The Toronto Writer’s Collective, along with Ve’ahavta’s MYTORONTO program, developed a unique Creative Writing Contest for individuals who have been marginalized by poverty or homelessness. Writers from the Toronto Writer’s Collective workshops were encouraged to submit their written pieces, inspired by the winning photos from the MYTORONTO 2020 calendar as prompts, to the Creative Writing Contest.
Six winners were selected from the September workshops, following four winners in July. All winners were awarded prizes for their pieces at the MYTORONTO Exhibit Launch and Participant Celebration at the Metro Hall Rotunda on September 18, with a few select winners from the Creative Writing Contest also invited to share their winning pieces at the event.
Wendy Belcourt – Reflection on a Park Bench
* * *
Reflections on a Park Bench
On reflection, there were those old cartoons of homeless people asleep on park benches with a newspaper for a blanket. I never understood what the punchlines to those were. Now, we make our benches too short, and instead of on the ends, we put our hand rests in the middle. Oh no, not for you is this a place of rest. We don’t want to see you taking up space in our bus shelters where you might have some protection from the winter winds. We don’t want to see those we have made homeless by corporate or government policies. We don’t want to notice that houses have soared to become million-dollar properties, while wages have stagnated.
It is rare to be hired off the streets back into a mainstream job, because we have come to look scruffy. We don’t mean to, but it is just how it is. We no longer have the means to buy fine clothes.
You don’t like how our etiquette has lapsed? Well, we have had to learn the etiquette of the streets to survive. You don’t panhandle in the same block as someone else. You share, yet you fight over a dropped bill. Life is harder than you imagine, yet the trap door is under your very feet, if you were only aware. But look at us, think about us sometime. This was someone ‘s little girl, still is, but what happened along her journey, that now you don’ t wan t to share a bus seat with her? What are the torments behind her eyes, or his? They could fill novels with their stories, will you listen?
Things will only get worse before they get better.
The Toronto Sun complains about the litter left by the damned, which is a symptom, not the disease. They want to cover everything up with a big rug, and pretend it isn’t there. They want more police, not more money for the poor. More jails, not more housing, no safe injection sites, just more graveyards. Things will only get worse if you follow their solutions, and in the end, who will be left to bury them? We need better park benches, and more of them. We need more kindness, better wages and better laws to protect workers. We need rent controls and tenant protections, not carte blanche for greedy landlords to make excuses for evictions. We need power for the many, not the few. We need blankets, not newspapers, for those who need a park bench for a temporary mattress.
Barbara Berryman – Stacked Against Diversity
* * *
By H G
Standing by the stacked canoes and kayaks, Frank Bieber noticed that Morgan Swift’s sleek wooden craft had not yet returned. Frank felt uneasy. Morgan’s kayak was distinctively decorated with Inuit carvings of selkies, mythological seal-folk: “Greyed out” was so named for the grey seals he loved watching as a child and the digital term meaning ‘inaccessible’. Having fallen on hard times, Morgan did not own a phone so he used Paddlers Ahoy Rentals as his emergency contact.
Frank wondered what was going on with Morgan. Was he in trouble again? Frank’s mind flashed back to the time when Morgan made national news after he set off the coast of Vancouver Island in a sea kayak and subsequently went missing. A rambunctious orca had appeared with a firm tail smack near the boat. As Morgan attempted to paddle away, the ginormous orca reappeared under his boat and bit his paddle pulling it down into the depths of the ocean. Without a paddle, he drifted for days until a group of dolphins pushed his floating vessel closer to shore where a fisherman picked him up far from his logged itinerary. Sun-stroked and dehydrated, Morgan was weak and badly bruised from the encounter with the orca. Morgan’s brush with death became even more sensational as he had captured on film the orca breaching, splashing and displaying its dorsal fin while tossing his paddle into the air. Being a computer programmer, Morgan didn’t pursue photography professionally: at that time, it was simply a way of preserving happy memories with family and friends.
Both elite athletes, Frank in a canoe and Morgan in a kayak, these two had been fast friends for decades. Thinking back, Frank chuckled. His family name meant beaver similar to the paddle he used while Swift reflected Morgan’s love of water and agility in a kayak.
