The Garment District
by Bonnie Nish

Saturday, nearly the whole of Spadina Road
closed for the Sabbath observance.
I stand in front of the painted brick building
ignore the spring drizzle washing my hair.
Uncle Jack used to bring me here,
I slip so easily into the memory
like a warm coat, worn forever,
ride the drafty, cranky elevator
to the fourth floor, an eternity.
The door groans open to Jack’s world,
full of fabric and machines
buckets over-flowing with the quiet autumn
of a million skeins of wool,
rows of silk glisten like snowdrifts
caught under fluorescent lights,
thread spools neatly stacked
against the brick walls
wait to be unraveled.
Singers sit silent
rest until Monday morning
to begin a rhythmic humming prayer
swaying the floor with devout vibrations.
Ghosts everywhere
I hear the men call out to one another,
hovering over their machines
they shout familiar old tales, always new to me.

The voices dwindle as I pass though the sweatshop
to a back staircase leading to the floor above.
Racks of beautiful gowns greet me
a rainbow of bows and lace,
not the practical winter garb Uncle Jack made.
I remember the plain dresses
he would wrap for me in tissue and pink boxes.
Without ever trying it on
I buy the most expensive one I can find,
head back to the lobby which still smells of egg salad,
walk out into the rain
pretend its light touch on my cheek
is Uncle Jack’s ceremonial good-bye kiss
before I get on my bus for home.


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