Today we're proud to present the winners from the final instalment of the Ontario Book Publishers Organization's and Arts Etobicoke's What's Your Story? writing contest. Our final region this year, Etobicoke, boasts four talented winners, including acclaimed playwright, poet, and librettist David James Brock, our winner in the Established Writer category. The three winners in the Emerging category are Lorrayne Anthony, Novka Cosovic, and Margot Lettner.
The What's Your Story contest brings a spotlight and focus to Toronto's inner suburbs (Etobicoke, North York, East York, and Scarborough), their vibrant and inspiring neighbourhoods, and their literature. We've already posted the winners from Scarborough, East York, and North York, so be sure to check those out too.
An early holiday gift: four brand new, original pieces of writing, exclusively available here on Open Book. Don't miss these Etobicoke-inspired pieces!
Established Writer Category winner, Etobicoke region
Bionic Pigeon Wing on the Roadside by David James Brock
There’s just this single wing synthesis, just one part left
from the bionic pigeon. The curb is thick with road dust
and titanium bones still make shape. Red wires spit
sparks to signal, It’s over. And maybe the rest of the
fleshmachine is in the scrapheap, molted and sold per
pound. Maybe the automaton flies in circles with just
one wing, searching, programmed for searching, a lost
piece of self. Or maybe each part has found its way. Brain
of silicon in a coder’s trophy case. Heart of palladium and
tantalum among the taxidermist’s shelves. The cryolite
eyes become playground marbles in games of keepsies
where the runts learn to gamble. Maybe the other wing
also broke from body, is halfway up highway 27, carried a
klick in the gutterwind the 191 makes. Or this: the second
wing sleeps in a street sweeper’s belly. For now, we have
one wing levitate in pulses of traffic’s breath. We can’t find
the rest of it. But it could only go so far without closed
loops of the intact machine. Our blood-and-guts birds don’t
have mystery. They die in heaps at clean glass windows.
They evolve pygostyles when tails impede flight. Lop off
that parson’s nose of cooked birds. Our birds learn tool use
and puzzles. Their feathers drop from high-voltage lines, free
from forged deaths our created wings cling to. Don’t look,
we say—then look. Recoil at their mess. Bionic pigeons spare
us roadkill. They leave us nothing. We are left searching for
a lost piece. And maybe a crow perches on a doorknob, picks a
lock with an artificial ulna. Cracks the door and drops the key.
Emerging Writer Category winners, Etobicoke region
Why Isn't Sweetheart Listening? by Lorrayne Anthony
I love late-morning walks: fewer people. Sweetheart allows me complete freedom when there are no goblins out. I run wild and naked and she smiles, sometimes laughing as she knows she can’t keep up with me. So I always wait for her. I love my Sweetheart. I love to see her face. Her bright eyes seek me out every time she walks through the door. And I am always there, waiting.
Today she hesitates as we exit, tosses her scarf onto the bench and grabs my leather from the hook. She unzips her jacket and lets out a bleat as she catches stray hairs in the zipper.
Now we are outside. Run! But she says to wait. So I do. I am hoping maybe there is a goblin or two running late. Nothing reminds goblins to make their way to school like one of my soggy love licks.
I see Sweetheart’s face. I want to lap up her dry nose and soft cheeks. Her skin’s fragrance is like bread from the oven and I want to jump on her.
Wait. I smell goblin in the air. Scarf Quinn goblin. The familiar, not-so-faint aromas of ripe apple and urine waft up to my nose. Where is he? He usually jumps on me, rubs my back and tugs my ears. I like when Sweetheart stops along Lake Prom to talk with Scarf Quinn goblin and his mommy.
Maybe he is hiding? I run toward Slaven’s yard, searching. I check behind his wide cedar tree and mark my spot. Scarf Quinn goblin is sure to jump on me now. But … nothing.
“Sweetheart, where is Scarf Quinn goblin?” I ask. She looks at me, but doesn’t answer.
