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Phyllis Gotlieb (1926-)

Thirty-Six Ways of Looking at Toronto Ontario


1.
              1the stacked plane circles, I
              2see my house, its angled street,
              3east, north, west, south,
              4southeast, northwest, there are
              5no parking places
              6here

2.
              7we came in those years on the overnight train
              8from New York City along endless
              9lines of shimmering poplars
            10pounding on doors six am Customs yelling
            11Quite all right, we've seen naked people before!

3.
            12poplar and all the
            13noble trees, oak, maple,
            14Maytime's chestnut in its candles
            15gingko, elm and ash
            16stand in their shade lace at
            17the height of June

4.
            18on the white winter
            19streets, fir-trimmed, display their
            20wrought-iron armatures
            21naked they are so thick you cannot
            22see through them the
            23towers of pleated gold and seagreen glass
            24only the CN Tower (a latecomer) rises
            25cloudward & the Bank of Commerce
            26(tallest building in the British Empire, 1931)
            27stands humbled

5.
            28the park here is a treeless square, worn lawn
            29furnished with the bust of
            30Sibelius in black granite
            31the wind sings his song

6.
            32in shady Roselawn Cemetery
            33whether the wind is harsh or gentle
            34Uncle Max lies
            35among his three wives
            36Bébé, Didi and Claudette

7.
            37at Queen's Park in long gone days & mine
            38a crocodile of children trail
            39their teacher to watch Mitch Hepburn
            40bald spot & waving arms
            41harangue his Legislature

8.
            42the polar bear in Riverdale Zoo
            43roars in his narrow pool, his fur
            44stained yellow from city
            45smoke and filthy water

9.
            46on Front Street the White Rose Gasoline
            47sign of ten thousand bulbs
            48blooms in a white bud
            49flares into petals and green leaves
            50fades and grows again

10.
            51from the front lawn at
            5252 Kingston Rd in 1932
            53I watch the sun go down
            54over the wall of Woodbine Racetrack
            55trailing firelined clouds
            56and feel the glory of the ineffable
            57-- real or a dream?

11.
            58in the sunshine up Broadview Avenue
            59eight years old and happily-hoppiting
            60around the ancient stout cane-tottering
            61lady crowned in a Queen Mary hat
            62thinking (this is God's truth) I bet she wishes
            63she was a carefree little child like me

12.
            64Sunday mornings North side of Queen has
            65an Edward Hopper light but upstairs
            66over the furrier shop my grandfather's
            67Yiddish tells my father's English the story
            68of the farmer and Czar I read
            69last week in Aesop about the
            70fisherman and the Emperor

13.
            71writing senior fourth exams
            72(it's eighth grade now) three months
            73before that War with boys who'll die in it:
            74the summer window's open
            75there is a world out there, and it cries:
            76strawberry ripe!
            77strawberry ripe!

14.
            78In Riverdale Park where flashers slunk
            79and bobsleds ran longside the Dirty Don
            80now rivers of cars run with clean
            81bright-eye lights. I look crossyears
            82off Broadview to 9 Tennis Cres
            83where B15's lamplit. Hello, child!

15.
            843 SNAPS:

            85a young black man barechested in boxer
            86shorts dances down the street shadow-
            87boxing while his dog yips around him

16.
            88two black men dandling a
            89gurgling blond baby
            90laugh and talk on a park bench

17.
            91a deaf-mute
            92talking to himself
            93in sign language

18.
            944 MOMENTS:

            95when I got home I found her in bed
            96with 2 other guys,
            97the cabbie says
            98I just stood there watching them, I couldn't
            99believe it

19.
          100on the boardwalk the tall Texan in his stetson
          101falls into step with us, says: howdy ma'am, sir

20.
          102the bus window frames a crowd
          103pressing a woman who has stolen a hat --
          104its tag dangles -- pushing it in her face
          105two helmeted
          106police converge on her terror

21.
          107the old man plunks down beside me and
          108launches into the Yiddish Art Theater
          109Drama of his battle over the Hydro bill
          110I cool him down with english

22.
          111ten Hassidim march down our street in
          112fur-rimmed shtreimlach, waving banners, bearing
          113flares and torches to greet the Rebbeh
          114police cars lead and follow
          115it's kind of different, the cop admits

23.
          116this is a dream: it is midnight
          117I put my head out of the window and see:
          118down my street where the young home-
          119steaders have grown old or died
          120and their hopscotch children skipped off
          121a brass band thumping oompah-tubas &
          122twirling majorettes
          123I think: I've got to get out of the suburbs

24.
          124way down Spadina Avenue
          125merchandizing ideographs and blinking
          126neon diacritical marks
          127sell dim sum & bok choy where
          128once the rag trades sewed their sequined dresses
          129Come on, I'll outfit you from top to bottom
          130cousin Hymie said

25.
          131on Eglinton west of Bathurst
          132at the Monte Carlo Restaurant
          133first time out after the operation
          134the waiter stares at the bones and says
          135You sure know how to eat a chicken

