Poem: Deryck N. Robertson – “Train Picture”

September 5th, 2018
Justin Million

I want to start by thanking Deryck for this poem. Of course, I always thank the poet who is allowing me to post their work here, but I want to thank Deryck for this poem for a different reason. It’s simple. It tells us about a simple moment, an innocent observation, and he chooses, purposefully, not to dress the moment up with metaphors or tie-ins that would succeed only in taking us further from the moment rather than gathering us in as close as his poem does. I was not once lead abstractly astray from the poem’s salient details, of the naked moment, because of some tired allusion to Walden or Wordsworth, urban sprawl, the wonders of modern transport, or just overwrought vocabulary. This poem is indicative of the ONLY kind of poetry I want to read now: comprised of accessible language, acknowledging some uniqueness in the world. That’s it. The best poems, the ones that turned you on to poetry in the beginning, were likely simply worded, because that’s how poems exist outside their time. The world we are all being shoved into these days is loud, mostly obnoxious, and rife with misinformation. Robertson’s affirmation at the end of the poem is just what we need, a proper tonic:

It’s just a train
On a bridge
On a sunny day
In September

Ie: The image is both exact and vast, and beautiful enough that it has no need for uninvited encumbrance in the form of some high-minded, academic or cynical aside. Robertson does us all a favor here by not using the word “like”. What a concept! This poem, for me, puts all other poets on notice: if you can’t do it in accessible language, why bother? Who are you trying to reach, only other poets? I think a lot of active poets forget that most people don’t read or appreciate poetry, and we have some work to do to bring them back in the fold., and we should want them in the fold. Don’t you want other people outside of the world of poetry to be as turned on as you were by the word? Then let’s start by speaking their language the most accessible language possible, you know, how you used to write before you were taught that opaqueness was the only way to breed poetic meaning. I’m being hyperbolic here, of course, and not trying to diminish the power and utility of the myriad languages spoken and celebrated across the country. I’m talking to the English language poets here. I want to hear you. The real you. Talk to me. Be a bridge.

Train Picture

deryck n. robertson

Deryck Robertson is an elementary teacher who writes, composes, and creates in Peterborough, ON. His Christmas song, Gift of Your Birth, was published in The Salvation
Army’s Sing to the Lord Children’s Voice Series in 2015. He can usually be found in the stern of a canoe in Algonquin Park along with his family of paddlers. Deryck is a graduate of Fleming College, Trent University, and the University of Windsor. He can be found on Twitter @Canoe_Ideas.


Poem: Laurie Smith – “establishing communication”

August 17th, 2018
Justin Million

The distance in Smith’s poem between how one might have woken up even 20 years ago and how one likely wakes up now is sobering. The poem begins with the “living room drapes” being opened to greet the day and the quaintness seems to end there, as the poet begins tending to their digital zoo, if you will, making the rounds to each machine to wake them in a sequence that is such common practice that the zookeeper even takes the machines’ eccentricities into account (“leave the dinosaur to boot up”). The dogs are let in only after the technology is tended to, and after the dogs finally comes the human; only after every machine is booted up does the human consider emptying their bladder. Smith has picked up and aptly articulated that new kind of urgency with which we feel the need to check the news, our emails, our messages, our boxes, it being seemingly vital to our mental health these days to check the news directly after waking, then working our way through our social medias. After peeing, the subject returns to the computer immediately to scour their notification boxes and emails, being trained to pay such close and constant attention to the notifications and cycles, which has made them crave reciprocation: we feel constantly prompted to check on our digital selves, so then we feel viscerally disappointed when the web isn’t engaging back, no notifications waiting. So, when entities like Facebook flood our notification boxes with other people’s events, milestones, or just innocent activity such as photos, location tags, event updates, etc., we feel like the world is checking in, that we’re wanted. The person in this poem is looking to establish communication with anyone at all just to feel wanted, to be tended to like the household machines, the dogs, and other people’s online lives. However, the ‘want’ they feel is casual, as Smith writes “see if anyone wants me”, rather than “hope someone wants me” or “wish anyone wanted me”, as we are routinely avoiding our physical lives to pursue artificial winks of approval… but we’re not done in yet, as Smith’s archetypal modern human still begins their morning by opening the curtains, looking out—

establishing communication

laurie smith

Laurie Smith, M.A. (Creative Writing, University of Windsor) is co-publisher of Cranberry Tree Press. Collections include menagerie (LAWLLP, 2004) The Truth About Roller Skating (CTP, 2011) smack in the middle of spotlit obvious (Urban Farmhouse Press, 2016) and Said the Cannibal (Urban Farmhouse Press, 2017). A freelance editor and writing tutor/coach, she is currently developing four manuscripts.


