“Things To Do Around Toronto When You’re Black” by Michael Fraser, from Arc’s 2021 Shortlist


Things to do Around Toronto When You’re Black

after Gary Snyder

This is where you invite the reader in, showing
wherever you step, clothing is your first language.
Sport the teal blazer so people will nod when
asking directions, and gift shop employees
will refrain from being your personal static cling.
Remember, you are not you, but a race.
Stroll down Philosopher’s Walk reviewing your mind,
and how it will one day abandon you.
Feel Taddle Creek’s underflow twitch the footpath.
Everything about your stride is almost summer.
Jump up during Caribana, catch how bass cracks
open the air it inhabits.
See Sorauren Park’s lit jack-o-lantern parade as the city
slides into November, throws fall through the air,
turns lives back an hour, then departs into photos.
If you’re pulled over, put CBC Radio on,
hopefully, an astrophysicist is riffing M-theory.
Your whole life has been a parallel universe
so you’ll be able to opine. Mention supergravity,
and you’re on your way.
If you come in winter, rewire the cold with smiles,
your frosted breath hinting at the cloud-braided sky.
See how the harbour thins ice buckling along
Centre Island shores, the ferry a pen writing in water.
Picture the CN Tower and Roger’s Center
as an item. The two of them dating for years.
Keep your mind off symbolism as the dome’s
petals open like a white lotus.
Sky-dine at the 360 Restaurant as creation rotates
around you. Stretch your hand across the lake,
tug the horizon, and pull America in.



Nancy Jo Cullen on “Things to Do Around Toronto When You’re Black”

Michael Fraser riffs on Gary Snyder’s things to do poems in “Things to Do Around Toronto When You’re Black.” As in Snyder’s poems, Fraser reveals the character of the place through the actions and travels of the speaker. But the simple observations and easy nature of Snyder’s “Things to Do” poems are problematized by the reality of being Black in a white-dominant culture. In this poem the reader is reminded that Black people must always consider their racial identity and the potential perils of whatever the situation they find themselves in, even a quiet stroll down Toronto’s Philosopher’s Walk.



Michael Fraser has been published in numerous national and international anthologies and journals. He is published in Best Canadian Poetry in English 2013 and 2018. He has won numerous awards, including Freefall Magazine’s 2014 and 2015 poetry contests, the 2016 CBC Poetry Prize, and the 2018 Gwendolyn Macewen Poetry Competition.

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