Green Fuse Burning by Tiffany Morris

Author:  Tiffany Morris

The cover to Green Fuse Burning by Tiffany MorrisHamilton, Ontario. Stelliform Press. 2023. 99 pages.

Six recovered paintings of Mi’kmaw landscape artist Rita Francis serve as a framework for Tiffany Morris’s debut eco-horror novella Green Fuse Burning. Each work’s commentary in her Devastation of Light exhibit stokes readers’ imaginations, and industry terms—like grisaille, photoreal, abstraction, and praxis—create verisimilitude, while the artist’s disappearance creates tension. After each Gallery Autochthone segment, readers observe Rita’s experiences at the creative retreat that fueled these artworks: intimate, sensorily rich explorations that encircle a pond. She repurposes organic materials “to cajole, disturb, and interrogate the viewer” by including “everything from Mi’kmaw symbols to tortured figures contending with the land in new ways,” posits the commentary—intentions that might be Morris’s too.

Rita’s girlfriend arranged the retreat to counter Rita’s grief over her father’s death. Visiting land her family traditionally inhabited before their people were forced north, “all the way to Unama’ki [present-day Cape Breton, Nova Scotia], the land of fog,” heightens Rita’s contemporary sense of dislocation. This government policy of centralization (designating reservation lands for Indigenous peoples) imposed a geographical, cultural, and spiritual disorientation, and Rita’s creativity has wizened. At home, surrounded by “sutures of concrete,” grief overwhelms: “ambulance lights burst across the threshold of her day,” and she’s “lost to it, infected by time, outside herself and her present moment.” On retreat, however, Rita gradually reimmerses herself in her memories and her father’s language instruction (specifically Mi’kmaw words for flora and fauna), and she nurtures a tentative but powerful relationship with her ancestors and inner self.

The pond’s rewilding power insists creativity is “outside time” and, because “it saw you as you truly were: an animal skulking among animals,” Rita’s story shifts from psychological exploration to visceral transformation. Just as the Mi’kmaw calendar must change—officially July houses the Trees Fully Leafed Moon, but trees are fully leafed earlier now—Rita, too, must adapt. Morris’s vocabulary, select details, and imagery build atmosphere as the pond “spoke to her [Rita] and through her, taking her blood, flooding her mind, and feeding her spirit” until grief is “a chlorophyll feeding her and transforming her in the devastation of light” and she confronts a “fungal and fecund thing.” In a 2023 interview, Morris defines her dream job as being “a forest oracle who gives cryptic messages to travelers”: Green Fuse Burning jump-starts her career. 

Marcie McCauley


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