Poem: Kirsten Bussière – “whale song”

August 1st, 2018
Justin Million

The first and last lines of Kirsten’s poem really kill me; I really feel those sentiments so much these days. If you haven’t been grinding your teeth, well, bully for you; it must be nice to have consistent peace, to be so self-assured through this ongoing war on reason and compassion. I’ll come to my feelings on the final line in a moment. (I fear I may be projecting a little too much of myself on this poem… and a little too much cynicism… as per usual.)

There is some great descriptive work that falls between these two lines, a theme being worked out that seeks to aptly compare the tongue and “the whale”. For me, the whale represents one’s overwhelming personal stresses, worries, projections, etc; everything that feels simply too large to fix, overcome, or reckon with. The “teeth are dull from grinding / melting icebergs”, again, an invocation of something overwhelmingly large that must be “melted” or worn-down only through stressful exertion, to damaging ends. This kind of psycho-erosion speaks to the idea of it taking nothing less than “melting icebergs” to navigate one’s own society, to even leave the house, to attend a poetry reading maybe, to talk to someone on the phone, or talk to a stranger in person; all seemingly innocuous instances that now seem to be very real and very popular fears for almost everyone I know… especially artists. Thus, the “beached tongue” is beached out of fear, writhing in the sand: we are unable to articulate our own need for help or comfort, to pinpoint exactly what is wrong and to then be saved by “saliva spray”, or, to properly communicate our plea for help, or mercy. The “uvula moon” swallows “whale song”, as, when night falls, we worriers tend go back over our day in ruthless detail: we worry about our encounters, we feed our stress to the point where our own ideas, our own “song”, is drowned out by all the other ‘noise’.

So, the only refuge then, is in a dream, in sleep…? There’s a great flipping of the Jonah and the Whale story here, as, in this instance, the whale is swallowed instead of the man. If you know the story, you know that Jonah attempted to flee God across the sea, so God sent a storm to dispatch Jonah, leading to Jonah being tossed overboard by his shipmates, and as soon as they jettisoned Jonah the storm stopped. God then sent a whale to swallow Jonah to save him from drowning, and in the belly of the whale, Jonah repented. The whale in this poem then, in my mind, has no recourse but to swallow itself, eat itself, as it often feels that there is no one there to save us from ourselves. The whale seems to be too much for us to take in, but it’s necessary work to stay alive; to wrestle with our growing inner-anxieties, as the alternative means the ‘song’ ends for good. The whale can only be swallowed, then, “in the dream”, as the task of eating the whale, at most times in our ultramodern life, seems Sisyphean, seems an unreal task. After all, it is far easier to lie in the sand and let the world decide what to do with
you than it is to attempt to kill the whale.

Kill the whale.

whale song

kirsten bussière

Kirsten Bussière is currently completing her MA in English and Digital Humanities at
Carleton University. In the autumn of 2018, she will be starting a PhD in English and studying the apocalypse. To date, Kirsten has had a number of poems published in various magazines and anthologies and is currently working on a larger collection of poetry.


Poem: Rocco de Giacomo – “Attention Deficit Disorder”

July 15th, 2018
Justin Million

Though Rocco’s poem begins with the stew being ready to go (“A bowl of beef / stew warms”), one character’s busy brain soon takes over tasting everything but his waiting stew, applying his tongue and sense to everything other than his mind’s intended target, to everything that needs fixing outside the body instead of fixing the body.

These days, for many, such deviation seems all too familiar.

