Eaton Hamilton

the problem with being trans is cis people. The problem with being queer is straight people. The problem with being disabled is abled people. The problem with being Black is white people. In other words, prejudice.

Category: fiction

Battery: A piece about factory-farming

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Here is the piece that was long-listed for the CBC contest and won 2015’s Lit Pop, about which judge George Saunders said:

“I admired and enjoyed the wit, clarity, and compression of this story. It’s fast, funny, precise in its language. The author is really using language as a tool of persuasion. The story also has real heart – the narrator manages to make us sympathize for both chickens and executioners. The details of the operation are chilling and terrific. The story is beautifully shaped and minimal – the writer seems to recognize that the essence of making a work of art is choosing. The story makes us face a certain harsh truth, but without any sense of preaching, and even a sense of wonder. Above all, the story is musical – it zings along, making a world as it goes, with its confidence and its sense of curiosity.”

Battery appeared in Matrix Magazine.


You’re a chick hung by your beak in a beak-docking machine. Experience is a funnel you slide through. You are too stupid and too new to think unpain/pain. To think free range/battery cage. To think help me.

If you were able to think help me no one would help you. You have no friends at this factory farm, or anywhere, and no relatives, though in fact hundreds of your relatives have been through here, generation after generation. With a thousand thousand chicks beside you, all of whom look exactly like you, you are entirely alone in the world. Every chick is indeed an island. You are an island, a speck of a cog in a huge, grinding wheel towards a goal, which in your case is to produce food for another species. Which in your case is eggs.

You are all here as one heart, riding, riding, fleeting the grey ground currents of the conveyor belt you call home, motion-sick and dizzy. You are only just hatched, barely feathered, barely yellow, and your wings are uncertain things you flap but that take you nowhere, though you go somewhere, borne aloft on a history of oviducts into this grey motherland sky below your feet. Palaver peep until some of you are gone.

In this plant, the male chicks are Sue’s job. Sue is not your friend. She is 46 years old; for Sue, 50 looms hard-edged and cruel in the distance. For a long time, Sue had the notion that things in life would become easier as she aged, but it has not proven to be true. No matter how completely she pays her bills, for instance, every month there are new amounts owing; she never gets ahead. Sue is not married, although she once was. Three years ago, she had breast cancer. She is back, now, and of course has hair again. But she is exhausted. The only thing she likes in her life is going to bed.

Sue is a chick sexer.

She squeezes feces from every chick on the conveyor belt, opening up its anal vent to see if a chick is a female, with no genital pimple, or a male.

Sue is not your friend. She squeezes your anal vent.

You are a female.

Sue takes the males and tosses them into a hopper where they first bash against steel, then fall into a machine called the macerator, where a high speed auger sends them to a grinder, where, quite alive, they are diced into bits for dog food.

You are too ignorant and too new to think male, to think female, to think luck, to think unluck, to think grinder, ungrinder. Since you are female, you keep riding. Riding riding riding, yahoo. Keep those chickies moving, yahoo.

The workers do not imagine you as sentient. If you have any kind of genetic memory, it won’t stretch back far enough to feel the wind riffling your feathers or dust craters under your belly in the farmyard.

The workers’ eyes glaze over from repetition, from the pain of carpal tunnel and tendonitis and tennis elbow. It is just a job a job a job, they think, and really thank god for a job at all.

Jean, who lifts you into the beak-docking machine, is not your friend. Jean is 37, seven months pregnant with her fourth child, and her back is sore. All day long, five days a week, she lifts hatchlings like you into the beak-docking machine, which is similar to hanging a tie over a doorknob. She feels you struggle, such as you can at your weight, which is more or less one ounce; she feels your wing stumps flailing. But when the machine has you by the beak, what can you do? Nothing is what you can do. You hang there like an animate stuffed animal. Your beak is how you interact with your world; unlike human fingernails, it is full of nerve-endings.

Jean is only thinking about what time it is and how soon her shift will be over. Jean’s third child was just diagnosed with Asperger’s. Her husband, Mark, is a mechanic, but now he’s drinking too much, and this means money is tighter and he comes home angry, looking for fights. Five days a week, 8 hours a day, Jean lifts chicks just like you into the beak-docking machine.

