Identity

For the summer I’m going back to the series of pieces mythologizing my growing up in Cape Breton.

Identity

I was one of the first from my village

to come to the big city

I was unprepared for my reception here

people would gawk at me on the streets

stare at me on the subway

as if I were some sort of freak

at my cubical in the office

people would walk by and observe

as I went about my ordinary duties

they gave each other small sly nods

as if they saw something me in me

that assured them I was as human as they were

 

strangers approached me on the street

and ask if my shit stank

if I were here to promote some art film

my classes at the Grand Academy

fell silent when I shared my writing

as I told them stories of my village

and of the routine of our lives

shock dismay or disbelief would play

across their faces

even the teacher would turn away 

face red 

as he tried not to laugh at me

 

all of which made me depressed unsure

perhaps coming here was wrong

the only solace I found 

was in undressing men

one skill I had 

that others held in some respect

 

I also found some gratification in latte

after a day of being hounded 

by small gangs of children

my fingers numb 

from working at my keyboard 

either at the office or doing assignments 

for my creative writing seminars

it was such a blessed relief to sit in a 

coffee shop and sip on an extra large latte

I could feel my troubles just rush away

 

gradually my presence became unnoticed

I discovered ways of fitting in to metropolitan life

I no longer greeted strangers 

with a smile and a hello

I no longer tapped hymns 

on my keyboard at the office

I took down the few reminders of home

that I had put up in my cubical

gone where the crystal moose 

and the miniature sacred stripper pole

I adopted the city ways of talking and slouching

of smiling with indifference

of turning aside when someone offered 

more than I wanted at that moment

it was a relief to slip into the formless stream

my mind was free to roam 

to dream of things beyond village life

a place that became abstract illusive

I was no longer the man from away

I was free of identity

Before I moved to Toronto my mother warned me not to wander around, staring up at the tall buildings with my mouth open awe. She felt it would tip people off that I was new in town & someone would rob me, or something. I was never sure what that something meant. About the only ‘you’re from away’ I got was because of my accent.

My hero experiences many of things that immigrants often experience: such as co-workers checking to make sure you are competent. I had been cat-called, or rather queer-slurred by passers-by & from cars – my first year or so here then is topped noticing it if it did continue. These were adults doing this – not a far cry from small children dogging your heels.

My writing workshop experience hasn’t been as harsh as my hero’s. Though I have made people shoot coffee out of their noses with some of my work – I took that as a good thing? I did get that silence response a few times though when no one knew what to say – usually because the piece was perfect 🙂 

 

Fitting in was an issue though – to do that without losing a sense of self was the real challenge. I did have, still do, a few relics of my Cape Breton past. The piece is a bit of a list poem of things I’ve seen, heard or experienced myself as I adjusted to Toronto. ‘Smiling with indifference’ is skill worth developing.

Hey! Now you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee in Washington at 2018’s capfireslam.org – sweet,eh? paypal.me/TOpoet

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