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Essay

For Armand and Ros de Mestral

1

Like many great cities
Montreal
is on a river.

But the Saint Lawrence
is not
what divides it.

We stay in the heights.
I don’t have to leave
the garret atop

this three-story house
on Thornhill in order
to transcend.

The view contains
immensity, sun
easy on the green

waters in whose
murky depths the dual
languages are still

contending.
And rainy nights
streaked with purple.

Every time I go down
to populous Sherbrooke
I pass a synagogue,
but always it is
too early or too late
to enter.

ALL may be WELCOME—
same time—5:30—
every day, but for WHAT?

2

Blessed city where the churches
and not the museums
are the churches.

If we cannot defer to a higher order
we are not.
Prayer keeps no

set hour, can take you
unaware.
If there is

to be
a future
to behold.

3

“Cafe au lait.”
“Would you like it
in a cup or a bowl?”

Beautiful question I did not
have to cross the Atlantic
to be asked.

And your wife
turns to you and says,
“There’s Notre Dame.”
And as we drink
cafe au lait from bowls,
what flows between us

is as fresh as the clear air
that blesses us now
on the plane-tree lined

streets. You have to work
hard to get lost
in Montreal. Losing yourself

is another matter: here
there’s the sheer
temptation to wander

forever alone,
known to no one;
at one with your life.

4

City of harbor sounds in the interval
between sleep and waking; of casinos on the shore
where distances

fill the misty
windows and the Portuguese ferment secret
beans in their yards while praying

to the shrines behind the vines;
where the regimental sky cracks now
from the pressure

in the attack on the French led by a
reluctant military man, General
Wolfe, who as the musket ball

penetrated his heart spoke
his mind: he would rather have written Gray’s Elegy
than taken Quebec.

Accepting that at face value
assures prayer another few
millennia.

If we cannot defer to a higher order we are not.
If we don’t atone for our inexcusable
because merely thoughtless

“innocence,” we will never be.
Waste: that’s something I can cultivate.
If they’d been my beans I’d have

fermented them in secret.
Magic at times as pernicious as
“schedule.”

Prayer keeps no set hours,
can only take you
unaware.

It is not I who prays,
it’s the churches who move
within me what I do not know.

5

And through it we will soar
above schedules, which nail even
spiritual disciplines insofar

as there is wind to fill the sails
along the Saint Lawrence.
Montreal is still the city

where the churches, and not
the museums are
the churches and the tacit

beauty of it
makes me
crazy.

6

There are those who imagine
places lack
the capacity to pray

and think the stones insentient
however carefully laid down,
placed to be where they are to receive

our footstep, gaze, or whatever we come to
in the absence of place where
arrival appears

in the guise of departure,
and the blaze grows
fiercer, more intense

like street names
I copy down
in desperation, on the run,

grateful for the names of saints,
as if the things themselves
remembered, seen as themselves

were not enough
to transcend.
What is there to

transcend?
Why refuse oneness out of hand
and avidly

fester division
between heights and depths?
And why now turn

to place for solace when
at the end of August
both telephone wires and cicadas

shrill against your being elsewhere?
Why steep yourself in refusals
and give loss all

the odds?
Why hesitate so long
on the thresholds of churches

and never wander in?
Why limit yourself
to the impalpable

present, reflections, flickering,
the blaze on the stones
and not the stones themselves?


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