seat and looked around. There wasn’t much, toothbrushes, paper towels, the absence of a medicine cabinet, some lipsticks and mascaras dispersed around the sink. Nothing to explain why I hadn’t noticed any of it before. I ran the bath, I ran the sink, I ran the toilet. Then, I realized, it was too quiet and I began to look around all over again, thinking, don’t let yourself slip, don’t, don’t, don’t, let yourself slip. 

Somehow I’d missed the photograph of my family on top of the sink. I took it off the wall and readjusted towards the bathroom door, catching the light. I went to lean my hand on the doorframe but I missed and it landed on the wall. Then I pleasantly let myself slip down. I was sitting on the floor now, my back against the door. I brought the photograph up to my eyes; it’d only take a minute, I thought. I’ll be back on my feet in exactly one minute. I floated into that picture, letting myself become numb. Perhaps, I thought, I could relive the memory this way.

The Pacific National Exhibition was a place my family couldn’t tolerate for longer than ten minutes (this is where the photograph had been taken). There was an all-day shuttle bus that ran on West Broadway and you didn’t have to worry about paying the three dollar fare. The rides, the music, the food, the golf carts, and fortune tellers made all of us volatile and impatient. I remembered we stopped going the year my father read in the morning newspaper that three people had been gunned down waiting for the Ferris wheel. I remember feeling lucky, as if my family had been those three people and we had disinterred some truancy about life that hadn’t been available to us before.

It was slipping away from me, the moment. So I held the photograph higher, I tilted it to the left and right, until I had memorized the image of Jack, Devon, dad, mom, and myself wearing sombreros, eating cotton candy, and looking happily foolish. Anything that would happen, hadn’t happened yet; this looked like a naïve family, in the same way that squirrels look naïve scrambling down trees. I grasped, I slid up the wall and accidently turned off the lights. I groped in the darkness, the sensation was fleeing. Then I knew it was gone, and it wasn’t coming back either. Then I found the light switch.

Memoirs of the Wind

Fiza Arshad, fourth-year, neuroscience and creative writing

The wind whistles, like the choo-choo of a train

(as a child would tell you)

as steam rolls off into the bottomless blue; 

and travels over the tree tops, scraping

its fingernails, slightly, along the branches.

A plethora of voices echoes in the resounding silence

of the different shades of green

greeting the footsteps of the draft,

which bids au revoir to a flash of maroon.