The theme of our Spring issue, “all a dream, just neural popweed,” from the suite of poems by Hilary Clark, quietly yet powerfully reflects these surreal times. The work in this issue resonates with the resilience of an elderly woman’s memory flying a Spitfire; the shock of experiencing an atmospheric river; the uncanny life story of a magpie turned into a man. Soaring non-fiction, dark speculative fiction, conditional love letters, and evocative lyric, ekphrastic and found poetry, alongside stunning photography by Toronto-based artist Barbara Cole. So much to stimulate and inspire.

We hope you enjoy the preview of these excerpts--and the warmer weather!

Mari-Lou Rowley
Editor, Grain

DANCE INSIDE    |     Harold Hoefle

Leaning in, you heard there’s a red tram she had to catch,
work at six, ticket seller at the Blackpool Ballroom,
then she went off again about hours behind the counter
at her mother’s shop and hearing the Irish Sea
smash the beach and spray like champagne popping at
cousin Pam’s wedding, and when the voice would rest
you went on stroking the flat grey hair though lightly,
when you first caressed the bony arm she said, “ow,”
and her navy-blue splint possessed the once-brightness
of eyes mostly shut, she lay sunk in the black wheelchair
angled for comfort, “Do they dance inside?”
she suddenly asked, and not knowing who or where
she meant you said, “Yes!” then tucked in the coverlet,
its crocheted blue-white-and-red like a Union Jack
draped across the body, you stroked the hand of waxy skin-bone
as if summoning your future self
sutured to her in this white room, to the chin hairs
and double-knotted red running shoes, to her
avoiding the view of candy-coloured minivans,
you stroked the arm beneath the paisley sleeve of what
she called a jumper, you kept a hand there
for the few seconds before you left, you stood up straight
and she may have felt your breath or touch gone
for she declared, “It’s bright red. I drive a Spitfire.”

Rising, from Surfacing series, 2019. Original in colour.
Digital Inkjet Print, mounted to ACP Panel.

MY MUTED YEAR  [Excerpt]  |    Hilary Clark



Darkness at three. What’s on the mental velodrome today? Gaudete! gaudete

cycling cycling—Christus est natus ex Maria Virgene gaudete! My new coat

gapes at the homeless man sitting with two black labs and a metal bowl

of water. Sorry, I only carry cards. Shake the tambourine, push loonies

in the slot and watch the claw descend to the heap of candy and plush

pandas, coming up empty. Is that all there is, I wonder, ripping up

another Lotto Max. No free play for you, says the 7/11 ticket reader. You

broke the last fortune cookie.

Gaudete, Christmas carol (~16th cent.)

BIRDBRAIN [Excerpt] | Dave Margoshes

I was born a bird, a magpie, in a nest high in the branches of an elm tree on the eastern bank of the Hackensack River on the outskirts of Secaucus, New Jersey. I lived the first year of my life as a bird, living free as a bird, as they say, and had no thoughts of any other kind of life. Precious few thoughts at all, in fact. Birds live in the moment. What passes for thought is more likely to be instinct.

But on July 27, 1948, the air thickened and grew slick and clouds as big and low slung as Sumu wrestlers barged across the sky above Secaucus and a magical electrical storm descended on the city. I say magical because the twin spears of lightning that announced the storm were far from ordinary. One spear penetrated my beak as I perched on a branch of the very tree I’d been born on, melting it and sizzling what little brain I possessed, birdbrain. And turning my spirit, if that’s the correct term, to ether. The other spear shot through the window of a house on Sunset Key in the gated Harmon Cove community, the window of a nursery, travelled through the window and painlessly pierced the left eye of a baby too startled even to cry, turning what had been a green eye blue, sizzling the still very unformed brain into something like hash brown potatoes and vaporizing the child’s spirit. Robert Spandau Jr., dubbed Baby Bubby by his siblings.

Emergence, from Surfacing series, 2019. Original in colour.
Digital Inkjet Print, mounted to ACP Panel.

