canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

Night of the Comet

by Clayton McCann

Comet. Raging. A cold, wretched anger. In endless space. Child of motion, crossing the void. Spits and sparks. A 7,000 kilometre fuse. Unimaginable GOD. Pushing the ellipse. Burns its essence, itself. Comet is a candle, a 40 thousand-year-old candle on a 5 billion year old birthday cake.

Comet thinks: huh! Huh! Huh! Huh huh huh huh huh huh huh …! Comet worries through the deep vacuum, worries black, burns white. Comet flies.

Harbinger? A light in the sky? Streak on a radio telescope? Comet knows not these things, senses nothing but its self giving of itself into flame. A core of ice, a drop in the universe. The frozen not-comet strains in its face: BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM. Comet rolls.



"We just have to. My boss is insistent. It’s just a dinner, maybe a hot tub. We’ll have a few drinks. At my co-worker Jasmine’s place. We’ll be back in town before the bars get crowded."

"I—who are these people?"

"The dentist—you know. Jasmine, one of the hygienists, and her husband. Out by Taghum Bridge."


"Day, you’re coming."

The heart is a lonely hunter. The heart is a horny hunter. Heart as hunty horner. "These are thoughts," these are thoughts occurring to him now as he lies in his snow bank, "this fucking snow bank," going numb.

"One need only possess. A birth. Certificate. To enter. Cuba. Cuba, Cuba, Cuba Cuba Cuba. These lights are cars, passing on the road. People on the way home for dinner, on their way into town to dinner. Stupid people. Blind. Dead people from banks shopping malls dentist doctors’ offices.

"Doctoré—don’t believe them. They’ll tell you. They didn’t know. On death beds, straining upright weeping moaning, they’ll say they never understood how fine a thing this life could be. Don’t believe them, doctor. They knew, they’ve known all along. But they squandered, you see? They chose to commit the unholy act of LIFE WASTE. Even now, as they race from their desks, to perch upon the bleak edifice of a microwave dinner!" He was telling himself, telling, telling himself, "A brutally honest picture of life in a mountain town."

"‘Fist’ has found its way into ‘Pacifist’. Again." Noise, unintelligible. Silence. The unintelligible silence of noise. "Wouldn’t it be nice to get on a plane and fly to Cuba? Fidel is still alive. He lives yet, lives—"

Whirling flash: a night’s simulacrum in a child’s bedroom. A small boy plays with a spinning, sparking toy. Flashes, bursts light his joyous features in successive stills. The whirling. Scraping.

"I am standing up!" he falls. "I am regaining my feet. Behold! I rise!" Running down the dark. Streetlight? Moon.

"Lo, I am loose in a Chinese calendar. It is the moon. "My heart’s ablaze, the moon’s in the trees, ‘Naked branches like Chinese letters.’† No street. Lamps. This far. Out."

He. Sleeping, at a run, loose in his limbs, arms limp. Legs, sluggish. "A Bantam Giant." Mouth hangs open, jaw swollen, "I am coming to town!"

"The husband and wife welcome us at the door. They are warm, genuine people. She has prepared a feast for the dentist: roast chicken, pasta, Greek salad, garlic bread, a carrot cake, raspberry pie, something else. And wine. And vodka. Whiskey. I’m at the table with the husband. He’s a large weight-lifter/mill foreman who doesn’t really have much time for me. I am he is discussing his vacation in Cuba with myself. His children are there, then they are gone. I’m outside smoking with this weight-lifter. Soon, his wife joins us along with the dentist and the woman.

"They all have names. The woman is Cat. The dentist is Peter. The weight-lifter is Kurt, his wife is Jasmine. They have names. Names? No names, no shame. But there they are: Cat, Peter, Jasmine, Kurt and myself. Each in our place, out on the deck, under the moon, cigarette smoke hung in mid-drift, words stopped up on our tongues. A snapshot. Each of us set to play our little role, about to take the stage—to get into the hot tub, perhaps. But Kurt does not get in, he does not drink. He sits at the patio table, smoking. I strip naked and leap into the hot water. Soon, Cat and Peter are in."

