west end blues

Posted on April 21, 2015 in Poetry

As part of this year’s Edmonton Poetry Festival, Words with Friends put on an event called Tour de YEG. 5 diverse poets who call Edmonton home shared work inspired by specific areas of or locales in the city. Having recently moved out of the west end, where I lived for 10 years, to a neighbourhood closer to the downtown core, I was inspired to write a “break-up letter” in poetry form to Edmonton’s west end. I wrote this piece with the intent of being listened to rather than read, so I have posted both an audio recording and the written piece.

west end blues

with the west end and me
the end was
a mutual thing

like all great love affairs
it started out all consuming
the big commitment to staying
to not fucking off to Vancouver
like so many friends were
and who could blame ‘em
the river is nice
but it just ain’t the ocean

we raised our middle fingers to renting
the west end and me
together we owned it
got into the market
a year before the city exploded
and the oil money flowed
into every decent one bedroom
anywhere close to the core
rents went crazy
jacked up overnight
every six months
the landlords had
their hands out for more
and who could blame ‘em
when the market will bear it
no such thing as rent control
in boomtown

the west end made sense
an investment
close to The Mall
when you say The Mall
without further explanation
every Edmontonian knows
which one you mean
four city blocks of sprawl
orgies of cheap trendy clothes
a fake beach
with tides made by machines
nineteen kinds of second-rate Chinese food
cinnamon buns and submarines
rollercoasters pirate ships and balding mini golf greens
seals and dolphins and fire-breathing dragons
rough, ragged teens with no cash
and nowhere better to be seen
the ghost of thirteen year old Nina
who made friends with the devil
in a food court arcade
and ended up dead

my bro was tending bar at Red’s
and didn’t have his driver’s license yet
every night slinging drinks
for bowlers and pool sharks
and fans of has-been bands
walking home at 4 am
across the park shared between
a school for Catholics
and a school for the rest of the kids
whose parents, perhaps like me,
were unsure which God they believe in
or if they believe in anything

Mom gave us the down payment
and co-signed our loan
everything we have now we owe to her
and that west end townhouse we owned
with its single parking stall and two tiny yards
identical fences divided ours
from the neighbours’ identical yards
identical walls
identical rows of affordable homes
for twenty-somethings and single moms
for biker grandmas who love vodka and dogs
for working stiffs with toddlers
for struggling families of five or six
who simply can’t pay for anything bigger
in one of hundreds of complexes like this
west of 156

i know every way out
and every way in
beginning with Stony Plain Road
up and down every inch of
artery connecting me
to my city’s beating heart
ten thousand times
in the ten years between
the day i left downtown
and the day it finally
pulled me back in
i never quite could get it
completely out of my system
each back and forth
another piece of history
between that street and me

heading west from 124
with its prestigious real estate
local stores, galleries
restaurants and bakeries
so many places to be seen tweeting
149 is the line that divides
gorgeous historic manicured Glenora
from pawn and porn
and liquor stores
shitty hotel bars
with toothless old men
whose forty-year habits
scream for more
while their shriveled bleeding
livers scream for mercy
barely conscious
propped up by wheezing peeling walls
across the street from shady looking pool halls
and saggy grocery stores
with lettuce and peppers burdened
by a dirty layer of grimy film
hanging in the very air
of where they are
across the street from greasy diners
where you go hungover
the morning after a one night stand
with a friend of a friend
and let him buy you hashbrowns
because it’s easier than pretending
the sex actually meant anything
and wash the whole thing down
with a big swig of shame
and start again the very next day
because drinking is easier than crying
over a mother dying
and spending every night alone
in the west end townhouse
she helped you to own

things clean up a bit on 170
and its set of mediocre well-known
casual family dining franchises
every Friday night like clockwork
parking lots for Olive Garden,
Red Lobster and Chili’s
overflow with sedans and SUVs
they come for their biscuits
for their crab legs and popcorn shrimp
for their enormous bowls of pasta
and their breadsticks
for fajitas and corn-on-the-cob and ribs
and fill up
until their bellies
hurt more than the emptiness
at least that’s how i always did it

and oh, Whitemud Drive
straight shot free flow
south side to Refinery Row
that road is in my bones like a virus
every time i drive it
i’m right back there five years ago
crawling my way through
a snowstorm for an hour every morning
windshield bleary with another sleepless night
and the tears of just not wanting to go
where everyone tries not to stare
at me, the girl breaking down
in front of their eyes
with the mom dying of cancer
who weeps in the bathroom
who self-sabotages
and secretly wants to get fired
because I’m just too tired
of fighting traffic through a thick fog
of crushing depression
in pitch black January 7 am
berated for lateness
for sticking their rules
on how to use the internet
where the sun don’t shine
for watching every minute
tick by until i could leave
and oh, the Whitemud again
in the opposite direction
hating every second
and finally falling into bed
to start again the very next day

on Yellowhead Trail
where the coffee always flows
the neon always glows
and the pumps never close
where what happens on the road
stays on the road
in no-tell motels
across from the Costco
where housewives buy
mountains of diapers
across from the casino
where bells ring, coins jingle
lights flash all night
life savings disappear
in the blink of an eye
where truckers shove all kinds of powder
up their nose
with women they pay to come west
from the central nest of trading sex
who also sometimes end up dead
in bathtubs bleeding from gashes
any reporter working the crime desk
will tell you, intent is hard to prove
with layers upon layers
of evidence to sift through
in every one of those rundown rooms
from many hundreds of dates just like this
west of 156

like all great love affairs
the end came
as ends frequently do
we outgrew each other
the west end and me
my townhouse with its single parking stall
whose walls bear scars
of years getting free of grief
at losing a mother
and spending every night alone
this place near The Mall
she helped me to own
suddenly seemed too small
when i met Clark Kent
and we dreamed a dream
of a house near where the action is
the siren song of revitalized metropolis
so very hard to resist
a new happiness for two thirtysomethings
east of 156
my bro long since moved on
with a little girl of his own
i imagine taking my niece
when she’s older
for walks along trails
that curl through trees
in the River Valley
and as we watch the water rush by
i’ll say “it ain’t the ocean
but it sure is nice”