bernicefriesen@bernicefriesen.com

Universal Disorder...

1


He had always been this boy.
     He had always been in the middle of everything: his mummy and daddy and grampa, the trailer and the yard, the fields and the trees, and the sun and the night turning round.
     And everything changed; the snow melted and the grass sneaked up green. Grampa went to the hospital and Charlie drove the wheelchair up and down the long bright hall. Grampa made paper birds, and when the snow came back, Charlie flew them home in his hands. Daddy took him spinning on the lake of ice in the Meteor station wagon with the fins and red rocket-lights—and a meteor was a rock that fell out of the sky, burning.
     “Give me something with wheels and I’ll fix it,” Daddy said. One night, a chair appeared at the door of the trailer looking like a broken deer, and his daddy made it better. People left spiny monster machines in the yard for his father to wrestle, hammering and yanking, crawling out from underneath covered with dirt and grease—the machine’s blood and guts.
     But welding was like the sun; you could get blinded. Once Charlie wore the mask, his father’s arms around him, and helped Frankenstein two trucks into one. The black glass dimmed the splashing stars, and he joined steel to steel, holes burning in his shoes just like Daddy’s.
     Every day before supper, the trailer shook and the door banged and Charlie peeked out from under the table at Daddy’s big steel-toed boots and the scamper of Mummy’s slippers. Something very quiet happened—because she was so little, and sweet and yummy—before she shrieked and there was a bum-slap tickle-fight.
     The steel toes came under the table, and Charlie yanked at the laces and pulled the boots off, so Papa Bear could grab him under the table with his big grey paw-feet.
     “Gotcha, Baby Bear.”
     Charlie-Bear pounced on the big grey paws, and tussled his way up—soft warm-armed smell of tractors—and Papa Bear kissed open Charlie’s paws, and stroked them against his bristly cheeks—sandpaper, Sam-paper, Sam-I-am paper—I like to eat green eggs and Spam.
     And Charlie ran to get the Green Eggs book, but Daddy couldn’t read it.
     Charlie said, “No Daddy, no Daddy, it goes like this…”
     And Mummy was all wowser-happy, because Charlie didn’t usually talk much, and she was surprised he remembered.
     But Charlie wasn’t remembering, he was membering.
     Charlie could read because he could, even though he was too little for school—but Daddy couldn’t read because he couldn’t—because the words jumped around like bugs, and he slapped himself because he was trapped in his stupid head! But sometimes Mummy cried because she was the one who was trapped, and Daddy stomped out and hammered things: bang, bang, bending metal on the anvil, the anvil just sitting there.
     Mummy was Lou-Anne, and Daddy was Robbie, and Charlie crashed his head again and again into the table leg, 5, 6, 7… and he screamed because he couldn’t decide to stay with his mummy or go out to his daddy! his daddy!—his hurt and shaking heart.
     “What’s wrong with him, Lou-Anne? Jesus. There’s something wrong with him!”
     And Daddy carried him outside when he cried so hard his stomach hurt and he couldn’t breathe.
     “Shh, Charlie, shh…”
     Was that when they lay in the grass and the night came in the day? The dark mask over his face, he looked straight at the sun, and it didn’t burn his eyes.
     And the sun was hiding behind the moon, and he was lying on his daddy on the earth, arms warm around him.
     “Shh… Listen.”
     Breath and breath… thump-thump, thump-thump… his head against his daddy’s heart, with wind and songs, crows and chickadees, crickets and dragonflies.
     The everything was always there, even when you weren’t thinking about it.
     And the sun was coming out: the second dawn of the day.



  • Reviews... currently non-existent...


  • Universal Disorder is currently in Canadian postal transit and I can't get my greedy hands on it.

Read the first Page

Novel

The Book of Beasts

Chapter 1



God was a little black-haired bastard named Charlie with wet sheet skin, bleeding gums, and fists full of iron oxide pebbles which he flung in James’s face, each sting becoming a freckle. His mother told him it was God who’d given him the freckles, and it was true because he couldn’t remember having freckles before Charlie started throwing stones. If freckles were so bad, at least they weren’t his fault. He convinced himself they were caused by wounds, like the blood he saw on Jesus’ side, flowing down the plaster of his mother’s crucifix like bubbled spit. It was easier to look at Jesus’ blood than at his own, and after he realized freckles were ugly — except on his beautiful mother — it wasn’t easy to look at himself at all.