Another snow bank. A shoe missing. Rocks in his back. Cars driving past, unstopping. It is Saturday night. Hatless. Winter. "Something I had—Honky Tonkin’—vanished. Something I was. Gulf of Tonkin. A book in his gloveless hand, "Who gave me this?" He opens the jacket cover, "I am reading by the sporadic lights of passing motorcars. At this rate, I’ll finish on my deathbed—imagine. Reading on your deathbed (‘Oh, GOD, Jenny, I can’t go on without you!’/’Please, Bill, please be quiet. I’m trying to get through Gone With the Wind before the gangrene reaches my head.’) Jesus."

Another sustained effort to stand, this time abetted by a nearby tree, "He has risen. The angel at the tomb, working the Easter long weekend: HE is risen. HE is not here." Tourists slowing down—but not stopping—to get a good look, just dropping by to touch the body, to wet their fingers in the wound and wipe HIS blood in their wallets—

Poem in a Winter Ditch: Black oil black black

Bird black branches black

Blood pools in Blackpool

Evermore in Livermore.

THAT BIRD watching.

"A brutally honest picture of life in a mountain town," staggers, runs, falls down, "Before the myth of creation. Or creation of the myth," moans as his face meets grey snow face bouncing, "Fucking GOD," winter road, "There’s my crow," before a little nap, "up a tree, MEOW."

Long black quiet in which the comet sweeps past, honking. Long, silent time in which "Honky Tonkin’" rises, scratchy record, to skip repeatedly, "…’Round this town, scrit! This town, scrit! This town," as space opens like eyes across the road. Space, sideways, stars glittering on the frozen asphalt, coniferous trees pointing leftwards, up to the planets, "There’s Holst! Swaggering around like a drunken deck-hand," as he watches from the roadside, from deep inside his self, "Wrapped in moist shag velvet burning nuclear supernova. And I, a mess of oily wet woollen piss turned frozen pants turned COLD. These torn clothes, this shamble of a man—this is what the sun FEELS like," as he watches himself from a bit above his ‘self’, though he can still feel himself pissing his pants. "And NOW! The practiced posture of the Lazerene," he stands, raggedly, and begins a Frankenstein’s monster along the shoulder of the road. Into the thinnest of grey light. Moon?

"When, Say, when?" When can we go down to the Civic Field and fly the model airplane?"

"When spring comes, kid." The plane carried off above their voices, away. A speck, a dot. Gone.

Porch light. Dogs barking at his clothes. Skin caught on barbed wire. He is befuddled by the riddle of "WHAT IS STICKING INTO ME?!" Wild black birds chewing his thighs, his neck. Singing, "Gulf of Tonkin ‘round this town," as the dogs work up their nerve. A snout’s breadth off his shins.

Poem on a Winter Fence: Black

Dogs are


Birds are

Winter’s trap

In their little skulls

"When spring comes, kid."

When spring, "When spring comes, kid, the heart is a lonely hunter, horny like a Bantam Giant: Every Book Complete—Our Motto. No half measures. No slip-ups. Every book a completely brutal and honestly lively picture of my mountain town.

"There they are again," he sees the shapes in the doorway of the unfamiliar farmhouse, feeling his sweater tear at the neck and the cold, piss-wet pants start to rip, "What are they thinking at the threshold of their warm winter cabin? ‘Shotgun, get the shotgun, Zeke, we got a live one on the fence,’ as I engage in the fruitless efforts of a housefly sensing the spider, the nearby spider, the salacious saliva of the sensually-starved, sanguinary spider, ‘There’s a man out in the yard, dad, stuck on the fence, dad. The dogs are going wild.’"

Earlier on the road, "Before it was too late," the country road, a taxi, suddenly, headlights searing into his eyes the abrupt detail of rocks, trees, snow, road, "before this fence, this fucking cold, these endless stars—now dimmed considerably."

