les huit quartiers du sommeil
I moved to Montréal on the night train.
I’ve lived in eight neighbourhoods since.
Each has had a different quality of sleep.
The night train tunnels termite-determined through silent miles of bark-black forest. Passengers forage for provisions, restless-long this expedition; minds race ahead, pace coach and sleeping class compartments listing along the fleuve Saint-Laurent, dip-slice-glide-lurch-swaying, steady-forward, slow as the Voyageurs’ paddles.
Côte Sainte-Catherine: Car Crash Sleep
Arriving sleepless at the early-morning-garish Gare Centrale all day all I long for is escape from the over-bright Montréal-in-August-light. Every city has a first night. I find mine on the nineteenth floor of number-one Côte Sainte-Catherine, where Mount Royal runs into the mountain and Parc sideswipes the park. Where finishing leaving collides with beginning to arrive I set my suitcases down to the sounds of tires squealing, metal tearing, windshields shattering. That glass still glittering on the late lamp-lit pavement, falling careens into sleeping. Until a second car crash whiplashes me awake again: fresh glass, fresh sirens. The rest of first night number-one Côte Sainte-Catherine I squint night-blind at the white-coming and red-going traffic lava flowing to-and-from, up-and-down-past, and up-and-over-the-mountain. It’s no accident that accidents happen at intersections. Where dark meets morning. I’m waiting for another one.
Jeanne-Mance: Bamboo Blind Sleep
Laughing and grasping, sweating and dropping, flopping, folding, shifting and hefting, resting and trying again. No, like this. Wait. Put your hand here. That’s it. That’s the way Jean-Claude and I carried our first futon home to our first home sweet home: two rooms and mop and a broom, a cutting board, a knife, a tidy little life. Except. I’m nobody’s wife. I’ll cut the onions any way I like. I’ll walk past the window naked if I want to, thank-you, right through the bamboo blinds’ long thin lines of streetlight and sleepshadow. The blinds came with the apartment. And now Jean-Claude thinks he owns them, and the bed, the cutting board, the knife, my head. He sleeps on his back. Snores, and denies it. I shiver and he says I’m not cold. Come over, why don’t you? And rest with us a bit. I mean rester, stay. It’s late, you say? Never mind that. And all our lights are off? Just follow the sound of our voices. Walk in on our eleventh-hour arguing; sit in on our undressed-rehearsal bargaining scene. We’re easy to get to. There’s an avenue du Parc bus stop at the side of our bed. Shush, the air-breaks sigh. There-there, the engine groans. The muffler is exhausted. We all are. Our sleep undermined. Our flesh underlined. It’s the bamboo blinds. They let the whole night though.
Atwater: Waterbed Sleep
Three feet off the floor, moored by borrowed sheets, I float on a waterbed ocean. Calm seas, until I roll over - slosh - and we’re off again, sailing past high-gloss walls grey as late November. A cold north window wind carries us the three blocks down to the Forum, drives us up over the blue line. All hands to deck! Hard fore-checking, chipping it in around the headboards, pressing our home ice advantage; the waterbed and I cast wide our nets. We trawl the seas all, run rum down the runnel of the hall. The stuccoed ceilings whip up a frothy squall. Sound the alarm clock! There’s an iceberg off to starboard; my roommate is one cold bitch. But I don’t mind. When her boyfriend ditched her he left this waterbed behind.
Gilford: Louvered Door Sleep
How did it happen? It happened over night. Our bedroom doors started speaking French to us. At first not even the French-speaking among us could understand them. Their new brass accents were strange to us, and their broad sweeping gestures… But still, we were impressed. The doors had completely transformed themselves! Their accordion hinges were a marvel, the way they opened and closed like little lungs… We lay awake and listened to them breathing dusty wooden nothings up and down the hall, until gradually we discerned patterns in their louvered language, and discovered, to our horror, that we were what they were whispering about! Those slim slats listened in on our late night phone calls, heard us kissing and told all, retold our best stories and our worst ones, held us to promises made in a gasp, secrets spilled in a sigh. Louvered doors can’t keep secrets, as, by now, everyone knows. By now everyone knows that Fiona’s father’s in a coma, J-P’s dealing from the dépanneur around the corner, and somewhere in the south of France Vincent has a wife that one of his Montréal girlfriends knows about and the other one doesn’t. Now that we’re all fluent in French door we have many more roommates than we have rooms.
