Tuesday, January 10, 2006

High into the Air Like Metallic Cocoons (and Layton poem), Jan 10 06

By Malcolm Lurie January 10

My parents were post War immigrants to Montreal (1951) and I was raised and schooled there till the age of 12 in what was then the other Jewish ghetto, (not the traditional one) , that of the Snowden district.

The uniqueness of Jewish life in Montreal was not only a consequence of the rich matrix of culture and activism and commerce created by its sons and daughters but also the result of a comingling of cultures, especially with the Anglo-Celtic and French Canadian mainstreams. Jewish immigrants of the 20th century arrived in Montreal to find a city filled with French Canadian joie de vivre combined with a deep stirring Catholic religiosity and spirituality, though sometimes from that same place came occasionally a cold stare at them of hatred and even street violence.

Back in Eastern Europe, the Russian Czar wanted two things of their Jews: to starve and to vanish, but in that Quebec port city, the Scottish and English Montrealers set them up in their classrooms and gave them a basic education and, above all, a love of the English language, and for that we are deeply indebted. They too may have put up barriers to us but we learned to climb over them. Meanwhile our fathers and grandfathers earned a living from selling goods from door to door.

My father, like Irving Layton, plied the trade of peddler in the working class areas of Montreal where sometimes a child could be heard yelling..." Hey mom , your Jew is coming!!" The perilous metal staircases of working class houses grew from the ground high into the air like metallic cocoons, but in Montreal's harsh winters they were more like icicles, and that is what they had to climb with their valises full of goods, day after day.

I would like, as well, to dedicate this poem I dedicated to the memory of my father, Julien Mader, to the memory of Irving Layton.

MY FATHER

And as I danced and sang beneath
The willow tree, kicking up the dust
With small child's feet in the
Hot noon-time of chocolate
And candied playlands
And wide-eyed school yards
My father broke his back beneath
The same scorching sun
Climbing up and down impossible staircases
Selling his weary
Goods from door to door.

And on the day of rest
I rode his tired back
A midget cowboy
Rejoicing in the desert dreamland
Of our ordinary abode.

I was the spark that cleansed your blood
The wash of wine that flushed the dross.
"My son, my son, do not leave me."
But I did.
I left you like all good sons
One day must.

And at the moment of your last child
Abandoning your hard-earned house
It must have torn into you
Like no other memory
Like some other kind of cruelty.

And as I sang and danced
Beneath the willow tree
He broke his back beneath
The same scorching sun
Climbing impossible staircases
Clutching an impossible star.

Nota: that horrible Stephen Marche literary obit. is now the only CBC.ca feature left on Irving Layton.

By Malcolm Lurie January 10

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