Hanging out in the eternal now, you are too ignorant and small to know what’s coming next. You were an egg, you were fertilized, you were hatched and then spilled onto a belt, and none of this had anything to do with anything other than human commerce.

De-beaking prevents feather and vent pecking and the kind of cannibalism you might engage in considering your upcoming, brief life, sandwiched five in a bare wire cage and starved to provide daily eggs. This is a “battery” cage. You are given not as much room to yourself as a standard sheet of paper. You can understand, now, can’t you, why the males were the lucky ones? Why the powers that be might want your beak cut off? Now, older, you can appreciate your circumstances a little better, and it will be clear to you that no chickens are going anywhere. You don’t even know what “anywhere” is. You will never stretch your wings. You will never sit in a nest, or peck for grubs. This is just a fact. What is air? What is sun? What is dirt? What is straw? Your beak stump still hurts like hell—just pecking sends neuromas, that tangle of “phantom limb” nerves, jangling. It is hard to keep a steady mood. Even though you generally see yourself as good-hearted, you might even be inclined to go after Mabel, or Henrietta, those hens. Those goddamned hens.

Thankfully, you have no beak.

After two years, you will sent to slaughter, which means you will be slung into a crate and transported, during which handling many of you will break bones. You will be hung upside down in shackles by Doreen. Doreen is not your friend. Doreen is only 18, but she already has two kids. She is trying to figure out a way to enroll in community college, where she would like to take jewelry design. Right now, she’s living with her boyfriend.

If you asked Doreen, which of course you don’t have the ability to do (and honestly, you have more important last thoughts) this whole enterprise—which we’ll call your life—has been pointless. Her life, too, is pointless. Both make her roll her eyes. Something is born, it struggles, it dies. Like, it’s what happens. Life’s a conveyor belt, a sorting machine, a massive factory farm, and really if you stop to think about it, most of us get hung by our toes one way or the other.

But then, Doreen is a cynic.

From Doreen’s station, here’s where you’re off to:

  1. A) An electrical water-bath stun system, which, if you are lucky, and many are not, sends a current through your body, rendering you unconscious
  2. B) The neck cutting assembly line, which may be incomplete, so that you may still be alive for the
  3. Scalding vat

Your body by the end of two years is so degraded by the deplorable conditions you’ve lived through that you are good for next to nothing—for chicken soup stock or pet food.

But let’s roll it back a bit, my little pullet, my little puisson, you of the soft feathers and dinosaur legs, you of the scratchy feet, you of the peeps, you of the black eyes. Our little egg-bottomed baby—such ability hidden in your oviduct. Chickens are said to be amiable, and friendly, more cognitively studded than either dogs or cats, and with a communicative vocabulary of 30 sounds, although, right now, so what?

Really, so what?

What is a life’s potential when it has no potential?

Still, you aren’t dead yet. You’ve only just hatched. You are hanging with your brethren by your beak from a docking machine.

There are different machines: hot blade, cold blade (including garden sheers), electrical (the Bio-beaker) and infrared; today, at this factory farm, the docker is hot blade. You wiggle and sway as you merry-go-round. When it’s finally your turn, Becky grabs you. Becky is 28. Becky is not your friend. Becky has a nasty cold and ought to be home in bed, but she’s used up her sick days because she played hookey with her married lover, five days of hookey, which today she thinks weren’t worth it at all.

Becky is chronically bored.

She brings the guillotine down.

Describe your pain, chick. On a scale of 1-10, rate your pain. If your pain was a colour, what colour would it be? If your pain was a tree, for heaven’s sakes, which tree? What trees have you roosted in?


Bird Nights

JEHblackdress1art by Jane Eaton Hamilton, 2014

Starting off a morning with a night, with this travel/relationship fiction from Numéro Cinq in 2012:

Bird Nights


Bill Richardson

Over the last few years, Bill Richardson, sometimes-CBC host, author of Bachelor Brothers’ Bed and Breakfast, among other books, has written slightly sad and always amusing Christmas stories set in Vancouver’s West End.  Here is one of this year’s.