Instead, she smiles and says, “Oooh, who is my handsome English boy?”
It has been snowing for three human days. The big trucks clear the snowy streets before the goblins trudge their way to school. Sweetheart likes to wait for clear sidewalks, but I enjoy sinking into the crisp whiteness, especially in the leather-free area by the lake.
When Sweetheart leaves for work, Babe takes over and we go for our evening walk. Babe lets me amble along the stony beach, and sometimes lets me run in the lake with the ducks and swans. They fly away when I try to play.
Wait. I smell Scarf Quinn goblin.
Sweetheart likes to call him that whenever he comes to our home. Sweetheart likes him more than the other goblins, witches or ghosts. She always saves three candies for Scarf Quinn goblin. The others just get two.
Wait. The sour, warm tang of Scarf Quinn goblin. He is in the snowdrift, right beside Slaven’s yard. I tell Sweetheart, “Scarf Quinn goblin is in the snowbank!” I run ahead, stop where the scent is strongest, point and start barking.
“C’mon Winston,” she says as she gets my leather ready.
Why isn’t Sweetheart listening?
We see Eaton, who runs on the spot to chat with Sweetheart as Aristotle pants quietly beside her. Babe says Eaton has a good heart because she runs every day. I sniff Aristotle’s butt and he responds in kind. Then I mention to Aristotle that a goblin is stuck in a snowbank a few houses back. He asks me how I know and I tell him that I picked up on the scent — a mixture of fruit and pee. He is impressed. With his short snout, Aristotle can’t breathe well in the cold weather. He just wants to do his business so Eaton can scoop the poop and then they can get back home. Eaton is the first human to truly appreciate Aristotle’s delicate, rich, royal Tibetan ancestry, he says. Babe is right. Eaton does have a good heart. Aristotle shows off his boots. He says this new pair has traction, so he doesn’t slip like he used to. But the Velcro fasteners bother him as his fur sometimes gets caught. I look at my paws. I don’t need boots. I like to dig away at snow as it scrapes the itchy salt off.
“Hey, why don’t we both go back and start digging to uncover the goblin’s hiding spot?” I say to Aristotle. But he does not want any part of that and starts yelping. Sweetheart frowns and on goes my leather. Aristotle makes his way, short nose in the air and leash-free, to the dog park. Sweetheart and I head home.
Inside the warm house, I give myself a good shake and then stand at the window. I can watch the snowbank where Scarf Quinn goblin is buried. Each time someone walks by, I point and bark. The first few times, Sweetheart asks what I am on about. I run in a tiny circle and then point sharply at the snowbank. “Scarf Quinn goblin is there,” I say loudly.
“I know. I know. It’s still snowing,” she says after nuzzling my neck. I love Sweetheart. She goes into the kitchen and is cooking something delicious that I won’t get to eat. Finally, Babe pulls up in the car and I bark.
“Hey, Babe,” Sweetheart says as she comes out of the kitchen to smile at him. She gets on her tiptoes and throws her arms around his neck after he shuts the door behind him. She melts her face into his. “Spaghetti Pomodoro is ready when you are and there is some Merlot from last night,” she says. Babe smiles and his eyes follow her as she leaves the room. “One of the nurses has to leave early, so I’m picking up a couple of hours,” she yells down from The Upstairs, a part of the house I never go when Sweetheart is home.
“Ah, that’s too bad. I came home early so we could go for a walk by the old nuthouse and see if we could spot a ghost or two,” he says as he shakes off his coat and leaves it in a pile on the floor. “Or maybe we could find some Humber students trying to get high in Sam Smith Park,” he says, stepping out of his boots. “No worries,” he says loud enough so she can hear from The Upstairs. “I’ll keep your side of the bed warm until you get back … as long as I see my Sweetheart’s face before I head to the paint store in the morning.” Babe turns his face to me. “It’s just you and me tonight, Winston, my boy,” he says as he squats down to give me a big hug. His musk is summer barbecue, gasoline and man sweat. I love Babe and want to lick his spiky face.