Skinny, big ears, red hair messed like the knots of hay sticking out of a cow’s mouth. These were the things he heard about himself after he got into the habit of listening, when being seen and not heard became too boring. He told himself he didn’t care, began scratching his face. Get rid of the spots. Even if his mother said she liked them, that they were delicious, especially when she was a dog, and licked them off his nose — see the freckles on her tongue? They tasted salty, she said, were delicate and crunchy like little potato crisps. Sometimes he was a dog, too, and so he scratched anyway. And then his father told him to stop that scratching, sit still, and he would, almost, until every adult eye was averted, and then his hand would strike like the tongue of a frog, and he would stuff another jaffa cake in his mouth.

Everything was alive to him. Not just the neighbor’s cat and his grandfather’s King-Charles’ spaniel, not just the ladybirds and dragonflies and earthworms, but the turnips wincing as they were pulled from the ground in his mother’s garden. He made little playful screams whenever his mother tore lettuce apart for a salad, said ouch, ouch, when she chopped onions, misinterpreting her tears as sympathy for the poor vegetables. He refused to eat the tiniest grape from the vine, even though his father told him it would perish anyway. He kept it in a little baby-food jar in the fridge, and took it out to hold it in the palm of his hand and pet it like a kitten.

His first word, as a baby, had been meow, and he was a cat-sneak behind doors and beneath the tablecloth. His grandfather called his father a senseless dreamer — that acting, way back then, for God’s sake — who should never have married a child who was such a harpy, whatever that meant. It seemed to mean an Irish woman who wore her red hair too loose, her blouses too tight, and who didn’t care what she said in polite company — and Oxford was nothing if not polite in the late 1950’s….


  • Awards

    Fiction Award, Saskatchewan Book Awards

    Globe and Mail’s top 100 and top 5 first fictions

    Short listed, Writers Trust of Canada Fiction Prize


  • Reviews

    Toronto Globe and Mail, Jim Bartley:

    "extraordinary"

    “irresistible”

    “beastly good”

    “Bernice Friesen’s art is finely honed and gracefully wielded, her darkly beautiful images inseparable from her thematic purpose.”

    The Winnipeg Free Press, Ariel Gordon:

    “immensely pleasurable”

    “wholly convincing leaps of the imagination”

    “a great success”

    Pages and Patches, Devin Pacholik:

    “Friesen is a master.”


Novel

Le Bestiaire des anges

The Book of Beasts translated into French by Lori Saint-Martin and Paul Gagné

Chapter 1

Dieu se prénommait Timmy, et c'était un petit salaud aux chevaux noirs, à la  peu semblable à un drap mouillé, aux gencives qui saignaient et aux poings bourrés de cailloux d'oxyde de fer qu'il lançait au visage de James, et chacun laissait sur sa peau une tache de son. La mère de James lui disait que ses taches de son lui venaient de Dieu, et c'était la vérité, car James ne se souvenait pas d'en avoir eu avant que Timmy commence à lui lancer des pierres. Les taches étaient vilaines, mais au moins James n'y était pour rien. Il finit par se convaincre qu'elles venaient de ses plaies, comme le sang qu'il voyant au flanc de Jésus, celui qui coulait le long du crucifix en plâtre de sa mère, telle de la bave pleine de bulles. Voir le sang de Jésus l'affolait moins que voir le sien. En fait, aprés avoir compris que les taches de son étaient laides, sauf sur sa mère si belle, James eut de la difficulté à se regarder dans le miroir....

  • Help

    (As the mere author, I find it amusing to include a passage from a book that I wrote that I can't read. I typed it in at great pains with my circa grade three help-my-children-through-immersion French, which allows me to recognize words and syntax, but if the subject matter hasn't much to do with squirrels and frogs, I'm a bit helpless. If you find any mistakes in the above paragraph, please e-mail me so I can correct them.)

    Thanks in advance.

  •  

Poetry

Sex, Death, and Naked Men

Red Neck Love


Blackbird wavers from cat tail.

Four-by-four buckshot with rust
snap of gravel
aspen trembling shadows
on dust
on windows.

