Sunday, November 12, 2006

[photo credit: green toronto, 17 june 2005, by Sam Javanrouh]

This Was My Yesterday: One Quarter and the Torontos

I didn't intend for any of it to happen. There was nothing planned. I was standing by my window, trying to call Dutton, when I saw a little yellow ticket peeking out from the window of my car. It hit me: the first of June. My permit expired eleven hours ago. Shit. I hung up the phone, grabbed the car keys (on a separate ring, buried in pants in ‘the obscure’ corner of the room) and the updated pass that I had forgotten to apply. Ran downstairs.

I passed the outside door, and let my fingers drag against it, thinking abstractly of our cats. I hit the stairs and heard the terrible click behind me and knew that I was locked out. I got to the car (no ticket, thank god), and put on the new permit. Came back to start thinking. I was in shorts and a t-shirt and indoor sandals. I tried the door, but it was indeed locked and I without keys. Shit. I checked my pockets to see what I had: one quarter, one pen. By chance, there was a discarded shopping list pad in our front room solarium thing so I grabbed that, then looked over at my bike.

For some reason, ahem, it was unlocked. Just sitting there. Waiting. It was a sign. Well, Lisa was gone, off to work for the day. I couldn't exactly ask her to make the 50 minute trek each way just to let me in. I had one quarter, writing tools, and a bike. I had until 6pm, with no chance of doing any work. Perfect, I thought. Then it started to rain.

Undaunted, I peddled over to Dutton's place and passed on my message. He invited me in for the day (laughing mercilessly at my self-inflicted misfortune), but I declined. It was the bike I was serving. My Trek 520, 1999 special, with every component replaced by a cheaper variant as bits and pieces had fallen off over the years. The pedals had bent in the middle, curled into jutting jays, and had been replaced by a $5 used set. Same with the seat, the chain, the brakes, the tires, the crank set, and pretty much everything else but the fading frame: a frankenbike salvaged by the refuse of other corpses. And like Shelley’s monster, it has no name. The rusting handlebar curved in at least three different directions and the handgrips behaved like a motorcycle and twisted when you accelerated.

I like biking. And I especially like biking through a city. Walking has more intimacy with the street culture, but you are so limited in terms of scope (besides, I have terrible feet and can only stand for an hour or so without severe discomfort). Driving, at the other extreme, lets you cover more geography but with such an abstracted distance that the world becomes a jumbled, disorganized blur. On a bike, you can smell the scents of the streets, hear conversations, have conversations easily, and yet cover massive terrain. Biking is a noun-turned-verb that seems to do the same to the city; keeps its vitality and organic movement (its verbdom) while passing through its factuality, its being as noun.

I set off in the drizzle, down Dovercourt, through Liberty Village, to the Music Park, the musical garden by the lake. For some reason, I had thought this was designed by Janet Cardiff, but it seems that it was a Yo Yo Ma project. You need to rent headphones to get the effect, and I still only had a quarter. I biked over to the Leslie Spit but it was too cool to dare and I redirected over towards the waterworks. I passed Keating Channel, the Docks, the abandoned ramp to the lakeshore Gardiner standing like ancient relics of a forgotten civilization. I saw loons to the south of Coxwell, passed endless fields of green and brown spaces. Ashbridges Bay, and I paused to explore the RC Harris Water Filtration plant, made famous by Ondaatje.

The building reminds me of the Canadian memorial at Vimy Ridge. Psychologically, from this direction, it signifies the end of the desolate waterfront. So many thoughtless spaces, characterised by function and inattention. There is one squat red brick building with a smokestack that towers and dwarfs it. How does one get a smokestack in this city? What does one use a smokestack for, with just a small red building to feed it? In any event, it didn’t look active.

Despite the temperature and the rain, women in bikinis were playing volleyball on the Beach, in front of the chirpy sanfran townhouses. I turned off Lakshore, up to Queen, through another one of the city’s downtowns. Every time I’ve come down this way, I’ve loved and admired the Beaches neighbourhood – a funky village, really – but yet, I rarely come down this far, and always feel like I’m visiting a different city. Though it is the same Queen Street, I sort of feel like I’m closer to Kingston than to Euclid. It isn’t a question of kilometres.

