Letter to A.M. Klein
It is late, but for us, it is the right time to be awake, steal time from sleep and pensate upon the fate and faith involved in living in this place.
I, too, am an immigrant and, like you, know what it is to be inside outside.
Much, yet no much, has changed since you, as child, held your father’s hand on the way to and from shul every Sabbath, as a young man, held your sweetheart’s hand on the way to and from a summer evening stroll on the Mountain, as father, held your children’s hands on the way to and from a walk across Fletcher’s Field, as poet, hands in pockets, wondered about your ghetto streets, your exiled land, your labyrinth.
Yes, they’re still all those things to the newcomers. There are always newcomers (says a lot about this world). But these greeners are buying up these absentee-slumlord dumps and are renovating them, painting them Greek blue, Portuguese, green, Gay pink, and every other immigrant colour. Out of these ghetto houses they are making home.
And your grandchildren, whose parents travailed so hard to escape your St. Urbain, De Bullion, Hôtel de Ville, Marianne and Rachel streets, are moving back; trying to buy back these roach filled flats. But believe it or not, they can’t afford them.
Abraham, your ghetto has become trés chic!
The Mountain is still there, though you risk limb and life to reach her. And so is that monumental woman whose tarnished copper breasts you threw truant pebbles at. She is still there, still receiving the kids’ pebble attention in the same stoic way.
She will outlast us all.
And on summer-Sunday afternoons, the world’s fatigue (which is too much with us) is snored away. And of course there are lovers among the bushes, eager, clumsy on their prickly bed. And there are boys you would call girls and girls you’d call brazen.
The Mountain is still inspiration. She is the female principle in this macho city: the way she touches, the way she comforts. I have spent nights lost in her greenery, snuggled to her breast. And though violated by high rises, her spirit is not broken. She is still magic.
City elections are coming up. This is the only time the mayor crawls out of his luxurious hole. He does look like a mole. Jean Drapeau dreams of being king but has become an aged queen who has given birth to deficits and deformities. C’est pas un cadeau. This Jean got elected on promises of making an honest woman of Montreal. He seems to be succeeding. He, like a pimp, has worked her hard, sucked her dry, made her ugly and sterile. But we are fighting back and continue to map her sacred geography. We make love to her at unexpected moments: after the metro has stopped, in forgotten alleys, rented rooms, bars and cafés, after legal hours in all sorts of ways.
And as for the province, the rocking chair, except for the antique dealers, is no longer the vehicule There is very little time in this 21st century for sitting on balconies (though the unemployed do, and their number is growing).
The Anglos of power are still in the pentagons of Washington and the vaults of New York. Their branch plant managers have a perennial FOR SALE signs growing on their lawns because the Ancienne Canadien of La Belle Provence have become Gens du pays. They find their provincial vêtements too confining and do not want any more hand-me downs.
I wish them well, yet well I know, that if they succeed, I will be again an exile. I tell you Abraham, for us there is only one nation—the imagination! And because of this, we will always be in exile.
Oh Abraham, often late at night, strolling familiar streets, I look up at lit windows and catch glimpses of figures praying in the true language to the spirit of this place.