26.
          136that old Chas Addams house on Lonsdale
          137Road shadowed and eerie in curlicued
          138gables was where bad-tempered
          139Professor Wadson lived, redfaced, sweet-
          140wived, a drinker of fine whiskey, but
          141where I live now at Lonsdale's other end
          142and watch the red moon rise I can't see
          143Wadson's house (he was young once, his
          144photo said, and handsome in Navy blues)
          145he's dead & gone now, & his whiskey all drunk up

27.
          146straightback Yonge runs main and mighty
          147almost truly north to Hudson's Bay, but
          148striding parallel beyond his classy mistress Avenue
          149Road, it's Bathurst that's Street of Life, she's
          150the farshlepta wife who guards
          151our spring and winter rituals, birth & death
          152hospital, church and synagogue, she's a

28.
          153strong, ugly and no nonsense roadway rising
          154out of Toronto Harbour, no Venus either
          155among the boating not quite yachting clubs
          156using a swath of iron bridge to cross the
          157braided tracks of the railways yards past
          158factories and warehouses, pauses

29.
          159here in the cancer ward at Western
          160the Hospital I was born in: there's my
          161mother-in-law Jenny Bardikoff: Poison and
          162garbage they give you here in little round pills!
          163Better than the food! cries proper Mrs Scrimgeour
          164What a life we're living, Jenny!
          165cracking each other up joking to death

30.
          166the eyeballs pop: Here's Honest Ed!
          167His lights are shining!
          168How we admire his sign's designing
          169with cheerful face he sells us trinkets & theatrics
          170and ever en famille in lamplit eateries
          171for modest sums we eat his steaks his peas,
          172his mashed potatoes
          173with not bad wines
          174and crusty waiters
          175So sparkle on at Bloor & Bathurst brightly!
          176We love you always, Ed! And not just lightly

31.
          177this street that points to Dupont now
          178is homeliness of ailanthus, gingkos and red bricks
          179wrapped in trellised rose-bines, a
          180hologram chip of an old city's whole

32.
          181the old woman sits down beside me on the bus
          182at Eglinton, quietly, this one
          183and I think: Manya? I'd met her
          184long ago in the hospital hoarding
          185the scraps of food, crust, half a potato
          186she'd been denied in Auschwitz. Her watch
          187has stopped. There was, there is no cure
          188for Manya's fifty-year disease of grief: Eat salt,
          189my mother said, if you have nothing else.
          190Eat salt.
          191Manya, is it you? I am so afraid
          192I let her get up and go without a word

33.
          193foursquare flat-topped
          194Branson where we took her after she'd
          195slid along the road on her shoulder
          196ten feet back from that car's headlights Let her
          197live, God! kept those dirty ragged clothes on the
          198living room book shelf until she came home

34.
          199up at the Jewish Home
          200for the Aged, there are forty-odd
          201women on the patio sitting heads canted
          202& mouths agape except for
          203my mother in her wheelchair
          204Good sunny day, I say
          205Yeah, my mother says, all the old
          206flowers are out

35.
          207drive, she said, up past Steeles, Bathurst
          208just skirting edges of green lawns, sweet flowers
          209past those synagogues, weddings made and broken,
          210vows taken and shattered, nights of lit candles
          211and memorials, past those wards of white beds and
          212trembling nights, past the strip malls where glatt
          213kosher & kosher style battle it out, past
          214Centennial where they've lifted him out of the snow and
          215sent him to heal

36.
          216out farther yet and up
          217where if you are drifting
          218in a balloon at sunset
          219it is not quite like Hokusai seeing Fuji
          220through barrel hoops, among kite strings and
          221under the Great Wave
          222the city's swathed in haze, in its vision
          223not magic or majestic, it is a gathering
          224of human beings among the trees, it is the city

Notes

1] stacked: circling in the air, waiting to land.

11] At the US-Canada border, officers would board the train and wake up everyone for identity and customs check.

23] The Royal Bank Plaza, two triangular towers, the tallest 40 stories and 591 feet high, has 24-carat gold in its 14,000 windows. It is located at 200 Bay Street, at the corner of Front Street.

24] Built in 1976, the world's tallest free-standing structure at 1815 feet, 5 inches, located on Front Street on the shore of Lake Ontario.

26] Restored as Commerce Court North, 34 stories and 477 feet high.

28] In Sibelius Park, at the corner of Lowther and Brunswick Avenues in the Annex in downtown Toronto, there is a statue of the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius sculpted by Win Aaltonen. It was set in place in 1959.

32] Agudas Achum Cemetery, that is, Roselawn Cemetery, at 619 Roselawn Avenue, two blocks east of Bathurst Avenue.

37] Queen's Park: the name of the provincial legislature building, just north of Toronto's College Street bisecting University Avenue to the south and Avenue Road to the north.

39] Mitchell F. Hepburn: Liberal premier of Ontario, 1934-42.

