Of Toronto: Wrists Pinned to the Mast and Other Things

Border Music (An International Incident)

And roll’d his eyes o’er all the restless main,
Till, dimmed with rising grief…
– The Oddyssey, V.151

My hotel room waits up the first class/business end
Of Toronto where firm toothpaste tubes of chaos get
This age high off the ground, squeeze their finest
Powers down tiny vents above my hotel room ceiling
Like a million screams bottlenecked at a border
Crossing where the nightly news completes its
Bombing runs, leaving survivors to sally forth
On the commercials. So, too, I am supposed to sully
My art, selling door-to-door the encyclopedic life
Of death; insurance so the people will “get it”at any rate:
The vacuum they already own and will again
To fill all their abhorrent, sunlit spaces of time.
The modern marriage is full of such pain,
As modern love is itself a modern convenience.
Tonight, downtime well-earned and wasted all
The same, I wait for a woman I had told to meet me
Who knows why or where. When the metaphysics
Of the thing kicked in, reasoning was good only for
The free drinks and talk that the occasion offered
Somewhere down the pickled filigrees of my brain.
I wait and step out to watch arrivals and
Departures to thrill at the vulnerability
From my secular perch in the hotel parking lot –
Only to step on my cigarette and crawl back up into
The belly of this brick and glass bit of transience,
Squatting beneath the shadow of razory-winged motion,
Back to be entombed against vapor trails and vectors
More transient. I put head to pillow, entranced by
Torrential consternations of throttle and thrust
Bursting into my airspace, demonic bird songs I can
Not sing, and so ignore like a toothache. Thus,
I trust my sleep will not depart at another’s arrival,
Unexpected at high speeds through thin walls,
The sudden intersection of computer and pilot error.
I know that the sleeping hours are most vulnerable;
But with incredible speeds to support their position,
Others will sleep better than I, and most will go
Into caves to dream a little slash and burn dream
Always seeking more than that. Thus, Toronto lives out
Its diurnal dreams in a furious indifference,
A marooned landing party of New World history,
Acquiescing before the lexographers’ paint could dry,
That went and made the best of its marginal reality
At bottom of the top half of Earth, this cranial shard bit
Of show-off real-estate and epochal winters.
“We get along,” Toronto says. Its protruding needle
Like a familiar defiant gesture, punctures its own
Skyline and a neighboring superpower’s bubble of self-
Consciously stuffy air. Always so ready to expose itself,
My American pride greetsrunway lights with knowing winks.
When the patriotic mass stalls, it drops like a 747,
Making a fiery oil-slicked pitch to heaven. So, I work
My territory like a debris field, fanning out over
A given commonwealth province. Terms dissolve or evoke
Snickers from the stricter observances of polity
And policy one finds all too republican. “Trouble with
Canada is that its democracy is never foreign enough.
Or, in little ways, only,” I mumble, pushing a twizzle-stick
Around a scotch and soda into a mild maelstrom of fizz.
The earlier scene was half-intentional, half-guess work,
The reservations for one at the hotel restaurant
Would give way to anything well met on the menu
Or at the bar: a bump of shoulders, a brush of arms,
A strange perfume that must be something Canadian,
A casual comment made peculiar — “Dvorak
Never came to Canada.” — inducing ecstasy’s inevitable,
Regrettable actions — “Iowa got in the way.”
But now, the quizzical fire burns low in the face,
The bony hands and the skeletal middle-aged make-up
Of an anonymous sin for dinner. In dropping Celsius,
It stares and plays with its bangles and stares again,
Wondering why, after all, it even bothers to write
Names on cocktail napkins. Then it only shrugs, grins,
Nods for an exit. One cannot communicate well
In blizzards; only work the controls by touch and habit.
She is French Canadian; I am American;
Her secession is aborted, mortified by insignificance –
My dominance is ugly, unwanted, unbearable.
We’re not long for the other’s country’s company.
I take quick but accurate soundings of personal space.
Hiccups measure a little smaller here, as if metrically
And not by the king’s foot. I noticed trees on the flight in.
They re-arrange themselves into stand or hamlet
A little bit strange. The connecting farms organize more
Or less collectively. O perfect city of perfect grey!
