THIS WAY OUT
by Carmine Starnino, 2009 [book info]
Corkscrew staircases, triplexes, satellite
dishes. Such riches as oranges -- buck-fifty
a pound -- piled on slates, under awnings,
and south of rue Ogilvy's stretch
of family-run sweet-shops and delis:
Pêcherie Mairmais, where, head to tail,
cod cool on crushed ice. A good price.
It suits me down to the ground, this place
of sodium-lit nowhereness between
Jean-Talon and St. Roch. Its eighteen-
nineteenths of a toehold on the world.
Flattops beside flattops, planted
in acres of concrete -- ungentrified
Eden at the brink of the sticks: Parc Ex,
God said, and up sprang sidestreets of shoebox
flats (plus rats), chain-link fences, plain-
penny bricks, and paint-splashed garages.
After that, rust-odoured alleys
where balding towels and pink panties
drip dry together like arranged marriages.
Then Bengali protest posters
and weekend cricket until rain stops play.
Next day, the big-watt rap of double-
parked cars, subfusc bars, sari-clad girls
playing hula hoop, and 2 + 2 = 5
sprayed in red by some effin'
idiot on the hoof. By week's end,
God called forth empty produce boxes
stacked outside Marché SPG,
and me dashing out the Steve's, low on milk.
God saw it was good: our fourth floor
bolt-hole with a crow's-nest view,
cigarette reek rising from below,
my paper heisted every morning,
and muezzin calls from speakers
next door. There's more: the beslippered
Greek men in wife-beaters
like off-broadway Brandos, the Syrian
barbershop brothers in all-weather
flipflops, the Dollarama shopping sprees
paid out in small change, the leaves
that rallied into piles and fought
the wind to a standstill, the spice smells,
the tea-coloured strays, the take-home Bombay,
and the half-chugged bottles of plonk
and beer I saw clear an open window.
De Liège in the morning splodged
with crash landings, brown interbled
with the dregs of lives close-quartered
in this burg, this case study in eyesores,
this last word in slumlords, this warren
of walk-ups where the wallpaper's
forever airing out its smell. Hell
or fresh start: a room, a roof, a wage.
And everyone too tired to hold out
for better. The price paid for a new story
of creation: tatted up Sikhs,
bicycling knife-sharpeners, and Bollywood actors,
just off the boat. We are counted
one by one into this dead end,
where the bandwidth's slow and we speak
not speech but yeses and nos that add up
to a scoop of that, a pound of this. What bliss.