Jig and jagging up to Kingston Road, strips and straps of stores and shops. Homes and fields, parks and schools. The Hunt Club where my mom just got re-married a year ago Sunday. As I pass the white stucco buildings of St. Theresa’s Parish and the rolling campus of St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary, it feels like I’ve entered a religious district. The next building to see is the Scarboro Mission (why not Scarborough? I don’t know), which seems to confirm the sentiment. I’ve lost direction, lost focus for the trip. I’m just biking now, in new territory. As I enter into the “Cliffside Village,” I realize I’m probably pretty close to the Scarborough Bluffs and start looking out for them.

I pass the Americana Inn, the Hav-a-nap Hotel, and the Royal Inn all clustered together uncomfortably. They all advertise cheap sleep and “color tv” -- reminding me of an old poem I wrote in defence of Canadian spelling:

they take you

out of colour

leave you

black and white

It seems I missed the dedication ceremony for the Veteran’s Wall of Remembrance by a day. I stop somebody in front of a building that says “BAR” and ask about the Bluffs. He looks confused and I smell alcohol. It is still raining and he doesn’t like standing around talking, although before I stopped, he was just standing around. He thought it was up that way. I go up that way and hit St. Clair East. A worker in overalls says its back that way. I ask him if they are worth checking out, and he says, “Fuck yeah. They’re gorgeous.” I go back that way. The guy at “BAR” is still standing there, sees me coming and ducks back into the open door. I catch him peeping out as I pass. This time, coming from this direction, I notice a green sign reading “Bluffers Park” directly in front of “BAR”. I turn down Brimly Road and start a rapid descent.

This is no descent into hell. For a biker, it’s more often that the ascent is the hellish bit. Despite the rain, this is great. My cheap replacement brakes are straining, but I can feel the wind flushing out my stupid grin. It’s a long way down through a “gorgeous” valley. I have the thought that if there were bugs, I would need sunglasses, but there are no bugs yet at this point in the season. The park itself is stunning, and the wrinkled mud faces of the Bluffs look like desert hoodoos. It’s at that point I realize that the “Cliffside Village” had the feel of many of the small towns in Alberta I’ve seen: wide streets and romantic murals of horses and trains and open spaces. I’m still in Toronto though. I use the washroom and pass a wall inscribed with “muSLIM SLIM SLIM SLIM” written at least a thousand times. The hidden word game here reminded me of a scary moment I had the other day walking down College and misreading the word “Therapist” on a poster as “The rapist.” I had recently read an essay against the sexual politics of Freud and for that moment it all seemed so painfully obvious. I tried to think if my muslim friends were notably skinny, but quickly gave up. It had stopped raining and I had a massive hill to climb.

It wasn’t that bad – but I started sweating worse than the rain. I let myself go ridiculously slow – the same speed as the students from Cardinal Newman who seemed to pop up at random in the overgrown grass hills. I don’t think I’ve ever biked in 1-1 gear before, the (s)lowest I could possible go.

Back up on top, I time checked in a 1:45. I still had 4 hours. Without direction, I headed north, loosely intending to visit my brother and family, though fully expecting them to be out. I took Danforth Road up to Lawrence, over to Markham, to Orton Park, past Botany Park with its dire “WARNING SKIING TOBOGGANING HAZARDOUS” signs. Down into the Rouge Valley and up the endless slope on the other side. I kept thinking, looking down into the lush valley, that I would like a poem or a story for every such nook in the city. Ellesmere to Nielson, Nielson to Keeler, Keeler to Edenmills. Knock on door.

Strangely, the whole family was home in the afternoon, and embraced my weary wet corpse. It just so happened that I arrived at “M&m Cookie Time” which was the highlight of the trip. I sat down to play cards, a mean game of crazy 8s, with my niece, and munched on an Almond butter and banana sandwich (the kids squealed when they saw that I had put my cookie in the sandwich. What can I say – it was good!). They don’t have peanut butter in the house because of allergies, which they say is triggered by pesticides: welcome to the new suburban reality. Three glasses of water later, I set out to set out, noticing that it was raining once again. I called Lisa’s cell – turns out she was at home the whole time. Had gone down to the subway, but there was an explosion one stop up, so had come home right away. We had missed each other by minutes.