Frank was two inches shorter than Morgan’s six feet and his lower body less toned, yet both had exceptionally strong upper bodies. The more gregarious of the two, Morgan had been a bit of a ladies’ man until he met Jo: thereafter he only had eyes for her. When Jo died shortly after their marriage, Morgan became a loner. His life fell apart. No longer able to function as a computer programmer, the bills fell behind and he became homeless. This was a mixed blessing for Morgan who now at least did not have to relive memories of Jo at home everyday. Everything else forgotten, Morgan found peace kayaking on Lake Ontario snapping pictures of the wildlife he happened upon.
An expert kayaker, Morgan paddled almost year-round as Lake Ontario rarely froze over. Frank agreed to rent him boat storage space for a nominal fee each season provided that Morgan gave lessons for his customers. It was a good arrangement for both men.
With Morgan an hour past due, Frank searched the harbour along the Toronto Islands and out into the Eastern Gap by powerboat. Seeing no sign of Morgan, he returned to shore hoping to find him there. Frank catastrophized. Morgan always left a trip plan, but didn’t appear to have adhered to schedule. What on earth could have happened to him? Thankfully, there are no orcas in Lake Ontario!
With every passing minute, Frank grew more and more agitated. When Morgan’s disappearance stretched to three hours, Frank marched into the Marine Unit’s station close-by to make a report. Knowing some of the officers personally, Frank convinced them to launch a search immediately for the missing kayaker, a well-known sight on the lake. Another hour went by and still no sign of Morgan.
Half an hour after that, while preparing to do another cruise-about, Frank spotted Morgan’s kayak. He gestured wildly for him to come to shore.
Using sweep and draw strokes, Morgan nonchalantly paddled alongside the dock while Frank reprimanded him for his very late arrival. Morgan remonstrated: “I left my trip plan as always. I’m not a child with a curfew!”
“Well, the Marine Unit has been searching for you for the past two hours. And I’ve been worried sick.”
“I’m sorry, Frank. I mistook a giant blob in the water for a rock until I realized it was a snapping turtle sunning by the Eastern Gap. I was taking pictures of this unusual sight when a very large American White Pelican landed. Spectacular! Black-tip winged with large sunset-orange bill and pouch, it swooped down onto the turtle’s back. As it flew off, I followed, trying to capture the perfect shot. Focused, I lost track of time. I have to report this on the Ontario Rare Bird Alerts and the Natural Heritage Information Centre. You know the American White Pelican has only been spotted as far as Northwestern Ontario so this bird strayed further east and south than usual.”
“Well, I’m relieved that you’re finally back safe and sound. I should notify the Marine Unit. Oh wait, here they come. You can apologize to them for their wasted search. Let’s go for drinks after you check in with them. Trust you to come across the unusual. Congratulations. You buck norms all the time.”
Morgan had become a star again. Conservationists, wildlife enthusiasts and bird-watchers were all atwitter about Morgan’s rare sighting. Aware of most Canadian endangered species, Morgan knew that globally almost one in eight birds are in jeopardy. Now, the world is experiencing the largest mass extinction since the dinosaurs. Species disappear every day; over 200 animals and plants are at risk in Ontario alone. He believed that everyone must nurture and protect God’s creations.
Morgan’s photographs hit the newspapers in print and online. Publishers signed him to several lucrative contracts for coffee-table books with his photos featuring Lake Ontario and the West Coast. Morgan could finally breathe. Now, he was able to buy a condo on the lakeshore, not far from Paddlers Ahoy Rentals where he spent so much of his time. His watch over coastal waters and shores will continue … thanks to Frank’s loyal watch over him.
John Dough – Tout est Possible
* * *
Tout est Possible
By Lynn Gougeon
Everything is possible
When you give yourself the go
Let it lead you along its path
Even when you don’t know
The world can get you down
If you let it take up space
Forget about those things
It’s such a scary place
Fear of the unknown
Is not a way to live
Dreams are the better way
The best is when you give
Have faith in everything you do
You’ll always be surprised
Hope has a funny way
Of opening up your eyes
Morsi Luc – Hope
* * *
By J S
Replaced were the trees in knee high waters, with giant towers, skyscrapers. I put on my best dress shirt, checkered blue and orange, layered with a cotton dress jacket and leather belt to matched leathered shoes – the district dress code.
