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Don McGrath

 

THE PORT INVENTORY

How often I’ve hurried past that field of weeds,
past the shuttered warehouse and the great green bridge
strutting through its weather, imparting courage
to the acned girls on the steps of La Pigalle
with its chambres touristiques à l’heure, a mere heartbeat
from the upscale outfitter’s store, whose doors
glide open like a dream yet somehow manage
to keep out the poor, whose neighbourhood this is
but not as a possession. I’ve dallied in the strains
of tinkling glasses and privileged laughter
lunchtimes at L’Amoricain and L’Entremiche,
across the street from the Saint-Vincent-de-Paul
and catering to Ministry fonctionnaires
who pop out, at times, to sniff the air
before returning to their beige cubicles.
I’ve seen, as well, the side streets and the windows
in which people look smaller than their lives,
and the schoolyard where the children’s coats
glow like flowers in Parthenais Prison’s shade.
And once, while passing by an alley, a broken toy
threw me back an image of a boy
whose arms someone was gently guiding
up the sleeves of a warm winter sweater.

And one day I looked out my window, and this is what I saw:
The shimmering vista of the port, an industrial Embarcation for Cythera.
A scarlet vessel emerging waiflike from luminous haze.
A blinding sheen down one side of a tall silver cylinder.
A traffic arrow crook’d into an eyebrow.
A traffic island tapered to a finger.
The great washboard of the river rippling in the shade.
Smokestacks and steeples competing for the ephemera of Heaven.
A port vehicle racing by with amber lights pulsing.
Snow-patched heaps of slag, like giant Holsteins.
The graffitied, grey stone outhouse in the parkette.
The fogged-out russet trees like ageing Anglicans.
The refulgent light behind the grain elevators.
The jigsaw puzzle of drift along the roofs.
Plumes of steam knitting the city into socks.
The little bridge over the ravine, among the pines.
The squat terminal with its fleet of orange delivery vans.
The wrought iron balconies scraped with pencil on brick.
The Grey Nuns' convent with its empty chambers and their crucifixes.
A woman on hands and knees on the sidewalk.
Two snowmen tilted like wounded duellists in the declining light.

from The Port Inventory, Cormorant Books, 2012