“I don’t know what is wrong with Winston tonight,” Sweetheart says. Her cinnamon-toast aroma makes me want to hug her. She swoops over me for a big cuddle before putting on her coat. “He has been sitting by the front window barking all day.” She opens the door and with, “Love you, Babe,” is gone. I stop myself from running out to the snowbank. Scarf Quinn goblin is still there.
There are cars in the street, going nowhere. I point to the snowbank. But Sweetheart walks past me, stops for a moment and says, “The cars are lined up like a string of twinkling Christmas lights.” She looks at her watch and then gets into her car. I watch Sweetheart’s car’s lights shrink into nothing.
“What’s up, Win?” Babe asks. “Oh, right. You need a walk.” Babe puts on his boots, grabs his coat and slips the leather onto my collar. A crowd — goblins back from school — gathers. A police officer holds up one arm herding the goblins onto the sidewalk. Another man walks over to help.
As soon as we are out the door, I run, the leather whipping the road behind me. Babe follows, yelling after me. Another officer stops Babe. While they talk, I attack the snowbank with my paws. The subtle bouquet of pee is distracting. I bark loudly: Scarf Quinn goblin is here. Quick. Babe. Don’t you sniff him?
Finally. Everyone stops talking to watch what I am doing. I look up to see Scarf Quinn’s mommy’s eyes flicker out before she crumples into the snowbank.
“It’s a red scarf!” someone calls out. A whistle blows and then the men join me, digging to reveal a motionless goblin. The other goblins break out of the lineup and run toward me. A fruity, acid aroma bursts into the air.
When we get back home, Babe picks up the phone and starts talking before taking off his coat or my leather. “Quinn is going to be fine, sweetheart,” Babe says. “His folks are fine. They are with him at St. Joe’s. They called the police when Quinn didn’t show up at school this morning.”
Babe looks at me and pats his thigh three times. I run over and mash my snout into him.
It's Just a Pool by Novka Cosovic
Etobicoke, April 1995
“Why can’t I sleep over?” I ask.
My father quickly glances at me and says, “Why sleep on the floor when you have your own bed at home?”
I look away in silence and stare outside. I notice that we are about to reach the bridge over the creek. I am going to see my favourite house. It is a Frank Lloyd Wright–inspired ranch. It sits at the edge of the sloping ravine. I ask my father to drive slowly for a moment.
My father knocks on the door. We awkwardly wait.
“Ponašase lepo,” he says, looking down at me.
I understand what he says, but I pretend that he tells me to act beautiful.
The mother opens the door and shrieks with good intensions. She is very happy to see me. I allow her to butcher the pronunciation of my name and get away with it.
I could see that my father is unimpressed by her. I telepathically tell him to act nice.
He steps inside the house and surveys the area. He sees my friends in the dining room. Without eye contact, he greets them with a “hello” and a “happy birthday.” No one replies. I accept the fact that my friends are scared of my father. In the past, they have commented on his Count von Count accent, his oddly shaped nose, and his bat-wing eyebrows. But secretly I like having a vampire father.
He walks back to the entrance and tells the mother that he will come back for me in the evening. She looks disappointed.
While picking at my cake, I hear a familiar voice in the background; it is Anna Maria Tremonti. There is no other kid in this house who is familiar with global conflicts. I drift toward the living room. My stomach drops every time I hear her voice. She is sporting a new colour hairdo and a blue bulletproof vest. It is hard times in Sarajevo now. This particular broadcast seems far less controlled than her previous coverage. It does not feel like a report, but rather a slice of reality.
I notice that the birthday girl’s father is on the sofa; he is eating cake in front of the television. I watch the news with the cake-eater.
