Episode Eighteen - Tip his knowledge in

photo by Ryan McGuire

Almost as soon as the boy had come out of the womb, Kai had wanted to crack open his son’s head and tip all his knowledge in. Why should the child have to suffer through organic chemistry, Greek mythology, Spanish syntax? He watched his son struggle to pinch slices of banana between his thumb and forefinger, the lift up to his mouth equally precarious. Even the smallest acquisition of information seemed onerous. His wife had repeated "wave bye bye, Baby" for weeks, flapping his pudgy hand with the same optimism. The kid still stared blankly when Kai left the room.

There were species that passed along genetic memory—bird song, an aversion to the smell of cherries. Kai knew that by the time he equipped his son with whatever wisdom he’d cobbled together, the world would have changed. Kai could only prepare his son for the world right now. Not the one he’d have to live in.

And in that world, where would Kai be? His gonads no longer necessary for the biodiversity project, his ideas gathering mildew. He stared at his offspring, now happily gumming banana, and felt the sting of obsolescence with each chew.

(written by Claire Tacon, read by Chioke I'Anson)

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Episode Seventeen - Guest Author Clay Pearn

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This week on The Oddments Tray, we're welcoming the talented Clay Pearn. Clay has an MFA from the University of Michigan and a few music degrees to boot. He works as an editor in Hamilton, Ontario and we think you'll be seeing more of his work soon. 

On Cleaning House

by Clay Pearn

I prefer the vacuum. Ours has a robot face with one long arm, and when I pull it behind me the wheels stick on the power cord, and I want to drive it over the edge of the stairs and let it tumble into the drywall on the landing. Yet it makes the dirt disappear with such relief. Every little nook can be touched by its wand. Just a touch here, and that’s clean. Easy touches. But they add up. All afternoon eaten up touch by touch and I find myself in a sweat, my jaw tight: I am obliterating my Sunday, my true free life where I am not who my co-workers think I am. To them I exist only to fix their mistakes and refill my bank account like a ration box. They don’t know I have land in the far North of Ontario. Four island acres and a tiny cabin overrun by mice. That I drive there alone, retrieve a fishing boat at a local marina, and speed across twenty minutes of open water. That I sleep on a cot without my wife, because neither does she know about my land and will only find out when I die. And that I can look out any window, here in our bedroom with the robot’s arm clenched in my fist, or through the steel mesh windows at work, and know the cabin is there, the land, that I have unmarked keys for the various padlocks, that if I leave out strands of shredded cheese on the cabin floor they will disappear overnight, replaced by grains of black poop that carry parasites and disease.

(written by Clay Pearn, read by Chioke I'Anson)

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Episode Sixteen - Bonsai Kittens

photo by Ryan McGuire

She couldn’t tell anyone how disappointed she was that those bonsai kittens weren’t real. It would mean admitting that she’d looked past their immediate suffering. It was terrible, of course, no animal deserved tobe shoehorned into Tupperware. She hadn’t found the pictures all that cute. But the bonsai cats offered a kind of permanence that was hard to find. Sometimes the onward process of growing was exhausting. Always stretching your arms towards the sky. Lately she found herself struggling against the current of positivity churned up by her friends and coworkers. There was too much pressure to compost all of life’s experience into something fertile. Wouldn’t it be nice, she thought, to be kept fed and petted in a thick-walled jar? Indefinitely small, enclosed. The only thing you are required to do is nothing.

(written by Claire Tacon, read by Chioke I'Anson)

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Episode Fifteen - Guest Author Pamela Mordecai

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This week, we’re honoured to welcome Pamela Mordecai reading from her phenomenal performance poem “de book of Mary.” You might hear some birdsong in the background because Pamela graciously invited me into her home to record her. Pamela is a literary tour-de-force, having published five collections of poetry, an anthology of short fiction and a novel, Red Jacket, which was a finalist for the 2015 Rogers Writer’s Trust Fiction Award. As if that weren’t enough, Pamela is also well-known for her poetry and stories for children and is a recipient of the Institute of Jamaica’s Centenary and Bronze Musgrave Medals.

 

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Mary convinces Jesus to perform the miracle at Cana

(written and read by Pamela Mordecai)

“Listen Jesus! De people dem run

out of wine.” What a crosses!

me thinking in my mind.

 

“Jesus! Son! You hear what me saying?

Dis party just begin

and de people wine done!”

 

Me raise my voice loud-loud but Jesus can’t hear

for him on de far side of dis yard.

Me shout louder.

 

“Son is me! Over here! Is your Ma!”

Him still don’t hear a word!

Make me move likl closer for not even me

 

can hear myself talking in dis noise.

“Cry excuse! Beg you please

give me pass? Me need to get through

 

to dat made over yonder, him

wid de beard.” Okay, See me right here

side of him. Him must can hear me now!

