what we hold tight


The Toronto Christmas Market
Nokyoung Xayasane

The lights are connected to each other like bridges between point A and point B. They hang above the Toronto Christmas Market. I see them in the distance. Yellow lights alive in the night.

I make my way to the main entrance but then decide to wait in the line. The line moves quickly. There are people wearing red Rudolph noses. People stand in groups waiting for their friends to arrive.

There’s music playing. You try to walk about and all around you are toques and scarves and the steam of apple cider and the sweetness of hot chocolate. At the centre of the market, an evergreen occupies the space like a bejewelled grandfather, wise and beautiful and silent. There are flashes of light and smiling faces as they stand for photos, trying to capture a feeling, a moment, when the air was cold but the heart was warm.

We decide after a few hours and some moments standing under heat lamps and inside shops, that we’ve all had enough Christmas cheer. We need a warm place to sit down. We need a drink and something hearty in our bellies.

The problem and the beauty of Toronto is choice. Where to go? We decide to find a place near the St. Lawrence Market and hail a cab. The traffic moves at a snail’s pace. We walk around and check out a few places. My toes have begun to thaw. The air around is still biting cold.

Eventually we happen upon a Spanish restaurant. I haven’t been to a Spanish restaurant before and neither have they. It looks fancy. But I’ve found that in Toronto, as in life, it doesn’t really matter what you’re wearing, it matters only how you present yourself.

There’s a long wooden bar. The lights are dim. A group of four is about to leave and we decide to have a drink at the bar while we wait. A moment later the table opens up and I slide into the booth. I look at the menu. It reads Barsa Taberna on the cover. The four of us decide to share the paella, a classic Spanish dish.

Our voices are raised and cheerful. I look to my left at a couple whose date has been highjacked by another couple. Perhaps the second couple have tired of speaking to each other, and they find relief in two new pairs of listening ears.

I look to the bar in front of me. There are two women who look like they’re having a night out, away from the kids and away from their partners. Everyone is beautifully dressed. A man sits at the bar, drinking a beer.

I look to the faces across from me. The four of us laugh. We share stories. We share a meal. How did you two meet, I ask them. They smile and tell me their story. Outside the snow begins to fall, specks of white, lit up in lamp light. The buildings reach up into the sky, into a darkness that hugs the city like a long-lost friend.

I raise my hand to brush the hair from my face. The napkin almost falls from my lap but I catch it just in time to hear a knife clatter to the ground. We all laugh. I hold that laughter in my mind as it already begins to slip away, as it is already the past.

Years later I’ll remember that night. Even then I knew, that laughter and that happiness, they are what connect us, they are what we hold tight when we have nothing to hold on to at the end of our lives.

the lost girls of Toronto


the lost girls of Toronto
Nokyoung Xayasane

It doesn’t matter what day it is:
Monday, Wednesday, Thursday—
the lost girls of Toronto
can be seen everywhere,
on any given day
of the week.

We’re at a King West club—
Citizen, Early Mercy—
surrounded by venture capitalists
and financiers in sombreros.
Just one drink tonight,
I tell my friends
before stumbling home
at five in the morning,
head swimming
from free tequila shots,
body aching
from a romp
with a faceless man
in an overpriced condo.
I’ll run into traffic
to catch the midnight blue bus
and watch as a man
throws up in a corner
of the bus.
I’ll laugh when someone’s
lollipop falls into my hair,
the night air
cool as ointment,
as a dog whistle.

The lost girls of Toronto
can be seen at the Dakota Tavern,
Communist’s Daughter,
The Garrison,
listening to the latest
hipster bluegrass band.
I’ll wear my indie hat
that could be found in any crowd
at any music festival—
Coachella, Burning Man.
I’ll drink those organic craft brews,
and laugh at the True Stories
(Told Live) Toronto
while eyeing the deep-voiced
indie musician who’s only
in the city for that one night
for that one particular night.

The lost girls of Toronto
may be wearing
the highest of heels
and the shortest of skirts.
They may be adorned
in high-waisted pants
and high-collared tops,
oversized eyeglasses
with that signature straight bang.
One moment they’re Kendall Jenner
the next—
Taylor Swift, Zooey Deschanel.
They’re versatile
that way.

The lost girls of Toronto
are a common sight
on Queen Street West.
They’re at a fashion show
with their phones out,
snapping and tweeting.
They’re at the pre-show,
the actual show, the after party.
They’re at a magazine launch party,
an EP release party—
too stylish and too damn cool to care.
I’m trotting along the Mink Mile,
on the cobbled paths of Yorkville.
Did you see the necklace
that I’m wearing?
I found it at a vintage shop
for six dollars. It goes
so well with my $800 shoes.

The lost girls of Toronto
listen to podcasts.
They know what’s up
with city planning, world issues,
and the struggles
of the marginalized.
I’ll go to brunch
on a Sunday with an artist
I met on Tinder.
He’ll pay for my meal—
eggs benedict, of course,
with that Caesar cocktail.
A few days later,
another man, an ad man,
who’ll buy me the same drink
at a different restaurant
in a different neighbourhood.
I think I see the artist
through the window,
but it could’ve been
my imagination.