"Day. Get in." This voice is an angry voice.

"Them. THEM. The forgotten. Theirs' is a cold rage, a wretched anger. They resemble friends with whom I attended a dinner party in the woods, uh, several weeks, um, ago…oh."

"Get in the goddam cab right now."

"Hostile, loathful, performing miracles: healing cripples, hailing cabs in the desolate mountains, coaxing me into the warmth of the FM radio plush, wine-coloured velour, the antiseptic taxi. Curing the blindly belligerent—I will not get in. ‘Rather berate them and their filthy cab."

Of the two of them in there, aside from the stone-golem driver, she is now outside, rushing at him through the little theatre lights cast by the taxi, something in her hair—

("Ahhh," he thinks, one of the dogs biting him now, the pain not as great as he’d imagined.)

—perhaps the icing in her hair suggests it was already too late, "So late, ah, so very late in the whole world."‡

The voice from her throat is a scream of frustration, originating in the depths of her chest, a wailing comet, "A burning rage of a run at me—URK!" as she shoves him out into space over the rocky ditch. He comes down like a streak, mashing his arm between his ribs and the icy, salt-caked rocks of the Kootenay granite.

But. "HE is risen," has regained his legs against all sage advice from the cabbie, "Buddy, just stay down," and she is leaping down to him, punching him full in the face—

("Yes, it was too late, even then," one of the dogs making off with his shoe, a glove.)

—and again, she lashes her arm wide to the arc, the meat of his jaw taking the force with, "Ohhh," in response as the neck takes the blow from the face, "ohhh," passed reflectively, not a complaint over the pain, "oooh," merely the memory of his voice registering the punches. Hear me moan? "Hear him moaning? What will I do? This drunken zombie, what will he do?"

He does nothing as she climbs away toward the taxi, "Cat!" she slams the door. "Cat!" mystified, as though he had seen her pass him on the street.

He can hear the cabbie, "You got him good." He can hear the cabbie say, "Buddy, just get in."

He does not get in. He is outraged, as though the fists have only now landed and the shame flushes full rose red in his pride, "’Fist’ has found its way into ‘Pacifist’. Again." He moves like one who has been shot, up the embankment, and begins to run down the road, the night road lit by headlights.

He can hear them calling, shouting his name, "Day! Day!" and it seems as though they’re calling for the sun or white fluffly clouds in the sudden clear blue sky of morning.

Jasmine, at least, had the propriety to put on a swimsuit. And fetch a bottle of warm vodka. Kurt shakes his head as he watches the vodka and his wife enter the hot tub, like ingredients in some bad soup idea. "Bad soup, bad guest. BAD guest."

Peter’s tongue in Cat’s mouth.

Day emerges from the depths with the wine glass he had lost in the bubbles. Peter’s tongue. Cat’s mouth. A whiskey sticker clings to the glass, "A PROUD CANADIAN."

"A proud, loud Canadian!" he shouts at them, "A LOUD CANADIAN: A DRINKING SMOKING SCREWING CANADIAN!!"

Peter and Cat look at him blankly.

Day guzzles vodka and Jacuzzi water.

Kurt does not approve, chain-smoking at the patio table.

Day realizes someone is squeezing his genitals. Jasmine smiles at him through the steam, her red hair sticking in strings to her forehead. "My name is Horhay Ruh-goola," he sings to her, "I’m walking down the street. I love you. Let’s go to sleep."


salt rim

¼ tsp grated fresh ginger

½ tsp wasabi

½ tsp minced garlic

4 dashes soy sauce

1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

4 oz pepper vodka

3 oz tomato juice

1 tsp fresh lime juice

fresh cracked pepper to taste

ice cubes

1 lime wedge for garnish

(serves one)

Mars. A fuzzy orange light, small, in the sky, "There. Above. There. Mars. Honky Tonkin’ ‘round this town. They are calling my name. When you are sad and lonely, I am getting up, again… moon? Headlights."

