Poem 11

The hepatitis tree
on which all things grow
Does it know?
Does it know?

--Eli Fox

Poem 10: Radio in the Rain

I am waiting for you
to send me a message that says
at the power plant
we know little
but think more
tunnels and pipe,
trains that go nowhere
but their station.
We think
like a monk under the sun.
I am waiting for you
to send me a message
like a radio in the rain.

--Eli Fox

Article 16: What do designers think of the TORONTO sign?

Image by Sandy Plotnikoff

The TORONTO sign in front of City Hall has become perhaps the most photographed object in Toronto's design landscape. Built as a temporary installation for 2015’s Pan American Games, the sign is beginning to show its age and will require additional funding for maintenance—so at some point City Council will have to decide what to do with it. But, it hasn't been much discussed from a public design perspective. I contacted noted Toronto designers and asked all of them a simple question: What do you think about the sign?--David Stokes 

Daniel Young is a multidisciplinary artist. Some of his projects include the sculptural lighting at Mississauga’s Square One Shopping Centre, the public art installation “Nyctophilia” on Weston Road, a playground at Lee Center Park in Scarborough, and the film Camera Tracking a Spiral Drawn Between the Two Curved Towers of Viljo Revell's Toronto City Hall.

"What do I think of it? It's terrible. We have this great piece of architecture, Nathan Phillips Square, and a great piece of landscape design. It's one of the most important things in Canada, and then this fucking ugly stupid TORONTO sign on it. They should get rid of it. It's just that simple. I had a fight with my accountant about it because my accountant really likes it, she's like, ‘People really like it,’ and I was like, ‘Ugh!’ My God! What a piece of junk!  If someone wanted to do a good thing that said“Toronto” somewhere, sure. Look at how cool the word looks on Sandy Plotnikoff's artwork of post cards stamped "Toronto" but over images that have nothing to do with the city. We have a great piece of midcentury architecture and a landscape that should be respected and not junked up. It shouldn’t be on that site, or at least a designer should do a proper job on it. Unfortunately we need a much better audience for urbanism in Canada. People just like it because we're used to looking at commercial signage. People should develop a more sophisticated vocabulary to understand that City Hall is a very nice building.

Panya Clark Espinal has produced numerous works of public art in Toronto, working with the Toronto Transit Commission, Covenant House, and various community institutions in and around the city.

I don't like the sign. In the big scheme of things there aren't many things I have an opinion about, but I love Toronto City Hall. That building is so iconic and so beautiful, and the design has such integrity to it. I thought the sign would be temporary, and when I saw it just stay there I thought it clutters this beautifully designed space, and I really hope it doesn't stay. And I don’t understand the love affair with LED—there's a quality to that that's really overused and harsh now. There just is not the elegance of that site and that building. I get the marketing strategy, but there are so many other beautiful ways to market a city and that sign detracts from what is beautiful about that place. I get that we can’t just hold things in a timeless, frozen moment but city Hall is one of the most iconic and groundbreaking pieces of architecture in the city. Everything about it was thought out and to just throw this very commercially produced sign in there, there's nothing timeless about that sign. I'm so glad you called me to have the opportunity to officially voice this. I can feel the sign going somewhere along the waterfront where it’s a contemporary space and it’s a place where the aesthetic fits. But to me, City Hall with those arches and the ramps and the quality of the building and the Henry Moore [sculpture]—these are our iconic things that I just think should never be changed. I don’t think City Hall needs a TORONTO sign. You don’t have the Arc de Triomphe and put up a Paris sign. I say just get rid of it.

Chris Pommer is one of the co-founders of PLANT Architects, a architecture, landscape, ecology, furniture, art, and graphic design firm. In 2007 he was involved with the Nathan Phillips Square Revitalization at Toronto City Hall, along with Andrew Frontini of Perkins and Will.

The sign was a fine thing to have as a special event for the Pan Am Games. But we spent 10 years and $60 million dollars to open up the square and clean out all of the things that had been added ad-hoc to the square over 40 years to make a space that was a clean, open slate. For example, the theatre that we built was a replacement for a “temporary” trailer stage that sat on the square for 300-odd days a year. The square was under a lot of stress. We did a lot of historical research and tried to learn as much as we could about the original scheme and Viljo Revell’s [the designer of City Hall] use of formal imagery that embodied democratic ideas of the use of space. We even became acquainted with Viljo Revell’s daughters, one of whom is an architect in Helsinki, and we were gratified to learn that we got our interpretation right. By contrast, the TORONTO sign was built to be temporary, and it wasn’t all that well made to begin with. I’d like to see it use the same typeface used on the square with a link to the original project. And I would have kerned the letters better! As a temporary thing it’s totally fine.. But it’s the uncritical acceptance of it as a permanent thing that is the thin edge of just filling up the space again. It’s easy to read our take on it as being sensitive artists with bruised egos who feel that their work is being wrecked, but that's not really what it's about. I love fun temporary things, like Ai Weiwei’s bicycles, or tennis courts in the skating rink. But if there is going be a permanent change made to the square it should really be considered and it shouldn’t just be ‘is it popular?’ I’d be an idiot if I didn’t think there were would be changes to the site that we built.  People at the city have said to me ‘The sign, it’s so great! Now people are coming into the square!’ Well, people have been coming into the square and standing at that corner of the rink and taking a selfie with City Hall behind them long before the TORONTO sign. It’s fun and nice, but it’s no longer special. I got to take my picture with it, and now it’s just this other thing and it’s starting to look crappy and the square is getting cluttered again.  

Andrew Frontini is a Principal at Perkins+Will Architecture and the Design Director of the Toronto and Ottawa studios. Since 2007 he has been partner-in-charge of the Nathan Phillips Square Revitalization at Toronto City Hall, with Chris Pommer from PLANT Architects.

I think the sign is something that really engages people. People climb on it, stand in front of it, it situates people, and adds a graphic element, and those are all fun things. In the revitalization of the square, one of the ideas was to create this space that was really open for spectacles, events, temporary inhabitations of all kinds. So the ability of the square to accept the sign is great. But I do think it’s embarrassing that it still sits there and is decaying. What I think would be nice is if you created the opportunity to come up with a new sign or a new installation that occupies that space and engages people in that way. You don't have to hang on to a temporary installation until it falls apart in front of you. There’s a hilarious Toronto Star article by Edward Keenan where he imagines tours of Toronto in 2037 and the sign is still there but the only letters left are ROT. This paralysis around it is unfortunate. I think it’s okay to just take it away and create the opportunity for something new. You shouldn’t hold on to an ephemeral moment. I love Christmas, but I don’t need a Christmas tree up all year. Why doesn’t the square become a showcase for Toronto's talent, rather than this decaying effigy? I was on vacation in Mexico this past winter, in a small town, a real dusty pueblo, and in their main square there were these letters that were the exact same letters as the Toronto sign. Why don’t we make way for a more original expression that captures the vitality of this city? Because this is probably the most vital period of Toronto’s history Canada 150 is a great example of the lost opportunity. Here's this major event and we couldn’t come up with a new thing, we just use the Pan Am Games thing again? It just speaks to a lack of ambition—but Toronto is a bit famous for that. City Hall, however, is a real original statement, let’s let that be and not get in the habit of putting in a series of unplanned temporary things that become permanent. Let's keep it dynamic and fresh and celebrate creativity and not get bogged down with clutter. What happened last time I talked about this was that people said ‘oh architects are out of it, they're clueless, they're not in touch with the public.’ But I think if you let the sign come down and you put something back that was great people would love that too. In Orillia, around their market square, they do an art installation every year. It becomes something for people to look forward to and there’s this competitive spirit—how do we one up what we did last year? I think that City Hall can receive things like that. I think of Ai Weiwei's piece with the bicycles. Imagine pieces like that always coming in. I think the square should always be ready to receive something amazing like that.

