Poetry Walk with Ireland Park Poets and former City Planner Daniel Burns

Date: 1 November, 2017

Thank you to walk participant Peter Bailey for the photos.

 

On Saturday, October 28th, some thirty participants, former City Planner Daniel Burns, and poets Maureen Hynes, Catherine Graham, and Nicholas Power embarked on a rainy walk through the streets of Toronto to illuminate the depth of the Irish-Canadian connection. The walk combined both artistic and historic elements and evoked aspects of the Irish past in the landscape of Toronto through both a visual and a poetic journey. The walk began at St. Mary’s Church at Adelaide W and Bathurst Streets and made its way past Victoria Square and the Ponte de Luz to Ireland Park. The Ireland Park Poets presented meaningful poems on the experience of the Irish in Toronto as they related to each place along the way, and were enhanced by stories and descriptions of the Irish experience in history by Daniel Burns.

Though the weather was wet, participants’ spirits were high. Walk leaders and participants alike enjoyed the combination of history and poetry, and look forward to future poetry walks with Ireland Park Foundation.

Many thanks to Daniel Burns (current Board Member), Maureen Hynes, Catherine Graham, and Nicholas Power. With the permission of the poets, we have posted an original sample work from each of them created especially for this walk.

 

Walking with Michael Power

(late summer 1847)

by Nicholas Power

 

Waking in the quiet dark

for a few moments he’s young Mick again

his mother Mary hovering over him

“You’ll be better soon, and on your way.”

He reads his breviary by candlelight

a simple priest not the weary bishop

Without waking anyone

in the episcopal house on Church Street

he puts on his second best coat and sturdy boots

and walks south in the cool of the morning

he turns east along Queen Street moving slowly

After saying Mass at St. Paul’s

he asks the sacristans

to help him clean up

already in the churchyard gravediggers are at work

silently walking through the now-bustling town

in his reverie he sees his cathedral slowly being built

wonders if he will see its completion

weak and tired

as he’s been for several days

he makes his daily visit to the immigrants

his priests who work in the quarantine sheds are ill with fever

only Father Carroll stays hearty, an Irishman adapted well to this country

but Ryan, O’Reilly and Kerwin need the help of the sisters to stay on this side of the grave

later in the day

alone

he remembers

“What an argument it was to convince the council

to build these flimsy shelters;

and they will be of no use by November.

No money is forthcoming from the Assembly.

Strachan and Robinson understand their obligations;

they know the immigrants are not responsible for the epidemic.

I would that I were a doctor

with an ointment that might salve this disease.

These people are not themselves.

They rave sometimes as if their souls have returned

to counties they’ve left behind.

Their skins so hot I can hardly bless them.

The holy water does little to cool their fever.

They do suffer less to know they are absolved

not solely of their sins but of the deaths of loved ones.

I am more useful at their burials than at their bedsides.

There is not enough wood for caskets,

not enough room in the old graveyard.

Though some die unnamed

they will not go unshriven

I pray that my mind will not cloud over

But I do well to write down my instructions.”

 

 

Torpor

by Catherine Graham

from Her Red Hair Rises with the Wings of Insects (Wolsak & Wynn)

 

Water holds sky in its face.

No wind-scars of white.

 

Green beneath

each fish jump.

 

Everything moves out

of something and

 

back in again, like falling

leaves through a craze

 

of empty skies, only the cries

that bring the birds back

 

carry the absence

we can’t find.

 

I want more green

but the quarry grows

 

a lid, a locked harbour

gripping all

 

I can’t have;

every buried

 

echo from afar, of some

strange cry that can’t get out.

 

Clothed in cold,

the falling snow

 

buries the ice,

a blank oval.

 

But see? Fox tracks,

rabbit, deer and crow

 

no longer navigating

by a magnetic line,

 

not everything follows

the flapping bird.

 

 

 

Bridge of Tears / Bridge of Light

by Maureen Hynes

 

Though it’s stone & steel we love the most,

we’ve made bridges of light, tears, sighs

 

to lift us over gorges & rivers, over hungers

& sorrows, to set us down on the other side.

 

A bridge is like a bone – a finger, an arm –

the stretch, the reach it makes, how it holds

 

& sways. Last month, under a windy grey sky,

a green emptiness surrounding me, I stood

 

on the Bridge of Tears & dropped a Donegal pebble

into the tiny stream. It fell quickly, a splash, was gone –

 

not a stone for my September sins, but a small

hard weight for every tear & hope

 

in the sons or daughters farewelled there.

A weight they carried on their hungry four-day walk

 

to the Derry ships bound for the new world. And now

I travel from that centuries-old stone bridge

 

where the friends in the car just beyond waited

for me to finish my photos, my little ceremony,

 

to this steel & tension-cabled overpass,

with its eighteen yellow arcs threaded above

 

nine railway tracks. I think of crossing perilous times,

recall the magic sticks that, held in a firm hand,

 

grew into sturdy bridges between the loving ravaged

past & the faceless future.