©Jourdan Hercsek
©Rosalynn Voaden

Sex, Death and Snow: Reading Canadian Literature in Arizona

Canada, I’m trying to read you


As I sit here, withering in the unrelenting Arizona heat, reading these stories, I begin to assume Canadian authors only know of cold and misery. It's hard to picture, no matter how vivid the imagery is, ever dying by snow or water; all I can see is the Palo Verde tree in full-bloom, hovering over me like black spruce:


Days on the dusty path,

Winters whip with snow-filled wrath;

People in both locations are familiar with the brutality of the seasons.

Farm barnyard frozen with a dying calf,

Heat waves and blizzards clash.


I traveled to Toronto once—the humbled, low-lying skyline; the jutting edifice of the CN Tower; the stretching shores of Lake Ontario. While wrapped in the city’s steely embrace, it all felt both indubitably foreign, yet inherently familiar. It lulled me into a false sense of understanding, fooled me into thinking that I could relate to the Canadian experience, tricked me into assuming that I suddenly could comprehend Mordecai Richler and the characters in his novels. In a flash of contradictory retrospect, I recall hearing my Torontonian friend correct my atrocious mispronunciation of “Yonge Street”.


Canada, you are a theme, a motif, a carcass, a diorama. I am chastised by my inner reading voice: “You know better than that.”


But do I?


 I read of rye and ginger in Through Black Spruce and abruptly my mouth is dry, craving the taste that can never be mine. I read of the impossibly distant, far-flung shores of James Bay, and a melancholic yearning consumes my insides as I ache with the desire to witness a frozen sunrise. I want to be the double; I want to be that romantic ideal. I am trapped in the Esther’s white house on the perimeter of Lake Ontario; it is like castle, a remnant of a simpler and more profound time, but the modern-day smog drifts over the placid waters, encroaching upon this sanctuary like a sobbing ghost at my window.


Canada, you are just out of reach.


Silent gunshots ring out across the vast and barren Arizona sky as the life slowly seeps out of Clara Vogel, the newly-christened Mrs. Lindstedt, dead by the hand of her husband in the late-afternoon light. While I catch a tan by the poolside, surrounded by saguaros and palm trees, I can see two figures sprawled out upon the rocky, teapot-strewn shores of Rathlin; a young woman and her dying sailor. She holds him in her arms as he takes her away, away. I turn page after page as I walk to class, darting between tall buildings, reaching for the sky, journeying through an immense, unknowable sea of people. I will be the dreamer; I will be the lover. I will be the lion who channels truth on notebook paper.


Canada, I can almost see you.


I dream I am in Montreal, my bare feet padding the weathered and scarred pavement as I follow Annie, echoing her footsteps as she desperately searches for her missing sister. In a whirl of neon lights, we disappear into an exclusive, brilliantly glowing nightclub. I can hear the low pow-wow of Cree voices emanating from DJ Butterfoot’s speakers; I close my eyes as they float into my ears, speaking of far-off lands, and for a moment I feel as though I could be somewhere else—but I am not. I awake to the blistering sun; the heat serves as an unwanted reminder that unbearable temperatures lurk just around the corner, looming in the imminent future: monstrous, formidable, consuming.


Canada, you must be upset.


You are slipping from my grasp once more. The fragile pictures I’ve created in my mind crack and blur like a Polaroid abandoned outside to suffer the sun’s blazing, wrathful rays. Shadowy silhouettes of half-formed characters that I can’t quite make out fade into the background, smeared into black oblivion. The heat is real, the summer is real. You, Canada, you are not.


Canada, I can’t see you.


I collide into the scope of jagged, fragmented shards, pieces of jaded memories and faded photographs. I want to walk that corridor; I want to hold the candle and illuminate the darkness. I want to brave the maze; I want to see the stained-glass windows of Avilion, I want to see the wide, hungry abyss of the Nuisance Grounds. But I am blinded by the light, sightlessly trapped in the inescapable desert.


Canada, you are just a word.


Margaret Atwood spoke of Lady Oracle; I find myself envious of the title. I want it to be my own, to wear like a fur-trimmed cape. I want to commune with the spirit realm; I want to stand on the bow of the ship, beneath the arch, and wait for a lover with an icicle smile.


Canada, you are so far away.


But what would I do with a fur-trimmed cape, here in the scorching desert? I suppose such a tongue-tingling title belongs to Joan for a reason. The smell of the sea, the kiss of the snow. The waves of the present, born back and back into the past. I am here; you, Canada, are in another place, hovering in the distance, teasing me as you dance just beyond the bounds of my outstretched hand: inexplicable.. I will be the dreamer; I will be the lover. I will be the reader who channels your truth on notebook paper.

Editors: Jourdan Hercsek; Allison Walsh; Keiaunna Cantley, and Kristin Smith.

Contributors: Rachel Adams; Stacy Bennet; Scott Eby; Veronica Engler; Alexandra Goodspeed; Kyle Johnson; Devan Manning; Patrick McHugh;Giorgio Mosesso; Ashleen Piercy; Samuel Rugeris; Charles Santoli; Kendra Schmid, and Kari Sleezer