Hunter Tura is President and CEO of Bruce Mau Design, and he has helped develop brand strategies for Samsung, Unilever, Sonos, Harvard University, the John F. Kennedy Center, and the new Design Society in Shenzhen. He organized the first BRAND x (Place) Conference in May 2015, has worked in the office of AMO/Rem Koolhaas, and has a Master of Architecture degree from Harvard University.

In the past five or 10 years, we’ve seen the iconic Instagrammable moment become how a number of cities think about their brand. The TORONTO sign created a sort of identifiable icon for the city. Our firm developed one of the earlier icons of the genre, which is the big AGO sign by their entrance, and that became a place where tourists had their Instagram moment. Increasingly, when we work with both developers and municipalities, this is something that gets built into the project, how a city, or a mall, or an institution will appear on social media and how that image gets exported. As far as antecedents go, the LOVE statue by Robert Indiana in Philadelphia was a breakthrough in the late 70s when a lot of businesses had begun to move to the suburbs and they were trying to activate life downtown. In more recent history, the “I Amsterdam” sign created by the municipality became the centerpiece of a global Heineken ad campaign. These signs are fun, and if designed well, they photograph well and they export well.Ever since Pan Am, the TORONTO sign became normalized and accepted as part of the image of Toronto. From a design standpoint it’s okay, it’s not the “I Amsterdam” where the verbal construction gives it more character than just the city name. But my kids view the TORONTO sign as one of these identifiable international images of the city, along with the profile of the CN Tower. And it was not a particularly expensive sign to produce, so the City has gotten an incredibly return on their investment. I’ve been in Toronto for seven years and Nathan Phillips Square, as an outsider, doesn’t have any immediate appeal that would, in my opinion, be compromised by the sign. We did a branding exercise for Canada with an American media company in 2012 and as part of that campaign we dropped the maple leaf out of the flag and used the bars to kind of frame different images. Younger Canadians loved the campaign but older people who had been through the process to arrive at a new national flag were horrified that we could so casually alter it. While the TORONTO sign has gotten a bit dinged up, I think that if it did come down, you would have people upset because it’s part of their everyday image of the city. The temporary status through Pan Am was actually kind of brilliant, a great way to get it into public acceptance. I think that if there was a competition or a concerted effort to create an icon to represent the entire city, that becomes a much harder thing to achieve because of all the attention around it. One of the things we have found with our work is a lot of these interventions are quite tactical—usually public-private partnerships—because when it is open to a larger public process we begin to have to engage stakeholders and ask the question: What is the icon for a multicultural city of 5 million people? And those can be tougher questions.

These interviews have been edited for length and clarity. 

Walk 4: Fill-in-the-Blanks Walk

Big Land Walks is a series of free walks. Our goal is not to convey any specific information but to have a collective poetic experience. Participants are members of the public who had no idea about us but saw us standing beside our sign on the street and decided to go on a walk. 

Fill-in-the-Blanks Walk
Walk led by David Stokes

I set up my 'Free Tour' sign at the south east side of Nathan Phillips Square, across from the pool. A group approached and asked about the tour. They were a family with 5 kids. I explained that we would go around the square and give funny names and descriptions to the stuff there. They agreed to come with me. I gave them all pens and a paper with these words to be filled in. 

(random object) 
(random group of living things) 
(random reason)
(any made up name). 
(any number) 
(line from a song)! 

(any sort of activity) 
(Toronto celebritiy)

1 was the Henry Moore sculpture: 
This (adjective) (object) was made by (group of living things) for (random reason). It is named the (any made up name). 

2 was the Toronto: 
The Toronto sign is (any number) years old, this is all that remains of the original sign, which used to read Toronto: is/ (line from a song)! 

3 was the Pool:
This pool is filled with the tears of Toronto's (occupation), who wanted the pool to be (exclamation) like them.    

4 was City Hall:  
City Hall, which is shaped liked a clamshell, makes Torontoians feel (emotion) because of laws and licenses governing (any sort of activity).    

5 was the flame:  
This flame, which is designed to cook (food) for (Toronto celebritiy).   

The walk took about 40 minutes. 

Walk 3: Pigeon Feeding Walk

Big Land Walks is a series of free walks. Our goal is not to convey any specific information but to have a collective poetic experience. Participants are members of the public who had no idea about us but saw us standing beside our sign on the street and decided to go on a walk. Here is a brief record of a walk.

Pigeon Feeding Walk
Walk led by David Stokes, from an idea by Daniel Glassman

I set up my 'Free Tour' sign at the south east edge of Nathan Phillips Square where it meets Queen Street. A group approached and asked about the tour. They were a group of guys who were on a corporate team building exercise. They decided it would look cool to their boss if they did the walk. 

I gave them each a bit of bird feed and we went into Nathan Phillips Square and fed the birds there. 

The walk took about 30 minutes. 

Walk 2: Chance Walk

Big Land Walks is a series of free walks. Our goal is not to convey any specific information but to have a collective poetic experience. Participants are members of the public who had no idea about us but saw us standing beside our sign on the street and decided to go on a walk. Here is a brief record of the walk.   

Chance Walk
Walk led by David Stokes

I set up my 'Free Tour' sign at the south east edge of Nathan Phillips Square where it meets Queen Street. A group approached and asked about the tour. They were a group of people from Brampton going to the Blue Jays game later. I explained that this tour would be guided by chance. They agreed to come with me. 

To begin, I asked a participant where they were from and if they lived north/east-west or south/east-west of our starting point. They lived north of it so we went one block north to Dundas and Bay.

At the corner of Dundas and Bay, I produced a die. Each street corner got a number and two corners got an extra number. I rolled the die on the sidewalk. Based on the number rolled we went west to the corner of Dundas and Elizabeth Street.

At the corner of Dundas and Elizabeth Street, I asked a participant what their favourite colour was. They said a shade of yellow. I then asked them which direction had more yellow. There was more yellow north on Elizabeth Street so we went north to Elizabeth Street and Edward Street.

At the corner of Elizabeth and Edward Street, I picked up a small piece of garbage from the ground. I asked a participant to choose which part of the garbage would be the pointing end. Then I threw it into the air. It landed pointing most towards the north so we went that way to Elizabeth and Elm Street.

At the corner of Elizabeth and Elm Street, I asked a participant to ask a stranger on the street which way we should go. They asked someone who told us to go east, so we went to the corner of Elm Street and Barnaby Place.

At the corner of Elm and Barnaby Place, I asked a participant to be our leader. We would go in whichever direction they felt best. They chose down Barnaby Place. We went down. At the corner of Barnaby Place and Edward Street, the walk ended.

This walk lasted about an hour.