Saint-Philippe: Purple Parakeet Sleep
By day the Café; Purple Parakeet does brisk business serving squat square foods: coffee cakes, carrot cakes, brownies and banana breads. Across the street, a very short man and a tall-ish girl live in the top two floors of a slim slice of layer cake. Their rooms point at the street and widen in the rear. Their walls are iced with the pale violet light of the Café;’s purple parakeet sign. Let’s call the short man Petit-Robert. And the tall-ish girl Oxford-English. Last week Petit-Robert renamed his Hard Drive Hard Dick and crawled inside his rotten Apple computer. He sleeps on his desktop, fiddles with his files, fondles his folders, and Photoshops his dreams. Down the hall Oxford-English locks her door, sleep tosses atop flannel sheets festooned with florid orange flowers. In pith helmet and khakis she machete hacks whacking her way through thick humid jungle dreams, loud with monkeys screech-reaching and bright song birds caw-calling. Fecund fruit falls. It’s Petit-Robert’s Apple computer crashing. Waking Oxford-English. Her limbs pale velvet, ultra violet washes the walls of her rooms. Across the street from the layer cake apartment, the Café’s purple parakeet perches. All night the neon sign bird grooms.
L’Esplanade: Break & Enter Sleep
Bullet-proofed and dead-bolted, alarmed and well armed, all the lights on and the cold breaks in anyway. Makes thieves of us. We steal through the night. Elbows ashen and ankles arid. Thin skinned. Hair static, we cling. Two bodies warmer than one. We hum snatches of that tune from Lakmé. Humid vines twist-entwining, our legs a pas de deux, an undercover operation. Our breath flowers frozen petals. The cold air. The cold. Steals our breath, steels our nerve. Sets our fingers prying. We're finding warm openings. We're breaking and entering into sleep.
Groll: Gondola Sleep
There’re no cars in this sleep. On this street too narrow for nought but fall-fallen leaves and spring melt waters. In this sinking, forgotten quarter. Faint spice-route scents float on alleyway trade winds. Mile End scents: garlic, cholent, kebab, curry. Erev Shabbos scurry settles into night of rest. The clogged drain lagoon echoes: monotone davvening, praying, Polo whispering to the Khan. Firewood, fruit and silk laden barges are tug-boated in. Under cover of squid-inky dark. The gondolier poles his empty black parenthesis up the flooded alleyway, peers into lamp-lit windows, pleads: Prego, signorina. Please.
Saint-Urbain: Greek Sleep
There are many gods of sleep. Most of ours are Greek. The old lady and her husband are the gods of twilight sidewalk talking under our window. Her hollering and him grunting, they lead the neighbours in a chorus gossip-singing to a tin can transistor radio tune. The next-door gods of midnight swimming divine cool meaning from the clear waters of their aboveground pool. Strophe and anti-strophe, their call and answer ricochet. Echo haunts our alleyway. The god of a very small dog lives downstairs. Her boyfriend is the god of sports betting. We pray the Western Conference goes his way. When the Flames lose he hurls thunderbolts and all night long night Saint-Urbain Street’s sirens sing their song. It’s one bacchanal after another on the third floor; horny he-goats and scantily clad nymphs stomp up and down the stairs. The guy in the bed above ours thinks he’s the god of love but he can only go five minutes. It seems wrong that our gods anger us more than we anger them. If our rent weren’t so low we’d do like Daphne did, we’d make like trees and leave. Maybe up to little Italy. Our want ad reads: Tired tenants seeking sleepy Roman deity.
From your house I fled gently, and laughed in the evening. Too weak to dance. Timid in the aftermath. I traveled smooth through slow tunnels, wore thin the scenery and left grey traces. Dawn. I walked on. Heavy. Soft bones on Sunday. Slow and sad through the park of young boys slim and quick. Until finally the rain came, danced three-four time emphatic. I turned at random. At a stair near a fountain, I turned toward home.
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