West End Christmas Story One

There are dire possibilities you can safeguard against, grim eventualities you can take into account. You can fortify your house against burglary and bad weather. You can launder your hands against colds and flus. You can know your escape routes, pre-determine a mustering point, stay inside until the shaking stops.

A little anticipation, a modicum of planning, and a boy scout dash of preparedness will go a long way to smooth the road. Inevitably there will be potholes, but there’s no need to obsess about them, no need to fret about all the terrible tricks fate has up its sleeve. The rogue meteorite inscribed with your name. The truck that jumps the curb. The skunk that has no business being abroad on Christmas Eve, but nonetheless is; the skunk that should be hibernating, but happens to be out and about and lying in wait under the 1988 Honda Civic which has been parked on the street for the better part of a month now; the Honda Civic doubling as a rust museum that is registered to some careless miscreant who’s gone away for the holidays, taken off for Hawaii or Mexico, never giving a thought to how that car would afford the aforementioned skunk a place of concealment from which to ambush Minnie, the basset hound, when she did what any dog would do; when she tested the limits of her leash, when she went snuffling after the scent of something aberrant near the oil-pan.
“Oh, dear,” is not quite the oath Conrad lets slip when Minnie backs out from under the Honda, as quickly as ever her three legs allow. How Minnie became a tripod is anyone’s guess. She was missing the limb when Conrad found her in the shelter. Squat and sturdy, she reminded him of a damaged coffee table he’d acquired once at a yard sale; Minnie and the wonky coffee table were among the few possessions over which he and Minnie had not quarreled when they separated. Conrad’s decision to (a) acquire a damaged pound dog without home consultation and (b) to try to mitigate the offense by naming the creature after his spouse explains, at least partially, why Minnie, the woman, is now his ex-wife.

Tomato juice is the remedy that comes to Conrad’s mind as the skunk ambles into the night and Minnie yelps and whines and whacks at her face with the one front paw that’s still in her keeping. Tomato juice. Isn’t that what they always recommend? Tomato juice, and plenty of it. But where, on Christmas Eve, can he quickly and reliably find such a commodity? The one nearby convenience store is, inconveniently, closed until Boxing Day.

“Mercy save us,” is not quite what Conrad says when Minnie rears up on her full complement of hind legs and does her best to embrace him round the knees. What to do? It must be the poisonous wafts that subvert propriety: scents trumping sense. He reaches into his overcoat pocket, finds his phone, dials the number he ceded in the divorce.


The reeking dog whines.

“Not you.”


“Merry Christmas.”

“Thanks. Same to you. What’s up?”

“Oh. Not much. Sorry for the intrusion.”

“It’s no intrusion,” she says, but of course it is.

“What are you up to?”

“I’m just here with Conrad.”

Minnie had moved on very quickly. That Conrad’s successor was also named Conrad had been much remarked by their various friends and family members, as well as by Conrad, and also by Conrad.

“Give him my beast,” says Conrad.


“Best. Give him my best,” he says, smiling in spite of himself at the Freudian transparency of the slip.

“Merry, Merry, Conrad,” Conrad carols from somewhere in the background, well into his cups.
Conrad looks down at Minnie and imagines Minnie and Conrad, half way across town, in the house where Conrad had once lived with Minnie and also, for a short time, with Minnie. He imagines the tree and all its familiar decorations, and the table that his well-organized ex would already have set for the next day’s feast: the china and the flatware that had once been theirs, the patterns he had had a hand in choosing, all laid out in regimental array. He blinks hard. He puts the past from his mind. He gulps acrid air, comes to the point.

“Listen, Minnie, I’m just wondering if you happen to have any tomato juice on hand.”
Minnie is a bulk buyer and for Christmases past she had always acquired case loads of the stuff, enough to bathe a whole pack of skunked bassets.

“Tomato juice?” says Minnie.

Conrad had forgotten that he says “to-may-to” and she says “to-mah-to;” no wonder they’d call the whole thing off.

“No,” she says, “no, I don’t. I mean, I did, oceans of the stuff. But I took it to the food bank. Conrad is allergic.”


“Why are you asking?”

“You know. Just wondering.”

“Funny thing to just wonder about.”

“Funny time of year.”

“You okay?”