The lost girls of Toronto
hang out with their squad
after yoga on the waterfront.
The squad members change
depending on the mood
and the season.
Nothing lasts,
nothing is permanent.
They’ll discuss the American election,
And what about the merits of
Britney’s latest video?
Is it classic Britney Spears
or is she turning her back
on 90s Britney?

The lost girls of Toronto
will discuss consent
in an open bar
while engaged in a
heteronormative game
of matchmaking,
(yes, we know
what ‘heteronormative’ means),
and they won’t shy away
from taking a drink
from a stranger—
taking a drink
doesn’t mean
they have to reciprocate
in any way.
They’ll say no to a date
without giving them a reason.
They’ll end things briskly,
no muss, no fuss.
Did I not sit you down
and tell you why it wasn’t working?
We’re not heartless.

On the contrary,
the lost girls of Toronto
have loved and lost.
If you sit them down,
they’ll tell you a sad tale
of love and betrayal,
unrequited love, a love
that went awry, a love cut short
by time and distance and change.

The lost girls of Toronto
will go out for a night of drinking,
hobble home solo or with
that “special” someone
and still make it
to work the next day.
They work out, keep toned.
They’re trying to cut down
on consuming meat and dairy,
maybe drink more smoothies.
They love their pets, fur babies,
and when a friend calls for help,
they’re there with a bottle of wine
or a pizza that tastes
just like delivery,
with a listening ear
that feels
just like therapy.

The next day,
they do it all over again:
the early-morning meetings,
the long nights
in a packed crowd
with bottle service,
champagne flaring
and confetti flying
at 2pm during Sunday brunch,
hip hop blaring
house music blasting
at 8pm on a Monday night.
They’ll laugh
and they’ll cry,
they’ll learn
and they’ll never stop fighting,
they’ll never give up.

So you see,
the lost girls of Toronto,
aren’t really lost.

We’re not lost, not even close.

welcome to the struggle


welcome to the struggle,
Nokyoung Xayasane

This rooftop is too hot,
the men
are too “appreciative.”
I’ve broken the strap
on my sandal
and someone grabbed my wrist
in the stairwell.
I feel its sting
and my yelling ringing
in my ear.
I’m that person now
who yells at bouncers
and at cars driving into me
on the street.
I gesticulate and foam
at the mouth.
Remember when I baked pumpkin pies
and believed you
when you said
she was nothing special?

There is a fire inside the city,
burning blue
smoke everywhere.
I stand coughing my
two-lunged life away.

I want to leave
this place
but I’ve just arrived.
Why do we want to be
where we’re not?
I wait for happiness
to arrive
like some long-sought refuge,
but I alone
must craft this feeling
of rainbows and sunshine
from string and glue and
plastic wrappers.

All I can hear
is incessant laughter
ricocheting off high rises
and buildings made of
steel and glass
and the sun
it blazes
on this city rooftop
tar and spit and the vomit
of words, common syllables
and nothing is said ever
that hasn’t been said before.
The people here
they drink and revel
and call out
to each other
as if it meant something.

How come
I must make an effort
in all things?
I want to put my phone down
and look into another
human being’s face
and tell them
something they’ve never
heard before.

I want to string the words
together in a pattern
that glitters and cuts
that shakes them alive
that transplants them from
this smog-filled city
to a seaside town
and we are in the water
high to our knees
and there are these birds
that circle round and round
and the blue stretches out
beyond our understanding,
then you will
turn to me
and tell me
a harsh truth
about the human struggle,
and it will be filled with
longing and dreams
that fly away by night
and hide somewhere
dark and shining,
ready to be unearthed,
but instead
we turn away and
we glare at the sun.
I blink
and wait for the heat
to dissipate,
a blue fire
burning in the distance.

this is the sound of your heart, breathing


the sound of your heart, breathing
Nokyoung Xayasane

There are nights
when the city opens up.
I enter it
and become
the woman selling necklaces
in Kensington Market.
I am the man on the metro
at Broadview Station
in the late afternoon,
speaking Spanish
in calm tones
while we plunge into
the light, emerging
from the darkness,
light slanting,
alternating patterns
against the
face of the woman
staring into nothingness.
I want to reach out
and brush the stray strand
from her face
and secure it gently
behind her ear.
There is a child
who stands with
her father, speaking
the pink stripes of
her dress a backdrop
against her skin,
sure and beautiful
and pure.

I exit the subway and
become the ferryboat
that would carry me across
to Hanlan’s Point.
I am the white fluffy dots
of pollen, floating,
the give-offs of flowers
in the summer wind.
I am the girl
submerged in the cold
floating on her back
in the sunshine,
her skin is bare and golden.
She is free,
free as a child,
the sky above her,
the boats all around her.
Her naked body
dries in the sun
as she stares out
into Lake Ontario,
waiting for the answers
to wash ashore.

