I Used To Watch Place Ville Marie
Melting In The Rain

by Robert M. Smith

submission info

I've been living in Montreal so long
that my mind runs East and West
and the dividing line is the Main
the numbers running from zero to infinity
one way and zero to minus infinity the other
what side of my brain are you on?

as I approach Montreal by plane,
the night lights are blue and orange rectangles,
a vast breathing, pulsating, scintillating grid
the pilot bounces into Dorval,
and next, I'm taxiing along concrete snakes
until the immensity of downtown invades
the windshield of the car:
it's a twenty dollar ride from Dorval to downtown

I hope there's a Sherbrooke Street in heaven,
not paved in gold, but exhilarating
on a sunswept spring day:
ornamental wrought iron grills
dating back to the British Empire
and the tiny rosebuds
along the front entrance of McGill,
with construction, always construction
coated with memories
like brain cells coated with dopamine
from past life hallucinations;
ghosts whisper, calling me back,
saying, remember me?

there was the age of coffee shops
and demonstrations and F.L.Q. bombs,
I was only a kid then,
and life was vast and promising,
(nothing to be taken seriously,
as I could afford to postpone spirituality)
and there were friends,
and today there are friends,
and there will always be friends,
someone to greet me at heaven's door

today it's the age of yuppies
and homeless vagrants ostracized
from the Holiday Inn
and the hanging garden of Babylon
underground shopping centers:
the boarding houses are reborn
and converted into condos,
the longhair freaks are now administrators,
and I'm still the local weirdo
who's somehow intelligent and also crazy
(at least so I've been told, right?)

the other Montreal lives under the shadow
of the Beast, and the streets are earthquaked,
with a black cloud over every cop shop,
and I hear the screams of the elderly
widows near the geriatric wards of the Douglas:
one drunk is still outsleazing another drunk
in the gray on gray drunk tank in station no. 1,
the men in uniform have stolen someone's wallet,
and a wiseacre screams out, "Call the cops,"
I'm torn and shredded and scattered
from adventure to delirium tremens to torture
while the immigrant ladies with shawls
wrapped around their heads shop for tomatoes
at the Jean Talon market, oblivious
to the language rift and 7:00 o'clock news
about Claude Ryan and René Lévesque's
brave new Montreal, the only bilingual city
on the continent, where over 80 languages are spoken

once upon a time, there was the Bistro
on Mountain Street, and one should remember
the Club des Moustachus, where all the waiters
wore black bow ties and handlebar mustaches

when I first moved to Montreal,
I took Jean Beaudet to the Black Bottom
to hear a phenomenon called Nelson Symonds,
who played until 5:00 A.M.
in serpentine smoke and beer flowing
and girls stomping their feet
and beatniks tapping their fingers,
and the joint kept rocking
till sunrise and somehow it swings today
in Jean Beaudet's music and my soul

does anyone remember the Esquire Show Bar?
or the Penelope? or the Swiss Hut?

today, all the drunks who drank at the Diana
are attending twelve-step programs,
and are serene ghosts of their rowdy selves,
wrinkled and gray as they shake hands
with newcomers at Monday and Friday Central

there's still the excitement of a new decade,
and then a new millennium dawns on Montreal,
will Christ come back and find precious little faith
in a city dominated by a cross on its only mountain?
twenty years ago, I thought the Revolution
was imminent, I thought we would have
one hell of a French Revolution
(last week, an old friend of mine
said in all pseudo-seriousness
I resembled Robespierre,
and I hung up)

tonight, I'm comfortable on the fifteenth floor,
out of the rain, and La Bohème
doesn't mean a great deal to me anymore,
today I'm older, still crazy, still young at heart,
but the cops don't arrest me for wearing long hair
tonight I'm tired and glad to have roots
tonight I am stoned drunk on nostalgia
tonight, they could drop the bomb
on Montreal for all I care

April 20, 1990

Robert M. Smith is a recycled teenager who thinks he is an underground cult figure. He writes about the revolution and Jesus and doesn't know the difference. In fact, he is a middle-aged parent who lives in Montreal with his two young daughters and translates for the government.