I am very, very late with this.
My poem “Heaven is the Hell of No Choices” was announced as the winner last month of the Aurora Awards in the Best Poem/Song category! It appeared in Issue #4 of Polar Borealis Magazine, edited by R. Graeme Cameron. Thanks to everyone who nominated and voted for this poem.
If you haven’t heard of the Aurora Awards, they are Canada’s premier fan-voted awards for speculative fiction. Past winners in this category include Carolyn Clink, Helen Marshall, David Clink and Tony Pi.
My acceptance speech is below. It was recorded by my friend Tonya Liburd at CAN*CON 2018 in Ottawa. While the award was presented earlier in the month in October, I wasn’t there to accept. My friend Hayden Trenholm, himself a multiple-Aurora winner, accepted the award on my behalf and brought it to Ottawa where he ran a mock-award announcement to be experienced by my friends and me in my home city.
The poem itself is below.
of No Choices
Heaven and Hell are smeared across this city.
Like God and the Devil shat stinking wads of perfect order and imperfect chaos,
ebbing and flowing through hallways and up stairwells,
surging across the sidewalks,
gushing along the boulevards.
—safe in the far distant ’burbs—
I double-count the 52-card deck, shuffle it,
and stick it deep in a pocket of my long coat.
Passing under the cavernous Fuller Street Extension overpass,
the unofficial barrier between The City and Not The City,
I take out the deck.
Where there is heaven, the first card off the top is the Ace of Spades.
Below is the rest of the suit—deuce to King—and this order repeats
for Diamonds, Clubs and Hearts.
No matter how long I shuffle, how dexterous my fingers to scramble the order,
when I stop and pull the top card
it’s always the Death Card.
But where there is Hell, the cards vibrate against my fingertips
like they want to flee.
I pull the top card
—Seven of Hearts—
put it back on top,
count up to five and pull it again
—Queen of Diamonds.
Like the deck forgets its arrangement, can’t remember its order.
I count the deck—51 cards—and recount—53—and recount—49.
Where Hell is strongest, I’ll pull the Sixteen of Spades,
which becomes the Eleven of Cats,
which becomes the Queen of Rapists.
Or, while shuffling, cards will disappear one between the others,
collapsing into nothing, forcing me to bring a new deck the next day.
In coffee shops where the cards resist any new order
servers never collide, never get the order wrong, never need to wipe up a spill.
Patrons sip coffee, fork up their eggs and wipe their chins
in perfect, synchronized motions.
In clothing stores where I feel the cards pulse in my back pocket,
the variety on the racks doubles and triples as I browse.
A sweater is too tight,
then with a slight pull at the collar too large
and with another pull it is not the same size or colour or style
or even a sweater.
Patrons appear and disappear, a kaleidoscope of shoppers.
The age of the shop girl/woman/crone helping me won’t remain fixed.
On the sidewalks, saints queue up for the bus in geometrically perfect lines
while sinners cannot agree on a destination
(or even if they need to be going there).
In offices, angels collate while demons scatter.
Heaven is the Hell of no choices:
It is the perfect order of an unchanging deity,
who has trapped entropy in an infinite loop.
Hell is the Heaven of choices’ impossible number:
A too-many Schrödinger’s cats that are alive and dead
and not even in the box.
And as long as I can avoid these smears, these ruptures in Free Will,
I can choose to board the bus that will take me home when the sun finally sets,
shuffling the deck until I emerge in Not The City
and settle into uncertainty’s wavering comfort.