Blog Post: Pigeons Dead and Living, Crewing Sailboats, December 5th Reading at the Supermarket

I last read at the Rower’s Pub Series in 2008 or ‘9, when it actually took place at the Rower’s Pub on Harbord Street in the Annex. I read from After the Fires, my Tightrope Books story collection. Poet David Clink was the host in those days. Last week, on December 5th I read at Rowers’ current location, The Supermarket, with David Fraser, Chris Gilmore, and Ann McDonald. This time I read from Mountain, my Inanna publications near-future YA, a cli-apocalypse story in which a teenage girl is abandoned by her mother at a gathering on Mount Shasta in Northern California. You can find out more about my new book here.
It was a great event; Heather Wood is the consummate host and Fraser’s passionate poem about the Watts Riots ended the night and brought us close to tears. It was wonderful to chat with Heather, her partner Kurt Andre, Michael Fraser, David Clink, Myna Wallin, Ann McDonald, Chris Gilmore and members of the audience.

The folks at Tightrope have put together a POD edition of After the Fires, since the beautiful originals are all gone. If you have one, hold on to it. Printed at the legendary Coach House on gorgeous stock with a sumptuous cover design by David Bigham, it’s a keeper. I only have two left and won’t be bringing them to book fairs any time soon. The POD was designed by David Jang; designing for Tightrope is one of David’s retirement projects. David has had a celebrated career; they are lucky to have him and so am I. More connections: my sister and I shared a house in Cabbagetown with David and his then partner when we were still in high school. It was a short walk to Jarvis C.I., where I was attending Grade Twelve. I had just returned from spending my seventeenth year living in Hawai’i, first with my aunt Michaela and her sailor partner and then on my own. It was still the seventies.

I thought a lot about not coming back. I had learned enough (barely) about crewing sailboats to be offered a position on a racing yacht whose name escapes me; I looked up the Transpac winners’ names to write this but could only find the lists for the Honolulu race. It strikes me it might have been something obvious like Shadow or Panther or Midnight; the gorgeous wooden hull was black. Panther (or Shadow or Midnight) was headed to her home port of Vancouver after winning the Tahiti race. That gig under my belt, I could have found work in the South Pacific as, indeed, a friend’s daughter did recently for some years.

In the end I came home and found a Cabbagetown house with my sister and our friends and returned to my old high school. It was a surreal experience after living in an off-grid jungle community on Kauai. Coming home may not have been the right decision; a crew position on the winner of a major ocean race is not the kind of opportunity that comes twice, but it is the one I made. Whether we like it or not, our decisions shape our lives.

Tightrope founder Halli Villegas once told me the bird on the cover was from a photograph taken by her partner David Bigham of a dead pigeon they found on the street. David did a wonderful stylized digitization of the image. When Halli showed me the cover I was immediately struck by its resemblance to my mother’s work; she often painted dead birds and her last drawing was of one of artist Anton Van Dalen’s pigeons by his rooftop coop in NYC. A year ago my sister Esther and I brought it home from Hawai’i where it had been living with our aunt.

As we evolve so does our grief; we can acquire new tools with which to cope with loss. It changes from a thing that sunders us into one that offers skills we may share with others likewise burdened. Fire can burn you to the ground but it doesn’t have to; it will definitely change you forever. Don’t let them tell you there is a before or that you can go back to it. There isn’t and you can’t. You will always have burn marks.

From the back cover of ATF:

Ursula Pflug’s incendiary, surreal short fiction immerses the reader in a unique world. The effect is like nothing I’ve felt from reading any other writer’s fiction. Pflug manages to find the extraordinary and the epiphanal in reality, and bring out the reality of her fantastical settings. She isn’t about escapism or giving readers a comfortable, familiar experience. If you like daring, if you want to experience something truly different, to come out the other end somehow…changed…then you’re the kind of reader who will love After the Fires. She’s a true original and this collection is Pflug at her best. A first-rate talent who should be more widely known.
– Jeff VanderMeer, NYT bestselling author of The Southern Reach

The surface of the water rippling. Scudding smoke, embers. The fire is close by tonight. The rain turns cold, turns white. Pebbly stone rough under my hands. The bridge’s railing. One hand, the right one, curled around a cigarette. Cigarettes change taste when it turns cold, when the snow comes. The new sharp smell reminds me of you. I smoke: the tips of my fingers go numb and tingly with clues. You are nearby.

And now this writing has led me to you, to a voice that seems to be yours, to a place like the places you loved, the bridges.

“Isn’t it good here,” you say in my mind, “isn’t it good?”

And I say, “God, how I’ve missed you, how I’ve missed this strange feeling, as though my cells were electrified, as though I ‘d been drinking for a week, as though I hadn’t slept in years. Oh God, oh God,” I say.

You chide me, saying, “If only you’d come too, that last time, like you promised, everything would have been different.”

Perhaps I did promise.

If only I’d had the courage to leap into the fire, then I would find you still alive, unsinged. I go in my mind, now, just for a moment, to be with you. You are always inside the fire now, dancing. It’s as if I can see you through the flames; as though you come out and join me to say, “Hey, no burn marks.”

We talk. I care about burned bridges, about writing, but you never have. “It doesn’t matter,” you say, “death doesn’t matter, appearances are a lie. They saw insanity, those others, but that was only the outer shell; I am where I have always been, dancing inside the fire.” Ah, that strange feeling of being with you.

It’s always night and sleeting on your bridge.

You turn to go. You smile, will I cross with you tonight? But I don’t, not even this time, this second chance. If I did, they’d burn the bridge, and besides, I have to be somewhere in the morning, to write you into life. I stroke your leather jacket good-bye, with a tenderness born of fear, as though even in this dream our lives are so dangerous we might really never see one another again. As perhaps they are.

My footsteps ring on the empty bridge but you call me back one more time.


And I say,“Yes?” and you hand me a film can, full of wooden matches.
“You might need them later,” you say, when I ask.

Excerpted from “On Fire Bridge” (uncollected): The Peterborough Review, Volume 1, No. 3. Ed. Julie Rouse and George Kirkpatrick. Peterborough, On.: Winter, 1995

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