Karen Solie (Canada, 1966)


One might understand Turner, you said, in North Atlantic sky
east-southeast from Newfoundland toward Hibernia.
Cloud darker than cloud cast doubt upon muttering, pacing water, even
backlit by a devouring glare that whitened its edges,
bent the bars. Waters apart from society by choice, their living room
the aftermath of accident or crime. When the storm comes,
we will see into it, there will be no near and no far. In sixty-five-foot ?seas
for the Ocean Ranger, green turned to black then white as molecules
changed places in the Jeanne d'Arc Basin, the way wood passes into
flame, and communication errors into catastrophic failure
for the Piper Alpha offshore from Aberdeen.

It burned freely. If I don't come home, is my house in order?
Big fear travels in the Sikorsky. Twelve-hour shifts travel with them,
the deluge system, aqueous foam. Machinery's one note
hammering the heart, identity compressed with intentions, drenched,
the tired body performs delicately timed, brutal tasks no training
adequately represents and which consume the perceivable world.
In beds on the drilling platform in suspended disbelief,
identified by the unlovely sea's aggression, no sleep aids,
should a directive come. Underwater welders deeply unconscious.
Survival suits profane in lockers. By dreams of marine flares
and inflatables, buoyant smoke, percolating fret,
one is weakened. Violence enters the imagination.

Clouds previously unrecorded. Unlocked, the gates of light
and technology of capture in bitumen oozing from fractures
in the earth or afloat like other fatty bodies, condensed
by sun and internal salts, harassing snakes with its fumes.
Light-sensitive bitumen of Judea upon which Joseph-Nic‚phore Ni‚pce
recorded the view from his bedroom. It looked nice. A new kind
of evidence developed from the camera obscura of experience
and memory, love-object to dote on and ignore. Collectible
photochrome postcards. Storm surge as weather segment,
tornados on YouTube relieve us of our boredom. In the rain,
drizzle, intermittent showers, unseasonable hurricane threatening
our flight plans, against a sea heaving photogenically,
straining at its chains like a monster in the flashbulbs, on wet stones
astonishingly slick, we take selfies, post them, and can't undo it.

Meaning takes place in time. By elevated circumstance
of Burtynsky's drone helicopters, revolutionary lenses
pester Alberta's tar sands, sulphur ponds' rhapsodic upturned faces,
photographs that happen in our name and in the name
of composition. Foreground entered at distance, the eye surveils
the McMurray Formation's freestanding ruin mid-aspect
to an infinity of abstraction. A physical symptom assails
our vocabulary and things acquire a literal feeling from which
one does not recover. Mineral dissolution, complete. Accommodation space,
low. Confinement, relatively broad, extremely complex stratigraphy,
reservoirs stacked and composite. An area roughly the size
of England stripped of boreal forest and muskeg, unburdened
by hydraulic rope shovels of its overburden. Humiliated,
blinded, walking in circles. Cycle of soak and dry and residue.

The will creates effects no will can overturn, and that seem,
with the passage of time, necessary, as the past assumes a pattern.
Thought approaches the future and the future,
like a heavy unconventional oil, advances. Hello infrastructure,
Dodge Ram 1500, no one else wants to get killed on Highway 63,
the all-weather road by the Wandering River where earthmovers remain
unmoved by our schedules. White crosses in the ditches,
white crosses in the glove box. The west stands for relocation, the east
for lost causes. Would you conspire to serve tourists in a fish restaurant
the rest of your life? I thought not. Drinks are on us bushpigs now,
though this camp is no place for a tradesman. Devon's Jackfish is five-star,
an obvious exception. But Mackenzie, Voyageur, Millennium, Borealis?-
years ago we would have burned them to the ground. Suncor Firebag

has Wi-Fi, but will track usage. Guard towers and turnstiles at Wapasu?-
we're guests, after all, not prisoners, right?
Efficiently squalid, briskly producing raw sewage, black mold,
botulism, fleas, remorse, madness, lethargy, mud, it's not
a spiritual home, this bleach taste in the waterglass, layered garments,
fried food, bitter complaint in plywood drop-ceiling bedrooms strung out
on whatever and general offense and why doesn't anyone smoke
anymore. Dealers and prostitutes cultivate their terms
organically, as demand matures. The Athabasca River's color isn't good.
Should we not encourage a healthy dread of?the wild places?
Consider the operator crushed by a slab of ice, our electrician mauled
by a bear at the front lines of project expansion
into the inhumane forest. Fear not, we are worth more than many sparrows.
They pay for insignificance with their lives. It's the structure.