“Fine. Merry Christmas, Minnie.”

“And to you, Conrad. Happy new year.”

Click. She’s gone.

On the door of his former fridge, held in place by a lady bug magnet, is the yellowed paper fragment Minnie pulled from a fortune cookie, in the early, happy days of their marriage. “Expect the unexpected,” it says. For Minnie, who lived in fear of an eventual earthquake—hence, the bulk buying—this is a guiding mantra; for Conrad, it’s an absurdity. Yes, there might be a bomb on the bus; yes, bees might fly up both your nostrils; yes, there might be a skunk under a Honda on Christmas Eve: but if you took it all into account, you’d do nothing but sit in the kitchen, in the dark, watching the digital minutes advance on the microwave, fearful the whole time that it might erupt into flames.

Mindless of the possibility of piles, Conrad sits down on the cold curb. Minnie plops down next to him, sighs, leans in. A pair of late-shift garbage pickers comes down the sidewalk, their two carts rattling. They are heading west, towards the park, where probably they camp. They say “Pee-you!” simultaneously and give the man and the dog a wide berth.

“Now what?” says Conrad, but Minnie is without idea or resource.

He can’t go back to his condo tower, where the dog’s legality has been the subject of an ongoing dispute with the council; the arrival of a three-legged stink bomb when all anyone was expecting was Santa would pretty much seal their fate. There is a church across the street. Perhaps they would offer sanctuary. Congregants will soon start arriving for the midnight service. Perhaps Minnie could earn her keep by taking part in the pageant, could take on the cameo role of dog in the manger. Conrad wonders if the word “skunk” ever comes up in the Bible, if they were welcomed on the ark by Noah.

Minnie would know, or could find out. She is a librarian, and has an amazing arsenal of information at her disposal. Had Conrad told her the reason for his call she could have told him that tomato juice is useless for the removal of skunk stink. She could have told him that that was just an old wives tale. Who better to hear that from than your old wife? Well. Former wife, more accurately.

But Conrad didn’t let on, and so it’s tomato juice in which he mistakenly invests his hope; it’s tomato juice in which he believes on a night when it’s good to have faith and somewhere to pin it, however thin and wonky that place or that faith might be.

“Come on, Minnie,” says Conrad, and they start to walk, with a purpose in mind, though with no specific plan or destination. At a discreet distance, and on the other side of the street, they follow in the noisy wake of the park-bound garbage pickers, who have paused a block away to look up at the stars. Soon enough, Minnie and Conrad will catch them up, and then they will be three men walking, walking on Christmas Eve, walking and walking on parallel paths, with no real where in mind, and no real certainty about what they’ll find when they get there. Wherever there might be. They’ll know it when they find it. It will be nothing like what they expect.


It won’t get you through the rub of the season, darlings, but here, allow me to purr at you a little.  A reading of “Smiley” the 2014 CBC Literary Award winner, as recorded by Anne Malcolm, Montreal, 2014:




painting by Jane Eaton Hamilton 2013

The first few paragraphs of my short story “Acrobat.”



Giving me away for your mama was how it had to go, Jet, I couldn’t rock that cradle. (You said, Mama?) All of you a drum over blood, hot in a rocky shell, so protected you burned against asbestos, keeping your fires tight and banked.

That night coming into you from behind I wanted to hurt you. You thought it was later but it was that night, me inside you too hard and gritting my teeth, grinding myself up into you till you came from it like a tic, squeezing around me. In the place I was touching you were highly polished, a susceptible pink. I wanted to hurt you–I was in love with you.

Your mama would tell me leaving was clinical, a simple wound, a parting of skin, a small surgery. But your mama never stood with you under a piñata. You said, Mama? You told me to dream in colour, running the loops of my brain in blues and yellows.

Jet, I called it love and read all your bumps and valleys. I was willing. I took you in the bathtub, I took you up against the purple hallway wall. I said I was never tired. You were the one thing I had a story for. You weren’t pretty but I called you beautiful, Jet, you with the name that made me think of a vapour trails, that name you wore like jewellry, like the one earring in your ear of a lizard or a spider.



