Each September, this ghost of memory hits me with nostalgia just as my mood changes, just like the light and the colours of leaves, bringing a new breath to life, a sweet breath, even though it is the precursor to lamentable weather... December and January.
I love September, because it is the last sensual breath before the meanness of December, and this is why my walking through this 'hood takes on a greater dramatic anxiousness, a more romantic going out in the street to breath in, the taste of red wine in the air and the first sip of a dry martini, metaphors for September.
So I leave the house built in 1854 and lived in by a shoemaker, an escaped slave who disembarked from the Underground Railroad. I cross the street lacerated by ambulance, fire engine and police cruisers screaming through this section of the city. I enter Moss Park, careful of where I place my foot (because of what the dogs leave behind), past a bench occupied by unemployed men who smoke and talk and laugh in tongues I do not understand: Somali, Pakistani, Bulgarian, French and Spanish, their private diasporas of language. To the right, three sunflower stalks, yellow and golden, are lording it over the commoner plants in the communal kitchen garden. The eye catches one plant, a symbol of multiculturalism. Corn!
I cross the field, marked diagonally by winter boots and summer sandals, soccer and baseball shoes, avoiding the muddy grass as I avoid other things in this neighbourhood's grass: a syringe, a condom, a bottle cap, pop cans and a pair of panties left in the heat of escape.
Queen Street has no grass, only the steel of streetcar tracks, and I had left George Street, divided by the Park, but it comes back to join me near Toronto's first post office, near Goodwill, where immigrants shopped now, alas, the site of another condominium to climb the skies!
Then, King, then right, then left, and I face St. Lawrence Market! Oxtails? Yes. But no salt fish, no pigs feet. Strawberries? Okras? I snap the end of one to test its freshness. Peaches? And a pear. I remember to add "avocado" to pear: I am not speaking Barbadian. No pumpkin, no shark, no sea-eggs! Just the food of the middle class.
I think about the homeless left behind in the chattering Park; and I drop a loonie into a hat, to be mixed with dimes and copper pennies.
This touches my conscience. On my return, there is George Brown College, and I wonder if Mr. Brown knew shoemakers and black people. I'm facing north now. Britain Street, where the House of Anansi was, then Moss Park Armoury, where a homeless, sleepless man was beaten to death by soldiers. I grieve for soldiers and for Canada and wonder why we are in Afghanistan.
I remain surrounded by foreign tongues mixed with the language of a war-monkeying, war-mongering morality, so I take the third street, Jarvis, in my triangular constitutional and walk with "the ladies of the night," out early in the warming afternoon. I climb the steps of red carpet to the Grand and have a gin martini pardon the tautology! in a chilled glass the shape of a woman's body.
They say the RCMP building was where they locked you up, and sometimes smacked you around a little, to get at the truth.
So you sit and sip and suppose, "Suppose every month were September!"
Austin Clarke won the 2002 Giller Prize for The Polished Hoe