Walk 1: Listening and Noticing Walk

Big Land Walks is a series of free walks. Our goal is not to convey any specific information but to have a collective poetic experience. Participants are members of the public, often who had no idea about us but saw us standing beside our sign on the street and decided to go on a walk. Here is a brief record of the walk.   

Listening and Noticing Walk
Walk led by David Stokes

I set up my 'Free Tour' sign at the south east edge of Nathan Phillips Square where it meets Queen Street. A group approached and asked about the tour. They were a group of three tourists from Philladelphia and wanted to try the walk.

We began by heading to the grassy lawn of Osgoode Hall. We lay down on the grass and closed our eyes and listened to the city for a minute and a half. Then we talked about what we heard.

Next we began a noticing walk. I handed out index cards and pens to everyone and asked them to make their way back to our starting point, but to take their time and to try to write down a brief description of everything they saw that interested them or caught their eye.

Once we had all reached the benches in front of Nathan Phillips Square, we told each other what we had seen. That was the end of the walk. The walk lasted about an hour.

Here are images of some of the index cards from the group.

Article 15: Sacred Condo Boom Building Game

Stacks of cash baby, stacks of cash! Condo towers look like big stacks of cash. Together they make the city skyline a stock market chart that rises and falls, we can see the relative fortune of a place by the number and height of its towers. For each building think of how there are holes in the earth where it all came from. Look around, small town boys, and feast on air, rock, iron, coal, all the world’s riches, burning, glistening. And think of the big burly men who build them and whistle at girls. Everywhere in the city is the trace of anonymous people, many of whom are dead. Maybe they whistled at your grandma. Not a brick was placed without someone who had to think of that brick. They thought of that brick, while in their heart and unconscious they were thinking of so much more at the same time. A building and a city is millions of thoughts and efforts made into one. At the very tip of the CN Tower antenna, before they put it up a whole bunch of workers put their signatures inside it. I talked to this guy who’s grandfather's name is in there. Every time I see the CN Tower now, I imagine the littleness of that signature in that huge thing.

There's a poem where the poet puts the CN Tower into his ass, along with the intersection of Bathurst and Queen. I know of a bank tower where on the top floor in the mens bathroom the urinals are hung in front of the windows, giving the male executives the feeling of pissing on the city. 'Suck my building!' screams the finance bro. The city and its buildings can be used as singular, personal, erotic, and egotistical things. A city, E.B. White noted, can help some people make up for a deficiency of spirit, and play a bigger role determining their life than their own actions. And buildings certainly transmit an idea of the soul's transcendence, an aspiration towards freedom, a rising above. Duchamp claimed the Woolworth Building as a ready-made sculpture, authored solely him. Who, when they look at a tower sparkling at night, has not for a moment been in the thrall of that building? As big as it is maybe you are the only person looking at it at that moment. Who hasn't imagined being some villain or tycoon with a tower lair? (The New Yorker ran a story called "The Psychological Insights of Trump Tower".) Looking at the city is the urban luxury par excellence; the buildings give to each city slicker a feeling of human power and brilliance, thousands of lights and windows, human stars to compare to the heavenly stars of the small town night. In it's simplest definition a city is a place where we build so that we can fit more people together. And filled with people, each of these towers is a sort of Babel. “What is the sacred?” asks Goethe. And he immediately replies: “What links souls together."

And yet, these buildings, are often hideous and I hate them. It is hard to walk certain locales without mostly losing consciousness. Approaching a condo tower I scanned it for any thought or image to hold onto. This neighborhood is used for torture! I have become accustomed to bursting into laughter at these funeral rites which serve me for a landscape. Why is it that everywhere -- people all over the world -- are living in boxes? Tall boxes, small boxes, off the ground, on the ground, boxes boxes boxes? Some are so ugly and so boring that I grab them and crumble them into balls as I walk by. With many I tilt a cornice, extrude a flourish, widen a window, add some colour. Tall grey glass rectangles, as lazy as a stack of cash.

There are so many buildings and you have to deal with them and see them so continually that it sometimes feels necessary to play games with them, to try to find something about their brute hulks that can be silly and playful. I can easily see a plate spinning on the top of the CN Tower. Many have noted how City Hall looks like a clam shell or how OCAD is held up by crayons. There's a house I used to pass everyday where everything about it, from its roof to its little black door, made it look like Adolf Hitler. I like the fact that in 1967, 75,000 Yippie protesters converged on the Pentagon to levitate the building. They even got a permit beforehand: the authorities agreed to allow the Pentagon to be elevated three feet in the air, but not the 300 feet the organizers requested. A priest I know is mandated to cross herself each time she passes through the center line of the church. I’ve read about a homeless shelter funded by a philanthropist after he read a certain book on poverty. He was so stirred by this book that he made sure that the book itself was thrown into the concrete foundation of the building. I wish every building had a quirky story like that. I only know a few. A friend lives in an apartment building on Spadina whose common areas are inexplicably filled with Weegee photographs; the front lobby has a photograph of two cross-dressers. Other friends used to live in an old coffin factory and were routinely spooked at night by eerie noises. And I used to have an office in One Spadina, which at that time held the discombobulated eyeballs of the Ontario Eye Bank, stacks of cages for an animal testing biotech company in the basement, old autopsy lockers, and an unsolved stabbing murder and a death by misadventure when a girl on a first date fell through the ventilation shaft. Some buildings are clearly psycho; they have been abandoned or mistreated, abused or forgotten, ill-considered, poorly designed, or just have odd energies. It's fun to notice a building that tilts comically, or is terminally rundown. It's fun to see abandoned buildings, buildings of genius, and buildings in storms. It's fun to look at a city and just see the buildings and nothing else. One day I guess I was waiting for someone and zoned out of the human hustle and bustle on the street; suddenly I noticed the distinct shape of every building. I felt and identified with them. I felt the shadow under a cold wall. I felt the afternoon sun change the colour of the buildings from pink, to yellow, to the colour of apricots, to dusk brown. Perhaps one day, when the whole world lives in the clouds, people will descend to see ancient skyscrappers that stand leaning to one side.

--David Stokes

Article 14: The Chinese Canadian Conservative Association Elvis Christmas Special

In an old strip mall being converted into offices and apartments, the Chinese Canadian Conservative Association gathers for its annual Christmas party. Trays of food are laid out, speeches are given, but all eyes are on the TVs above and mics in the corner of the room. The host announces that no one is leaving without at least one song. Couples dance to Teresa Teng’s Tian Mi Mi, a couple of guests tell the audience if they’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear flowers in your hair. The biggest cheers of the night come out as turn of the 90s rock outfit Beyond’s Hoi Fut Tin Hung and Hei Fun Nei come on the system. The crowd, now long married with children who’ve grown up, belts out every Oh Yeah and Shoo Be Doo from the anthems of their youth. Hei Fun Nei ends the way one of Elvis’ greatest performances from the last months of his life begins – my love, my darling, I hunger for your touch. A polished baritone voice booms through the room – love me tender, love me long, take me to your...heart. A double take reveals the speakers are only playing the backing track – a 50 to 60-year old suited man with Hong Kong roots gives his vocal tribute to Elvis. The night winds down, the lights dim, a disco ball is brought out, and the couples still left dance in its rays.