Yesterday, three pieces of mine appeared.  One of them was in Siècle 21, a publication out of Paris, in which a French reprint of my story “Bird Nights” called Nuits d’oiseaux, chosen by Marilyn Hacker and translated by Cécile Oumhani, appeared.  I have not gotten my French to the state where I can read this yet, but I remain hopeful.  Meantime, perhaps some of you can.  And, if not, there is always the English version from Numéro Cinq, which is linked under the French one.

Many thanks to Marilyn and Cécile for their work in preparing this fall and winter issue, and to their colleagues.

Siècle 21

Jane Eaton Hami…s d’oiseaux

Numéro Cinq

Fat Ankles

Screen shot 2014-10-28 at 12.19.02 PM


I’m really pleased and proud to have this small story up on Compose today.  I wrote it a bajillion years ago and have always had a warm spot for it.   It’s about a young woman visiting back east whose cousin twists her arm to go to a funeral for someone she never met.

Fat Ankles

Interview with Jane Eaton Hamilton



Quick links to some of my work:

Smiley, short fiction, CBC Canada Writes, 2014

Bird Nights, short fiction, Numéro Cinq, 2012; Siécle 21 (Paris), 2014

List ten short stories you’ve found memorable…

Pam Houston has done it.  Salmon Rushdie has done it.  Come on, everybody.  Jump onboard.  Which short fictions have had the most impact on you?

Here are some of mine:

Sarah Cole: A Type of Love Story, Russell Banks

People Like That are the Only People Here, Lorrie Moore

A Good Man is Hard to Find, Flannery O’Connor

A Worn Path, Eudora Welty

The Year of Getting to Know Us, David Leavitt

A Small, Good Thing, Raymond Carver

Meneseteung, by Alice Munro

Edison, NJ, by Junot Díaz

Hills Like White Elephants, Earnest Hemingway

Selway, Pam Houston

My Lucy Friend Who Smells Like Corn, Sandra Cisneros

Nashville Gone to Ashes, Amy Hemple

We Walked on Water, Eliza Robertson

The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien

Father, Lover, Deadman, Dreamer, Melanie Rae Thon

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been, Joyce Carol Oates
White Angel, Michael Cunningham

Why I Live at the P.O., Eudora Welty

Gold Star, Siobhan Fallon



Jane Eaton Hamilton, sketch, 2014

Cooking in Montreal, eggplant à la Kathleen Winter, and not very successfully: something she did with mustard?  But the dish, cooking, looks like whale skin over blubber, so contemplations in her new book “Boundless,” about her sojourn through the Northwest Passage, come to mind, floating on my mental northern sea beside her watercolours (and the Franklin ship, just located). I want to read it.

As I write, neighbours on every side of me here near rue de Charlevoix are fighting.  Above, on both sides, and below, and then at distant spots as well.

I’ve just finished reading “All My Puny Sorrows” by Miriam Toews, which I admired and towards the end, loved.

Artistically, it has been a significant month in Montreal.  I have been too ill most of the time to venture out very far, so of the city, I’ve seen nothing, and I’ve regretted in particular not finding guinea pigs on whom to practice my French.  Yet as far as authorial productivity goes, I honestly couldn’t be more pleased if gourmet meals had fallen out of my fingertips.  I don’t even know how it happened, since when I’m running along at full tilt (something I haven’t been able to do in more than a decade), I can only complete a story every month, but these last weeks I’ve written two essays and seven short fictions.

Several of the stories are CBC-contest length, so just 1500 words, but others are on the short-end of full length.  The essays were about traveling alone and my father’s suicide.  In the stories, my protagonists have ranged from a teenager involved in rural Connecticut in the 1920’s ivory trade, to a refugee teen in northern Thailand itching to get papers so she can emigrate,  to poorly-married lesbians on vacation in Tanzania,  to a woman whose mother, owner of a Quebec doll hospital, has just died, to a funambulist in love with a storm chaser in Missouri, to a broken-hearted woman at a Quebec cottage for a weekend, to parents of a two-year-old girl thought to have drowned.  Only one of these isn’t finished (though “finished” in a writer’s hands means something quite different than in, say, an accountant’s hands).  As well, today I will round the corner on 19,000 edited words of my silly romance novel, as well.  It doesn’t escape my notice that having to edit this book has provoked the stories–a sort of retaliatory pleasure since in short fiction I can leap and somersault and trampoline through language in a way that just isn’t possible for me in novels.