"Buddy. Get in the cab."

"Kurt is telling me the story of the softwood lumber dispute. I am pretending to listen. I’m looking at his sad, stretched face. The skin around his mouth seems to be made of spent elastics. The tissue below the surface seems thin, papery. His hair is the hair of the late 70s. His hands are thick, stained between the thumb and index finger, the colour of iodine. He seems unable to make eye contact with me. I sense his fear, fear of my naked body. I sense this. As I smoke a wet cigarette."


1¼ cups cracked ice

4 oz chilled pineapple juice

2 oz chilled orange juice

2 oz chilled lime juice

2 oz white rum

2 oz spiced rum

2 oz black rum

A splash of grenadine for colour

Some call it a West Indian Connection, others say it is distinctly American. "Sounds dangerous."


"I said whatareyoureadingthere. Kurt?"

"Uh, I found this at the Mohawk in the men’s room."

"You were in the men’s room at the Mohawk? Heh."

Kurt looks at Day. Someone other than Kurt is now looking out of his eyes. At Day. His voice is even, low, exhaled with his cigarette, "I don’t like you, you little smart mouth. I’m gonna see you in Nelson some time. Know what? I’m gonna see you. You ain’t gonna see me comin’."

Day looks at the cover of Kurt’s book:

A Bantam Giant

Carson McCullers


- a brutally honest picture of life in a mountain town.

"I wanted to go to Cuba this winter. That’s all. Just go down, tour the battlefields. No Americanos. Maybe lay eyes on Fidel. And could I go?"

At the bottom, on the cover, in small, faded grey letters: every book complete.

"Every book complete. Leave no man behind. Hear that, cabbie? The quality goes in before the name goes—"

"Just get in, buddy."


3 oz bourbon

1 tbsp fresh lime juice

1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

2 tsp superfine sugar

1 cup crushed ice

orange slice and cherry garnish

"So, Kurt. I hear you’re the shop steward out at the mill."

"Your woman’s makin’ it with the dentist."

"So she is. Big house, hot tub. You union types do alright on the back of the little guy."

"You little fucker."

"You know, Kurt, they discovered two maraschino cherries in Lenin’s stomach during the autopsy."


"So much for the class struggle, hey?"

"You little turd.’

"So much for wood workers of the world unite, eh, old man?"

"I’ll see you downtown, you little cunt. See how smart you are."

"When will we go to the Civic Field, Day? When? The airplane—"

It occurs to him Civic Field has already been paved over. A giant factory/bank went up. A nuclear supernova shot up from the grass. Only the model airplane escaped. It flew to Cuba. "Cuba, Cuba, Cuba."

Cat, Peter, Jasmine and Day are in the hot tub. Kurt is nowhere to be seen. "The thing is, my cock is about three inches from jasmine’s face. I’m swinging it, fuck yes. I’m swinging it—

("And then I’m stuck on a barbed wire fence. Dogs snarling at me, I’m growing COLDER. They’re biting my leg. Fuck, yes, I’m swinging it.)

—no longer thinking, respectably drinking, like civilised ladies and men. Honky Tonkin’ ‘round this meow."

Is he on the moon? "No. I see a fire. It is a fire by the side of the road." He’s suddenly very close to the fire, "The car. This car is burning, hit by a meteor. There is very likely gas in this burning car." But for the first time in hours he is warm. "I sing a little song as I warm my battered face by the little burning car:

When you come to Havańa,

To Havańa square,

When you come to the city

You will find—

"Asiago! None other than Asiago by the side of the road, Asiago who owns the burning car. Who owns? Asiago, the burning car. The actor with the bum leg owns. The car. Who—urrr…— was struck down in mid-stride by a blind old lady in a Meteor on the main street in the middle of the day—a brutally honest life of pictures in the town of mountains.’



"Heh," he lights up by sticking his broken cigarette into the flames. He watches the car burn, "When? When will my small city die? Where is my small city? Asiago? ASIAGO!!" Honest pictures of a brutal death of this small mountain—

The little man is limping down the road, coming silently into the circle of light. Moon? Streetlamp? Burning car.

