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Calls

The healer is here

Barbara Astman, I as Artifact #12. 2011, Digital print on archival paper, 35 × 35". Courtesy of the artist and the Corkin Gallery, Toronto.

There was a spirit Pa used to ask me about when we were starved. “When were you born?” he’d say.

“I don’t know.”

“You can ask it?” he’d tell me, and then he’d wave his hand around in the dark.

I’d shake my head.

“You don’t believe?”

“I can’t see it,” I’d say.

Then he’d bang out tobacco from his pipe against the headboard and get up. Pa would look out the window, then, and I often fell asleep with him standing there.

The first time Pa put a hand to his side was while driving us back from a call; with his other hand he reached for my head and peeled me off my seat. The steel door felt cold as it caught the small of my back and his bottle spun to a stop between us, slipping into a groove rusting on the truck bed. His ceiling had cracked the previous year, and

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