I once wrote a poem called “Threshold Theory”, the effect of walking through a threshold and forgetting what one came into the room for, ie: how the mind is sometimes so busy with its own secondary subjects that our bullseyes roam, and our anxieties complicate the simple sandwich, glass of water, or stew that we entered that second space to achieve.

de Giacomo’s poem is different, as it’s a poem working through a specific disorder in theme and form. Every object in one man’s space ‘speaks’ to him, distracts him to the point of absurdity, as if the room is suddenly throwing everything in its possession at him. The need to tinker, to fix, to remedy those objects, or maybe just to quiet them, outweighs his need even to eat because the internal stress has worked its way into the physical, making everything appear newly neglected, and deserving of his constant attention. So, when I read this poem the first time I wanted to try to sum up the poem by writing something like: “Stress has made tinkerers of us all”, but it’s deeper than that. Those with disorders such as the one titled here may have little reprieve, and they’re not tinkering, they’re living. Rocco cleverly bounces his afflicted character off another who has the benefit of distance from the disorder to maybe even write a poem about it.

Clocks in de Giacomo’s poem, which are posted everywhere (on the affected man’s wrists, on the walls) are rendered meaningless, as time dissolves into “-things”, to be addressed in one’s own time. So, we are allowed two glimpses in this poem: a view of the disorder in the form of the man wrapped in his own concept of time (of those diagnosed with ADD), and the man who is obviously removed enough from the other man’s symptoms that he can witness and even objectively ponder those symptoms. After all, it is easy to remedy the outside world from the control room of an unencumbered mind.

These days it seems many of us secretly want to be encumbered with a diagnosed something, to attribute some specific illness to ourselves so that we might explain away the exact reasons why we feel extreme difficulty in dealing with our loosening selves… I think de Giacomo’s poem tries to shine a light on the difference between a disorder (an unavoidable compulsion that is as concretely part of the brain as any other) and the pain that comes with bearing witness to pain.


Attention Deficit Disorder

rocco de giacomo

Rocco de Giacomo is a widely published poet whose work has appeared in literary journals in Canada, Australia, England, Hong Kong and the US. The author of numerous poetry chapbooks and full-length collections, his latest, Brace Yourselves – on the representation of the individual as it relates to the Zeitgeist – was published in January, 2018, through Quattro Books. From 2008 to 2014, Rocco volunteered on the committee for the Art Bar Poetry Series, Canada’s longest running weekly series. Rocco lives in Toronto with his wife, Lisa Keophila, a fabric artist, and his daughters, Ava and Matilda.


Poem: simon tjh-banderob – “instructions for visiting the art museum”

July 2nd, 2018
Justin Million

In the past few of these reviews I have been a little too overtly positive and prescriptive, maybe, to facilitate outside discussion. I am going to purposely write this one differently, more freely, more ridiculously, as I believe Simon Banderob’s poem ‘instructs’ me to do just that. Simon’s poem contains as much of a healthy and working critique of the gallery/art world as I could posit in kind that I feel the need to respond with absurdity, to be even more ridiculous in the face of Simon’s apt satire, thereby eschewing any and all conceivable ‘instruction’ on what I should maybe be writing here.

This response is my gallery, and I’ll hang what I want.

I think that “instructions for visiting the art museum” satirizes our recent and mounting cultural anxiety about ‘participation’ in art, by artist or audience. Whether that anxiety stems from a fear of censure from an invisible but growing and seething public audience, or from finally being beaten into submission by whatever sci-fi signifiers have convinced us there’s no more good meaning left, the consensus is futility.

We have created an utterly unattainable distance between our obvious baseness and the hubris that comes with being of a race that has created many distant gods, a distance that is mirrored in the act of standing in the gallery, in front of a “wall-length”, “featureless”, “white canvas” and wondering where we fit into its eternity. We are sometimes too ashamed to say that the end-zone after spanning the distance between our selves and whatever art is mounted on the wall is more nowhere than somewhere, so most of us sigh in contentment, as if we’ve cornered the meaning on the wall, and lump our vocal approval in with the other gallery gawkers and go home feeling whatever vindication an affinity with art provides the artful. Simon’s poem is an example of the importance of speaking truth to power, even if you are one of the cogs charged with generating that power.

Simon says be a part of the art.
Simon says be apart of the art.

All great art at some point during its devouring and digestion, to someone in its admiring crowd, says ‘Don’t let anyone else have me… “you are sophisticated.”’ The art hollers this to just you, it seems, across the chasm, even as the crowd dins behind you for its prescribed view: ‘Take me and leave me here,’ says the pill on the wall.

How unique the ideas of every art-observer!
How sacred the spaces where we look upon something of subjective value to find objective value!
How uncomplicated our confidence in the fact that art is apart from sport!

