Say the Names (after Al Purdy)

American whiskey bar (no logo), Sudbury, Saturday night, August 32nd On Earth (Shampoo Planet), The Gutenberg Galaxy American woman, swamp angel, friend of my youth, “Raise a little hell, shake …

American whiskey bar (no logo),
Saturday night, August 32nd
On Earth (Shampoo Planet), The Gutenberg Galaxy

American woman, swamp angel, friend of my youth,

Raise a little hell, shake hands with the devil”?! Everybody knows, hey, that’s no way to say goodbye. How insensitive. Mean. Who do you think you are?

Something I’ve been meaning to tell you. The year of the flood, way downtown by Grand Central Station I sat down and wept, helpless. You were on my mind. Surfacing (tears don’t care who cries them), I heard the owl call my name. (I’ve heard the mermaids singing lullabies for little criminals—whale music, hymns of the 49th parallel. The saddest music in the world.) Hallelujah, survival! A complicated kindness; a jest of God.

This all happened.

As for me and my house, there’s a trick with a knife I’m learning to do, driving men mad. I’ve tasted my blood—no great mischief. Hard 2 beleev we so seldom look on love. (Sunglasses at night, rose-coloured glasses—some great thing!)

The progress of love, girlfriend? In a coma, Lenny Bruce is… dead. Such is my beloved. Joshua then. And now? A single girl again, the paper bag princess entre lajeunesse et la sagesse. Green grass, running water, Shakespeare’s dog, Fido (white, biting dog), roughing it in the bush. Nights below Station Street, in Flanders’ fields, the Englishman’s boy taking care of business. Funny boy! (The English: patient, helpless, beautiful losers. Cocksure.)

Are you ready for the country? What’s the most beautiful thing you know about horses? Too spare, too fierce?

Barney’s version: the Studhorse man, St. Urbain’s horseman—two solitudes. A fine balance for those who hunt the wounded down. Say the names: Big Joe Mufferaw (the blind assassin), Natasha (the robber bride), Anne of Green Gables, Emily of New Moon (the rez sisters), Léolo, mon oncle Antoine (the drowsy chaperone), Jesus of Montreal (the solitary outlaw), Johnny Mnemonic, Count Zero (microserfs), Grace, too—the last of the crazy people. Falling angels.

The edible woman? C’est pas moi, je le jure, cowgirl.

In the sand, up on Cripple Creek, waiting for the miracle. If you could, read my mind (if I had a million dollars…)

What’s bred in the bone, Obasan? Who has seen the wind? Why must a black writer write about sex? (Lies! Tales from the Gimli hospital! Inkorrect thots!) The big why? Why I hate Canadians: greedy. Little eyes, alligator pie, bear, burning water, dirty wild grape wine—a breakfast for barbarians.

Storm warning: New Orleans is sinking, dark age ahead, moral disorder. Billy Bishop goes to war—bang! Crunch! Man descending down to the dirt, in the jaws of the black dogs, unless the sisters of mercy (les belles soeurs) rise up through black spruce.

Careful. If you love this planet, fall on your knees naked. With summer in your mouth, take this longing: the lost salt gift of blood.

Roses are difficult here, Maria Chapdelaine. Cereus blooms at night. Eunoia, the raven, steals the light. Lost and delirious, I’m down to my last cigarette. Alberta bound, dressing up for the carnival in the skin of a lion. (Dry lips. Oughta move to Kapuskasing.) Taxi! Big yellow taxi!

Can you wave bye bye?

Baby, so long,


p.s. never cry wolf (famous last words)

This appeared in the July/August 2010 issue.

Zsuzsi Gartner
Zsuzsi Gartner’s Better Living through Plastic Explosives was shortlisted for the Giller Prize. This story was created in the Fables of the Twenty-first Century program at Banff Centre.