I am in head over heels in love with short fiction.  Always.  All ways.

I’ve taught myself now to work completely on the computer.  Since my first computer, in the 80s, I’ve printed drafts, edited long-hand, then laboriously input changes, but the last few years I’ve been able to managed editing on-screen.  Thus the entire process has become a pleasure.  I would not really even be able anymore to delineate drafts because they are always morphing here, morphing there.  And anyway, I write over them.   

I’ve thought numerous times that I could not write stories–recent stories–without the web.  Pre-web, the research simply wasn’t available fast enough. For the story about the Thai refugee, I needed to know things like which was the stickiest cut fruit and what was the local name for meth.  For the story about the storm chaser, I had to research tornados and circus aerialists.  For the story from the 1920s, I needed historical data as well as information about the ivory trade. 

And for me the process is akin to writing in a storm, or maybe in the eye of a storm since I am always completely calm, and I don’t know where the tornado is moving, sentence to sentence, I’m just chasing it.  I don’t plan a story.  I don’t have a clue about it before I sit down and write a line, which I trust to lead to another line, and that one, another.  Eventually there will appear a line that has energy which I can work from, and the pre-writing will go, and the story begin.

I need so many esoteric facts I couldn’t foresee.  In paragraph one, I don’t know what I’ll need in paragraph two, and without the successful research for paragraph two, paragraph three wouldn’t even be suggested.   The story quickly changes direction in surprising ways, so if I couldn’t get to the information instantly, the stories would collapse like a house of cards. One research solution directs the story to another research necessity–the details become the fulcrum around which the characters spin.

Endings, Oblong Magazine

Here is a piece from Oblong:


Rusty Toque

Here’s a piece that just appeared in Rusty Toque:

Air Breathers

Bird Nights/Nuit d’oiseaux

I am working my slow way through the translation, determined to learn this language well enough not only to read the French, but well enough aloud not to be laughed out of the room.

The beginning:

Bird Nights

Here is a story. It is true, but it is also full of lies. And small axes, the kind that make tiny cross-hatchings on hearts.


A surgeon flayed open my wife’s chest and removed her breast: stiches and staples. This was several years ago. While she sleeps her scar unzips (top tape extension, top stop, slider, pull tab), her flesh unfolding like a sleeping bag. Some nights I only see the corset bones that girdle her lungs, gleaming moon slivers in murky red sky, and I say a prayer for them, those pale canoe ribs, those pickup sticks that are all that cinch her in. I wish I could do that: I wish I could hold her together. Some nights I think she may fly away in all directions, north, east, south, west, a huge splatter. She will go so far so fast I will only be able to watch with my mouth fallen open. She’ll be gone, and all I’ll have is a big red mess to clean up and a sliver of rib sticking out of my eye.


Traduit de l’anglais (Canada) par Cécile Oumhani

Voici une histoire. Elle est vraie, mais elle est aussi pleine de mensonges. Et de hachures, le genre qui laisse de tout petits quadrillages sur les cœurs.


Un chirurgien a ouvert la poitrine de ma femme et lui a retiré son sein : des points et des agrafes. C’était il y a plusieurs années. Pendant qu’elle dort la fermeture éclair de sa cicatrice s’ouvre (ruban rallonge du haut, vis de butée supérieure, curseur, tirette), sa chair s’ouvre comme un sac de couchage. Certaines nuits je ne vois que les baleines de corsets qui entourent ses poumons, des éclats de lune luisants dans un ciel rouge foncé, et je fais une prière pour eux, ces pâles nervures de canoë, ces baguettes à ramasser qui sont tout ce qui la sangle. J’aimerais pouvoir faire ça : j’aimerais pouvoir la maintenir. Certaines nuits je crois qu’elle pourrait partir dans toutes les directions, nord, est, sud, ouest, une énorme éclaboussure. Elle ira si loin si vite que je pourrai juste regarder la bouche ouverte. Elle sera partie, et tout ce que j’aurai c’est un grand gâchis rouge à nettoyer et un éclat de côte qui sortira de mon œil.