Art is a system that must be mocked by its participants lest the gallery become the museum.

We must be kept guessing at the purpose of the white wall so that we can (maybe) feel something indefinable concretely.

In Simon’s poem one is unallowed to eat the edible statue of Neil Patrick Harris, unallowed to wonder whether the fly on the “featureless, wall-length, white canvas” is art (and you better not guess such a thing aloud unless you’re sure!), unallowed to appreciate art without the art-appreciator’s definitive handbook in hand. When the subject of the poem gives in and devours the art, they are thrown out of the gallery, imprisoned, censured for breaking the unspoken rules of art, which is to appreciate art as an individual but to do so in such a way that is prescribed, or agreed upon by a sum of trained individuals.

This short review is a fly on a featureless, wall-length, white canvas of its subject poem. This review is not art, but it is looking at art, and is having its strange say. I think, then, I have understood Simon’s poem entirely too well, as he is instructing us not to box with the art, if you will, but to bite its ear off, the rules of art not being sporting.


instructions for visiting the art museum

simon banderob

simon tjh-banderob is a writer and performer from Nogojiawanong-Peterborough. simon is a former poetry editor of Concordia’s Soliloquies Anthology. He is also a former member of Montréal’s Throw! Poetry slam team. simon is delighted to have his poetry shared by bird, buried press.


Poem: Patrick Fuellbeck – “The Feast”

June 15th, 2018
Justin Million

Remember when poetry was fun? I have to admit that, for the most part, I am more and more consistently embroiled in a rather selfish kind of poetic conquest, climbing fierce and grand climes chasing profundity, and usually I fall short, in the form of writing some kind of complaint, never stopping the search to even attempt to press a smile into the difficult world…

In ‘The Feast’, part of a series of children’s poems by Patrick Fuellbeck, our poet isn’t trying to hit us over the head with slapstick absurdity… you know why? Because one shouldn’t ever have to reach very far to find a good thing, to find something positive, something fun, like taking in a foot-full of delicious apple pie. How many days have we spent, especially lately, convincing ourselves that such positivity isn’t apt in the face of so
much (assumed) apocalypse?

I have the pleasure of knowing Patrick a bit in real life, and I will say, for one thing, that Patrick is one of the more obviously generous and positive fellas I know. He’s a refreshing man to encounter on the street, as he will listen to you intently, smile, and assess quickly what it is you need out of a conversation to help you go on your (up to that point) not so merry way. A similar refreshment occurs in ‘The Feast’.

Through subtle defamiliarization in the form of eating with one’s feet, Patrick is able to do something that a lot of poetry is unfortunately no longer concerned with, as we modern poets fall all over ourselves to say something dark (because dark seems to be the new meaningful) which is to appeal both to children (who will find that eating pie with one’s feet is fittingly absurd) and to older readers, who, despite ourselves, will read a
poem like this and feel a smile begin to curl the corners of our mouths despite how serious we have become in adulthood, despite how messy the world seems to be. Maybe we realize upon reading that eating with one’s feet would at least be a welcome break from being seemingly bilked by the whole wide world. Like taking an alternate route to work, or a branch of trail you haven’t yet taken through the park, the literalness of eating
with one’s feet feels as novel as it is silly, which forces us to be silly by placing ourselves at “The Feast”, to feel that warm pie mashing between our toes, and having no worry about the mess. It’s refreshing these days to be silly, silliness being in such short and ready supply that, like taking that unfamiliar route home, the mind is (subtly) forced to stretch a bit, our expectations too, and suddenly our bad luck narratives, our current cycles of ennui, and that perceived to be ubiquitous lack that makes your teeth grind falls away, and suddenly you’re making mud pies again, racing dinky cars in the dirt, eating sloppy pie with your toes.

I think it’s fitting, given what I’ve said above, that Patrick notes that the attendees to such a cathartic meal are “the witches and warlocks alike”. That’s us; you and me looking for the right spell, the right ingredient to magically improve our lives, our wants, what we get out of the shrinking world, etc. Balderdash! Let’s take off our shoes, give up the Sisyphean task of constantly trying to assert our so serious selves in this busy and dimly lit world, and, at least for a moment, dig in… having no concern, like children again, for what is ‘a la mode’.

Bon appe-feet!