 

“Jesus, me telling you de wine done.

Down to de last dribble. Son, you don’t

Hear what me saying to you?”

 

“Woman, dat don’t have nothing to do

wid neither you nor me, for my time

don’t come yet.” Well dat one

 

surprise me. “But my son,

how you can take up dat attitude?

Look how much stranger come

 

wanting dis, begging dat

and you don’t turn down one?

Look how much time me watch

 

you peel clothes off your back,

give to strays on de street,

feed nuff hungry belly?

 

How come you now decide you

not concern wid dis situation,

‘for your time don’t come yet’?”

 

Him just look on me. Don’t say nothing.

Him plainly in one of him moods, so

me going just do what me have to do.

 

“Listen, servers. A word, if you please.

Kindly do as dis rabbi instruct. Never mind

what him say, just follow him orders.”

 

Sometimes me think my son is crazy.

Can’t think why him asking dose fellows

to fill up de big water jar dem

 

dat wash hand and wash foot.

Is not water dat finish, is wine!

But see here! Is what dat pikni doing?

 

Now him tell de server to draw

from one of de big jug and take to

headwaiter. Headwaiter take time taste,

 

den him call de bridegroom.

“Master, how you come so contrary?

Everybody me know when dem throw a party

 

Share de best wine out first,

bring de bad when de guest dem so drunk

dem can’t tell de difference.

 

but you keep de good wine

for de last.” De bridegroom well mix up.

Scratch him head. Can’t make no sense of it—

 

just well glad dem don’t have

to feel shame. But Jah-Jah,

is now I realize why my son

 

never want to make a miracle dat day.

Someting change from dat hour.

Like a weight descend

 

and seize him down to de bone.

Oh my son! Why your Ma

couldn't leave well enough alone?

Episode Fourteen - Willing a Pen pal Into Existence

Photo by Ryan McGuire

Photo by Ryan McGuire

She had sent off a balloon as a child, willing a pen pal into existence. She had been very careful with the address, her best cursive properly tucked into a plastic sheath. No reply had come back. Her classmate Horace had received an aerogramme from Texas, which seemed impossibly far away. The teacher had pinned it to the bulletin board where it stayed all year. Dear Horace. She suspected he’d faked it. In June, she stole the letter, rolled it into a bottle then tossed it in the lake. The next year, Horace was back with a taller tale. There it was, the warped original and a new card with the Cleveland Terminal Tower. She didn’t know why life was like that, why everything happened to just a few people. Why most dreams were sloughed off, balloons gumming up farmer’s fields.

(written by Claire Tacon, read by Chioke I'Anson)

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Episode THIRTEEN - Participation ribbon

Photo by Erkan Utu

Photo by Erkan Utu

Now that he could see the end result of the public school sausage machine, now that the little wurst links were sitting in his lectures, Eric decided to volunteer in his son’s class. He brought a small aquarium full of murky water and theatrically dropped in a catfish. He’d planned to outline the nutrient cycle but a hand rocketed up. “My dog eats other dogs’ poop.” Big laughs. Another hand. “Why don’t you clean the tank?” Another. “My parents don’t believe in experiments on animals.” “Do fish eat their own poop?” He left cowed, unable to shift the discussion from feces. A few days later, the aquarium had cracked during a game of unsanctioned indoor tag. His son carried the dead Pleco home in a sandwich bag. “Sorry, Dad,” he said. “You tried.”

(written by Claire Tacon, read by Chioke I'Anson)

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Episode Twelve - Kids Can Microwave

On her third night with us, Grandma J gives me a book called Kids Can Microwave. Because of Dad’s dialysis appointments, we’ve been eating frozen meals that Mom makes on weekends. “Cooking is science too,” Grandma says and flips to Spanish-style rice with vegetables. Mom excuses herself to walk the dog and comes back with puffy eyes. We’re sharing the big bed because Grandma’s in mine and Dad’s downstairs on the hospital rental. In the morning, I crack six eggs into a Pyrex dish, add shredded cheese and watch the microwave puff it up. By the time Grandma’s at the table, the omelet sits on her plate like bits of worn sponge. “Eat up,” my mother says, brisk and smiling. “You don’t want to discourage her.”

(written by Claire Tacon, read by Chioke I'Anson)

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Episode Eleven - Ten toes, ten fingers

Because she came six years after his son, people asked if his daughter was a surprise. Yes, he said. Ten toes. Ten fingers. A surprise. They’d conceived their son in a Via Rail sleeper somewhere between Halifax and Montreal and his wife had worked a kitchen until 36 weeks. So, second time around, the miscarriage had come as a slap—perhaps it had been too soon, her body wasn’t ready. When it happened again, at thirteen weeks, the doctors reassured them. Proven fertility. The third was lost at five weeks, the pregnancy test still on the nightstand. They squeezed their son like a lifeline. And then, a girl, hearty enough to cross the amniotic threshold. Eric still thought of the three lost ones, imagined them growing at pace with their siblings. Was that them in the pond, playing house between the weeds?