Biking home was straight and quicker – about an hour and forty-five minutes. I passed countless malls, strip malls, ravines, and one barren field with over one thousand pigeons. At the centre of the bird cluster stood a dignified duck, as if mallard was a synonym for majesty. One intersection, which I think was at O’Connor and Pharmacy, had a little strip mall with 8 or 9 stores. As I was in the heart of Scarberia, the diversity of the stores caught me off guard: I remember a Japanese fish market, a Chinese restaurant, a Halal meat shop, a “Manilleonese” grocery store, and a Jamaican rotis snack shop. America was represented across the street in a block-long Business Depot, overshadowing the line of foods from the world. There is some metaphor in that I won’t bother working out here.

I realized at this point though, that while I was still in Toronto, that word doesn’t make sense of the divergent spaces that exist across the region. People live their entire lives out here without needing or wanting the downtown core, which defines my Toronto, my quarter. Lisa and I had visited a crazy new mall up in North York last week, and witnessed it as a kind of fulfillment of a suburban spatial ideal: it was packed, electric, and flashy. Kids revelled in the superficial glow, smoking joints in Mel Lastman Square, allowing Hollywood a total kind of sense. Biking through the different Toronto of O’Connor and St. Clair East, not to mention all that I had already seen that day, I made the leap to reject the idea of a Toronto in favour of the Torontos. A wave of soft resentment came to my lips as I thought of all the sentences I had heard, many from my various Vancouver friends, that began “Toronto is just…” Toronto isn’t just anything. It is a giant collection of paradoxes; frustrating if you hope to reconcile them, fascinating to explore.

Down to the Danforth (which, it seems has nothing to do with the other Danforth Road I was on earlier) and across the viaduct – completing the Ondaatje tour, I suppose. As I crossed the bridge, a raging sun came out from behind a cloud and hit me like a smack. Suddenly I became conscious that my butt was numb, my wrists were sore, my neck was cramped, and I was starving again. I got home at 5:30, showered, and Lisa and I dashed up to St. Clair (West) for some dinner gorging and beer. She couldn’t believe me, but when we got back home and saw that I had forgotten to lock my bike again, it all seemed to make sense. In my pocket, I still had my one quarter.

Total Travel Time: just under 6 hours

Total Distance (based on a rough re-mapping through Google maps): 67 kilometres, the second longest bike-ride of my life.
so i was drumming last night on the edge of a forest in North York with a couple from Zimbabwe who had only been in Canada for two months (i said, in two weeks, you will be Canadian) when their little boy, dancing, running around the fire, jumped and started singing

Shuba! Shuba! Shuba!

and this morning i woke up late and read douglas barbour on the lyric/anti-lyric and wondered about his sense of chronology, that this was something we were moving into, when in fact, it seems like most people still want to talk about themselves, but i opened charles olson's projective manifesto and suddenly coffee wasn't necessary -- USE USE USE! i felt like dancing, and singing, just like my young friend with his smiles

so we went to rouge park, 15 times the size of central park, and walked along the river, sweet lullabyes of orchard trail, vista trail, valleys and forests and an SUV of zookeepers sneaking off-site, looking guilty as they ducked into no trespassing, so we stopped ate protein bars and measured the scope of the erosion, 12 kilometres of walking in old big tree forests, the sound of the drums echoing through the woods -- some show at the zoo, i suppose, but we found no clue to its becoming, just walked in its soft echo

Will, he said his name was, Will and Olga, but her name was a cover for the one her grandmother gave her, which translates into 'that you remember to be ashamed' for she was born of a single mother (now she can dance, and sing praise to ancient spirits), and he was laughing quietly, to me,

I will cheer for Ghana, but I hope most for somebody whoever to beat the Americans. I lived in Texas before coming here.

