100 Outside Voices

100 Outside the March Artists Celebrate Toronto

Canadian poet Vanessa Smythe composed a 100-line love letter to Toronto. 100 wonderful OtM supporters commissioned each line. And 100 OtM artists performed the poem in a special location of their choosing.

The Poem

100 Outside Voices

A Company Induction and Celebration of Found Spaces in Toronto
by Vanessa Smythe

the way I see it
we have two sources of light:
the stories we tell and the sun
what if all the people in our city disappeared.
you woke up went outside but heard nothing
not only people
but the animals too, the bugs,
even flowers bent down and stopped breathing.
all the clocks struck and they echoed so far,
because no one was there to muffle the sound
If all of us vanished, think of the things we would lose.
like the time I walked home talking to you on the phone, so it was like you were walking there
with me, and it took me several minutes to even realize it had started to snow.
or the time it was New Years Eve! and in the middle of the street
I met students underdressed and holding instruments
and all of us sang made up songs that would never again be repeated
as we walked to get breakfast in a diner that pulled five tables together just so we could eat side by side.
if it was gone
I’d miss the guy in the donut store around the corner
I don’t even like donuts but I go in because what happens to all those donuts at the end of the day, my mom once asked me.
I feel so sad for the man, she said, tearing.
I’d miss the lit up corner of the department store too big to go into,
the one that’ll be torn down
and that even though I never much went in
I’ll be sad to see gone
I’d miss the way each pocket of the city has its own note
and when you go there you see young couples pushing babies in strollers
or old men with missing teeth cracking jokes,
where your cab driver tells you the secrets of living a happy life
and what you need to do to keep a man
and what happened when somebody got into the back of his car with a gun
and forced him to drive outside the city, and how he,
the two of you leaning close together now,
how he’d crashed the car as a way to survive.
I’d miss the guy making shawarmas at 3am on Saturday night and how you have an entire conversation with just your eyes.
and the old woman in your building who always complains:
what’s wrong with the weather, how long it’s taking to get the elevator fixed,
how ridiculous it is they’d be doing construction on a Tuesday,
and even though she croaks like an animal you wish would just shoo away
you hear her voice and start to wonder who she’s lost,
why her hair’s always hidden under that scarf,
what she’s seen
or the man and his daughter at the Laundromat and he asks if you have any advice on writing a book
and you can’t tell if he’s serious, but then he tells you how long he’s lived here,
what it was like to leave his family in his country but how this is his country now
and his teeth look so white you think
as you put your darks and lights together in the same load because what difference does it make anyway
One time I found a street I’d never walked down before,
it parted the city like a forest.
I saw the museum and the university and the wall where in graffiti someone’s painted:
Embrace What You Are.
I walked, made a left, saw the shops, the ones that’ve been here since my grandparents were teenagers kissing,
I went to the CN tower like it was an x on a map that I could dig out of the ground.
I got to the dome where the blue jays live,
where the steam whistles brew,
where tourists take pictures in front of train tracks
as new couples pose in cold weather in their wedding dresses and suits
and I wandered around, paused on the bridge,
remembered coming here as a kid
and touching the base of the CN tower with my hand as if, I don’t know what I expected,
but as if it could give me some charge like lightning.
but nothing happened,
so like then once again I closed my eyes
and leaned back to the sun
When the party ends and it’s time to go home forever,
what do we want to feel?
what do we want to gaze behind us to see?
what colour should our fireworks be exploding in the distance like spurs?
in those moments when we wonder what the hell it’s all for
is there any meaning, any beauty
or is everything just people trying to sell us something
like the man on the street who handed me a pamphlet about a harp
and I nodded and hurried away
I don’t want to buy a harp,
but then when I looked at it closer I saw
that in faded letters in the corner was a poem he’d written
that stopped me in my tracks so that when I looked back
I didn’t see the shiny shops or spinning cars
but I only saw this man with a very long beard, holding his harp in his arms like a child.
What if a city is not just a place,
but a suggestion of what we place in our hearts?
A series of traces we might see ourselves through
how else might we wonder what else we could be
without first reinventing our own walls and roofs?
listen, lean in
to the space that we’re in
so we know where we are
and recall what we have to lose
this is what I try to remember when I walk along your paths
and underneath your bridges
and sit on your streetcar right by the window
so the breeze funnels through and makes me feel like I’m on a ship heading home
for just this summerI remember walking around with a friend at the end of an afternoon,
we wandered an east corridor, one we’d never been before.
We walked until we got to the top of a field with a bench
and we sat there
We watched the people playing baseball badly, laughing with friends that’d made t-shirts they could wear
so they could all be part of the same team before the sun gleaned into the shadows. We sat there eating fast-food takeout sandwiches as we looked at the city skyline from this other side
of where we came from,
We sat there
just us and the warm summer air
and I swear:
we had everything
we needed.


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  • Vanessa Smythe


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