(written by Claire Tacon, read by Chioke I'Anson)

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Episode Ten - Guest Author Jamella Hagen

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If you don’t have Jamella Hagen’s debut Kerosene on your bookshelf, drop what you are doing and go pick it up. Girls’ wrestling teams, mothers drowning rats in the bathtub, flamingos breaking through Bolivian ice--the poem’s subjects are as original as the author. You can also find Jamella’s work in journals and anthologies such as Arc, Event, The Malahat Reviewas, Unfurled: Collected Poetry from Northern BC Women and The Best Canadian Poetry in English, 2010. She currently lives in Whitehorse, Yukon, where she has coordinated the Whitehorse Poetry Festival and is an instructor at Yukon College. Fun fact: Jamella is also a top-notch person to drive across the country with.

Yukon Insomnia Log by Jamella Hagen

Ten degrees colder than forecast and our breath frosted the tent walls with chandeliers of ice. All night we shivered as the wind roared like blood through an artery. By morning all the snow had blown off the ridge. We tripped across rocks in our ski boots. In the awful shelter of a pine, I held your feet in my armpits because they were so nearly frostbitten. The spring sun crested a distant ridge, pinning us in its gaze, and the air stilled to lift its chin toward that warmth.

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Episode Nine - Two sides of the same coin

The microwave was rotating Danica-from-accounting’s tuna bake, the fan churning out an oppressive fog of tinned fish and cream of mushroom soup. Since the school’s expansion, the staff kitchen doubled as the sessional office. The contract lecturers were trenched in cubicles against the far wall while molecules from other people’s lunches permeated their clothes. Eric propped open the door as a sign of solidarity. Now that he had tenure, it was awkward talking to colleagues who didn’t know if they’d be back from term to term. Empathy and condescension were often the same coin. A post-doc was there now, having drawn the straw to teach five hundred undergrads that the earth is a limited resource. “Fight the good fight,” Eric wanted to say, but the man had already hunched back towards his screen.

(written by Claire Tacon and read by Chioke I'Anson)

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Photo by Ryan McGuire

Photo by Ryan McGuire

Episode Eight - Guest Author Kellee Ngan

If this is your first time reading Kellee Ngan's work, you're in for a treat--this Vancouver writer's prose has equal parts humour and pathos. You can read more of her writing in GeistGrainWitness, Poetry Is Dead and, most recently, the anthology Growing Room: Forty Years of Room Magazine (Caitlin Press, 2017). She holds an MFA from the University of British Columbia and I've been dreaming of the day I get to pick up her forthcoming YA novel ever since I read a rough draft in workshop. 

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You Are What You Eat

Flat whites, artisanal cheese, the correct pronunciation of Gewurztraminer: We trade affection in the form of a food basket, rely on gut feeling to gauge the fullness of our hearts. Our eyes deceive us, too. Tell us that white plates make everything more palatable, even though an apple is an apple is an apple despite its ripeness. You failed to cry at my father’s funeral. I blamed distance, marvelled at your deportment. But as I watch you weep over a tasting menu typed on brown deli paper, whet by suggestions, I question what you might be made of.

(written by Kellee Ngan and read by Chioke I'Anson)

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Episode Seven - Guest Author rob mclennan

This week we are excited to welcome our first guest author, the prolific rob mclennan. rob currently lives in Ottawa, where he is home full-time with the two wee girls he shares with Christine McNair (check out her new poetry collection Charm). The author of more than thirty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, his most recent titles includeThe Uncertainty Principle: stories, (Chaudiere Books, 2014) and the poetry collection A perimeter (New Star Books, 2016). He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at robmclennan.blogspot.com

***

We were stretched flat on the dark side of the lawn, opposite the garage light and porch, staring up at the sky. We were counting the stars. I can’t believe you’ve never seen a shooting star, she said, as common as goldfish. We remained for a long time, sweeping our eyes across Ontario sky, and I looked over, amazed at this sprout of a child beside me, my ten-year-old daughter. I was studying the shadowed shapes of her developing profile, a sparkle in her eye. There’s one, she pointed. I turned to look. It had already vanished.

from The Uncertainty Principle by rob mclennan, Chaudiere Books, 2014

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Episode Six - When her cat had died

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When her cat had died, her parents had lied to her. They said January had gone back to the Mennonite farm they’d got her from, that she’d be spending some time with her mother. Bethany tried to picture her tortie snuggled back into the straw-lined banana box she’d come out of. Until the dog dragged the carcass out of the shallow plot and paraded it around their yard. The decomposing pageantry was bad enough, but, worse, she wondered if her parents thought she was weak. If they spared her because she needed sparing. And it made her mistrust them. Even now, when they told her they were going out for dinner, she wondered if the house had burned down. Lately, she was disappointed that it hadn’t.