O corrective metropole for capital’s wide alliance!
Grim autonomy is your mind, your streetless sidewalks
Attach your downtown to nothing to prove,
At once casual yet deliberately exact. And if I had sent
Postcards, would my wife really believe it existed
Except as a composite of my suitcase and shower kit?
When we’d spoke last night on the hotel’s phone
She heard the jets tattooing the air, flying in too low.
Was that the sound of the rivets, the little tits
The fuselage will drag through supersonic airspeed?
Yes, we came in a bit too low, whisper their shrieks;
I try small affections over the large distance,
But the kissing sounds and serenades are lost
In rupture’s wake. Or if I am making initial con-
Nections, the international corridors run effective
Interference. So another American tries his heavy
Hand at the nuances of local dialects, and ties
His heavy heart to homeland with Hallmark cards.
Until now scenery proves too beautiful to resist.
All’s lost on my soul as the phone’s receiver begins its
Slow descent, adjusting the angle, pitch and yaw
Of its mouse ears. What whines with engine protest
Could be coddled assent or angry denial, a deal
To carry on affairs or a gambit to achieve endgame.
Such fluid borders are traversed constantly
Because democracy has nowhere to find free range
And romantic science is drinking excessively
And discrete amounts of indeterminate transactions
Are draped in pain across borders, an embargo or tariff
Which makes less sense the further in one travels
A levy to be accepted as part of trade-laws, part
Of the intimacy of borders in sound as well as space.
So with the equilibrium of half a bottle of scotch
And another half to go, I look out beyond the lights
Of Toronto – a love letter of indecipherable fonts.
Likewise, I imagine a clandestine border meeting
At dawn, glances and prisoners exchanged
Just as frantically romantic music begins to climax:
When one visits Toronto, one’s thoughts fly
To these images, broken-winged with distress calls.
One wishes something would happen, and yet
Not too close to the skin, just so a memory might
Find a place, warm and dry, taxiing on the runway,
Hoping the wings were de-iced so that one’s deplaning
Is in the usual way. The only risk is to slip and fall,
To break one’s hip in the wintry month of Remember.
It could be anything and it could be anyone.
Something you’d kill for. Or someone you will.
Your final leave-taking is a sputtering exhaust
About the whole social gambit of this northern
Territory: how the Canadians took everything
Into consideration of their theories except the patient
(How Americans on the whole will take nothing
Into consideration except the autopsy report),
As if respective equations of collective cultural
Dynamics knew what it meant to acknowledge man
Despite his flaws. Well, my sin did mine, she who was
A classy socialist and understood her sex as well.
And I did nothing but pretend a superpower’s lead,
Extending undue influence over every border
In between the sheets. In flaccid epilogue
Our cigarettes burned – my founding documents,
My constitution and congress did not impress.
She let on as much with her distant northern lights.
She let on as much when she stole into my room
Much more so when she canceled our parliament.
But I denied it all until taxiing on the runway
Remembering how she flushed me out of herself
Standing there in my shower, a pleased, silly look
On her face, a smile cold as tile. Feminine signals blink;
A single searchlight gropes across the landscape….
I lift my eyes to heaven and hear her sing like an angel;
We vector by Toronto’s lights at the speed of darkness.


  1. Jonathan Webb says

    Made me feel like I was there. A great yarn. Thanks.

  2. Jonathan Webb says

    A poem as populace as New York and as clean as Switzerland.

  3. A good poem, not as great as the ones at Gerasne Writer's Conference. And it's partly, perhaps mainly, that it's less to my taste than those, although there might turn out to be something a little haunting about it.

  4. Rufus McCain says

    Wow. My territory like a debris field. The wintry month of Remember. The speed of darkness.

    I couldn't get the image of George Clooney out of my head, though. Up in the Air.

  5. Rufus McCain says

    And Webb, your description of the poem is itself a poem. Nice.

  6. Jonathan,

    I second that – a sort of "In a Station at the Metro" for our times!


  7. Southern Expat says

    You need an RSS feed that prints these on vellum.

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