Jackpine Mine photographs beautifully on the shoulders of the day,
in the minutes before sunset it's still legal to hunt. One might,
like Caspar David Friedrich's Wanderer, at a certain remove
from principal events, cut a sensitive figure in the presence
of the sublime. Except you can smell it down here. Corrosive
vapors unexpectedly distributed, caustic particulate infiltrates
your mood. As does the tar sands beetle whose bite scars, from whom
grown men run. Attracted by the same sorrowful chemical compound
emitted by damaged trees on which it feeds, its aural signature
approximates the rasp of causatum rubbing its parts together.
The only other living thing in situ, in the open pit where swims
the bitumen, extra brilliant, dense, massive, in the Greek asphaltos,
"to make stable," "to secure." Pharmacist's earth that resists decay,
resolves and attenuates, cleanses wounds. Once used to burn
the houses of our enemies, upgraded now to refinery-ready feedstock,
raw crude flowing through channels of production and distribution.
Combustion is our style. It steers all things from the black grave
of Athabasca-Wabiskaw. Cold Lake. Rail lines of

Lac-M‚gantic. The optics are bad. We're all downstream now.
Action resembles waiting for a decision made
on our behalf, then despair after the fact. Despair which,
like bitumen itself, applied to render darker tones or an emphatic
tenebrism, imparts a velvety lustrous disposition,
but eventually discolors to a black treacle that degrades
any pigment it contacts. Details in sections of Raft of the Medusa
can no longer be discerned. In 1816, the Medusa's captain,
in a spasm of flamboyant incompetence, ran aground
on the African coast, and fearing the ire of his constituents,
refused to sacrifice the cannons. They turned on each other,
147 low souls herded onto a makeshift raft cut loose from lifeboats
of the wealthy and well-connected. The signs were there,

risk/reward coefficient alive in the wind, the locomotive,
small tragic towns left for work, where the only thing manufactured
is the need for work. Foreshortening and a receding horizon
include the viewer in the scene, should the viewer wish
to be included in the scene. One can't be sure if the brig, Argus,
is racing to the rescue or departing. It hesitates in the distance,
in its nimbus of fairer weather, the courage and compassion
of a new age onboard. G‚ricault's pyramidical composition?-
dead and dying in the foreground from which the strong succeed upward
toward an emotional peak?-
an influence for Turner's Disaster at Sea, the vortex structure of
The Slave Ship: all those abandoned, where is thy market now?

It's difficult to imagine everyone saved, it's unaffordable. Waves
disproportionate, organized in depth, panic modulating
the speaking voice. The situation so harshly primary and not beautiful
when you don't go to visit the seaside, but the seaside visits you,
rudely, breaks in through the basement, ascends stairs
to your bedroom, you can't think of it generally then. The ?constitution
of things is accustomed to hiding. Rearrangement will not suit us.
Certain low-lying river deltas. Island states, coastal regions?-
floodwaters receding in measures like all we haven't seen the last of
reveal in stagnancies and bloat what's altered, as avernal exhalations
of mines and flares are altered but don't disappear. Still,
iceberg season is spectacular this year, worth the trip
to photograph in evening ourselves before the abundance when, aflame
in light that dissolves what it illuminates, water climbs
its own red walls, vermilion in the furnaces.

"Life is a Carnival"

Dinner finished, wine in hand, in a vaguely competitive spirit
of disclosure, we trail Google Earth's invisible pervert
through the streets of our hometowns, but find them shabbier,
or grossly

contemporized, denuded of childhood's native flora,
stuccoed or in some other way hostile
to the historical reenactments we expect of our former

settings. What sadness in the disused curling rinks, their illegal
basement bars imploding, in the seed of a Walmart
sprouting in the demographic, in Street View's perpetual noon.
With pale

and bloated production values, hits of AM radio rise
to the surface of a network of social relations long obsolete.
We sense
a loss of rapport. But how sweet the persistence

of angle parking! Would we burn these places rather than see
change, or just happily burn them, the sites of wreckage
from which we staggered with our formative injuries into the rest

of our lives. They cannot be consigned to the fourfold,
though the age we were belongs to someone else. Like our old
house. Look what they've done to it. Who thought this would
be fun?