--Meng Bao

Poem 9: Come downstairs...

blue pajama
you hunt the stars
between my two eyes

--David Stokes

Article 13: Going back to the pueblo

I live in Mexico City, where a beautiful chaos holds everyday. But it’s Christmas time which means holidays and for a lot of people it means “obligatory family time”, so even if I enjoy living in what we still call “DF”, blood reclaims me and I go back to the town where I was born.

After seven hours in the bus I finally arrive in Huejutla where my brother comes for me and takes me to Tempoal, where I’m from. One hour is the distance between each place and along the way you can see the mountains, the green of the trees and the thickness of the morning air. When I feel we’re starting to get close I roll down the window and as I inhale the air I recognize I'm home. There is just that feeling of your land that makes it so special, you see those streets that you have walked, driven, you know what you´ll see next, you know the colors, the shapes, you feel your land with all your senses and you know you were born there. You know you are part of it.

My brother parks the truck and we carry the suitcases through the garage that hides my house, and I pass my aunt´s house and in the last window I shout: “tía!” hoping she answers, she does and she waves at me smiling and saying hi, she´s on the phone. And I continue walking that path of wood and rocks that no one likes because when it rains it gets slippery and everyone is always falling. But it always reminds me how I used to play with my cousin, we would just wait until it rained enough so a waterfall could be made and we could play in the water. And from there I can see the old “horno de barro” - “wood stove” - where my mom and my aunt used to make zacahuil for the new year.

Three little steps continue to get to my house and I start to see my mom’s garden, and I know I’ll see the red playground where I used to balance and then jump to the green grass, but now there is no more grass and it looks sad. Beside it now is my brother´s coffee roasting machine and the air smells quite nice, everything else is green and I continue to my door, where I knock so my mom can receive me and hug me. And right away she leads us to the kitchen where already she has made breakfast for us. She has made us meat with enchiladas with tortillas from her own hands and she has just put them in a salsa with that fresh cheese that my mom probably just bought that morning from a person screaming at the door “queso fresco! queso fresco!”. This is the cheese that I have missed, because it has an unreplacable flavor, it tastes more fresh and real than any other, it tastes like nature and you enjoy every bite of it. Tempoal is known for its cheese and its meat, and as little as it is -- 38, 839 inhabitants, though thats what a sign has said even before I was born -- in Mexico people know meat or cheese is good quality when it's from Tempoal.

Those are the moments that I feel thankful to have been born there and I don’t care about the lady who took half of my seat and didn’t let me sleep the whole night on the bus, or the nausea I felt almost the whole way because of the mountain's curves. The rooster will sing and the cats will ask for food in a cute melody of hunger, love and patience, and we’ll all laugh at the moment mom talks to them and they just seem to understand her.

--Celeste Navarrete

Poem 8: Clown Cars

Clown cars.
They only saw clown cars.

--Eli Fox

Article 12: The Ravines

There is a secret country in Toronto—the ravines. From the street they are seen only as quiet, unassuming gates of green; but through them unfolds a wide polyrhythmic pulse, a descent into a quilt of gorges.

The extent of Toronto's ravine network is unusual and defines the city. In fact, it is the largest network of ravines of any city in the world. So, while Montreal has a hill that everyone can see, and NYC has a park in the centre, Toronto’s greatest green-space, the ravine network, lies out of view. And yet it is larger by a significant degree — 10 500 hectares of wild (the city’s parks are separate green space) — and not centralized in expensive neighborhoods but equitably distributed amongst all corners. No matter where you are in Toronto, a foray into wilderness is only a short walk away.

The ravines are prehistoric scars on the chest of the city. If you had the geological time-lapse footage for Toronto and fast-forwarded to the end of the last ice age, 12 000 years ago, you’d see a three- kilometre-thick continent¬sized glacier above you right now. You’d be beneath an ice sheet taller than five CN Towers stacked on top of each other. And that enormous ice sheet is moving, headed north, and as it moves it’s immense weight is carving out millions of long, deep gashes in the bedrock which meltwater flows through and further expands. Eventually the ice sheet retreated far to the north, but it left behind a changed landscape, a Toronto scratched and stretched apart by deep ravines that bisect the city like the lines on your hand.

Today these ancient ravine are like passageways “great sunken gardens”, “rooms of green sunlight”, to Toronto poet Anne Michaels - that reach through the city like fingers, weaving through virtually every neighbourhood. You can enter a ravine at Steeles and Leslie and emerge, hours later, in Cabbagetown. Toronto’s ravines are so distinct, their verdant tendrils forming the city’s unique green handprint from above, that it has been suggested that if the CN Tower is Toronto’s unavoidable phallic symbol, then the ravines are the feminine corollary.

Suddenly, far from being a flat place, inclusion of the ravines reveals Toronto to be a landscape of inverted hills and unpredictable drops. Some of the ravines are 300- 400 feet below the surrounding land, many with a steepness only 20° away from vertical. Toronto is, in the phrase of architect Larry Richards, a “San Francisco in reverse.” Though to miss this alter-ego of our city is unsurprising, almost the work of a deliberate conspiracy: much of the city was purposely built around the ravines, the road network bypassing or crossing bridges above them, making it easy to travel through the city totally unaware of the sharp variations in topography. But Toronto is not as flat and straight as its planners have made it seem. We all drive through, past, or over the ravines.

And then there are those who choose to go into them. Novelist Hugh Hood describes Toronto as “a city where sooner or later you find yourself going down into a dark place in the ground.” The majority of the ravines have city-built and often wheelchair accessible paved paths. Other paths are desire lines and are quite rough, more like a dare: Is this a path in the woods or am I just hoping it is? Regardless, just a few feet into any path, the city drops away, its buildings disappeared behind, the city’s noise and traffic gone. Trees, nature, peace and solitude. You can walk paths without even knowing where you are going. It truly feels like the wild countryside. It's no surprise that the ravines were a favourite haunt of Ernest Hemingway when he lived in Toronto.

Despite the huge number of people who live around them, you can sometimes walk a ravine path and pass nobody for an hour or two. When you do pass a person going for a walk with the dog, or squeezing a 15-minute hike into a busy day, there is the usual awkward glance-and-nod system of uncertain human contact. The loneliness here can be a joyous intoxication. On weekends, though, the paths are usually well used and are a good time to go if you don’t want to feel as alone. Many people walk, run, or bike. Some families picnic off the path; the city has even installed metal barbeque-stands in a few locations. There are many people who fish in the ravines. I once met a woman who was collecting wild mushrooms, and I’ve seen people forage for wild (and valuable: $500 to $600 per pound) American Ginseng, neither of which the Toronto Conservation Agency wants you to do. They call this activity poaching.

You don’t need to drive three hours to Algonquin Park to see wildlife. The ravines are like a national park that has been tucked into a city. Our ravines are connected to the the wilderness north of the city, forming a nature corridor that animals and plants migrate and drift up and down through, like a feral highway. The ravines are home to more than 762 plant species (89 are wild edibles), hundreds of mushroom subspecies, over a hundred species of birds, and 19 species of amphibians and reptiles.

In the ravines you may come upon clouds of Red Admiral butterflies, beavers, pheasants, deer, coyote, salmon, dog-strangling vine, wild grape, eastern cottonwood, black cherry, red fox, red-tailed hawk, whitewater and white pine. But here these creatures are anything but a list. Life surrounds you and when you look at a plant or an animal there is no David Attenborough voice to tell you what they are.

