Poems » william miller » thirty six ways of looking at toronto ontario


the stacked plane circles, I
see my house, its angled street,
east, north, west, south,
southeast, northwest, there are
no parking places

we came in those years on the overnight train
from New York City along endless
lines of shimmering poplars
pounding on doors six am Customs yelling
Quite all right, we've seen naked people before!

poplar and all the
noble trees, oak, maple,
Maytime's chestnut in its candles
gingko, elm and ash
stand in their shade lace at
the height of June

on the white winter
streets, fir-trimmed, display their
wrought-iron armatures
naked they are so thick you cannot
see through them the
towers of pleated gold and seagreen glass
only the CN Tower (a latecomer) rises
cloudward & the Bank of Commerce
(tallest building in the British Empire, 1931)
stands humbled

the park here is a treeless square, worn lawn
furnished with the bust of
Sibelius in black granite
the wind sings his song

in shady Roselawn Cemetery
whether the wind is harsh or gentle
Uncle Max lies
among his three wives
Bébé, Didi and Claudette

at Queen's Park in long gone days & mine
a crocodile of children trail
their teacher to watch Mitch Hepburn
bald spot & waving arms
harangue his Legislature

the polar bear in Riverdale Zoo
roars in his narrow pool, his fur
stained yellow from city
smoke and filthy water

on Front Street the White Rose Gasoline
sign of ten thousand bulbs
blooms in a white bud
flares into petals and green leaves
fades and grows again

from the front lawn at
52 Kingston Rd in 1932
I watch the sun go down
over the wall of Woodbine Racetrack
trailing firelined clouds
and feel the glory of the ineffable
-- real or a dream?

in the sunshine up Broadview Avenue
eight years old and happily-hoppiting
around the ancient stout cane-tottering
lady crowned in a Queen Mary hat
thinking (this is God's truth) I bet she wishes
she was a carefree little child like me

Sunday mornings North side of Queen has
an Edward Hopper light but upstairs
over the furrier shop my grandfather's
Yiddish tells my father's English the story
of the farmer and Czar I read
last week in Aesop about the
fisherman and the Emperor

writing senior fourth exams
(it's eighth grade now) three months
before that War with boys who'll die in it:
the summer window's open
there is a world out there, and it cries:
strawberry ripe!
strawberry ripe!

In Riverdale Park where flashers slunk
and bobsleds ran longside the Dirty Don
now rivers of cars run with clean
bright-eye lights. I look crossyears
off Broadview to 9 Tennis Cres
where B15's lamplit. Hello, child!


a young black man barechested in boxer
shorts dances down the street shadow-
boxing while his dog yips around him

two black men dandling a
gurgling blond baby
laugh and talk on a park bench

a deaf-mute
talking to himself
in sign language


when I got home I found her in bed
with 2 other guys,
the cabbie says
I just stood there watching them, I couldn't
believe it

on the boardwalk the tall Texan in his stetson
falls into step with us, says: howdy ma'am, sir

the bus window frames a crowd
pressing a woman who has stolen a hat --
its tag dangles -- pushing it in her face
two helmeted
police converge on her terror

the old man plunks down beside me and
launches into the Yiddish Art Theater
Drama of his battle over the Hydro bill
I cool him down with english

ten Hassidim march down our street in
fur-rimmed shtreimlach, waving banners, bearing
flares and torches to greet the Rebbeh
police cars lead and follow
it's kind of different, the cop admits

this is a dream: it is midnight
I put my head out of the window and see:
down my street where the young home-
steaders have grown old or died
and their hopscotch children skipped off
a brass band thumping oompah-tubas &
twirling majorettes
I think: I've got to get out of the suburbs

way down Spadina Avenue
merchandizing ideographs and blinking
neon diacritical marks
sell dim sum & bok choy where
once the rag trades sewed their sequined dresses
Come on, I'll outfit you from top to bottom
cousin Hymie said

on Eglinton west of Bathurst
at the Monte Carlo Restaurant
first time out after the operation
the waiter stares at the bones and says
You sure know how to eat a chicken

that old Chas Addams house on Lonsdale
Road shadowed and eerie in curlicued
gables was where bad-tempered
Professor Wadson lived, redfaced, sweet-
wived, a drinker of fine whiskey, but
where I live now at Lonsdale's other end
and watch the red moon rise I can't see
Wadson's house (he was young once, his
photo said, and handsome in Navy blues)
he's dead & gone now, & his whiskey all drunk up

straightback Yonge runs main and mighty
almost truly north to Hudson's Bay, but
striding parallel beyond his classy mistress Avenue
Road, it's Bathurst that's Street of Life, she's
the farshlepta wife who guards
our spring and winter rituals, birth & death
hospital, church and synagogue, she's a

strong, ugly and no nonsense roadway rising
out of Toronto Harbour, no Venus either
among the boating not quite yachting clubs
using a swath of iron bridge to cross the
braided tracks of the railways yards past
factories and warehouses, pauses

here in the cancer ward at Western
the Hospital I was born in: there's my
mother-in-law Jenny Bardikoff: Poison and
garbage they give you here in little round pills!
Better than the food! cries proper Mrs Scrimgeour
What a life we're living, Jenny!
cracking each other up joking to death

the eyeballs pop: Here's Honest Ed!
His lights are shining!
How we admire his sign's designing
with cheerful face he sells us trinkets & theatrics
and ever en famille in lamplit eateries
for modest sums we eat his steaks his peas,
his mashed potatoes
with not bad wines
and crusty waiters
So sparkle on at Bloor & Bathurst brightly!
We love you always, Ed! And not just lightly

this street that points to Dupont now
is homeliness of ailanthus, gingkos and red bricks
wrapped in trellised rose-bines, a
hologram chip of an old city's whole

the old woman sits down beside me on the bus
at Eglinton, quietly, this one
and I think: Manya? I'd met her
long ago in the hospital hoarding
the scraps of food, crust, half a potato
she'd been denied in Auschwitz. Her watch
has stopped. There was, there is no cure
for Manya's fifty-year disease of grief: Eat salt,
my mother said, if you have nothing else.
Eat salt.
Manya, is it you? I am so afraid
I let her get up and go without a word

foursquare flat-topped
Branson where we took her after she'd
slid along the road on her shoulder
ten feet back from that car's headlights Let her
live, God! kept those dirty ragged clothes on the
living room book shelf until she came home

up at the Jewish Home
for the Aged, there are forty-odd
women on the patio sitting heads canted
& mouths agape except for
my mother in her wheelchair
Good sunny day, I say
Yeah, my mother says, all the old
flowers are out

drive, she said, up past Steeles, Bathurst
just skirting edges of green lawns, sweet flowers
past those synagogues, weddings made and broken,
vows taken and shattered, nights of lit candles
and memorials, past those wards of white beds and
trembling nights, past the strip malls where glatt
kosher & kosher style battle it out, past
Centennial where they've lifted him out of the snow and
sent him to heal

out farther yet and up
where if you are drifting
in a balloon at sunset
it is not quite like Hokusai seeing Fuji
through barrel hoops, among kite strings and
under the Great Wave
the city's swathed in haze, in its vision
not magic or majestic, it is a gathering
of human beings among the trees, it is the city