Toronto Centre Island (Short Lines)

The seagulls race our boat
as it skims softly over the water,
they always win, seeing us
safely into port like chariot doves
before soaring up into the tress
and disappearing as we disembark.
Us, amongst families dragging children
eager to see the playground,
bumping into our picnic basket
as they rush towards relief,
towards bumper cars and candy bars,
to big grins and bruised shins.
We take a different route,
skirting the shoreline,
not quite landlocked
not quite anything anymore,
in transition, speaking into the open spaces.

The forest opens up and we could
escape, fading into the foliage.
We’d live on the wild berries
and make friends with the wildlife,
the black squirrels which I’ve only
ever seen when travelling in Canada.
Me and Elise, a modern Adam and Eve.
But it would only be another escape,
and I realise that I’m always looking for them,
in every spray of salty sea water,
in every set of blue eyes,
in every expanding tree line.
Every time.
Escape during another escape
and you end up lost in a foreign land.
I almost did that once.
I kick myself before kicking up the sand.

The beach is too hot, and the stones
spit out by the lake burn,
causing bare feet to step quickly to safety,
scolded during a fast fire walk
to a patch of welcome shade
by the shore, cooling our soles,
calming our souls as we gaze
over the vast blanket to a hazy horizon.
I could be in Blackpool, barely breaking
even on broken slot machines
instead of breaking on Elise in Toronto.
I can’t win her a stuffed animal here.
The seeds of aspen trees nestle in her hair,
whipped by the wind off the water;
we used to chase them as children,
in another time,
somewhere else.

I carve my name into the pier
using my rented apartment key
blunting the end slightly flat,
then later struggle getting back into the flat.
Worth it, for the thought that I left
my mark on Toronto, small as it is,
in hopes that it’ll stay there
scrawled forever, until the water rises
to reclaim the land the tourists took
from it, pulling the pier into the lake.
The lake which looks too much like a sea,
carrying a piece of me,
left to drift decrepit, turning
on tumultuous tides until the end of time.
Elsewhere England will sink first though.
(Toronto’s five hours behind).

Later I perch beside a feeble fire pit
long since burned out,
watching the waiting water
while Elise reads over my shoulder.
If I’d had my guitar with my luggage
then perhaps I’d play her a song,
but I left it back in England,
because I already had enough baggage.
It would end up sounding
too much like a sad song anyway –
a swan song, something sombre
to settle alongside our last day.
Like the swans settled
before us in droves on the lake.
Like the leaves dropping
all around us and onto my page.

We walk down to the harbour
as the sun reaches its peak,
where the boats lie sleeping.
Where I lie with Elise, woken.
Where England truly feels
five thousand miles away, maybe further.
The sails ripple in the breeze
while nearby dogs tug on their leads,
eager to chase the frisbees
tossed by couples playing disc golf.
Agitated barks ring out over the parks
as the sun spirals downwards
casting shadows creeping over
pale knees and warping the trees.
Time to move on again, back to reality,
back to somewhere else.

Downtown Toronto lies a world away
on the opposite shore,
tip the CN Tower over,
and we’ll use it as a bridge to get her home,
walking along the bronzed walls
I’d sped up in a lift the day before.
The building stands like a strident needle
poking up from the city skyline,
seeking to pierce that distant sky,
pass through peppered white clouds
just out of reach, the tower is not quite
as tall as it would like to believe.
The boat takes us back instead,
and the birds speed alongside us again
they win as they always will.
I realise I’m done escaping, again.

I’m done with being lost.
I’m done with brief Canadian love affairs
as we bid farewell on fifth street,
just outside of Lawrence Market.
I’m done with Elise in everything,
done with beaches that aren’t British,
done with black squirrels and aspen seeds,
done with campfire laments,
done with Canada,
done with maple syrup,
done with Emma Stone daydreams.
Done with passport paranoia,
done with currency conversion calculations,
done with the squeaky suitcase
which draws suspicious stares.
I think I’m done with the dark days as well,
(but I can’t be sure there).

Toronto, June 2016


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