Will You Ossuary Me?


This flash fiction from my collection-in-progress “Soon I Will Be Dead,” written after a (solitary) visit to the catacombs in Paris, just won an Honourable Mention in Geist’s postcard story contest.  It’s a sick fuck, this little je ne sais quoi of the romantic, and (consequently?) I love it.

And hey, may none of us ever feel the way this bone-heap did:  Pour moi, mort est un gain.

Will You Ossuary Me?

Jane Eaton Hamilton

She wanted to kiss me in bones. Death, much? Spiraling down 19 meters. She pulled the ends of my scarf and I moved closer because hers were Parisian lips, the top lip thin, the bottom lip full, and I felt her deeply inside where my nerves snapped and I was decomposable. There were tibias all around us in the damp light, and scapulas from the plague, phalanges and fibulas and metatarsals. Infant bones. People with polio. People dead of childbirth or famine. War. Cries and tears and screams. The bones of six million Parisians dug up from cemeteries to make room, shovels of bones, wagon-loads of bones pulled by sway-backed nags for a full two years—carted down into these old mine tunnels, then arranged. We stood in puddles. The air was heavy with the motes of people’s lives—more broken dreams, I guessed, than dreams come true. It was quiet, but the past echoed. Ghost-din. Someone had written, Pour moi, mort est un gain. Pour moi, pour moi, pour moi, she whispered and her voice rumbled. Exhumations and exhalations all around us, the breath of death, bone-stacks, bone-crosses, bone-chips in heaps, my mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother, maybe, resting in pieces.   My lips were swollen and sore, cut and scabbed over from all that had already happened. Skulls placed in the shape of a heart, eye sockets staring, and behind those eye sockets more eye sockets. Shadows moved across us; her nipples hardened. She pressed me up against a white cross against a black tombstone. I will leave you, she said as she bit my throat, but not yet.

Nuits d’oiseaux

Today editor Marilyn Hacker sent me the translation of my story “Bird Nights” into French for the Paris litmag Siécle 21 (translated by Cécile Oumhani).  I won’t subject you to it, but I will say it is my goal to be able to read it in French by the time of its publication in the fall.

Also, I am just kinda stoked.  I have always loved this piece very much, and I’m thrilled it was picked up from Numéro Cinq and given a second life in France.

CBC Literary Awards

I was lucky to be flown to Montreal for the CBC Literary Awards/Blue Metropolis Lit Fest, a co-celebration with French winner Sarah Desrosiers.  Besides the award ceremony, I got to spend much of the weekend with my old friends Michael Hendricks and Rene LeBoeuf, with whom I was a co-litigant in Canada’s same-sex marriage case.  Also, I got to hear Shelagh Rogers interview one of my favourite novelists, Heather O’Neill, re: her (said to be glorious) new novel “The Girl Who Was Saturday Night.”  I spent a terrific night carousing with an old friend who happened to be in town with her mom, the redoubtable author Marguerite Andersen, and I met (and really hit it off with) the talented 2007 CBC winner Shelagh Plunkett, whose writing I hope soon to catch up on, and Lisa Moore (<3).  Christopher deRaddo launched his new novel “The Geography of Pluto.”  Luminato swirled past:  Richard Ford, Dany Laferriére etc.  Then a high school chum and I drove up through Charlevoix for a few days.

Thank you Shelagh Rogers and Aylin Malcolm for putting up with my nerves.

Here is an interview link for an interview conducted by Aylin Malcolm:


A reading link:


And here is a photograph of the big screen which had the winning stories spooling over it:


Blue Metropolis Literary Festival

Just to let everyone know I’ll be reading my story “Smiley” at Blue Metropolis Literary Festival in Montreal on Saturday May 3 at 2:30 pm as part of the celebration for the CBC Canada Writes Competition.  The reading is free.

CBC North by Northwest

The March 30 2014 podcast at North by Northwest contains a small clip of me reading from “Smiley.”  Host Sheryl MacKay.

North by Northwest

Bird Nights redux

Linking to the piece that’s being translated into French for Siécle 21:

Bird Nights

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