The ravines are a being in whose flesh you are entangled. The smell of the woods is aromatherapy; you are breathing in wood oils and the perfume of microorganisms feasting (there’s a Japanese term for this: ‘'forest bathing"). Around you are trillions of spores, seeds, viruses and bacteria, many that have never been classified and never will.

Ravine life sees us and interacts with us. In the summer I saw a crayfish, a small freshwater lobster, sitting in a few inches of water in a stream. Trying to get it, it pinched me with its claws. The other night just after sunset, a saw-whet owl alighted on a branch above me and watched me as I wearied up a hill, almost as if it wanted to make sure I left.

In a city of 2.7 million, the ravines are the Wild and Uncolonized.

Margaret Atwood wrote that "to go down into them is to go down into sleep, away from the conscious electrified life of the houses. The ravines are darker, even in the day.” Rich people have their houses built right up against the ravines — but not in them. The city spends millions encasing ravines’ edges in metal cages trying to contain their movement and stop erosion or mudslides. The urban areas of the city depend on the ravines’ wild-nature to improve air quality and control flood waters. It was the destruction wrought by Hurricane Hazel on the suburbs that led to the ravines being protected against more suburban development. The ravines are used as a floodplain bulwark to protect Toronto during extreme weather events. Whenever it rains too much for the sewers, the ravines channel the excess into the lake, saving us at their expense. When the city was first built, residents just used the ravines as sewers themselves.

The ravines have long been the home for what society didn’t want, a shelter for the suppressed and the repressed. Some estimates say there’s about 100 people living in the Don Valley ravine. The ravines are a popular destination for recreational drug users looking for a safe and sedate place away from people and laws. If you spend enough time there a wiff of weed, or seeing a person hugging a tree while probably on acid, is bound to happen. During WWII, a prisoner of war camp was located in the ravines, the prisoners confined in tents and huts while mining clay at the Don Valley brick works and the Greenwood clay pits. The ravines have been a popular spot for gay cruising throughout Toronto’s history, especially when it was outlawed and stigmatized. During one attempted night time police crackdown in the ravine, a plain-clothes cop made contact with a guy who offered sex. When he identified himself to make an arrest, he got shoved and fell a considerable distance. The police backed off the entrapment tactics after that; the landscape was simply not conducive to easily enforcing hierarchy or law. There in the bush, "Orgies easily start and continue with changing personnel," one man recalled, "It is really quite civilized."

Though it was repression that led men into the ravines, once there it provided a pastoral setting for amour. Here is city librarian Rick Bebout, a gay liberationism AIDS activist, and with the ravines as backdrop, erotic photographer: “There was the sweet boy leaning on a tree just off the trail from the upper park, clearly very young and very nervous. ... There was the dark haired boy in black dress pants (a waiter, he said, here from Belgium) that he got muddy as we slid together down a hill. ... The funny little man who wanted us to take off all our clothes and have sex on a rock in the stream. We did, then sat naked on a log -- and got our bottoms bit by ants. And there was Ken Hutchinson. He was there to wander and sun, I to take pictures: of the stream, the viaduct, the piers, all wonderful. And of course I took pictures of him. Ken leaning back naked on a fallen limb. And with that — I ran out of film. We didn't have sex. But I did keep those pictures."

Perhaps the most under appreciated aspect of the ravines is their great gift to the city’s sensuality. There is an intense and lurid plant life: spikes intermingle with delicate flowers, shuddering beauty heighten by thorns. The ravine shape itself, V, pushes matter on top of each other, sliding life onto life. Walking down into the ravines brings blood to the cheeks. An Atwood protagonist reflects: “It seemed wrong to have this cavity in the city.” The ravines fill the city with poetry and stories, an awareness often beginning in childhood with the nourishment of contact and interchange it provides with other shapes of life, antlered and loop¬tailed and amber-eyed beings whose resplendent weirdness loosens our imaginations. I grew up thinking that in every city children descended into ravines; I knew them as the only place away from parents, society. Toronto poet Elana Wolff alludes to the ravine’s proto- sexual significance in the lives of young girls:

And in the soft mythology of memory, gully triumphant.

Intractably tied to the tail end of girlhood.

Damp gash where trilliums peeked like summer poutice fairies and were snatched.

Toronto resident Murray Seymour, author of a guidebook to the ravines, describes what he felt when discovering the ravines: “One day in desperation, tired beyond measure of walking the endless paved roads of suburbia, I cut across an overgrown field and almost fell into a green, riverine land. I remember even now how I felt I felt my chest expand, breathing in the oxygen from the trees. There was water down below, rushing over stones and darting through rapids. It sounded like water, looked like water, smelled like water. And though there was not a cloud in the sky, my cheek was wet." Jason Ramsay-Brown, author of the blog Walking with Abbey, travels the ravines with his 6 year old daughter. On Flickr there are thousands of photographers for whom the ravines have been their muse. And besides artistic potential there is literal buried treasure in the ravines: there’s a story that as the Americans looted our city in April 1813, British soldiers buried their money in Gates Gully.

Many new immigrants, coming from climates where danger lurks proudly in the forest, are wary of the ravines. ‘There’s no poisonous snakes here, no poisonous spiders?’ While there are none of those here, it does require a certain unearned confidence to wander the ravines. There is danger in them — rare flash floods, unleashed dogs, strangers. Anyone who extolls the virtues of the ravines must stress the importance of being careful; tell a friend, take a phone, bring a friend. You could sprain an ankle or slip on winter ice. Waterways are often deceptively fast moving and very cold, even in the height of summer, and can be deadly if you fall in. Even light rains can transform trickling streams into raging rivers, death traps that sound and move like fast-moving freight trains and overflow their banks. As one poet says, "The floor of the ravine where light lies broken.”

The most unfortunate ravine community are the people whose bodies are found there. Less unfortunate but still shaken are the people who find them. Bricklayer Charles Edwards was working near Bathurst and Lawrence and decided to take a few minutes' break to walk down into a wooded ravine at the bottom of the street. He hadn’t gone very far when he almost stumbled over what he first thought was a sleeping man. He said, "Pardon me." Then he saw the blood. The man had been shot three times, somewhere else, and dragged there. "I can still see his wide, glassy eyes staring at me.” And the ravines each year give up their share of suicides and unexplained deaths. A woman walking her dog on a Sunday morning stumbled upon skeletal remains in the area just east of Royal York Rd. The remains were wearing only one running shoe and a pill bottle was found on the ground nearby. Nature is beautiful but it is also ceaseless fornication and asphyxiation and choking and fighting for survival and growing and just rotting away.

The ravines remind you that you’re an animal, a fellow creature of earth; here we tune our animal senses to the sensible terrain, blend our skin with the rain-rippled surface of a creek, mingle our ears with the thunder, our eyes with the molten sky through gold and red in the fall, lush and cool green in spring and summer, solemn cold in the winter. This beauty has an effect: many studies have found increased brain activity in people after a walk in the woods, reduced stress, better memory. The ravines change how you relate to your body. Sliding down a gully, hopping over fallen trees, stepping over a creek and slipping but catching yourself at the last moment - the ground is a dance partner. It is never flat. But an immense puzzle: shoes always avoiding puddles. Matter is soft here, such a contrast to the clean edges of the city and its canyons of straight lines and non-living non-porous matter. Some metal stakes abandoned here feel horribly cold, colder than anything in the whole woods. Even the rock here is soft. I’m elated to discover an exposed creckbed with layers of clay that peel off and mould in my hand. This stuff supports all our houses.

