Starting with these selections from neighbourhood literati
The word sonnet is a relatively new variation of the traditional form. In essence, it is a fourteen-line poem, with one word set for each line. Concise and usually visual in effect, this miniature version can contain one or more sentences, as the articulation requires. Seymour Mayne is one of the chief innovators of the form. Seymour Mayne’s collection, Cusp: Word Sonnets, first published in the original English in 2014, has now appeared in a Mandarin translation in China rendered by Prof. Lin Wang (Dixie W Publishing Corporation).
The Windmill Mystery
by Pamela Jones
Pamela Jones has recently moved to nearby Gatineau. In another lifetime, she was a choreographer who taught music and dance in Montreal at the National Theatre School. Today, she is the author of a most intriguing murder mystery, The Windmill Mystery. Its foreshadowing is carefully, quietly paced. The casual is not by chance. Police Staff Sergeant David Fraser and Constable Catherine Hébert are the investigators; theirs is a perfectly timed pas de deux.
The setting is Canada Day in the Anglophone community of Pointe-Claire Village on the island of Montreal. The year is 2008. Waving flags about, people sometimes get hurt in celebratory holiday excess, don’t they? Fraser and Hébert are patrolling on bicycles. Fraser grew up here; knows everyone by first name. Hébert does not know the place or its history. Their cheery banter includes mention of “the English,” as well as the Patrimoine Québec, the FLQ, pizza or healthy-choice sandwiches.
Pointe-Claire’s landmark since 1709 is the windmill. As the two officers bike towards it, Fraser recounts its history, pointing out the nearby convent. Then, behind the windmill, they see a body: a dead woman, a flagpole rammed into her gut. The flag is as blood-soaked as the corpse. Who is she? Two pages further, we learn more.
Trudeau arrives. This Trudeau, however, is the convent’s mother superior. Soeur Trudeau identifies the body. It is Amy Trahun, an investigative reporter. The good nun tells them that Trahun was going to join the convent. Really? Trahun had one more story to write first. About.what? Soeur Trudeau names Marc Sanscerre, leader of the Parti Québécois.
Who did it? By the time the reader reaches Chapter 4, four people have been named. All had opportunity and motive to kill Trahun.
This book could not have been written in another time and place. The killer will be found. The plot’s telling clue is given in a graveyard by a rapper, a drug addict who quotes Verlaine’s poetry. Along the way, we read a bit of Acadian history, as well as the role of gambling casinos in elder abuse today.
The Windmill Mystery is a quick read, well-told. Its foreshadowing so skillfully worked on the page, that the reader might read it again just for the pleasure of the dance. This reader hopes Fraser and Hébert are assigned other cases soon. Let us read more, svp.
Pamela Jones. The Windmill Mystery.
New York: Austin Macauley Publishers, 2023, Paperback, 160pp. $16.95.
Man from Lahore
This flash fiction piece stems from a casual encounter in a Quickie’s corner store, one that acquainted me with a sense of personal identity and the horizon of possibilities for old and new Canadians alike. It is a prize-winner in the Strands International Flash Fiction Competition, Sept. 2021, and was first published in Confluence, a UK-based magazine.
He looks at me with familiarity — my countenance, or allure it seems. Ethnic, too? More than propinquity, you see, with my stance here at the shop’s counter, the Quickie’s corner store. “Where d’you come from?” he asks forthrightly, but feigns affable ease.
An immigrant’s instinctual game we’re playing with geography as our guide here in the Great White North (so-called). He forces a grin, making a face — not a stranger’s face — this middle-aged man living here in Ottawa, the nation’s capital city. A newcomer, as perhaps we all are, what I want him to know; and yes, for me to accept him at his word. Our existential beingness, you see.
Now who’s really an immigrant? Indeed he’s from Lahore. What the Quickie’s corner store confirms, in a manner of speaking: here he works at the cash register; and what he figures I will now purchase with my unaffected ease.
He keeps acknowledging me, because of our common identity-cum-familiarity. And our longing for one place all the while, without aloneness — let it be known.
“In Canada you always buy a lottery ticket,” he tells me, entreating me — an overture mixed in with his prescience.
“To make life good,” he assures me with his verbal inflection.
“You will win.” His game of chance — I know, but don’t really know.
He laughs, because of abiding hope somewhere. And a special spirit he might have cultivated. His charm, no less. He with his new-immigrant’s dream of living a full life in Canada. A South-Asian’s quest, if only Pakistani-style.
But I would rarely ever buy a lottery ticket, I’m about to tell this man. Yet a vision of sudden wealth flits into my mind. Fantasy with a sense of escape, yes. From what?
He laughs, sort of, with more prescience. I also laugh.
“You must keep trying,” he persists, handing me a lottery ticket — my purchase because of his prompt. A rescue point, and freedom with a vague sense of materiality, somewhere.
“But my chances are?”
“Don’t worry about your chances.” He sounds definitive.
“You will win.”
An immigrant’s cause to celebrate, yes.
“You are in Canada!” He breathes in hard.
I also breathe in hard. Mimesis, see.
He shakes his head in an oversized jacket, like what’s just thrown over his shoulders. He twirls his whiskers and looks at me with his lathe-grey eyes. It’s what we keep making of each other — our talking, more than made-up conversation, with my presuppositions.
A new identity taking shape with real or just imaginary places with our own immediacy, if only our immigrant space. I unconsciously dredge up more than what’s intuitive with my sense of oceans crossed. Will I really win?
I entertain more dreams, but not a far country, do you know? And riches, like being a maharajah in a time of yore, if a castle somewhere in Jaipur, Rajasthan, but not one that’s gothic. Yet one far unlike a Wall Street millionaire’s, you see. Dream on!
This man wants to know my name, because of what’s authentic in me, and now forming between us. More than verisimilitude, you see. And where do I really come from with my own bonhomie, or contrived style?
Familiarity yet oozes. I tell him where — more than a made-up place in my mind’s eye. Details I give to him in a casual manner. And he’s undoubtedly from Lahore, and has been living in Canada not very long. But how long is long?
I unconsciously pretend being a wanderer — not a wayfarer — in my new style without pretence. He asks another question to establish a marker between us with his outsider’s sensibility at work. A subtext somewhere. He wanting to know much more than what stems from sheer curiosity. And yes, about my lottery-ticket winning chances in Canada aligned to my bona fide immigrant’s hope.
Something new to behold in our self-awareness, or self-realization. Indeed our actually being in one place and in one time — here at the Quickie’s corner store.
Other customers cast quick glances at us. Our ethnic experience acted out, more than in a trumped-up familiar manner, sure. And my indeed having bought a lottery ticket and dreaming of winning, like a regular pastime.
I keep making up more than sub-continental boundary lines, see. The Far East, and the famed Silk Road, with a genuine cartographer’s sense in me. Lottery winner, eh? I look at the ticket in my hand. Breathing it, smelling it. My castle up in the air. Immigrant reality aligned to fantasy ongoing.
But this man’s not without his own guile. He pats his whiskers, muttering about real possibilities here in Canada — unlike the life he might have lived in Lahore. The lottery ticket in my hand wavers. I unconsciously rehearse the numbers in my mind.
A prized possession only. And tomorrow the draw will be. A sense of ecstasy grows because of my winning ways. Got you! I hear him say.
The other customers’ eyes light up, taking us in. Casually I say my goodbye. Wishful-dreaming, nothing less. Canada — here I come.
Cyril Dabydeen is Ottawa Poet Laureate Emeritus and fiction writer. He taught Writing at the University of Ottawa for many years.