(a work in progress)

Rob Ford wuz here — graffiti in toronto ravine
ever smelt the early
morning smell of green
in deep ravines
seen the flash of red
cardinal or
the red-winged black
bird poised for
flight the bushy-tailed
fox slinking away through the
have you
crested davenport hill
on bathurst stood on
what was once
the shoreline seen
the city slope
down to the lake
the cn tower standing at
phallic attention
waited on queen for the bright-eyed
trundling along
on a wintry evening
shoulders hunched
up above your
ears seen the spadina car move
through continents as it traverses its north
south axis the ossington bus carrying africa on
its back making its way up to eglinton have
you stirred up the dust under the trees at queen’s park
at afrofest as the many strands of africa
coalesce to listen to the beat thought lost
long ago listened to mapfumo
cherished chiwese
as tuku music talked back to you
walked any of the many
trails in high park that make
green mockery of the city
watched the ducks being
ducks in their iridescent
duckishness stood under the
garish lights of kinko’s
seen another face of
the city at 2 in the morning
all pretence gone making
images black white
& coloured walked
along bloor as tired shopkeepers put
out their garbage
bought walnut cakes
from the korean store
an ice cream from baskin
robbins across from christie pitts
a falafel from gazal
stood in line at the bloor cinema
borrowed a video from queen video
or suspect that earns its name
honestly had a beer
at the brunswick late night nachos
at sneaky dees have you
ever smelt the early morning smell
of this city
familiar as a lover’s smell
as it rolls over groans
sighs and lets her many
many lovers loose
some too busy to see her virtues
some only too willing to
curse her flaws
others indifferent
all linked willing or
unwilling moving through
yet another day in the city have you
stood cheek by jowl with
the young man you don’t trust
ever too close for comfort
to the suit with her brief case
offered your seat to the old
jamaican lady hugging her
bible close as the street car rocks
its way across st. clair
sat across from the young bay
street type working or
pretending to in these
times that try then test
the best in us
ever seen schools disgorge
their screaming
laughing we- are-the-world
populations onto playgrounds
loved these hard streets with your feet
marching against the bomb
against war
against apartheid
for a woman’s right
to her body for men
women & children we don’t
know a long
long way away against
the many myriad ways
power runs amok
holds us hostage
as it does today
making us all
communist have you
wined1on university to the
beat of a caribana band
watched the pride of the
that other nation unfurl its
rainbow for us will you
can you
have you
cycled or walked
across the viaduct spanning the
valley of the don
looked down to where many
have embraced too soon
what comes to all
as the city reaches out
to bind
them to it to us with tendrils of steel
eaten a roti on
Wining is an African Caribbean dance movement that entails circling the hips.
bathurst have you
sat at dooney’s when it was
drank an espresso
or capuccino and watched the
world saunter by
paid homage to the french
in upper canada
and eaten a poutine
the only place you
will find gravy today gone
up to eglinton
where sometimes wanton bullets
have sped
with brutal disregard
for a people who have survived
so much had a patty
or dumplings on spadina
a samosa on gerrard
seen the young students
from central tech
edgy in their youth
their energy flooding bloor
and bathurst at noonday
or raised your
eyes up up to where
moriyama’s2 vision of
space and light creates
a visual prayer to books
at yonge & bloor
to learning without
ads or logos
&draws the every in
us to the lure of words
have you ever
taken the pulse of
this city felt it quicken as the world’s rhythms
join the first heart beat of the mississauga
to allow for a moment when the
possible moves closer
walked along davenport road
clotted with cars on an early
morning and listened
if you walked softly
Raymond Moriyama, architect of the Toronto Reference Library.
quietly enough
to the tramp
tramp of the first peoples who
first bent the grass
into path then trail
followed by farmers
to defy the historical
odds against them &
remind us all that
we are
newcomers to turtle
island have you ever
through kensington
where jew and black met
recognised the each in other
where not that long ago you
could buy a squawking chicken
for sunday dinner and had
a rugala along college where
the unia3 was a refuge
for black folk unwelcome
then in this city have you ever
been to a black
church talked to a black mother
any mother who has lost
a son a daughter
explored a schwarma
on yonge understood how
the frightened the
persecuted the talented
have brought a fire to
this place this space
still held in trust seven
generations into the
future followed the ghost of
garrison creek as it winds
its way underground past
the lcbo at st clair & alberta
under christie pits
all the way down to the
lake seen the don come
The United Negro Improvement Association was created by Marcus Garvey and had chapters
in many cities in North America.
alive again the lake welcome us
once more have you
cycled around
this city bike lanes or not
sparring with cars
taken a street car on an early
morning towards the sunrise
along queen to
the beach sat on the shore
listened to
the gulls smelt that smell
we know from before
time when we scavenged
beaches for food
taken the ferry across
the blustery lake
with its cargo of children
bikes lovers
nudists hikers caribana
partiers or just plain folks
living in the moment that
is this place this space have you
nusrat fateh ali khan
summon angels at harbourfront
send them floating across the lake
all the way back to mecca
or david rudder invoke our
father through africa
have you will
you can you
hear fado meet funk
see reggae and klezemer
shake hands
laugh as bhangra sits down
eats with calypso and chutney
rock with folk and r& b
as zouk and hip hop break bread
to the strains of mozart & beethoven
here in
this place they and we
call a meeting place t dot
the rappers say the place
we all love
to hate that is still
have you
been at the parkdale
tavern when it was
felt the energy
crackle of an evening when
welfare cheques arrived
stood back
behind the yellow
line in the subway
waiting for blast of
air down the tunnel
given a looney to the homeless
man standing
outside the station watched
the squirrels’ tails
purl the wires as
they prepare for the long hard
of winter heard the city
exhale one long sweet
green breath as spring
enters grieved with a city for shoeshine
boys young girls taken too soon
young men too angry to talk
except through guns
laughed at the army sent
to rescue us from snow
and nooobody wishing
for a viaduct across
the growing chasm between jane
finch and rosedale
the bridle path and
flemingdon while regent
gentrifies itself have you
seen how the many tongues
of a fractious world ever more fragmented
cleave communities out of
a hard strange city licking
shaping them lovingly
into little towns
did you
have you
would you
a dream a city
on a hill call
it a meeting place
call it say
its syllables echo
its name with bullhorns
for when the pulse slows
and anomie curdles
into anger when the train has
left with the gravy
that never was
anything but us
all that will be
left is
rob ford wuz here

M. Nourbese Philip is a poet, essayist, novelist and playwright who lives in the space-time of the City of Toronto. She practised law in the City of Toronto for seven years before leaving to write full-time. She has published poetry, fiction, drama, and non-fiction. Among her best known published works are She Tries Her Tongue; Her Silence Softly Breaks, Looking for Livingstone: An Odyssey of Silence, and Harriet’s Daughter, a young adult novel. Her most recent work, Zong!, is a genre-breaking, book-length poem which engages with ideas of the law, history and memory as they relate to the transatlantic slave trade.