42] Toronto's first zoo, 1894-1974, now Riverdale Farm in the old Cabbagetown district of Toronto, at 201 Winchester Street.

46] One of a chain of Canadian Oil Co. gas stations, bought out by Shell Canada in 1963, famous for their elegant architecture and beautiful emblem.

52] Just south of the intersection of Lark Street and Kingston Road, and north of the intersection of Queen Street and Kingston, in east Toronto. Woodbine Park is on the south side of Queen at Kingston Road.

58] Thoroughfare running north from Lake Shore Boulevard east of Bayview and the Don River valley.

61] Queen Mary (1867-1953), consort to George V, king of England, and mother to King George VI. Photographs show her wearing big-rimmed hats with flowers and feathers.

64] Queen Street, an east-west thoroughfare through the heart of old Toronto.

65] Edward Hopper (1882-1967), American realist painter, well-known for imaging cityscapes and lighthouses.

68] George Orwell's Animal Farm (1946) tells a story of a farmer, representing Czar Nicholas II (Russia's last monarch), who was dethroned by the animals.

70] Cf. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm's story of the fisherman whose wife wanted to be an emperor.

76] Cf. Thomas Campion's poem "There is a Garden in her Face".

78] Riverdale Park: between the Don River and Broadview Avenue, north of Gerrard Street East. flashers: men who expose themselves.

82] A little east-west street between Broadview Avenue and Ingham Avenue, just south of the Danforth.

84] snaps: snapshots.

108] The Yiddish Art Theatre, 189 Second Ave., at 12th St., New York City (1926-32), had many imitators, including ones in Toronto and Montreal.

109] Hydro: electricity, power.

111] Hassidim: Hassidic jews, a pietist and austere sect.

112] shtreimlach: fur-trimmed hats.

113] Rebbeh: rabbi.

124] old Toronto thoroughfare from Lake Ontario northwards, one centre of the city's fashion (once clothes-making) and Chinese communities.

125] ideographs: Chinese characters.

127] dim sum: Chinese appetizers. bok choy: Chinese vegetable (brassica chinensis) sometimes called white cabbage.

132] Monte Carlo Ristorante, 1028 Eglinton Ave. West.

136] Chas Addams: Charles Addams (1912-88), well-known cartoonist whose ghoulish drawings of the "Addams family" were published often in The New Yorker.

137] Lonsdale Road, east-west residential street north of St. Clair Ave. West, and east of Avenue Road.

146] Yonge: Toronto's main south-north thoroughfare, reputed to be the world's longest street, running from Lake Ontario to Rainy River, 1900 km north.

149] Westwards from Yonge Street, main south-north thoroughfares march to cross Bloor, the main east-west street: Bay Street, Avenue Road, Spadina, and Bathurst Street. Bay Street is the city's financial centre, and Avenue Road the upscale shopping area, but at Spadina and points west the city becomes multicultural and residential.

159] Western: Toronto Western Hospital, 399 Bathurst St.

166] Honest Ed's: a working-class bargain store at 581 Bloor St. West in Toronto, established by Ed Mirvish in 1948, and for decades a neon-lit extravaganza of flashing lights and joking self put-downs like "We feel shopping should be an entertaining experience. `How cheap can a guy get? Come in and find out.'" It welcomes everyone with the invitation, "Come in and get lost!"

177] Dupont: east-west thoroughfare running from Jarvis Street to Dundas Street, characterized by old, homey, proud working-class brick houses separated from the street by little, often well-kept gardens.

186] Auschwitz: three linked Nazi concentration camps in Poland (1940-45), Auschwitz-Birkenau-Monowitz, in which over 1.1 million European jews were murdered in gas chambers.

194] Branson Hospital, North York, Toronto (opened 1957 and merged with North York General Hospital in 1998).

200] Jewish Home for the Aged: 3560 Bathurst St., North York, in Toronto, opened in 1957 and rebuilt in 1968 and 2000.

207] Steeles: major east-west thoroughfare north of and paralleling Highway 401 across the top of Toronto.

213] glatt kosher: approved meat from animals whose lungs were "smooth," lacking adhesions or defects (see Exodus 22:30).

214] Centennial Park Snow Centre at 256 Centennial Park Rd.

219] Hokusai seeing Fuji: Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), Japanese master who produced a set of landscape woodblock prints named "36 Views of Mount Fuji" (1823-1831).

221] the Great Wave: one of Hokusai's greatest images, a monster wave about to engulf two ships.


Online text copyright © 2004, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Copyright The Works: Collected Poems of Phyllis Gotlieb Calliope Press 1978
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Phyllis Gotlieb, Red Blood, Black Ink, White Paper: new and selected poems, 1961-2001. (Toronto: Exile Editions, 2002): 120-29. PS 8513.O77R33 Robarts Library
First publication date: 2002
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: 2003
Recent editing: 1:2003/1/5*1:2003/1/11*1:2003/9/30

Rhyme: unrhyming


Other poems by Phyllis Gotlieb