A woman walks down a hallway. The hallway walls are horizontally split in half with a tone of white and dark yellow. They are in a hospital. The woman points at injured children lying on cots for the camera. The cameraman zooms by the children. Some of the children are bandaged from head to toe; others are missing limbs. This scene is not unfamiliar to me; we have all been in hospitals. The broadcast only gives us a feeling of that war, not a horror show. So the father continues to stuff his face with cake and incoherently mumbles “fucking savage” while staring at me. Where’s my father? I thought.
Tjentište, Bosnia & Herzegovina, June 2012
My cousins and I drive to a town called Tjentište. I want to go see the monument commemorating the Battle of Sutjeska. It is one of many structures commissioned by former president Josip Tito in the 1960s and ’70s to honour sites of WWII battles and concentration camps. These monuments are not located in large urban centres, but rather in secluded locations that are often hard to access in the wild.
Driving to Tjentište is a death trap for tourists. Sometimes I could not see the road because of the morning sheath of fog. Arriving on site, I see that the monument prominently sits atop a hillside, panoptically gazing at the surrounding landscape. It is a colossal tank shaped like angel wings, which creeps over the hillside. Once on top, I turn and stare with the monument to the view of smoky green hills, traffic of sheep, and a sound of rhythmic cowbells.
This memorial crypt houses 7,500 dead Yugoslavian solders and hundreds of Serbian schoolboys (who were executed by Nazis and Ustashas), just beneath my feet.
I stare at my sneakers and the ground. Maybe having a picnic up here is not such a good idea, I thought.
I lean on one side of the monument; the shards of concrete press against my back. For a moment, it feels like the faces are slowly moving toward each other. If I do not step aside, I will be squished to death.
One cousin says, “Do you know that students in Germany are not informed about the battle that took place here?” He shakes his head in disbelief and adds, “Over three hundred children were murdered in this little village, out of many.”
Trauma and vengeance are still evident. In my family, it is a clear genetic trait. I stand in silence, watching the fog creeping around us. I could tell the levels of our stress skyrocketed just thinking about the wars; it does not matter which war triggered it at that point.
The next morning, I wake up feeling restless. I could not tell if I was disturbed from an obscure nightmare or if my cousins’ snoring lullabies kept me up all night. I stare at them; their limbs dangle off the cots. Eventually, I find myself lured by the faint smell of chlorine coming from the hallway.
I arrive at the front desk. The clerk is smoking on the job. He likes to stare; he looks down and up at me, then goes back to his clipboard. Perhaps I am not skinny enough for him? I immediately lose interest because I recognize the swimming man icon; it points me in a direction.
The aquatic hall is surprisingly stunning; there are visible cracks, but it still has its charm. I dip in to examine and touch the robin-egg-blue tiles; then I float and stare at the cedar ceiling planks. I hear a door slam hard and see a cousin walking towards me. I wonder why he wears his jeans in here. I wait for him to speak. He stands there for a moment and then says, “Would you still swim in here if I told you that this pool was once used as a morgue?”
Etobicoke, August 2012
No more mountains, no more fresh milk, and especially no more of Baba’s coffee readings. I start to dwell on my own sorrows and misfortune as I bike to an old friend’s barbecue party.
I turn back because I realize that I passed my beloved ranch without slowing down. This old friend only lives a few doors down from here.
Shortly after I arrive, I go in the pool to avoid eye-levelled conversations. I do not care much for talks about how many times a baby shits a day.
A friend of the friend creeps beside me. His shoulder touches mine, and he asks, “So, I hear you were in Croatia?”
I correct him. “No, not Croatia. I was in Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia.”
“Same shit. Isn’t there a war in Serbia anyway?” He laughs while nudging my arm.
I look away. Nothing about what ignorant people have to say fazes me anymore.
I swim around until he gets out of the pool. I rest on the edge of the concrete, and stare at the backdrop. The sun drapes over the sloping ravine and maple trees. I could hear the sound of cowbells and the traffic of sheep. It feels like I am in Tjentište, just in a different pool.