I had high hopes that one of these skyscrapers would choose me, that finally the stress that lives in my bones would be relieved and maybe I could help mum back home fix up her home – that’s all I ask.
These skyscrapers, grim, their steel foundations, hold concrete, glass, and everything material, right down to its life-blood; currency itself – the financial district, the backbone of colonial digs.
Like the eye of a vortex, these skyscrapers call me in, no, they drag me in, and I like it. As I walk between the skyscrapers, a cool breeze runs through the pikes. What a relief, heated by anticipation, the skyscrapers are my dreams of satisfaction.
A forever light bounces off the peaks of reflective blue-stained glass, and my aspiration zooms way out like an accidental click on a Google map. I feel so small in this glass city. I feel so insignificant, yet I like it.
These skyscrapers are tall. These skyscrapers reflect me? I built these walls and I created these monstrosities. Where is the way out? Which one will pick me up? Which one will erase all my doubts? I should not ask questions, or waste my time waiting; I will figure it all out.
Monolithic Steel and Glass
By Roberta Taylor
Monolithic steel and glass
Solar powered buildings
Mirrored sky buildings mirroring each other
Look up and further up
The narrow space between the monolithic steel and glass
Whiteness fading into grey and black
Immense in Darkness
and I am not part of this picture
and I am not significant or special
yet I am blinded by the frozen beauty
of the monolithic steel and glass
I am blinded by a frozen moment
that is burned into my memory
Forever I see
The monolithic steel and
the shattering of glass
Stuck Like Mud
By Jane Jetson
Here I stand at the crossroads discombobulated and unsure
Staring down at a clearly defined path in the distance
But is it a trick of the eye, an illusion, or something more ominous?
Should I venture forth or stay put in the zone familiar?
I’m being pulled in two directions and must make peace with myself;
Choosing one course of action over another
I see brightness and light filtering through, illuminating the path
Hidden are the darkness and shadows lurking behind.
Is it a maze that lies ahead twisting, turning, and branching out, or a dead end?
Fraught with complexity, challenge and laden with too many choices
Or is it a labyrinth with few bends and turns, one exit, one entry, one choice
Easily navigable with a sacred centre, guided by Athena, the goddess of protection
A labyrinth bestowing certainty, self-discovery, insight and escape.
I must interrogate the risk with rigour and robustness
Like an academic defending her thesis to a committee
Regret, loss, defeat, sadness, stagnation, grief, angst, anxiety;
Dark, weighted words which wreak havoc with the soul
The consequence of inaction, a potent-layered cocktail
Which I must drink, I, a captive traveller,
Caught between a rock and a hard place
I must trust my gut, my heart, my inner voice to lead me home
Immerse myself in the nebulous, romantic, simplistic
As if embarking on some ‘flight of fancy’
But knowing full well, the gravitas of my impending decision
Over thinking is a self-inflicted burden
Constraints imposed both real and imagined
I want to be daring and courageous
While at the same time treading gingerly
I want to have my cake and eat it too
Inhabiting the sweet spot intersecting both extremes
Where do I go from here?
I can see the path’s definition and feel the uneven pave below
As I envision the journey in my head to the most minute detail
But I am stuck- stuck like mud
Mired in fear and indecision
All my t’s are crossed and i’s are dotted but still I am at an impasse
I have mulled over this far too long like a very slow brewing cider
Which has lost its depth, its body and is in need of tweaking
I invoke the great writers, Frost, Eliot and Shakespeare for counsel
The former faced a similar dilemma and arrived at a resolve for better or worse
I’m at a crossroads and must clear the clutter, unpack the baggage
Deconstruct the worst case scenario and rebuild a more tolerable one
Take a leap of faith head first without reservation or regret
It’s time to pivot and focus on the beacon of light ahead