They spread the muscled lips
of barbed wire
and pass through
with black soled feet.

Sun finds them in the grass
while irradiating oats
foxtail.
The blades emboss her spine
his knees.
A blinking steel tower
the relay of microwaves above them.

The stubble field
beyond is the penitential
bed of nails. Hammerheaded
wells pump oil.
A wick of methane
burns the air.


  • "Mister Screaming Pants"

    The art on the cover is one of my experiments in collage that began as art school earrings and got larger. The pen and ink drawings within the book are by me also, made during travels in Europe from Michelangelo's Dying Slave, in the Louvre, Paris, and the Apollo from the west pediment of the Temple of Zeus, Olympia, Greece.

    Four first books of poetry by women were published in the first year of Coteau Book's Open Eye Series, and I was honoured to do cover art for the other books as well.


  • Reviews

    Prairie Fire, Tom Schmidt:

    “reads like a freight train bearing down on you”

    “ferocious feminist verse that chews up the patriarchs of western civilization from Freud to Plato to the Pope and spits them out.”

    CV2, Tanis MacDonald:

    “intelligent and hilarious”

    “not for anyone who wishes to keep their dogma chained up in their mental backyard.”

    Wireweed:

    “splendid”

    “Friesen is a stand-up comic”

    “uproariously, ribaldly funny”

    “she has merged with the goddess Kali”


short stories

The Seasons are Horses

Breaking Eggs

 
It sits on my desk in a sour cream container, in a nest of white and pink Kleenex. On it is a happy face, slightly screwy, and a squiggle of yellow marker on top for hair. The assignment is to carry an egg around for a week, pretending it’s your kid. Dad could hardly believe it when I told him Mrs. Bowman makes the Family Life class do this every year. He told me to do what I want - even scramble it and lose the ten marks if it would make me feel better. I don’t know why I’m taking this stupid class anyway. Just because Stephanie’s here and everyone else is doing it, I guess.
     “...and at this point, the sperm meets the egg.”
     Mrs. Bowman’s flabby cheeks get redder and splotchy. Reproduction embarrasses her almost as much as it embarrasses Stephanie. Stephanie’s only 16 like me, so it’s forgivable. Mrs. Bowman has three kids, so it’s not.
     “Can you imagine Mrs. B. having sex?” I whisper, and point out Mrs. B.’s bulgy panty line. Stephanie once told me I was the funniest person in the world. She’s weird with jokes. She laughs the hardest at the dirty ones, but won’t tell them ; she absorbs them but then won’t let them escape.
     “Shh, Lori,” Stephanie always blushes when she laughs.
     “Our next topic is motherhood, the most important part of the Home Economics course,” Mrs. Bowman says, right after she skims over the pregnancy handouts with us. She’d been sick, so we were way behind in our notes. I think she got sick on purpose, just so she could skip over the sex part...


  • My First Book

    I didn't tell anybody I was writing The Seasons are Horses, fearing the rolling of eyes, fearing what I was really doing was failing to write a book. I began it when I was 24 and finished the last story after I turned 26, so I was technically still an adolescent. I wrote about young adults because I didn't know how to be an adult, just like I didn't know how to write a book.

    Award:

    Vicky Metcalf Award for Best Young Adult Short Story in Canada For title story of the book The Seasons Are Horses, 1996.


  • Reviews

    Canadian Author:
    from Bernice Friesen, Winner of the Vicky Metcalf Award for Best Young Adult Short Story in Canada:

    “Bernice Friesen calls it luck, but anyone who’s read her work could only call it talent.”

    “clear, pared down, yet richly expressive prose.”


    Quill and Quire, Maria Campbell:

    “I thoroughly enjoyed and applaud.”

    “there are no cheap shots here, no easy observations, nothing that appears in uncrystallized form.”

    “Friesen writes with the confidence of someone who knows she’s taken full advantage of hindsight, yet her narratives read as thought they’ve been written from ‘the inside,’ from the confines of a high school’s narrow halls.”


and now for some

Visual Adventures

Created Mostly for other authors

Cover Art

Bridging collage to the era of digital collage
fun with

Other Media


δ


In mathematics—which is to say nature itself—certain numbers appear repeatedly.

No one knows why.

Mathematicians call them magic numbers.