but i was spilling guinness on my trip up the river, chant Shuba Shuba Shuba with my little friend, spell it in my mind, suba suba suba, and ask him one more time for his shy name, which he won't tell me, smile, it's evening, time to retreat down shepherd, i don't want to go to bed, i practice, the name of the goat whose skin covers my instrument, i practice listening, letting it come and act upon me

today sitting in the beaches drank a pitcher of cafferys, keeping the dirt on our worked over feet, and she said, the bartender won't do pitchers of guinness, he just won't allow it, though people ask all the time. a man was being videotaped on the white sand for balancing rocks atop one another. in the sunset, he was smiling into the camera, telling the story of how he learned to balance rocks on their skinny sides, let them grow into towers of fragility, let them fall when he turned his back; the waters are still cold, so he sits and lets the evening wash over him instead

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Here's a really early poem of mine, from Born Magazine:

Fool fool folio

I will hunt you down spine-cracker
the mother of all fonts
the font of all evil
the evil that lines begin


come purple
your prose on me

Plundered (an)Them I: Oh Can

Oh can

our naïve

patriot command it?

Hear, see the rue

or song –

I’d stand, pour

sand, stand on.

Can sand

guard thee?

Plundered (an)Them II: Angled Banner

Oh Can . . .

your light so proud,

the red glare

bombs sting

our flag, ill.

Oh does that angled

banner laff

and heave?

Plundered (an)Them III: All Is

[from the French La Marseillaise by Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle in 1792]

“All on our lore –
starve on our land,”

sang an elegant Eve.

“Tend us, ages,
Muses old:
I’ve no brass

Arm its form,

arch, arch Sun,

I’m pure. . . ill. . .

Our Sacred

tried us out –

no brave nurse

saved our peace.

Our tale


“Ye form all,
O arch arch Sun --
save no ill.”
pure self-interest
furthers America
especially war

well if the world followed
given that so many soldiers
Canadians turn to the bill

the day of lightly blue
send our lads to Somalia
it would also be better PR

a mission in Afganistan is
not resolution
of peace is contrary
of continuous conflict

we've paid for freedom
i fear it's naive
hold onto your hats folks

we did not have a Quebec flag on our uniform
since our crew spoke French
peace through victory

expanding poppy fields
casualties our troops
we and the former Soviet Union

Freedom Fighters
Slash Iraq
Fractured -- Stupid

most are Non-Quebecers
stressed by the media
zombies throw their rifles

Pierre Trudeau hiding
the Rocket Richard
glories of socialism

i'm embarassed;
we are a member of the world
united states

no surprise here
and now they have Harper
no peace to keep

deserts at the end
of our drinking


Roiling goilers, untroubled wind sprites

horks in the corners, shotless broken sticks

mark – mark that – mark it up – mark it in

crash net fish net broken arms and knees

five games spoil country walter raleigh gretzky

southern footprint ecology and they’re all juiced

on orange juice by the dick pound of cherries.

Cock it up, shoot it in, fly away home, now

urine oil cunt try bladders bleeding ladders leading

up the cup, stand it up, stainly watch it names etched

some kind of selective history, don maclean to

river don cole to golf hole mulligan once again

ready for it all to fall to leafs to leaving seasons sea songs

end of the road goad yell at the screen obscene

undermined by replays all summer long

back to the pond

with the hurricane alberta time
trade deadline dead lies, line
dream disappear into oil lines
tram lines petroleum old linoleum
fold kick up champ champion pylon
where we used to skate, dissipate
back when participaction gold medal
endurance run from gretzky as poster
poptart prostar walk past distract
the fringe festival birthing cup ring
look at him now looking at him now

re-inscribing himself games of hockey legend
100,000 strong laughing lafleur sponsored toques
laughing sublime narratives into necessary
conclusions, statues, and retired numbers;

he's here because he left
because he almost cost another city
its champions, its game six, its staring
in the face of and finding the necessary elegance
of the grace of and of the records of
sweet sublime, sweet necessity, sweet ends