The ravines have never been more important to a good life. Dutch media scholar Christoph Lindner argued recently that in an age of population density and near constant technological distraction where we’re becoming irradiated and sedentary beings, smart cities ought to create "slow-spots" -- pockets of silence and attention that could house ' creative sites of decelerated practice and experience." Well, Toronto already has these places. How lucky Toronto is. Here’s Toronto green entrepreneur Geoff Cape: Every smart city in the world is trying to figure out how to develop a green strategy and a sustainability strategy. Ours is embedded in our landscape. It's here. We just need to pay attention to it.’

Once there paying attention is easy. This is a landscape of continual interruptions of forms endless layered and shadowed against one another, terrifyingly rich, full of noticings and adventures, of the healthy kind. A painted place, fractal, as intense in each spot as all others, encourages a constant and promiscuous concentration. In the span of a few minutes: Two squirrels make impromptu shadow puppets. A swarm of dragon flies. A tiny blue butterfly. A tree that drops a fragrant fruit. A chipmunk that sounds like a snake rattling. A strange strange orange fruit with a barb. A graffiti tagged ‘fuck’ on the opening tunnel of a buried creek. The tunnel is big enough to enter and traverse underground in near total darkness for 50 meters, chanting to stave off fear. I follow the creek for the next 20 minutes until it entered a tunnel running beneath someones backyard. I find vines you can literally swing on, and I do. A natural ampitheatre and two chairs and someones script notes. A plum left in the middle of a stump like an offering to the woods. A fire pit with an abandoned paperback. I spend a few minutes staring into a clear pool watching the drops fractal. I feel high. I bend down and touch the closest piece of bark. Inside is a spider menacingly guarding her egg sac. I mouth an 'I’m sorry' and return the bark.

A study finds that looking at nature photos or taking a walk in the woods "makes people care more for the future" and "entices people to prefer greater, delayed rewards over smaller, immediate rewards". The more we know about the ravines the better we can protect and respect them and use them, even if their main use is to put aside all cares. For to forest bathe is actually to get dirty, you are truly being bathed, touched, immersed, nature gives the body a sort of reverse scrubbing, actually made dirtier but by things that are wild, and, hence, “cleansed” of civilization, perhaps dirtied but healed. The woods help keep the city sane. As one newspaper columnist put it, “After a long trip home on a crowded subway — where two jerks clogged the door, tripping everyone who came on and off — well, a trip to the woods is just the antidote to manslaughter.”

I come to a small clearing nestled near the riverbank. This used to be the home of Toronto’s Peace Lady, who appeared throughout the city in flowing white and waving peace signs on bridges. She lived in this spot for 25 years, her tarplin encampment covered with religious messages. No idea where she is now; it is strange to finally stand here. The ravines are full of other departed spirits. One time, bending a crooked trail just off this path, I stood less than 10 feet from a fully horned deer buck. 100 years ago, right here was a farming hamlet called Clark’s Settlement or Clarksville, one of the first communities in the area. The village had a smith, school and church. I can’t find any sign of its foundations here. Nothing will bring back the thousands of huge pines that grew here and were felled to make masts for the British navy. The original name for the Don River was Nechengquakekonk. I let that name possess my English tongue. In 2000, digging for a housing development beside an east-end ravine unearthed ceramic sherds. Eight months of archaeological excavation revealed a 600-year-old Huron village that supported a population of 800 to 1,000, with 16 or 17 longhouses plus sweat lodges and hearths. Over 19,000 artifacts, including stone tools and weapons, copper beads and pipes were found. That’s the most extensive proof of human life in the ravines, but it’s not the oldest, not by a long shot. Relics unearthed in Gates Gully ravine have been dated from the early archaic period (circa 8000 BC). That’s ten thousand years ago. At that time, the ravines were young. We are only just discovering the ravines. A partner to us for our lives while in this city. All its stories and beings. In the evening as transpiration exits the leaves, the mist rises like a crowd of ghosts.

--David Stokes

Article 11: Newspaper Story

At 3am in the suburban north of Toronto I walked towards a small strip mall near my house. Everything is completely still and quiet. At the strip mall every store is closed and black. But this parking lot has a secret life. Every morning out of quiet and darkness it suddenly becomes full of cars and people. I walk into the centre of the throng. From trucks filled with newspapers men are tossing bundles to the ground. Stacks of newspapers are everywhere and people are hurriedly carrying stacks to the overflowing trunks and seats of idling cars. 'Who's in charge of all this?' I asked a man dragging a skid of papers. 'Mohammed is in charge.' Mohammed has an command centre with a chair and folding table tucked into a dark alcove in front of a closed store. I wonder if the owner of the store knows that at night his doorway is another man's office. For within an hour all this will disappear and the night will be totally quiet again. On my way out I notice a car parked away from the others. There's a young boy staring through the back of the car. I see his father come back with a huge cart of newspapers. They will visit hundreds of homes tonight but no one will notice a boy working all night before school. There are stories that happen even getting the news to people's doors in the morning.

--David Stokes

Article 10: Three Scenes From Last Tuesday

A man goes into the Church of Saint Stephens carrying a Marilyn Monroe mannequin, sitting down listening to the sermon with Marilyn Monroe on the chair beside him. When the sermon ends he picks her up and they leave the church together.

On the street appear men carrying the long bodies of skinned animals over their shoulders. The animals, perhaps lambs, are stretched out like they were sprinting through the air. The meat men enter the butcher shop and go to the back. I follow them in. The building is a maze of hanging animals and staircases and workers resting on chairs. On the top floor, past twists and turns of stark hallways that feel like travelling through the guts of an animal, the boss sits in a beautiful wood-paneled office overlooking the street. I shake his hand.

Down in the ravine, well-hidden from the city's houses, a guy is playing a didgeridoo beside a stream. The musician is from Iran, working here in a cabinet factory. He has a bit of a fire going, and gets a cast iron teapot he keeps hidden there in a hollow log. Dipping it into the creek, he makes a pot of tea. "Now that you know where it is, use my teapot anytime you like."

--David Stokes

Poem 7: New Beginnings

Dead is just the beginning. Father always wanted to be the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral. When it was his funeral he out and out disappeared. We found him at the docks waiting for a boat. "O' when is there going to be a ship to bring my true love to me." He came with us without a word and according to the contractual agreement we buried him in his favourite boat where he first got married.

--Eli Fox

Article 9: The Traffic Poet

On a typical weekday morning, Michael Boughn, like millions of others across the GTA, is stuck in traffic.

As the congestion tightens its grip on his Volvo station wagon, it stirs his rage but - unlike you or me, content to just slam our hands on the steering wheel - the traffic also becomes his muse, for Boughn is a poet and in his poetry traffic has become a recurring theme. Here he gives eloquent voice on behalf of that massive mute throng of people screaming inside their cars across the city:

Various ramps announce
impassable blockades of jammed
up steel and rubber founding economies
of pain

He continues, expressing the absurdity of being alive in a time when we can sit inside machines that could take us faster than any humans ever before, but nobody's moving:

…sheer unlikeliness
of the sky caught up in rivers
of red lights, silent and still
stretching into fields of grief.

