Backstory for this poem. I wrote this for The Good Hundred, an event hosted by The Local Good drawing on themes from conversations there, and also from my own experiences. I was especially inspired by Lewis Cardinal’s words about the spirit of this place, that Edmonton has been a gathering place for thousands of years, a cradle of civilization, a place of social movements, and a place of spirit, and his call to “look again” and see the monto (monto is the Cree word for Creator’s spirit or the great mystery) in EdMONTOn. See the Spirit of Edmonton project.
I wanted to offer another way of looking at this city of ours, drawing on cultural communities that I am connected to, and honouring their presence here. Edmonton’s Chinese communities have given the city a few different names. The earliest Chinese to settle here were from Toishan county in southern China. They call Edmonton Din Men Dun. To Cantonese speakers, it is Oi Men Dun. In Mandarin, is Ai De Meng Dun. The short form of this becomes Ai Cheng. Ai means love, and cheng means city. So literally, LOVE CITY.
LOVE CITY – Ai Cheng – 愛城
Love this city!
Love it like an old sweatshirt
love it like a first love
love it til it grows on you
til it grows into you
love it til you grow roots around each other.
Love it til you learn to find your way home by its stars
love it til you learn how to unfold the map of its bruises and scars
love it til you it shows you where to find berries by the river.
Love it, til it teaches you how to give.
Love it unconditionally.
Love it in past, present and future tense
love it as though you are always arriving
love it as though you’ve never left
then leave it,
so it teaches you how to grieve.
Love it, fiercely.
Love it on those days when its potholed streets
scrape the souls from your feet
and missing the bus
at the corner of empty hands and broken bottles
can defeat you.
Love it on those back-cracking cold days
when your heart breaks because you can’t promise all will be safe here
can’t promise that they won’t fall through side-walk cracks here.
Love it on those days when it falls back
when it becomes too big
and lonely again and
distance builds ring-roads
around our hearts.
Love it, because even then
gold leaves haven’t yet dropped
off white birch
and the first snowfall
will lighten the night.
Love it lightly.
because spring here smells like mud and wind
wind in the leaves of aspen trees is the sea
sea blue sky rolls high
up into tomorrow
and is perfect for flying kites.
Love it because, summer nights
hipsters, hippies, hip-checkers and hip-hoppers hang out
hip-to-hip among the rose-hips down by the river,
down by the river
where wild asparagus grows
where there were once rows of vegetables tended by
Chinese gardeners, who squatted
finding gold and coal among grains of soil
laid over layers of bones.
Love it because we’re small town people with big-time dreams, and
our hearts hold the rafters of the barns we raised together
the teepees we raised together
the forts we raised together
the churches and synagogues we raised together
the schools we raised together
the mosques we raised together.
Love it, even when it splits your heart.
Love it, so that it splits your heart
the way sunsets split the sky under banks of clouds
as you fly, feet on pedals
across the High Level Bridge
and North meets South meets East meets West.
Love it even though there are words unspoken between us
city dwellers perched
upon farm fields
upon the banks of a river
and the land that holds us up.
Love it til it teaches you how to be quiet
to sit with your back to the hill and eyes on the river as ice floes
bloom on black.
Love it in good faith
because there are no blue prints, no maps,
as fighters, healers, and rainbow web weavers
who are all more complicated and beautiful than we’ve allowed ourselves to be
who have the power to roll dreams like seeds, along our tongues,
spit them from between our teeth,
so they will grow the shoots
sprouting up out of sidewalk cracks
with roots that will one day
Love this city.
Don’t worry that it’s not perfect.
Love it til you love yourself
enough to love this city.
Otherwise, how will we love our children’s children’s children?