(written by Claire Tacon and read by Chioke I'Anson)

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Episode Five - The past three nights

That he’d died in hospital had been keeping her up for the past three nights. Regret scratched at her like a raccoon trapped in a dumpster. The din of its claws, determined to tunnel out. The insomnia was making her clumsy, forgetful. She’d seen a friend at the grocery, someone she’d served on a board with, and had hidden behind a display of nectarines because she couldn’t remember if he was Reginald or Albert. Bertie? Reg? What did it matter if she couldn’t name him? She had always been someone who cared about others, who listened with both eyes. But now the rest of the world felt calloused over. She wasn’t sure sleep was going to fix that. And to find out, she’d have to make peace with the raccoon. Crack the lid and throw in an apple. Forgive the oncologist.

(written by Claire Tacon, read by Chioke I'Anson)

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Episode Four - At first it was just a doodle

photo by David Solce

photo by David Solce

At first it was just a doodle

A boy with a cat’s head and tail. Eric had posted the sketch to his blog with the caption Xavier, two years old. It was a friend who emailed the first article, linked from a conspiracy site. Petri-dish Infant Escapes. There was Eric’s drawing, recreated with blurry stock photos. Right down to the overalls. Soon seasoned journalists reported sightings, warned the public against approaching. Online, people were divided. Some vowed to shelter the little one. Others set out bowls of poisoned milk. Eric pressed his ear to the door, waited for a purr.

(written by Claire Tacon, read by Chioke I'Anson)

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Episode Three - On dives, the headlamp made the water blacker

image by Timothy Knepp

image by Timothy Knepp

On dives, the headlamp made the water blacker. There was nothing with sizeable teeth in this Ohio river but it was unnerving, the lone illuminated tunnel. Eric thought it must be some deep human fear, shadows on the periphery. Some ape thing like the hypnic jerk before sleep. He was here removing tracking cameras, the funding dried up on his paddlefish study. The population was down, no hiding that. A new dam, lax sport fishing regulations, the zebra mussel’s steady paving. Paddlefish were a barometer species. Eric couldn’t help but romanticize their plight. Imagine outliving the dinosaurs—Eoraptors to Triceratops—only to be squeezed out by twerpy homo sapiens. As he unscrewed the recorder, he was pinched by the anxiety that he might be to blame for the decline, simply by mounting cameras. It didn’t matter your intention, did it? Consequence seeped out just the same. Nothing could sandbag against it.

(written by Claire Tacon, read by Chioke I'Anson)

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Episode Two - Who would she sleep with now?

Who would she sleep with now? He had shared the same queen- sized mattress for eight years. An Ikea futon for a decade before that. She didn’t want to be the kind of person that keeps stuffed animals or body pillows. Perhaps she would sleep on the couch, allow herself to be spooned by the cushions. How quickly would her weight make an imprint? How soon would guests know? And would they stop visiting, afraid to seat themselves on the mold of her bereavement? She didn’t want to make a spectacle of herself but grief felt like a third limb, something people’s eyes couldn’t help but seek out. A chipped tooth slowly remapped by the tongue.

(written by Claire Tacon, read by Chioke I'Anson)

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Episode One - My Son is Given an Ark

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My son is given an ark

Inside the red, plastic hull are pairs of molded elephants, zebras, giraffes, lions and doves. This Noah, clenched in my son’s hand, wears suspenders, hip waders and fisherman’s cap. He might as well be on a cod trawler. I wonder what his plans are once the waters dry up. Another white man with a Big Five game reserve. Surely his wife bites her tongue, wondering about tourists, if she’ll have to breed her own economy. Why not a pair of sheep? Chickens? She pleads with my son, “Wasn’t my sister worth twenty elephants?”

(written by Claire Tacon, read by Chioke I'Anson)

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Welcome to The Oddments Tray

So, I’m terrible at blogging. But I got an offer I couldn’t refuse—the inimitable Chioke I’Anson suggested recording some microfiction together. We’d been working together on a podcast called Do Over (check it here!) and lending me his voice for my own writing was too generous a proposition to pass up. I’m hoping to release one compact story a week with some guest writers popping up as well.

The title comes from the junk receptacle between the two front seats of a car. When I think about my writing process, I often compare it to driving with random objects knocking around in the trunk. Every so often I open it up and see how they’ve come to fit together. Over the years, I’ve written a lot of text that will never find a commercial home—so here, in audio form, I’m emptying out the car tray, lost paper clips, loose change, grimy trail mix and all.   

In case you want to know more about Chioke (and you do!), you can check him out at VCU’s Department of African American Studies, listen to his interviews on SoundCloud, or you could just listen to NPR—he’s the one reading the underwriting

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