A concert, then, YouTube from those inconceivable days before
YouTube, an era boarded over like a bankrupt country store,
cans still on its shelves, so hastily did we leave it. How beautiful

they are in their poncey clothes, their youthful higher
registers, fullscreen, two of them dead now. Is this eternity?
Encore, applause, encore; it's almost like being there.

"The Vandal Confesses"

Our hammers. Our sticks. This furtive
sporting life. Oh, our gasoline. Clothed
in low-rent autobiographies we slouch toward eviction
like dying brickworks. Outside

is day, a nice big one, floor upon floor
of well-mixed cocktails, and beyond the smog line,
a dissimulation of small birds. In darkness,
the city is a basement. We hunch in its hallways

like Goya's cats, low to the ground and brindled
with enigmatic rashes, stiff in the joints.
Glued together with rye, or blow, or glue,
we are a regular family.


Newspaper boxes, billboards, SUVs, Coke machines,
all is lost but for their breaking. We itch
and prosper heavenward on bands of grit and smoke,
our names, unknown, a bloody racket,

car alarm, nothing personal. We rip it up
alright. The trouble's not the tear-down,
it's the stall of afters when our hands hang.
The asking each to each what's next as we lean

inside like crummy tables. No wonder we don't feel
so well. Look here, soup is crawling
out of our bowls. The midtown Scotiabank's topmost
light has turned that cloud the colour of Cheezies.


There is a tenderness in things. In things,
ruined. As if, freed from functions we bend
them to, they are newborn to the prime
unalphabeted world. As though this were possible.

It doesn't matter. Burn it. Glass sparkles
my hair, my skin refined with ashes. I've pinched
what tools I own. Material things,
which have no soul, could not be true objects

for my love. Will I see you soon, candled
in the streetlit chalk of some immoderate place?
We could stand in wreckage and adored,
where nothing ever fades before it falls.

"Oligotrophic: of lakes and rivers."

The heat
an inanimate slur, a wool gathering, hanging
like a bad suit. Suspended fine particulate

matter. And an eight-million-dollar ferry shoves off
for Rochester with no souls aboard. I see you,
you know, idling like a limousine through the old

neighbourhoods, your tinted windows. In what
they call "the mind's eye." Catch me here
in real time, if that's the term for it. We're working

our drinks under threat of a general brownout.
Phospholipase: bitter stimuli activate it.
Back home, we call this a beer parlour.

I washed my hair at 4 a.m., he says. The full moon,
it was whack. He can't sleep. The woman
who says pardon my French, over and over,

can't sleep. They are drunk as young corn. Sweet,
white, freestone peaches. A bit stepped-on.
You said we'd have fun. Do I look happy?

Our fingers, our ankles, swelling in unison. Word
spreads quickly. "Toronto", in Huron, means
"place of meetings." Even now, you may be

darkening my door. On my bike, she says, I dress
all reflective. Even now, you're troubling
my windbreak. The vertebrate heart muscle

does not fatigue and is under the regulation
of nerves. I'll wait. First it is unlike evening.
Then it is unlike night. Thirty degrees in a false

high noon, no shade to be found when all things
lie in shadow. The lake is a larger mind
with pressures brought to bear, a wet hot headache

in the hind brain. Above it, cloud racks up.
A mean idea it's taking to, breathing
through its mouth. In this year of Our Lord

your approach shoulders in like the onset
of a chronic understanding. There are rivers
underfoot, paved over. The Humber, Taddle Creek.

Just the way they sound. To be abyssal
is to inhabit deep water roughly below 1,000 feet.
I need a good costume, he says, but don't know

what that entails. Walk the districts. There,
the misery of historic buildings. Here,
the superheated rooms of the poor. Sorry,

cooling station closed. Lack of funding. I like
my feet covered up at night, doesn't everyone.
Blinking, we lie naked atop our sheets.

Spare a dollar for a half-hour in an air-conditioned
cyber-cafe? Okay. Now get lost. My mood
this day is palpable and uncertain. Our smoke

rises but does not disperse. The air hairy as a fly.
In fly weather. Tight under the arms.
It also depletes your spinal fluid. In your spine.