ATMOSPHERIC RIVER     |     Nicholas Bradley

Dear Kit: You said the storms taught you something
new, a weather term you hadn’t known. Well, you
and grim me and everybody else. What’s
a pedant to do but consult the good book?
The dictionary swings and whiffs. Phrases:
none. Etymologies: none. Definitions:
none. Quotations: none. Full text? Take
a wild guess. I look at these sweet nothings
through my own zeros, leer at drone footage
of the crumbled Coquihalla Highway
and the streaming porn of liquefied cities.
Above my mask I’m always fogged. Water,
water, everywhere. You tell me it’s drier
than normal on your side of the Rockies.
The rain got stuck in traffic. I know the Bow
a little, Elbow too, and my lips are cracked
on your behalf. I dreamed I was an ocean
and woke up soaked and coughing, bedclothes
a lake. Aren’t all rivers atmospheric?
That’s why we love them, breathe them through our gills
and taste them with our feet. The skylight’s drumming.
When this cold breaks I’ll write some more. Till then
I dispatch your rightful precipitation
and all my best from this drenched island. Nick.

WE ALL FALL DOWN [Excerpt]  |  Riku Ziebell

       Inside the theatre, my associate, Nina, and I were teaching a new batch of women to fly. I stood on one edge of the platform, directing orders to Gabby and Allan, the members of Stage Left Flight. Gabby, a curvy woman in her late twenties, was harnessed and clipped at both hips to cables that disappeared into the dark abyss of the ceiling. Allan, her backstage helper, stood clipped to the railing beside her.       
       Allan, grab tension in her left cable,” I said. “Gabby, you can bring your left arm in front of the cable and grab his wrist. Allan, hold her tightly or she’s gonna feel like she’s being pulled off.” They fumbled through the orders, exchanging the cables—which had to be held tight at all times—from one gripped hand to another. If a cable went slack, it could jump a groove on its coil in the ceiling, which would overload the cable opposite. When Nina explained this process at the beginning of the rehearsal, Gabby interjected, “Um … what does that mean?”
       Nina paused, then responded delicately. “It means that an accident could happen.”

Disguise, from Surfacing series, 2019. Original in colour.
Digital Inkjet Print, mounted to ACP Panel.

1964 | Catherine Graham

I’m a sucker punch
for an X-ray star,
streaking power sweep
snowmobiling soundscape.

In my context-free condo
I Indy car an ion channel,
jump jet op art off-the-rack
orientated in my posable pantsuit.
I remaster to strike-slip
the worst-case transfection
or triple jump. Time frame
is a table sugar, this
semipornographic radio colour
quasars a quark. Programmed
cell death, polarity therapy
can’t rollcage a rat fink.
Mack daddy’s drink-driving
duende’s a color-field—AAA—
black hole, choke hold,
wheel-thrown, worst case.

#MINISM    [Excerpt]   |    David Hammond

Joan’s voice cut urgently but unintelligibly into my Freakonomics podcast. She held a pair of garden shears in one hand and brushed a mud-smudged cheek with the other. I pressed pause on my Bluetooth earbuds and gave her my dumbest, most innocent, “yes dear” look.       
       “Do you know what your daughter has done?” she said.
        “I have a daughter?”
        She shifted her stance and pointed the business end of the shears at my face. “Your daughter has shaved off her eyebrows.”
        “What?” I removed the earbuds and rubbed an itchy ear canal with my pinkie. “Her eyebrows?”
        “Yes! Apparently it’s a new Instagram thing.” She huffed. “But still! I said, ‘Don’t they have a filter for that?’ and do you know what your daughter’s response was?”
        “Last I checked, she was your daughter too.”
        “‘Hashtag no filter.’ That’s what she said.”
        I laughed. God help me.
        “You think that’s funny?”
        “Well . . . ”
       She stared at me, snipping the shears in the air for a tense moment. “Alright, funny man. You promised to trim the butterfly bush this weekend, remember?”
        “Yes, ma’am.”

Teddy in Green, from Shadow Dancing series, 2022
Digital Inkjet Print, mounted to ACP Panel

Artist's Statement

Barbara Cole is a Toronto-based fine art photographer working in several photographic mediums, including underwater photography and modernized wet collodion. She began her career modelling for a local newspaper out of high school before becoming fashion editor for the following ten years. Her early start in fashion and self-taught practice informs her intuitive photography that shifts between tradition and invention. Her pioneering body of work is noted for its ethereal, timeless imagery often depicting figures in various states of weightlessness, transformation, and self-actualization. 
Cole has held numerous exhibitions across North America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, as well as in the Canadian Embassy in both Tokyo and Washington D.C. Her work has also been extensively commissioned internationally for corporate collections. The acclaimed documentary series Snapshot: The Art of Photography II, features an episode devoted exclusively to Cole’s photographic practice. She is currently working on an upcoming book from teNeues Publishing.