Now with a reading by Brad Cran.
In writing school we were all so in love with ourselves
that we wanted to be someone else, someone good enough
to reflect our egos back to us in pleasing ways.
We had a Gwendolyn MacEwen type, who had windswept eyes
and a penchant for rowboats that she would fill with candles
and use to sail out of the classroom and down the street
in a funeral procession led by her own mother’s hate.
We had a Paul Theroux who would never shut up.
I suppose at the time I wanted to be Raymond Carver.
But of all my classmates the person I remember clearest
was the one everyone respected the least: the small awkward
student who wrote science fiction.
He was perhaps the most passionate person in the class
but his passion for science fiction made him even more absurd
to a group of young people already dreaming
about the composition of their literary obituaries.
To introduce a story he said:
What you need to know is that there are three moons
that revolve around the planet of Andor.
Then he was gone into the science of his plot: the effect
of the gravitational pull on character development,
the available ballistics, how they’d have guns
but preferred to fight with sabres and his hero who shall,
by the end of his story, slaughter the orc-like villains
and send them back to a life buried in clay.
His work was widely dismissed.
He was given suggested readings:
serious books by serious authors.
He came back to the next class
with a poem he had written about karate.
He stood up, took off his coat and from his bag he
and then put on, a white karate jacket, which in all honesty
made him look even smaller.
He squared his feet back, braced his body in battle position
and shouted his poem while punching the air.
He may even have had good style but the sight
of this tiny science fiction writer, dressed for karate
and punching his poem into being, was too much
for our group to handle. When those who were trying to
hold back their laughter simply could not anymore
it blew out of our chests uncontrollably until
everyone was openly laughing.
He simply stopped, picked up his jacket,
walked out of the room and never came back.
Officially we were told that he had dropped the course
to find something that was “a better fit.”
Unofficially we talked about “the moons of Andor,”
his karate position and whether or not he was the kind
of person who would come to our class and shoot everyone.
At that time, in our early twenties, we just couldn’t see past
our own self-delusion, but in thinking about him now,
I understand he was just a young man
who desperately wanted to make himself stronger.
We were all so wrong about science fiction.
Three times in my life, in very real ways, I have felt
the knowledge that I have super powers. You see, one day
I became a super villain and had the power
to shoot beams of energy from my chest.
I have also glimpsed portals
and occasionally I can see through them.
Lastly, when certain elements line up with my body,
I gain the perception of perpetual speed and I do indeed
become the Flash, the fastest man in the world.
On April 17, 2007, at approximately 5:14 pm in front
of my house
my daughter, age five, waved at a friend from the sidewalk.
When she stepped off the curb and ran to go see him,
a speeding SUV struck her and knocked her down the
I saw the impact from our living room window.
I may have flown off the front of my steps.
I may have teleported to her.
I can’t be sure how I got there,
but when I picked her up
blood trickled out of her mouth
and I went into shock.
As it turned out, the blood from her mouth was not
internal bleeding but ran from a deep cut
where she bit through her tongue.
Three ambulances and two fire trucks came.
She had muscle pain and road rash up one side of her body
but otherwise was fine. Gillian held her and I went outside
where the driver of the SUV was in our front yard
with her camera. She was taking pictures of the street
and her vehicle. She kept repeating to my neighbour
that she wasn’t going to have to pay.
This is when I became the super villain.
As clearly as I have the power to walk,
I could feel the hate in my chest coagulating
into a ball of energy that I was sure I could shoot
from my chest to vaporize her.
I could feel the power to kill her
through the strength of my hate.
I charged at her and my neighbour intervened.
I thought about releasing a beam of hate
and vaporizing them both but instead I told her
to leave my neighbourhood or I would kill her with my
My neighbour insisted that she stay until the police arrived
and I went back inside to get Gillian because I was certain
Gillian would want me to kill her—but instead
she told me to calm down. I couldn’t understand her.
A police officer came in to check on Rory and question us.
Gillian started by apologizing for me and telling the officer
I was just upset. She told him about the woman taking
The police officer said he would have been equally angry
but we should keep in mind “the driver of the vehicle
was in shock.” I said, yes I was sorry, that I got caught
in the heat of the moment, that I was just worried
about my daughter. But really I was lying to them
and I wanted them to believe me so I could leave
and follow the woman home, because even then
I still wanted to kill her.
Gillian began to cook. I usually do the cooking
in the house but in this moment she began to cook
and cook and cook. She could not stop cooking.