The aesthetic injury level is the degree
of pest abundance above which control measures
should be taken. God, what she's wearing.

I'm tolerably certain you know the way. The red
tide of the sidewalks. Pass the dry cleaners
and Wigs, Wigs, Wigs! It used to be called

100% Human Hair! That's right. "Ontario"
is a Iroquois word meaning "sparkling waters."
Like doleful seaweed, our predilections undulate.

Rats come out to sniff the garbage blooms
in rat weather. Heavy cloud the colour of slag
and tailings, a green light gathering inside

like a angry jelly. Pardon my French. And the city
on its rails, grinding toward a wreck the lake
cooks up. Its lake effect. When you arrive you may

be soaked to the skin. A tall drink of water. Darken
my door. All of my organs are fully involved.
He is a little freshet breeze. We are as any microbes

inhabiting an extreme environment, surviving
in the free-living or parasitic mode. Chins above
the germ line. Is it true a rat can spring a latch.

Is it true all creatures love their children. Raccoons
and skunks smell society in decline. That sag
at the middle. In rat weather. Fly weather. A certain

absence of tenderness. Who will you believe.
Bear me away to a motel by the highway. I like
a nice motel by the highway. An in-ground pool.

It's a take it or leave it type deal. Eutrophic: of lakes
and rivers. See now, she says, that's the whole reason
you can't sit up on the railing. So you don't

fall over. Freon, exhaust, the iron motes of a dry
lightning. Getting pushed, he says, is not
falling. Jangling metal in your pockets

you walk balanced in your noise, breath
like a beam. I harbour ill will in my heart.
By this shall you know me. Caducous:

not persistent. Of sepals, falling off
as a flower opens. Of stipules, falling off as leaves
unfold. Speak of the devil and the devil appears.

"Early in Winter"

The roads are bad and you miss
your old car, an even-tempered '68 Volvo,
those times jerry-rigged gaskets
and pantyhose fanbelts got you home
through worse weather, the expansiveness
of that gesture. The year's first snow

fell at noon and stuck, a thin light resting
on the firs that draws out the fade
of 4 o'clock and throws a clean sheet
over roadkill, a small blessing of dying
in winter. There is a loveliness to inadequacy
so simply put. I place a hand on your arm,

heavy clothes a door to the warm kitchen
of your body. You are deep inside the driving,
leaving me to consider the beautiful stall
of water frozen in the act of falling
from its pious glacier, to my resolve
to find an opening in this season,
feet cold, heart wagging its little tail.

"Migration "

Snow is falling, snagging its points
on the frayed surfaces. There is lightning
over Lake Ontario, Erie. In the great
central cities, debt accumulates along the baseboards
like hair. Many things were good
while they lasted. The long dance halls
of neighbourhoods under the trees,
the qualified fellow-feeling no less genuine
for it. West are silent frozen fields and wheels
of wind. In the north frost is measured
in vertical feet, and you sleep sitting because it hurts
less. It is not winter for long. In April
shall the tax collector flower forth and language
upend its papers looking for an entry adequate
to the sliced smell of budding
poplars. The sausage man will contrive
once more to block the sidewalk with his truck,
and though it's illegal to idle one's engine
for more than three minutes, every one of us will idle
like hell. After all that's happened. We're all
that's left. In fall, the Arctic tern will fly
12,500 miles to Antarctica as it did every year
you were alive. It navigates by the sun and stars.
It tracks the earth's magnetic fields
sensitively as a compass needle and lives
on what it finds. I don't understand it either.

"The Road In Is Not The Same Road Out"

The perspective is unfamiliar.
We hadn't looked back going in,
and lingered too long
at the viewpoint. It was a prime-of-life
experience. Many things we know
by their effects: void in the rock
that the river may advance, void
in the river that the fish may advance,
helicopter in the canyon
like a fly in a jar, a mote in the eye,
a wandering cause. It grew dark,
a shift change and a shift
in protocol. To the surface of the road
a trail rose, then a path to the surface
of the trail. The desert
sent its loose rock up to see.
An inaudible catastrophic orchestra
is tuning, we feel it in the air
driven before it, as a pressure
on the brain. In the day
separate rays fall so thickly
from their source we cannot perceive
the gaps between them. But night
is absolute, uniform and self-
derived, the formerly irrelevant
brought to bear, the progress
of its native creatures unimpeded.
We have a plan between us, and then
we have our own. Land of the five
corners, the silent partner, 500 dollars
down, no questions, the rental car
stops at the highway intersection, a filthy
violent storm under the hood. It yields
to traffic from both directions.
It appears it could go either way.


