By rob mclennan

make your mouth noun
shaped now make your hands
– Pattie McCarthy, Nulls


He vanished long enough ago that he’d most likely been forgotten or declared dead. Possibly both. He’d managed to completely step away from a home, mortgage and a good paying job. Had anyone noticed? Scattered relatives, perhaps. Most likely long dead, themselves. His sister. He knew his absence would have left few to bother asking, or seeking him out. There might have been rumours. A speck in the news, and then gone.

He’d relocated, changed his name, and quietly settled.

On certain days, he questioned if he even existed, at least in that earlier form. He found comfort in the distance.


1855: the year Dr. Livingston became the first European to set eyes upon the waterfalls he would subsequently christen after his illustrious Queen. The same year British North American backwater Bytown was renamed Ottawa, inching up to a declaration of Capital. The year Central Park in New York City was orchestrated, landscaped, and constructed. The world did not yet exist in photographs.

The colonial mind of Dr. Livingston, concluding that anything not witnessed by Europeans sat nameless, awaiting. A man of his time.

More than half a century later, from the rubble of the First Great War, the British bully who forced a hard line in the sand through the nomadic tribes, and arbitrarily defined the Saudi Arabian border against Iraq. A border held, but never stable.

Upon a mound of bodies is no foundation for a moral high ground.

He writes in his notebook: at times I try to fabricate a memory.


As he spends his days translating dead languages, he wonders: is he reviving, restoring or speeding up their demise? Words that haven’t been spoken aloud for decades. The sounds and shapes of the disappeared.


There was an article making the rounds on social media: the recent discovery of ten previously unknown works by the late Group of Seven painter J.E.H MacDonald. The paintings had sat forty years wrapped in plastic and buried, before unearthed to see another four decades locked up in storage.

The discovery is remarkable, albeit confusing. Who buries paintings for safekeeping?

London during the Blitz, or wartime Berlin. But who buries paintings in Ontario?


He took a healthy bite of his golden delicious, and his gums began to bleed.


He told himself there was a diner he liked to frequent, but if he were to map out his movements, he would realize he hadn’t actually set foot inside for more than a dozen years. Whenever in or near the neighbourhood, he would recall the diner with fondness, his memories held in amber, replaying the same limited scenes.

The city had become less a lived experience than a sequence of recollections.

It took him two years to realize the building had been replaced with condos, luxury living constructed over his beloved, ignored space.


She texts her mother: I now understand the beauty of the missing piece.

I am dying, Egypt.


The city of Fort McMurray, Alberta, is ravaged by a devastating fire. All cinders and ash, more than one hundred and one thousand hectares. He can’t even fathom.

In the 1870s, his great-grandfather had an uncle who disappeared en route to the Klondike: the lure of the gold rush and the myth of the self-created man. His ancestor could have died or settled anywhere in-between, or landed to discover his fortune, change his name and eventually marry, seeding the west with descendants. They might never know.

Fort McMurray: he had nearly ended up there, himself. Decades of culture reducing the municipality of Wood Buffalo to an oil-rich feed, a black northern hole in which to disappear and re-emerge, cash in hand. There were times he’d been tempted. Now: reports on the news on how offensive the subject of climate change is for the relocated populace. How dare you mention. Others blame Premier, Prime Minister. Sad opportunists.

He wonders: with the populace gone, even temporarily, who will strip the oil from the earth?


Had J.D. Salinger not enlisted, perhaps his girlfriend, Oona O’Neill, daughter of Eugene O’Neill, might never have left him. Perhaps she might not have abandoned New York for Los Angeles. Perhaps she might never have married Charlie Chaplain, thirty-six years her senior, who would father her small mound of children. Eight, in all.

Some might escape, but their troubles follow. You can’t leave behind what is buried within.

She sends a message to her sister. Fucker broke up with me over email. Twenty-two years.

I don’t want to know.


There was the teenaged girl who ran away from home, only to move three houses down in their tiny, Ontario hamlet. She dyed her hair and expected no one to notice.


The difficulty with which one is able to disappear. Proper planning is essential. Decades ago it was different: there were the adventure-seekers who travelled west for the gold rush, or those who floated across the American border and lied about their age and country, to join military ranks. The ease with which one might shift. The legends of D.B. Cooper. Back when a girl could leave school for a season and return, following the inevitable announcement of newborn sibling. Some might suspect, but most would never know.

Their bodies and lives, shaped to their stories. Whether lies, reinventions or salvation.

Some way out of here. I must find.

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rob mclennan

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