I am that night
we met
when you turned to me
and I turned to you.
You kissed me on the corner
of Spadina and Queen
as I tried to decipher
the meaning
behind your accent.
You were only four weeks
in the country,
but I’ve been waiting for you
for quite some time now,
I believe.
I am all those first nights
looking across
at the sleeping body beside me
holding my breath,
waiting for that moment
when you feel your life
just lift up
and take off.

I know there will
come a time
when I will hate this city,
but until then,
I will enter it
and become the girl
who fears nothing.
This girl,
she believes in nothing.
She who walks the earth
without a map,
her face hardened
with time,
her eyes pierce
the enamel of human nature
and enters its darkest
and richest centre.
She is everything
and she is everyone,
she wants nothing
and she wants everything,
She will hold them inside
her heart,
quick and alive,
slow and halting.
She will walk along
Bloor Street
until her legs give way,
until she feels
no more pain.

She will meet a woman
in rags who will tell her,
All roads lead
to the border,
all paths end at the beginning.
Then why did she walk
all this way?
She had to,
that was the only way
she knew how to be.
Will you take me home,
the girl will ask her.
The woman places her palm
against the girl’s chest.
You are home, she tells her.
This is where you live,
she taps her beating heart.

Suddenly, a window opens up
and I am the city,
I am the cracks in the streets,
I am a child crying in the night,
the woman pushing her
shopping cart filled with
all her belongings.
I am the man on Bay Street,
stark and immaculate,
I am the server
standing on the patio
dressed all in black,
waiting for his real life to begin.
I am all those people
all at once and
I am no one,
no one at all.

This is the sound, she says,
of your heart, breathing.
This is the sound of your heart, healing.

the idea that she was possible

dance floors would bleed from the knife of her dress (Photo credit: @nokxayasane/Instagram)

dance floors would bleed from the knife of her dress (Photo credit: nokxayasane/Instagram)

When you start a new chapter in your life, you can get super stressed out.

Whether you’ve decided to move to a new city, take on a new job, or end a toxic relationship, there’s always a sense of fear that comes with your decision.

But fear shouldn’t be something we … well … fear. It’s the thrill of knowing our life, as we know it, is about to change, drastically.

Yes, there will be times when we’re lost on the metro and have no clue where we’re going and we ask ourselves why we’ve moved to a city of faceless strangers. Yes, there will be days when our new boss is micromanaging the sanity out of us and we’re dying for the clock to read 5 pm. And yes, there will be days when we wish for the comfort of our former partner even though the relationship was as dysfunctional as Hannah and Adam’s relationship in the first season of Girls.

For me, whenever I start a new chapter in my life, I try and find poetry that comforts me and validates my decisions.

This is an excerpt I took from Dionne Brand’s book of poetry called Thirsty. I chose the parts I liked best so it’s missing a bunch of the poem.

To read the whole poem, check out her book. Do people still buy books nowadays? I hope so. Books are the bees’ knees.

XXXI, Dionne Brand

the clarity
of the traffic, the sky, the day, her life
her directions, plain, unknown, except for this,
the idea, the idea that she was possible

she could assassinate streets with her eyes
damage books and chemical compounds and honey and waiting
rooms, dance floors would bleed from the knife of her dress

She needed to smell, without dying, the skin
of someone else, she needed without wounding,
without a murder, without a killing, a truce if not peace,
a city, as a city was supposed to be, forgetful,
and to gather up any charm she might have
left, to sleep, to feel snow, to have it matter,
to wake the leaves, to hate rain

Heads up!

I’m starting a new lifestyle blog in the new year which chronicles my adventures as a freelance writer trying to make it in the big city (Toronto) with the help of food, friends, and feline. Stay tuned!

I Love You More Than All the Windows in New York City

Photo credit: @nokyoungxayasane / Instagram

Photo credit: Original by Taylor Jackson Photography; Edited by nokxayasane/Instagram

I Love You More Than All the Windows in New York City
Jessica Greenbaum

The day turned into the city
and the city turned into the mind
and the moving trucks trumbled along
like loud worries speaking over
the bicycle’s idea
which wove between
the more armored vehicles of expression
and over planks left by the construction workers
on a holiday morning when no work was being done
because no matter the day, we tend towards
remaking parts of it—what we said
or did, or how we looked—
and the buildings were like faces
lining the banks of a parade
obstructing and highlighting each other
defining height and width for each other
offsetting grace and function
like Audrey Hepburn from
Jesse Owens, and the hearty pigeons collaborate
with wrought iron fences
and become recurring choruses of memory
reassembling around benches
we sat in once, while seagulls wheel
like immigrating thoughts, and never-leaving
chickadees hop bared hedges and low trees
like commas and semicolons, landing
where needed, separating
subjects from adjectives, stringing along
the long ideas, showing how the cage
has no door, and the lights changed
so the tide of sound ebbed and returned
like our own breath
and when I knew everything
was going to look the same as the mind
I stopped at a lively corner
where the signs themselves were like
perpendicular dialects in conversation and
I put both my feet on the ground
took the bag from the basket
so pleased it had not been crushed
by the mightiness of all else
that goes on and gave you the sentence inside.

Read more about this poem and poet on the Poetry Foundation website: http://bit.ly/T5U2sC.