Someone's walking toward you, tree to tree, parting leaves
with the barrel of a rifle. There's a scope
on it. He's been watching awhile
through his good eye, you, washing dishes, scouring
what's burned with a handful of salt, so your shoulders shake
a little. Keep your back to him. It's sexier
under the bulb, light degraded,
like powder. The kitchen screens
are torn. You've worn something
nice. There's a breeze he's pressing through, boots
in the grass. There's a breeze and you smell him
blowing in on it. As if this has always
been happening and you've entered the coincidence of your life
with itself, the way a clock's ticks will hit the beat of a Hank Williams song,
the best one, on the radio, fridge hum tuned without a quaver
to the sustained notes of the bridge. As if
you've arrived at where the hinge
articulates. An animal
may be bleeding in the woods. He could be carrying a pair of grouse
by the feet. Only details are left, bruises of gesture, style's aspirin
grit. He shuts the door and leans the gun against the wall
like a guitar. You keep your back to him because
it's sexier. Because in turning
you will see the dinner in all its potential
as you speak, spring the catch, finish this, the weighted moment
buckling into consequence. The place
where you can face your history and see it coming.

"The World"

When I learned I could own a piece of The World
I got my chequebook out. Eternal life belongs to those
who live in the present. My wife's bright eye affirmed it.
As do the soothing neutral tones and classic-contemporary
decor of our professionally designed apartments,
private verandahs before which the globe, endlessly
and effortlessly circumnavigated, slips by, allowing residents
no end of exotic ports, a new destination every few days
to explore with a depth we hadn't thought possible.
It's not how things are on The World that is mystical,
not the market and deli, proximity of masseuse
and sommelier, not the gym, our favourite restaurant,
our other favourite restaurant, the yacht club, the library,
the golf pro, the pool, but that it exists at all, a limited
whole, a logic and a feeling. What looks like freedom
is, in fact, the perfection of a plan, and property
a stocktaking laid against us in a measure. The difference
between a thing thought, and done. One can ignore neither
the practical applications nor the philosophical significance
of our onboard jewelry emporium, its $12 million inventory,
natural yellow diamonds from South Africa no one needs,
thus satisfying the criteria for beauty. Without which
there is no life of the mind. What we share, though, transcends
ownership, our self-improvement guaranteed
by the itineraries, licensed experts who prepare us
for each new harbour and beyond, deliver us into the hands
of native companions on The World's perpetual course.
The visual field has no limits. And the eye-
the eye devours. Polar bears, musk oxen, rare thick-billed
murre. We golfed on the tundra and from The World
were airlifted to pristine snowfields, clifftops where we dined
alfresco above frozen seas. The World is the entirety.
The largest ship ever to traverse the Northwest Passage.
How the silent energy coursed between us. Fundamental rules
had changed. Except, with time, it seems a sort of accident-
natural objects combined in states of affairs, their internal properties. Accusatory randomness and proliferation
of types, brutal quantity literally brought to our doors.
Or past them, as if on the OLED high-def screen
of our circumstances, which hides more than it reveals.
For what we see could be other than it is.
Whatever we're able to describe at all could be other
than it is. Such assaults on our finer feelings require an appeal
to order, to the exercise of discipline a private Jacuzzi represents,
from which one might peacefully enjoy the singular euphoria
of the Panama Canal or long-awaited departure
from fetid Venice. There is some truth in solipsism, but I fear
I'm doing it wrong, standing at the rail for ceremonial cast-offs
thunderously accessorized with Vangelis or 'Non, je ne regrette rien,'
made irritable by appreciative comments about the light.
In Reykjavˇk or Cape Town, it's the same. Familiarity
without intimacy is the cost of privacy, security
of a thread count so extravagant its extent can no longer
be detected. Even at capacity, The World is eerily empty:
its crew of highly trained specialists in housekeeping,
maintenance, beauty, and cuisine-the heart and soul
of the endeavour-are largely unseen and likely where the fun is.
We sit at the captain's table but don't know him. He's Italian.
I think on my Clarksville boyhood long before EPS, ROE-
retractable clothesline sunk in concrete, modest backyard
a staging ground for potential we felt infinite to the degree
our parents knew it wasn't. The unknown is where we played.
And while fulfilment of a premeditated outcome
confers a nearly spiritual comfort of indifference
to the time of year, a paradise of fruits always in season,
the span of choice defines its limit, which cannot be exceeded.
The sea rolls over, props on an elbow, and now is heard
the small sound of a daydream running softly aground.
Dissatisfaction, in a Danish sense. On prevailing winds a scent
of compromise; for one tires of the spacewalk outside
what is the case. Beyond immediate luxuries
lives speculation and the tragic impression one is yet
to be born. It could be when all pursuits have been satisfied,
life's problems will remain untouched. But doubt exists only
where questions exist. The World satisfies its own conditions.
It argues for itself. Herein lies an answer.