Boughn gets stuck in traffic while driving his daughter, a hockey goaltender who dreams of playing for Team Canada, to various hockey practices and games around the city and its far-flung exurbs. “My last 20 years have been all about children,” he says, as a motorcycle comes to the stoplight, rumbling. “I started writing poems sitting outside their tennis lessons.” The traffic poems are part of a three volume work of poems that Boughn is writing about the city. Carrying around a black notebook, he writes poems wherever he is, all over the city. Asked about a line from his first book --

fibrillations or analogical
eruptions into parking lots across
GTA, little gestures of love oozing
into front seats with hot pizza

-- Boughn recalls that it was written while he sat in his car across from Sports Village in Vaughan. “In the car in front of me there was a dad and his son eating pizza.”

So there is goodness and love in cars, though Boughn notices something off about cars and traffic, perhaps even a culture-wide but hitherto unacknowledged BDSM practice where we are:

sewn tight, imposed angular
bound vision into knotted
contortions leave limbs
wrenched, dislocated, cramped

Traffic, it's weird -- and getting worse. Statistics Canada reports the average time spent commuting to and from work nationwide increased from 54 minutes in 1992 to 63 minutes in 2005. In a year, that adds up to about 32 working days spent sitting in traffic (five more than in 1992). And that’s the average. In Toronto, it’s nearly 80 minutes a day, of what Boughn calls the “asphalt coffin” on the “flashing doom corridor.” One study found trips here in Toronto take three times longer than they should. Globally there are places worse off, so it’s good that someone has recognized the poetic potential of traffic. One hopes that knowing about the sheer unlikeliness of having a traffic poet in our midst makes it just a little tiny bit more interesting to be going nowhere.

--David Stokes 

Poem 6: I have no title

I am getting closer to my destiny 
even the slingshot 
bayonet would ad 
to my stick 
These wolves 

Year of mercy is over 
Francis closed the gate 
I can't walk on my knees 
it hurts me 
as I kneel 
I can take any other pain 
So deserved 
But devour not give 
I have a bag on my shoulder 
full of supposedly worthless 
On my fairly broad 

-- Piotr Manycz

Aphorism 2: From a Dream

The insects she observed through the black orb
remind her only of love

-- Eli Fox

Aphorism 1: Fragment

After the spirit, what demise
counsels us to be wise
in the future diminishment of our kind

-- Eli Fox

Article 8: The Tale of the Story Stone and the Lost Library

Here’s a tale for you, a bridge to another story: On a Toronto street on a recent afternoon a lion was spotted dragging a heavy boat across a desert. The lion, very tired, came to an island in the desert where a monkey-monk lived. You look like you're lost, said the monkey-monk. Yes I am, said the Lion, I’m looking for the ocean. Hmmmmm, said the monkey monk, I have a friend, the sandfish, he swims in the sand, and he’ll help you. And the sandfish appeared, saying, Hey Lion your problem is you’re not actually lost, because you’re not meant to sail the ocean! You are  indeed meant to sail the desert! But the poor Lion, confused, can only say: Well my boat won’t move on the desert, I’ve been dragging it. No, the sandfish responded, I have a special bell for you: when you hit it you won’t hear anything but you will always know where to go and the boat will move. So the lion hit the bell looked toward the west and disappeared.

Well all that happened just like that on a Toronto street, after a man wearing a multihued vest woven in the Himalayas opened a box he had been carrying and pulled out a large flat stone. He placed the stone on the sidewalk. Then he removed a variety of trinkets -- the lion, the bell, the fish, the monkey monk, and others -- from the box and sat them beside the stone. The man in the Himalayan vest is Norman Perrin, the founder of Toronto’s folktale library, and the stone is what he calls ‘the story stone’, which he uses to bring folktales to the streets. A few minutes after he had set his stuff, a couple of teenagers breezed by on skateboards. Intrigued by the set up, they stopped in front of Norman. “Hey man what you doing?” one of them asked. “I’m about to make a story, wanna join?” The above tale was what they came up with together, adding each plot twist after picking up a new trinket.

When the story was finished the teenagers gave each other high fives and went on their way. But something in the story has got to Norman. “I feel like that lion dragging the boat across the desert,” says Norman. What Norman is dragging around is the loss of his beloved library and performance space, the Four Winds Library. The library is currently in storage since he’s been kicked out of his place in the Junction due to redevelopment. The woman who gave him the eviction notice happened to be Albanian, and after she handed him the notice, asked -- and here Norman mimes a thcik accent accent -- “Do you have any stories on Albania?” As luck would have it he was standing right in front of that section of his library, and he reached down and handed her Post Wheeler’s Albanian Folk Tales. Needless to say, Norman’s library is extensive, with over 6000 books, and Norman has made it open to the public since 1990. It may be the only library in the world that is geared to the specific needs of the working storyteller and folktale researcher.  
“When I was a kid the nearest library was ten miles away and I used to hitchhike back and forth. But, when I had my library, instead of having to go ten miles to the library, I could walk across the room and go across the world, and people came there from all over.” The Four Winds has hosted such events as the entirety of the 36-hour Haft Peykar Iranian story cycle, and people who've met during performances have gotten married.
“When someone is truly listening to a story they’re co-creators.”, says Norman. “My friend Jean, when she was 10 she caught polio and was dying, she’d gone into a paralytic shock, and the next step was death. They had a death watch going. And one person decided to pass the time by reading her a story, even though she was more corpse than alive, she was so deep in the coma. But his shift ended before the story ended and he stopped reading. And suddenly Jean spoke, ‘you didn’t finish the story! I want to hear the rest of the story!’ She then made a full recovery.”

I hope Norman too can make a full recovery from the loss of his library. He just needs to meet his sandfish, whoever or whatever that may be for him. In the meantime he’ll keep looking and voyaging and telling stories. The last I saw him he was standing beside the Humber River, playing his pennywhistle.

---David Stokes

Poem 5: Lemon Street

I would like to smash my memories with a hammer
but I forgot my tools
in the lemon shack
where men chew on lemons
and women go about with their work

How many times have I sat
and chewed on a lemon
and watched
the parade of sand in the street
All to make us think
how liberating it is to at last be a slave

---Eli Fox

Article 7: Wright Engine Rebuilding

In North York, on a street full of warehouses and vacant lots, there’s one lot crammed with cars. The cars don’t drive. They’re kept outside and collect rust and a few of them no longer have doors; their engines and batteries are missing.

I build them from scratch, said Bill, walking through the lot. Take them apart and put them back together. That’s what a car is, it’s just a bunch of pieces put together. 

Such pieces are strewn across the lot: cylinder frames brown with rust, metal barrels, buckets of brown goo, boxes, license plates and unidentifiable parts. 

Also in the lot is a metal machine standing in the corner, half covered in a white plastic tarp billowing in the wind. 

That thing? That’s a drill presser, says Bill. I’m holding it for a friend. Mind giving me a hand? He’s speaking to two young men, two trespassers he found shooting a film in his lot. They were rehearsing a scene when he found them. Oh, hello, sir, one of them said. 

