Poem of the Month
Then and Now

By Nyla Matuk

Published on February 3, 2017

Forty-eight and finally, I learn
how to start living if that’s
what it’s called.
I mean, spring clean,
cup-side up in the drawer,
Japanese fantail
dress detail,
only some excess,
and five-inch Louis Vuitton
‘Kimono’ heels.
Coffee at an East Village
bodega on Christmas day.
December sun on walk-ups

While we sat in that
crêperie on Carré St-Louis,
speaking Bretonneries,
windows steamed,
fresh snow on St-Denis,
cooking school across the street.
‘Funny,’ I said, in the middle of
Montreal’s deep-freeze
February, ‘the city moves
like an insect in a fridge,
a ville fourmillante.’
I’d never been to New York,
you’d never been to Blighty,
the metro dumps us at Vendôme,
wet fat snowflakes,
the deli with canned puddings
and it’s nothing like Paris,
nor is that tiny basement apartment,
paneling like a captain’s cabin
near the small ancient hospital,
wedged mid-block on
Avenue de Marlowe among
the semi-detacheds in
Forever the month of March,
forever 1955,
dark halls, mannered
portraits in maroon paint
hanging from green walls,
glowering financiers,
provincial visionaries
de la belle province
and who thinks she’s
the belle of the ball?

Empty real estate down on
René-Lévesque, formerly
Hotel Reine-Elizabeth,
carpeted VIA train interiors,
permanent winterzone
angels looking up at
afterlives from the cathedral,
moribund church,
moribund government,
nationalist dreams
taken down by the usual
ethnic vote and that persistent
xenophobia like a bad penny.

Uptown, the dangerous trench
of Décarie boulevard
perched over which we lived
in a dusty 6-storey with wide
stairwells, 5 and a half for
five-fifty a month and
a landlord telling us
mice come in off the street
through the front door.

1977, I remember waiting for my mother
here in an old white and gold hotel;
that’s how I learned to wait for someone forever.

Later I ran with humourless
a firefighter who
reminded everyone of his job
and the unsmiling Hun with
bad teeth and alimony payments,
and the sociopathic millwright
and much later still, Doctor
‘Bad Sex’ who’d fucked
the same person, by age fifty-two,
for twenty-five years; and, way before that,
the bartender
who couldn’t get it up.
I ran away to the south coast
of Barbados to lose
that one, but in my
stupidity every escape from
every awful guy
was somehow a goat song
(…except for the glorious
exeunt from my life of Doctor
Bad Sex who
brings me back to
being forty-eight)

startled with vast
at what preceded me,
and what follows me,
or the possibility of me—

now and then
prepared badly if at all
for every civility of
bourgeois society and
not offending
ordinary Canadians
on Twitter.

Everything is parenthetical,
then this
then that but
now and then
a clear view of sky
as if the sky was
the whole view—
(it wasn’t, then;
it isn’t, now).

More Poetry


My ex keeps asking do I want the cat back,
but my place is a wall short
and where pray tell to put the litter box?

No Justice No Peace

Another bloody body 
another child dying while

doing the unthinkable
eating food, going home,
eyes meeting impatient suspicion.

To Call The Fair People To Your Aid And Succor

Change your name. Change your clothing. Change your habits and your commonplace routines. Change the routes you use to move across the city’s warp and weft and change the many tools with which you lay your hands on such conclusions as you may.