"Don’t you need a passport to get to Cuba?"

The little man is crying, "What? WHAT?! Get away from the car!"

I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I’m sorry. When they take me down off this fence you’ll know how sorry. I’m sorry for freezing to death.



"I am retreating. With Asiago. To a safe distance, he says. He is a Bantam Giant in the orange light, every book complete. His teeth are the size of Chicklets. He is shouting at me. Something black is trickling out his ear. The fire makes his teeth look orange with blood."

Every book complete, "Smoke? I’m not wearing any socks."

Asiago is crying into his hands.

"I am reading the health warning on the cigarette pack. It is a pleasure to read by firelight:


Murders - 510

Alcohol - 1,900

Car Accidents - 2,900

Suicides - 3,900

Tobacco - 45,000

"Let this be a lesson to you, Asiago. A lesson. About the hazards of drinking, driving, smoking and murder. Even self-murder.

"He understands. He’s walking away." The cold lights of an approaching taxi cast Asiago in silhouette, "his diminishing figure, limping. Away. Into the away. From my mountain town."

"Get in the cab, Buddy."

"When you are sad and lonely—"

"Day, get in this fucking cab right now."

"Right meow."

Jasmine wants to give day a tour of the house. The weight room, "Where she and Kurt work it all out." The pool room and home bar. A relic, an icon: the Drink-O-Meter tacked to the wood panelling. Off the top end of the scale, in red letters, "Slow Down, Pardner."

"Try this, Day"

"What—?" All is sluggish in the seat of his head where he watches, listens to himself try to talk and walk moving the levers of his arms and legs.

"It’s a shooter, A Moonshot."



"Now, Jasmine—"

Don’t worry about the neighbours… he’s the one on the chandelier.


½ oz coffee liqueur

1 oz Rumple Minze

1 oz good quality bourbon

"C’mere day, I wanna…mmm."



Pause that refreshes.


Name your poison.

Continuous entertainment.

A friendly place where friends meet.

"A little too friendly."


Hot buttered rhumba. Cool down with a frosty ‘Double-Rich’ mint Julep. A fat lip. A stiff prick. She is stroking Schenley’s Cream of Kentucky into a gin fizz of sacred truth and proportion. Kurt, "Oh, Kurt is here, mixing me a drink." Jasmine gone, vanished. "Perfect! Best martini I ever tasted."

"Oh, you’re sure to like this one."


4 hits GHB

1 tbsp Sweet n’ Low

3 oz vodka

garnish with horse tranquilizer

"Beautiful music for a beautiful city. Dying from tobacco use. The ceiling for a moment. I can’t think of a thing to say about those drapes."

"Let me help you up, Day."

Day is mashing a carrot cake into Cat’s hair. No one moves. It is the final scene in the kitchen. Cat runs out into the cold night air. She is wearing a towel. Kurt looks at Day, "That’s the end," as he slowly rises from his chair, "I’ve taken a lotta shit tonight," as Peter tries in vain to stop Kurt from pushing Day across the cake-smeared linoleum.

"This is the room one afternoon I knew I could love you."

"What did he say?"

Jasmine’s black eye, crying tears.

Lights. Music. Fade.

Barbed wire.



Asiago’s Prayer: You need a passport to go to Cuba, to go, to go. When the insurance money comes in. You need a passport. Mexico. Cuba. Even the States these days. When that ship comes in.

"Oh. A shooting star."


† ‘Naked branches like Chinese letters.’ Quoted from Malcolm Lowry, Under the Volcano.

‡ "So late, ah, so very late in the whole world." Quoted from Boris Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago.

 "THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER - a brutally honest picture of life in a southern town" quoted and reworked to fit the Kootenays, from Caron McCullers’ The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.

clay mccann: runs good, all hoses replaced, some body work req'd.
............................................................$800 o.b.o.







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