Her mood was jovial which frustrated me because
I wanted to convince her that we should burn the world.
She invited the police to stay. She would make pineapple
and red pepper shish kebabs, with a teriyaki glaze.
Garlic mashed potatoes and all of Rory’s favourite food.
There would be enough for the ambulance drivers
and all the neighbours. Really they should all stay.
It was as if the accident had cheered her up.
It wasn’t until three months later that her hair
began to fall out. At first we noticed just a little,
but then it became clear that her beautiful hair
was falling out in large clumps.
We took her to the walk-in clinic and the doctor
asked her if she had suffered a trauma within the past
few months and she told him, Three months ago,
if only for a moment, we thought we were going
to lose our daughter.
That fall Gillian and I finished collecting oral histories
for a book called Hope in Shadows. We would take turns
going to the Downtown Eastside to interview
disadvantaged people about their lives. We alternated
so neither would have to take the full emotional burden
of hearing stories of abuse that are so common
in an impoverished neighbourhood.
Sometimes the stories would inspire us, but often they
would open us up to a narrative we weren’t
prepared to hear. One day I listened to the story
of a woman I assumed was about forty years old.
She had started working as a prostitute at the age
of thirteen. She was in a wheelchair because someone
had thrown her down the escalator at the Granville
and one of the striped metal steps crushed her vertebrae.
Recently she had been panhandling outside the Roxy
nightclub and some men came out of the bar
and threw her out of her wheelchair. I asked her age
and found out she was actually twenty-four years old.
When I got home I had two goals: to keep calm
in front of my kids and drink as much wine as possible.
I must have poured half a bottle into my first glass.
I prepared myself to put up with my kids’ misbehaviour;
I would do everything I could to hold it together,
but Rory could tell something was wrong.
She hugged my legs and said, Daddy, you’re the best daddy
in the world. And that is what set me off, bawling
like a child in front of my own children.
Sometime that fall, my friend Ian introduced us
to the music of Jonathan Richman. I wasn’t familiar
with Richman’s music but Ian had tickets to see him
and he assured us we’d love his show. So we went.
I now own many of his albums but it is Richman’s
Rockin’ and Romance that became an important part
of our lives. This album is a sonata to happiness.
It is sunshine and beach sand. It is the human condition
told through the quest for a new pair of jeans.
On days we had hard interviews it was our cure,
our cleanser: to go for a run and listen to Rockin’ and
Three years later the book was going into a second
and I was at my publisher’s. He said he had forgotten
to tell me but we had received a letter. It was a letter from
Jonathan Richman. He wanted us to know
that he had been in town performing and a homeless
had sold him a copy of Hope in Shadows. He was writing
to say how much he enjoyed it. This was more important
than just receiving a note from someone we admired.
It was a convergence. I couldn’t have been on my bicycle
fast enough. I was pedalling as quickly as I could.
I had to get home to show Gillian
this letter from Jonathan Richman.
I was biking down Abbott toward BC Place
and the road was blocked. People were standing around.
There was a baby stroller in the street under a yellow tarp.
I asked someone what had happened and was told
a mother was waiting at the light to cross the street,
and when she stepped off the curb a tow truck hit
and killed her baby.
Panic set in. Again I couldn’t get home fast enough.
I needed to get home as quick as possible.
Every molecule of my body was water.
It was as if I could slip into the ocean.
This is how it happens. A mother’s life
changes forever one afternoon.
Where could that mother place herself
after such a horrible loss.
Sometimes all we have is fantasy.
Sometimes we need science fiction.
Throughout the city you can see memorials
built for people who have been killed by motorists.
Each memorial has its own distinct energy.
The memorials with the strongest pull
are the two I have seen in the city
that were erected for children.
One is framed around a teddy bear
tied to a pole with purple ribbon.
The other is a perpetually refreshed stack of flowers
above a large Tonka truck.
I haven’t yet figured the science out, how exactly they
but I believe they are portholes to a second chance,
an alternate universe or a world with different gravity.
What you need to know is that there are three moons
that revolve around the planet of Andor.
From a hundred yards back of a roadside shrine,
I can spot the flicker of another world, the glimmer
of something as easy as a second chance. As I get closer
the portal fully opens; a child is again standing
by the road, everything depends on this. I am the Flash.
My thoughts are lightning, my heart beats
by its thunder. The child fidgets and I am running.