Suddenly, I feel disturbed.
The pool oscillates between being a pool and not being a pool. This pool is a hologram of the pool in Tjentište, like a Doppler effect, which makes it more capable of fluctuating back and forth. Once you swim in a pool that was temporarily used as morgue for dead people, can you ever possibly think of a pool in any other way?
Four Poems by Margot Lettner
A Place for the Time Being
Echo Valley Park
Filberts burst, pecans early.
Pheasants made good.
Heron flare, coot slip.
Your Catullus reads from the footbridge.
Higher deeper loved you here —
A rake with a rake
you brought to hand this gravel bed,
nicked scion wood dug crayfish pools
A red-plaid brown-study man,
Mendelian x Romantic
tea Earl Grey x shellbark cake.
On three-shirt days I pocket a rusk,
chunk of ice. Your blue geese bank
an orange burn — what are echoes
but ripples by topography?
I have gone away.
My cap of thin red piping, soft cap,
brown envelope of shawl.
What do you do who’s abandoned?
In a waiting-station on the line rough-slept
wire-cut fingerless mitt eye bit lift.
Maybe egg yolks on the good spoons.
Maybe the silver-rim coffee set.
Morning stain, eastern pale.
Say dry-weed rustle creosote puddle
back tines ringing crow dropping
signalman taps up taps down.
That December on the line him,
almost tender, You will want a jacket.
Nobody died this summer.
Swallow tails, heaps of their wings lying about.
Some snow fell some snow fell some snow fell.
I set a winter apple on the grass cloth.
Crow’s foot boiled in milk, red and thick.
Dreamt twice following I was lost.
Among the most faded, letters read and reread.
All bonework, thin things.
The toboggan misses the tree on a wing and a prayer.
At rest, I have a halo.
The death of the boy is in spring.
We were sure we’d find bones.
Songbirds who didn’t see the window,
field mice who met the cat —
we’d skiff them down to the bush
on her garden trowel, hard little bodies
in shrouds of sewing scraps, say
A Proper Service (Lambs, Palms, etc.).
By back-to-school we’d dig them up.
Her corduroy jacket shone gold, like turning aspen.
Dirt has a good chew. Our hands came clean away.
We were the first bungalow people.
We had little to say of anyone else.
They would be most tiny and white.
They would fit together, a skeleton key.
The OBPO and Open Book gratefully acknowledge the support of The Ontario Media Development Corporation, The Toronto Arts Council, Arts Etobicoke, North York Arts, East York Arts, and Scarborough Arts in making this contest and these original pieces possible.
David James Brock is the author of Everyone is CO2 , and his second poetry collection, Ten Headed Alien, arrives in 2018. His play, Wet, will be part of Vancouver's Itsazoo Productions upcoming season. He is currently writing a triptych of new operas with Toronto's Fawn Chamber Creative to premiere in spring 2018.
Lorrayne Anthony spent 25 years working as a writer and editor for The Canadian Press, the Toronto Star, The Prague Post, and the New York Times. Born in Kolcutta, Lorrayne was raised in Brampton, Ontario and now writes fiction five minutes away from Lake Ontario in Etobicoke.
Novka Cosovic is an architect. In her spare time, she writes for Canada's The Site Magazine. Last fall, she completed a successful 2016 Nuit Blanche art installation, called “The Museum”. She was born and raised in Toronto. Both of her parents escaped from a war in the former Yugoslavia.
Margot Lettner is a poet, editor, and plantswoman. Margot Lettner’s first unpublished collection anglepoise references Elizabeth Simcoe’s journal. She was the Founding Editor and a contributor for the online journal Influency Salon: Engaging Conversations with Contemporary Canadian Poetry; writer-in-residence at Sage Hill, Piper’s Frith, and Vermont Studio Centre. Her work includes the chapbook imaginal (2016), as well as installation and performance works.