Canadian literature has largely centred on rural and wild spaces. Cities are often viewed as a blight on the landscape, encroaching on its imagined pristineness.
Toronto writer, Anne Michaels has documented the intersection of Canada’s largest city, and time, memory and imagination in her poem, “There is no city that does not dream.” This poem is the centerpiece of her third book of poetry, Skin Divers.
I first came across this poem one day on the subway, possibly as we were crossing Shaw Street. It was hidden among the subway car’s advertising, and it was part of the “Poetry on the Way” series which made my commute bearable. I had no notepad with me at the time, and I was afraid that I might not come across it again, so I memorized it and wrote it down as soon as I got home.
In the poem, the city unfolds, not in its brick and mortar sprawl this time, but as real and imagined remembrances over millions of years.
In a city so familiar that we hardly notice it, we read rumours of lost lakes such as glacial Lake Iroquois whose shores define the Niagara Escarpment; ravines which conceal lost rivers, long paved over, such as Taddle Creek, which still runs under Philosopher’s Walk; and dinosaur bones unearthed with the building of the subway – all part of our city’s geologic garden.
Our present day experience of the spring air and the ferry ride in the rain intertwines with this unread page of love charting where we came from, drifting away from us on the wind.
The line, “The lost lake/crumbling in the hands of brickmakers/the floor of the ravine where light lies broken/with the memory of rivers” transports me into a past where I no longer hear the quotidian hum of the city, but walk through the wild and secret marshes from another time.