Bill hobbles to the drill press, carrying his weight, watching where he steps. I’m diabetic, he says. In the summer the heat was so bad the insulin didn’t work. I had ulcers on my legs and on my foot. They’re healed now, more or less. 

With the young men’s assistance, Bill pulls the tarp over the drill press, and picks up bricks and other objects to hold the tarp down. It’s a cold, nippy day. 

You can take that, he says. He’s referring to a light stand that one of the young men has picked up and is inspecting. The young man puts it down. 

A shutter clicks. For a brief moment, Bill looks into the camera. He’s a large man, and wears a dusty, navy blue windbreaker that hugs his round belly. White wiry strands of hair form a bush on his chin; the hair sprouting from his balding head is wispy and sere. 

If you need anything, I can give you my phone number, Bill tells one of the young men. 

The young man pulls out his phone and Bill tells him his phone number. You can visit or call any time if you have a question, says Bill. They shake hands. 

As the young men are leaving, Bill smiles and asks a question: Did you get what you wanted? The one holding the camera answers: Yeah. I think so. 

The backdoor that leads into the warehouse reads Wright Engine Rebuilding. The name is scratched in, as by a metal key. Bill opens the door and steps out of the cold. Shelves that touch the ceiling line the walls, full of cardboard boxes and torn packages and paper coffee cups. A rolling hill of tied grocery store bags and materials takes up the room, ceding only a narrow passage to cut across. 

Shutting the door behind him, Bill reenters his hidden, private room.

---Daniel Glassman

Poem 4: today i carried the question...

today i carried the question
in crimson supercars
i looked at doormen
felt ballet dancers swarm the streets
maidservants plot assassinations
saw a man have a fit
and heard a report on that streetcorner
that firemen removed his prostetic arm

there's a skeleton inside me right now!
tell that to your girlfriends and boyfriends
have them buy you dinner and look in your eyes
oh Zibeline, my true love
you no longer look at me
you are afraid of me
badaba badaba badaba gorille!
ugh, today is my true enemy
- i confess all my sins ok
i sold everyone out to the highest bidder

Poem 3: For as far as I can look back...

For as far as I can look back
I have always been tired.
It is hard to look down the
well if memory and see events
in sequence
as if falling up
through a tunn.
Can't I see outside of shapes?
Even outside the tunn
I am within a wall
of words
and paths entrenched
in my processes.

A distraction.
I fail.
The bricks of the tunn
come apart
piece by piece.
It is a long job to
complete. I give up
every night. Try
again in the morning.
My arms are thin.
In my pursuit of the warren
I am trying to build
I atrophy. Nothing eats at me.
I eat air.  When thirsy I
drink the blood of the beetles
down here (they are the only
visible creatures to accompany me)

What of the open world
that sprawls like the infinite
spokes of a spinning wheel?
People. Creatures. Surfaces.
The very flesh of the world
seems to be fine without me.
It wants nothing but perpetuity.
Which happens to be our opposite.

Forget that. Stay in the tunnel.
Burrow. Pluck the bricks.
Sing unmade songs
tell stories once
make riddles
invent sounds
mold the crumbs of
brick and mortar
into into into...
Sigh. Surrender.

Wake. Work.
Pestle the crumbs with your fingers
read the walls and furrows
know your hand
know your touch.

The beetles are so kind
and gentle. They live only
in the dark. They leave
kisses on your arms,
cuddle your knuckles.
They raise you
to enjoy blindness
down here.
Oh beetles
I love you.
I can scream it.
I can finally scream
below the Earth.
I can finally
swear off clothes
and all possessions
starting with 'my'.

Is that what i came down here for?
Or was that an excuse?
I think so.
A reason to be a refugee.

But i have learned to move bricks.
Water spits out the wall.
A small squirt.
Have i begun
to break the tunn's
Will i drown now?
There is water at my ankles.
Now my knees.
I look up.
The break in the dark sky
Is too far. It is a star.
Inside the star
is the open world.
It doesn't concern itself
with memories
or old bricks
or burrowing.
It is far away
and the water is at
my waist.

I float. I am eight years old again.
This is it. The bricks give way.
Memory unfurnished
and ugly and exactly
as it was in seconds
and minutes and in
shared time
and clock time
and my time.
I laugh and choke
and struggle
under the deluge
Which is mean
and pushes me
down further
the tunn.
I cease to protest
Find the water warm
and benevolent.
Like a reprisal
of my earliest dreams.

---Daniel Glassman

Article 5: Snake Story

Toronto Department

Tish Fannon put her snake into a pillowcase and got on the subway at Dupont station. Her snake, a 5-foot ball-python named Aphrodite, came out of the pillowcase once they arrived at work: a spot above a subway grate at Yonge Dundas Square.

A hundred-thousand people walk by here each day and Aphrodite, sitting around Tish’s shoulders and Iron Maiden t-shirt, fits right in to Yonge Dundas Square’s carnival continuum. On this afternoon people are thronging past a mime, paint can drummers, a clown, a juggler, various street preachers, beggars, police restraining a man, and honking cars -- all under the big top glow of competing three-story video screens, the biggest in Canada! Amidst the noise, confusion, and clamor, Aphrodite effortlessly gets the attention of passerby.

In fact the moment Tish took Aphrodite out a passerby screamed from instinctive fear when he noticed her. “I got it! I got my shrieker!” says Tish. “We have at least one shrieker a day. Usually more. My favourite shrieker of all time was a 350 pound biker.”

A few moments later a woman comes up and begins haranguing Tish. “You need Jesus in your life! He’ll save you from the devil creature on your shoulders.” She leaves, and Tish takes this hellish encounter in stride: “Street preachers and people like that will stop right in front of me all the time, kill my entire crowd, and start going crazy like that.”

“OMG a snake!,” says a passerby. This person stops; they don’t shriek and there’s no brimstone, just surprise and delight. When this happens Tish does the next part of her snake act: she offers to put Aphrodite around their neck. The young man eagerly agrees, hands his backpack to his girlfriend, and Tish gently places Aphrodite around his neck. Of course, the person takes a selfie. This scene is repeated with different variations for the next few hours: people young and old are happily bewitched by Aphrodite. Most people leave a tip for the experience. The routine gathers around $100 dollars in a few hours.

Tish, who also models, is writing an apocalyptic novel, and went to school be an executive office assistant, tells me, “I’ve been busking for almost ten years with a guitar, but I was terrified of snakes. I would've been a shrieker too.” Then a friend encouraged her to challenge that fear and took her to a reptile rescue. She fell in love and volunteered there. Aphrodite is a rescue. And the woman with the snake in the middle of the busiest spot in Canada was not only afraid of snakes, but Tish has occasional flashes of crippling anxiety in crowds, which Aphrodite helps her recover from. A few times I watch as she steps away from crowd and goes into a corner to calm down and relax, and spend a moment alone with just Aphrodite. Tish kisses her head the size of a toonie, and whispers to her, “You're such a cute little girl. You're gorgeous. You have a big fat butt.”

Back in the limelight of the street, a little kid loves the snake and shows it to his mom and his brother in a stroller. Aphrodite spends a few more minutes as a celebrity, and then it's back in the pillowcase to go home, where away from the crowds she lives in a tank, curled up in a ball.

--David Stokes