Industrial Roots: Listening in Windsor, Ontario

This essay is excerpted from a longer piece published in CV2.

When weeds grow through concrete you understand something although as a six-year-old child I wasn’t sure what. Being led by the hand up across and through the streets of Windsor, Ontario by my young single mother as she job and apartment hopped trying to make ends meet. Waitress, cashier, macramé teacher at the YMCA, Moy Avenue, Victoria Street, Pierre, Windemere and Concession 6, my job was to look out for mouse droppings and report if someone had swept them under the fridge. Lifting my uncle’s brown paper bag lunch over the chain-link fence at Chrysler’s while simultaneously being lifted up myself, aunt’s hands firmly cupped under the backs of my thighs, bum, or sitting at the linoleum kitchen chrome table watching my grandmother in her red Dominion store uniform take a break from breakfast-making to sip her coffee and my grandfather zipping up his Sealtest jacket with the name Alex sewn neatly on the left-hand side just under his collar, I come from a landscape where the realities of factories and shift work and the smell of Ford’s foundry was simply a part of our lives. Part of the walls, the floors we walked on in knitted slippers and the panes of glass we looked out of into our yards. Delicately mingled and forever intertwined with that other smell that floated in the air, stronger on some days than others, the yeast they used to make whiskey at the factory that preceded all others: Hiram Walker’s & Sons. And when the two mixed, Hiram Walker’s whiskey and Ford’s repetitive work on the line, the result was sometimes violence inflicted on those in the home, your family. This, too, is part of my landscape.

When violence looms and there is no safe place you understand the rift between the things that words are supposed to mean, signify, and what you actually experience with your body, your skin, muscles. The disjunct between the words which may say “I love you,” “everything is fine,” or “home is a loving, safe place,” and what you know to be true at the level of the bone and tissue. Existing in the rift, trying to figure out how both realities can be true. Then, later, the distrust of words, understanding them as not really corresponding to anything but themselves and the turn toward other, more important signs to understand what is happening. Tones of voice, expressions, the way someone lifts a cup, opens the curtains, the pitch and weight of a footfall all hold important meaning and it is this meaning you try to discover/uncover and then translate into words to describe what is really happening. Words other than the ones you are being told around you. This is how I got to be a poet. Listening. The poet listens.

Published online June 01 2009.

The Green Issue cover image

This piece was published in ‘The Green Issue,’ the Summer 2009 issue of CV2.

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