The Feast

patrick fuellbeck

My name is Patrick Fuellbeck. I reside in Peterborough Ontario. I have been writing children’s poetry for over 15 years. I can confidently say, that I very much think like a child and get great pleasure in the idea of inviting the reader into the mind of imaginative youthful innocence. I have a ten year old daughter, whom I share this carefree nonsensical freedom with.


Poem: Simon Turner – “Focaccia Numbers”

June 1st, 2018
Justin Million

Though E.M. Forster wrote Maurice almost 60 years earlier, the novel wasn’t published until 1971, as Forster feared for his safety after the imprisonment and consequential death of Oscar Wilde. I wonder if the epigraph Turner uses from Maurice is a reference to Wilde’s epitaph, that reads:

And alien tears will fill for him
Pity’s long-broken urn,
For his mourners will be outcast men,
And outcasts always mourn.

Fittingly, Turner’s poem is a kind of clandestine protest of the sort of alienation still visited upon LGBTQ+ people, as was detailed in Forster’s Maurice almost 100 years ago, and which of course is still despicably evident today. Turner’s protest begins to become clear in the way they attach an underlying lack or darkness to seemingly banal and innocent instances in the poem, following the invocation of the “echo” in the first stanza: the “news / is rotten”, the trepidation that comes with taking up joining a faith group, “star-gazing”, an “empty sink”, and “rubbing pennies”. There is a tarnishing at work here as well, as the empty sink, which to most readers connotes cleanliness, is “lined with dishwater scum”. Turner writes “I echo what’s read” to suggest that this underlying ‘darkness’ represents a commonality of experience among many homosexual men like Maurice, in the form of a shared history of intolerance, violence, and mourning.

For the “men” in Wilde’s epitaph, those who understand Turner’s ‘echoes’ only too well, there may be an inescapable self-doubt and very real fear inherent in engaging in religious, public, and even private spheres due to the possibility of being subjected to a wide variety of social or economic repercussions. For Forster, like Wilde, such a self-affirmation of identity could have meant imprisonment or social exile.

Forster’s original ending for Maurice saw the protagonist and his lover Alec living together as a couple, but living always in fear of being found out. The British Library’s synopsis about Forster’s dilemma in publishing Maurice notes that “To condemn Maurice and Alec’s love would have resolved the novel in a way that suited society; to celebrate it, however, rendered it taboo”. Similarly, Turner’s poem offers a real and difficult look at the possible tragic effects of identifying as someone who does not fit into current and arbitrary social norms. In the end, I think Turner is trying to rouse us with the alternative to Forster’s true story; if one is being made to live in the “dark”, one might begin to see oneself too darkly.


Foccacia Numbers

simon turner

D. Simon Turner is a recent graduate of English Literature from Trent University. Their short story “Ragdoll in Ragtime” is part of the upcoming anthology We Shall Be Monsters (Renaissance Press, 2018). Their poetry has been thrice published in the anthology Chickenscratch as Simon Turner-Semchuk (2016 and 2017) and they have written three plays produced in Peterborough, ON.


Poem: Nisa Malli – “What if you are the only people living here”

May 15th, 2018
Justin Million

Reading this poem for the first time I was reminded of a Matthew Zapruder lecture title: “the furniture appears to be dreaming”. Have always loved that title, picturing what’s inanimate in my apartment suddenly waking in the night to talk arses, to lament their stuffings slowly falling out, to wonder what to do about all that goddamn dog hair. However, Malli adds another dynamic here, when she writes “In your dreams, the house / is on autocomplete”, suggesting that a home isn’t just the objects and people and skins of paint that fill it, rather, depending on one’s experience and choices (and luck), it is at times what’s lost that most defines a space. Malli’s seemingly empty or at least sparsely populated home, void of throngs of excited parents and grandparents of imagined children, still “swells in its seams” due to the profundity and weight of the loss hinted at in the ending. Note that the voice of this poem, the assumed occupant of the home, is more focused on lack than substance; the “Furniture you forgot you owned”, “Lost books groping for shelves”, “the family that never visit”: the space is defined by what it will now never hold, rather than by what it houses. What a fitting reminder that we, as human beings, are maybe more defined by what we walk by, sleep during, miss, shoo away, wave to, run out of, strip away, or escape.