"An Abundance"

Appearing as though they originate in spiritual rather
than material seed, as proof

we don't know how to properly celebrate
or mourn - bindweed and ox-eye daisy, cranesbill, harebell,

haresfoot clover, whose ideology is fragrant
and sticky, the underside of thinking blooming

across centuries. Bountiful arguments
for belief, in equal profusion against it.

My many regrets have become the great passion of my life.
One may also grow fond of what there isn't

much of. Grass of Parnassus -
and when you finally find it, it's just okay.

But look for lies and you will see them everywhere, like
the melancholy thistle, an erect spineless herb

of the sunflower family. That the eradication of desire
promotes peace and lengthens life

is not uncommon advice; still, you can't simply wait
until you feel like it. The beauty of the campions,

bladder and sea, the tough little sea rocket,
is their effort in spite of, I want to say, everything,

though they know nothing of what we mean
when we say everything, it is a sentiment referring only

to itself. Purple toadflax, common mouse-ear,
orchids, trefoils, buttercup, self-heal,

the Adoxa moschatellina it's too late in the year for,
I can hardly stand to look at them.

And all identified after the fact
but for the banks of wild roses, the poppies you loved

parked like an ambulance by the barley field.


The night you've entered now has no lost wife in it, no daughter,
I would like to think it peace, but suspect it isn't anything.

When our friend wrote you'd died I was on Skye,
where the wind in its many directions is directionless
and impossible to put your back to.

(. . .)

That day I'd walked the beach,

picking up shells, their spirals of Archimedes and logarithmic
spirals, principle of proportional similarity that protects
the creature and makes it beautiful. Sandpipers materialized
through tears the wind made, chasing fringes of the tide.
At first there were two, then three appeared, but when I began
to pay attention I realized they were everywhere.

From "The Caiplie Caves"

Our culture is best described as heroic.
Courageous in self-promotion, noble
in the circulation of others' disgrace,

its preoccupation with death in a context of immortal glory
truly epic, and the task becomes to keep
the particulars in motion

lest they settle into categories whose opera
is bad infinity.

in this foggy, dispute-ridden landscape

thus begins my apprenticeship to cowardice

.will my fulfilment be the fulfilment of an error?

an error at the foundation of my life, an error burning in its stove.

What night-collector conveniently forgot
her bag of demons on the neighbour's roof?
Cackling softly over the stick tool of 4 a.m.,
loosening the drawstring with clothy knee
and elbowings, they'd pop out shaking the dregs
from their hackles, consumed by evil
laughter, ahistorical croaks, benthic creaks,
then shrieks and howling underscored
by homuncular medieval babies in sotto voce,
declamations via voice prosthetic, robot
pet sounds, and I lay there cursing them, the whole
family, though I had nothing to be up for.

"A Miscalculation":

Like a king from a promontory
the kestrel presides from an updraft, an array
of barely perceptible movements sustaining
balance and attention, and the woodmouse,
the shrew, the secondary characters,
know whose watch they're under. There are no

bystanders among them. The razorbill's piety
winters at sea, secular and medium-sized,
black above, white below; while
frontloaded with military tech
gannets send tones of the aquatic scale
straight to the emotional signature clusters.


Much of what I feared then
has happened,

though not always
as I'd feared.

And so much more to fear
than I'd imagined.


On an afternoon beneath
the Quiraing, we watched

the gannets dive,
looked from the cliff edge

straight through the clear water
to the origins of variety.

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