How It Began



Unknown Object


“It’s too, too, too beautiful.”

—Jun Lin’s last Facebook post, accompanying a photograph of a park,

days before he was murdered, and his body dismembered,

allegedly by Luka Magnotta

We don’t yet know how it began.

Perhaps he posted as a potential friend,

invited you for Starbucks and biscotti

after class, or Labatts and chicken wings

on the weekend, hockey on TV.

Perhaps you looked forward to the visit,

bounding up the stairs bearing some small gift

like a good guest, some small token

to appease the gods of hospitality

at the front door. That was

the sort of man you were—

on time every day, hoping to find in Canada

not money or status, like your classmates,

but love. A romantic. This painful light

shines in your face in photographs,

moon-bright, a little shy, eager

to please. An A student, studying computers

and engineering, a decade older

than your classmates, old enough that in China,

you wrote, they would respectfully

call you “uncle”—

what you wanted were peers.

Friends, lovers. You were lonely,

vulnerable in your loneliness.

Wanted someone to ride with you

on the midnight subway train in Montreal,

its flickering hospital-green half-light

you captured on film, deserted snowscapes

you posted to friends in China—

you were the only figure in all that ground.

But then there was that day in the park.

It was too, too, too beautiful—

a park others rushed through every day,

heads bowed over texts and tweets

while you stood gaping in awe, in a daze

of wonder, craning your neck

to see the sky swimming with green,

the drowsy parasols of the maples

sprinkling your delighted face

with sap, silent gust of wind swelling

through the stately willows, the vegetable whiff

of mown grass, too much, you thought,

it’s too much, days before it was taken

from you in a blaze of rage. Montreal,

released from the frozen grip of winter,

leafing out in the spring.

You had worked and saved,

worked and saved for years

to arrive at this place.


I remember my cousin Janny

hunched over the kitchen sink

scrubbing the household dishes at dawn

that summer we visited Grandma

in California. Treated like a slave

in feudal China, brunt of Grandma’s wrath—

piece of trash, monkey on her back,

good-for-nothing bastard daughter

of her own fourth child, Auntie No. 4

who had Janny out of wedlock—

still a shocker for a Chinese family

in the ’70s. It was rumoured

my aunt never knew the father, or that

he rightly washed his hands of her,

this tired baggy-eyed woman

who trudged home from work

at the fast food restaurant, reeking

of grease, ripping the brown-and-yellow

paper hat off her head as she sat down

to dinner in her stained uniform.

Auntie No. 4, who decades later would die

in a homeless shelter for battered women…

Janny barely spoke during our visit—

scrawny-shouldered, shaking

with shyness, beaten down by the daily

hail of Grandma’s hatred. I remember

the way she flinched at loud noises

or sudden movements, with a look

of such tense, whimpering terror in her eye

it made you want to hit her—

yet somehow she escaped. The news

of her life filtered through to me, over the years:

Your cousin Janny’s going to school.

Janny’s getting married, moving to Texas.

Janny has children now.

How? I always wondered. It was a puzzle,

the laws of the universe upended,

the sky swimming with fish and the sea

crammed with clouds. Maybe

there was an escape route, a hidden exit,

a trap door I hadn’t found in all

these years of wild searching.

Maybe my cousin had stumbled upon it

in her despair, crawled her way out

into a normal life. I pictured her

in some sun-soaked small town—

white picket fence, toys in the yard—

waving to her kids on the school bus,

folding herself into the tanned arms

of a man who loved her.

The call came this weekend:

Your cousin Janny passed away.

She killed herself. Her fifteen-year-old son

(a straight-A student, my aunt hastened

to add) came home from class to find her

overdosed on the living room sofa.

I thought she had escaped

her fate, and maybe there were days

she thought so too, living out a normal life

like someone else’s dream.

Living a life like it was rightfully hers.


This was the house on the corner, the one

I passed to and from school each day.

He would have seen me twice

a day, from an upstairs window

or bent over his weeds in the garden—

an ugly girl, clad in scratchy plaid,

moping past. One fist dug deep

into my satchel, searching for day-old

shortbread hidden in a greased bag.

Sweaty bangs, furtive eyes behind

lenses as thick as goggles—

some adults said I was shy.

She’s sly, my mother declared, up to no good.

She won’t look me in the eye, a teacher complained,

and my father whipped round in his seat

at the parent-teacher conference:

What’s wrong with you?

What are you trying to hide?

One afternoon, the man asked me in—

past the stone lions, pots of lavender,

into the tiled foyer. The tiles were painted

with lemons, oranges, clusters of olives.

Nothing happened. Or something did—

the threat of something, creeping in the air

between us. It thickened my throat,

stuffed my sinuses like pollen.

He fetched his violin, the old man

with his nut-brown bald head,

played it for me like a suitor

in a sunny square, slicing note

after note into the air. His hand on my knee

a shy spider. (Am I making this up now,

digging diligently as an archaeologist,

searching for where it all went wrong?)

But nothing happened. Dust in the corners,

a brass umbrella stand, the bulky Nikes

belonging to his teenage grandsons.

The bow sawing the violin,

horsehair fraying.

The air so thick it seemed fibrous,

knotting around me like a mesh net,

like pantyhose yanked over the face.

His dark thoughts pouring into me

like motor oil. Maybe I wanted something

to happen, anything at all—

a way out, even this way.

But then he opened the front door.


In dreams, it takes all night to reach you—

blind driving down unfamiliar roads,

twisty mountain passes, suburban cul-de-sacs

not on any map. Then at last,

the mirrors in the green stairwell.

The mirrors so close to the entrance

I could have walked straight into myself.

For years this was the shape of the world.

The plain room and its myriad dimensions,

radiating outward like meaning

from the bound lines of a poem—

the meaning in the space, the breath.

The silence. Clouds of curry rising

from the Indian restaurant below,

the shuffle of mail through your meaty hands,

the worn patch on the seat of the leather armchair,

duct-taped together. Last night I dreamt

I rode a boat through choppy water to see you.

You lived on a high cliff above wintry seas.

It was a paradise of pastoral beauty,

drenched in the syrupy light of summer.

Cottages with paned windows,

gardens overgrown with roses, wildflowers.

Bees bumbling through brambles,

furry as tiny bears, freighted with honey.

Butterflies like lofted petals

tearing through the sappy air.

How I longed to live there too!

Only the ocean lay between us.

No items found.


Evelyn Lau is a lifelong Vancouverite who has published thirteen books, including eight volumes of poetry. Her fiction and non-fiction have been translated into a dozen languages; her poetry has received the Milton Acorn Award, the Pat Lowther Award and a National Magazine Award. From 2011–2014, she served as Vancouver’s Poet Laureate. Her most recent collection is Pineapple Express (Anvil, 2020).



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