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.

the adventurer


On Saturdays
Nokyoung Xayasane

are the hardest.
The weekend, in fact,
is difficult all around.

On Saturdays,
I would wake up early
and you would sleep in
until 10 or 11 or
whenever I would remember
to wake you.

We would go out for sushi
to the same place in
the same area,
Baldwin Village.
You always liked it there.
My adventurer
who went
to the same places to eat,
who would wave to me
from the window of my car
on his way home
every weekend,
on his way back
to the same city
to the same people
he’s always known.

What is it like
to live in the past?
Everything is laid out
like a delicate row
of maki, sashimi, nigiri.
The chopsticks
are neatly placed
at the side
of your small plate,
the soy sauce and
wasabi and ginger
within reach.

When it was over
between us
we made our way to the subway
and you asked me
if the subway was running.
I thought it was a curious
question but I realized
you were coming from
our old neighbourhood,
from her place,
near our old place.

I looked at you
and said,
You moved out
of that neighbourhood,
but you’re still going back.
My adventurer
on a Saturday afternoon
in Baldwin Village.

Now on Saturdays,
I go for a long walk
in the brightness
of the afternoon sun,
and somehow
I end up at
a sushi restaurant.
I eat my fill,
to fill my memory
of you and us.
The weekend
stretches out
in front of me
like a lifetime
of Saturdays
in Baldwin Village.

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.