from edmonton to moncton
over italian flags in toronto little portugal
the backward glance of the stanley cup
but when iran loses little korea
seems to see the potential of the moment
montreal tells vancouver about terror tanks
and the aqueous stilled gills and barbecues
short summer night
Coach in the corner with one minute left
and its one to nothing or nil to zip to piss all
any when he walked right in there it was
raining black bullets buddy friendly teeth in
the crease, trip worthy hand on the puck
broken rib shot cage into the box keep
your stick on the hand head up handle
the man before you hit the has marks
trip over the coin in the open ice

ten thousand strong in every bar
singing ten to one at the barmaid at
the game seven in the hinterland
what old don calls a hard to be humble
playoffs everybody going nuts as soon
as he touches the puck, pisani, pisani,
to peca, where's wayne any more?

remember charlie huddy? two of the
greatest guys in the world, dump that way
and ride to the long thin blue of the world
with the bigger glove

theory of a theory on the crying self


i on

i on i on

on i on i

on i


Testing Authority

The sun is a square

The moon consumed by and tears

The earth is now still


i love

you like

an elephant
Metaphors are the yellow banana
of the bandana yell of the
revolutionary poet evolving
like opium fields of war

There is no surviving the paraphrase
para-morphine morpheme
nothing is what it is,
parachuting eddies;
all that dust from the desert
makes it hard to tank
oil land mines boom

a fountain
source of a river
or other water
high rolling swell of water
large, violent, wave, billow
the rising and driving
of influences actions and agitations
fire, wind, sound
and the undulating hills

The windlass under strain
the rock of forward to aft
the peak voltage
the whispering voices

To rise and fall
to cast up by
to issue
to move tempestuously
of a crowd of people
of thoughts or feelings
to drive with waves
to slip back accidentally
as a chain round a capstan
as a wheel

To let go suddenly
To sweep, pull, jerk
in a sudden direction

To rise as a surgeon,
a violent oscillation of current

An attack of the beseiged upon the beseigers.
To go out.
To rise up.
To surge, surgere.

How like an exit

Rush and kick
the resurgent
bouncing ball-

To kick oneself
in the self reproach

In the beginning
was the word promise
to accept the generalities of all
to fight the banalities of none

In the beginning
was there
was ever only one
of a whole class
commander of an army

artifice, trick
to pluck out
the apple from apple
the sauce from sauce
to gain or succed
by labour
what all words deny

to refuse loans
to a certain neighbour
based on redlines
on exit signs

radical renegade
turncoat apostate

you, thou
ananta, kimi, omae
learn from slaves
will you all do this?
will one of you do this?

apple means apples
slave means slaves
singularity means singularities

Meaning means stinging, nasty
inferior, poor
that which is halfway between extremes
The Nous/Noos

one in twelve unhappy

Vancouver gets poet laureate

George Bowering not happy

George Bush signs terror into law

Lister Sinclair not happy

being dead in Montreal

take your drink into the bathroom

tech worker and the GG

Ottawa declares Hells Angels

not valid

Hells Angels sue city

Sexual experiments and science teacher

small press chemistry

dead in Montreal

Toronto Stocks down

Toronto Stocks down

Toronto Star fires Editor

Jane Urquhart is coming home

you white female logo
with folk lore and devil markings
creating a romeo juliette of
the vet of the wolves of pity
when the owl murders

it is clear that all animals have an evil nature
that allows them to survive
the psychology of death

in awe in awe
over the mystery
Weird and Waning

Something is being masked
by something
by an abundance of commas
living in nature

her lips being stained
with the last line of
the first stanza

what this 'madonna'
may be experiencing
is described as "pale"


the methods of science
display a romance, a passion
of the crow that is suspicious
of birds


assimilation is a necessity of something far worse
glows and burns is natural to the metaphor
is the female footnote
outside of the conventions
of the psychology of wolves
dining on the thorns of portraits
and frames that grow through the night
that photosynthesize through ice


the rose bush grows thorns
unheard of evolution
upon a pedestal


this poem is sad
the poem is dreaming you in you

a leave from the past
into a new world
without her cigarette butts
Truth is fluid and
unstable by looking human
changes what we see

after war comes dada
anon-art movement
uninterrupted on canvas