This is a City of Strangers

By Jana Pietrzyk, Professional Writing ‘16

This is a talking city. This is a city full of strangers. This is a beat city. This is a city full of words.

This city is a space that holds us in its cupped hands. I feel it caressing my chest with its thumb; I feel it breathing on my throat. The flesh inside my elbows sweat, my calves swell, my ears blossom.

***

fullsizerender-1She sings. Out loud, standing on the tile of the subway, I don’t know the architecture of a subway; I don’t know the era of this tile. I don’t know what she’s saying.

But I know what she means. We all do. What else could a guitarist mean when singing underground, standing on subway tile, the kind that is small like a mosaic, not flat like a fish; her feet don’t stand still. And let me tell you a secret- that means she cares.

I know this by the way she only opens her mouth three quarters of the way, I see it in her hair, hanging like corn silk, scraped out of a husk, and I wonder if the mic wrapped around the back of her head will give her knots, but if that’s her sacrifice, I’ll drop in a couple toonies, hell I go ahead and drop in a couple toonies, I smile at her not smiling and think, isn’t it interesting how we think others need to sacrifice something in order for us to give?

***

This city is a garden that holds me in its cupped hands. And there are these houses with fountains and flowers, birdbaths and fences in front of them, and they’re beautiful.

These fences, these barriers, symbolize space away from space, separate and divided, locks and latches. But let me tell you something about fences: sometimes a fence isn’t a barrier at all. You see, the flowers, and the weeds, and the stonework, they all just weave in and out of these fences, entwining and releasing, in front of these houses, when the wind and the sun and the rain propel them.fullsizerender-2

We can be propelled, too, but we must separate city from individual, we must transfer the Unknown to the Known. We can trigger our memories to try-and-listen-harder, to motivate the concentration on consciousness, to not dehumanize another person by their lack of connection to ourselves. And to remember that even in a city, even in a big, large, French speaking city, that each person walking/driving/biking/wheeling past allows us the opportunity to braid stems. We all have the opportunity to entwine the Known and the Unknown, if only for a moment, if only for the second of a smile, if only for the reasoning of a shared gust of wind.

And maybe it’s an American point of view- the individualization of the people of a city, but I would disagree if someone told me so. I think it’s a romantic point of view, but as an American Poet in Montreal, I guess in reality, it’s gotta be a little bit of both.

***

The woman is singing in French, still, and she is still standing on the subway tiles, and I’m thinking about the person who had to lay those subway tiles and how their biggest rebellion could have been to take one tile, one little red hexagon home with them like we use to do chess pieces in middle school. Would one space of the terminal have to be filled with something else? Was there excess? Did they sell the excess to a bath and kitchen store when they were done and did rich people have subway tiles from the Metro haloing the floor around their toilet?  I’m not sure, but the woman’s song hasn’t stopped, and I don’t know what she’s saying but I know what she means. How could I not know what she means?

I put two toonies in her case so I have to know what she means.

I walk away, I have to get where I’m going.

fullsizerender-3There is a homeless man sitting on the ground a short ways outside the station. He has an empty cup in his hand. He says something to me in French. I don’t know what he says but I know what he means. (How could I not know what he means?) I look straight ahead. I walk on. And now that I’m walking, I’m thinking, so I’m thinking and walking and I realize: French is not the barrier here; the barrier is the fear of investment, and possibly the fear of sharpness and definitely the fear of giving without getting anything in return.

Here I am trying to write it down. Here I am trying to remember the people who won’t remember me, and the people who I’ll never see again. Here I am trying to remember the people I won’t remember, I’m trying to write them down, so that I might learn, or at least not forget them. This city is not about the city itself, this city is about the people and the stories that come with them. I am a writer. I am a poet. And here I am trying to write it down, my thoughts, my fears, my confessions, so when I’m done I can hold the poems in my cupped hands like this city has been holding me.