What if you are the only people living here

nisa malli

Nisa Malli is a writer and researcher, born in Winnipeg and currently living in Toronto. Her poems have been published in Grain, Arc, Carte Blanche, and Maisonneuve. She holds a BFA in Creative Writing from the University of Victoria and completed a 2017 Banff Emerging Writers residency.


Poem: Anthony Cristina – “Teeth and Gums”

May 1st, 2018
Justin Million

Anthony’s title evokes proper oral hygiene, the syntax seemingly ripped from any toothpaste, floss or mouthwash commercial (note that Anthony writes “teeth or gums” in the first couplet, not “teeth and gums”). Something I find myself doing more than almost anything else as a poetry editor is trying to relate to (primarily) young writers the power of a well-wrought title, how a title can (should?) really be a poem of its own. Anthony’s title here is what first drew my eyes back to this poem from his submission, over and over, as the title acts on the poem in a really fresh way (pardon the pun that’s about to take shape). The minty freshness the title breathes into the poem that follows is actually a warning, a subconscious palate cleanser, as the spotlight he is about to put on such a
violent act is far more affective if we can first rinse ourselves of expectation and enter into the poem brave and clean. By using this title Anthony is giving us some room to read light and beauty into the otherwise messy destruction here, then, in the end, he mercifully runs us over.


Teeth and Gums

anthony cristina

Anthony Cristina works out of a motorcycle repair shop somewhere north of the American border. He’s written for various publications both online and in print and has authored two chapbooks and an upcoming graphic novel one critic described as, “If Hunter S. Thompson killed Neil Gaiman and wrote The Sandman instead.” He can be found at


Poem: Conor Mc Donnell – “Study of a Study for the Nurse in Battleship Potemkin”

April 15th, 2018
Justin Million

Some of the best poetry I encounter is about what the subject of the work is “not”. Many poetry detractors or dabblers would argue that most poetry functions this way, as poets have long been accused of purposely obfuscating meaning in order keep the genre inaccessible. Poets accomplish this confusion by presenting the world with our unique brand of elusive intellectual code in need of an intellectual codex that is available only to those in ‘the club’. Almost every poem, like Mc Donnell’s here, is best consumed by reading literally first, and then taking enough time to think, in order to get at what’s underneath.

I love when poets elevate the presence of unlikely secondary or background characters to a height of primary importance in order to elucidate other themes. As such, in Mc Donnell’s vision, “She”, our primary character, “is not contained”; our nurse is given a second life in Mc Donnell’s “study of a study”. However, Mc Donnell isn’t acting as White Knight here, he is simply repositioning the nurse from a “tomb” to a “precipice”, where we, as modern readers, might use our collective cultural wisdom we have gained since the film’s release to declare her fate. This is not a revisionist work as much as it is a work of reclamation, as she is no longer “screaming in invisible rooms”; she is afforded a narrative of her own, outside of the world of the film, outside of time. Indeed, Mc Donnell is providing the nurse, as the poem says, a “chain” that would prevent her from falling again and again (as the fall, in this sense, repeats with every viewing) into the “unmarked tomb” of obscurity. Such a reclamation allows us a more nuanced look at the character, and therefore, in a sense, at every character in film’s sordid and misogynistic past, as a means of providing us a chance to airlift her out of old expectations, old politics, and into a more informed, modern, and (ideally) enlightened spotlight.

This poem is an indicator of how far we have and haven’t come. Mc Donnell understands there is risk in revision, and danger in a lack thereof, as a study will reveal what is present, or what can be observed, but a “study of a study” will reveal what has been missed. Yes, “she” is left tipping, but there is a “chain”, and we can help to hold it, or release; this poem is a chain. By magnifying her personhood, her humanity, by telling you what she is “not” instead of speaking for her, Mc Donnell is making a statement: how many “unmarked tombs” could we exhume today by digging into what we did ‘not’ in the past?

Study of a Study for the Nurse in Battleship Potemkin

conor mcdonnell

Conor Mc Donnell is a poet and physician who lives and works in Toronto. His first chapbook, The Book of Retaliations, was published by Anstruther Press in 2016. His second chapbook, Safe Spaces, was published by Frog Hollow Press in 2017. Mc Donnell was shortlisted for The Fiddlehead’s Ralph Gustafson Prize for Best Poem in 2018.



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