You can find Jay Ritchie’s poems “Hôtel-Dieu” and “As If We Aren’t Massive” in The Puritan’s Spring Issue 37. He explains the inspiration of “Hôtel-Dieu” in this author note.
The Hôtel-Dieu hospital is located on St. Urbain Street in Montreal, along the 55 bus route, a bus I take nearly every day to get wherever. Hospitals are sites of birth and death, probably the two most enigmatic human occasions I can think of, so it makes sense to me that, according to Wikipedia, “‘Hôtel-dieu’ literally ‘hostel of God,’ is an archaic French term for hospital, referring to the origins of hospitals as religious institutions.”
Late in 2016, the STM finally implemented screens on every bus that display which stop is next, accompanied by a pre-recorded voice calling them out. This meant that every bus stop got its own name. Most stop names are obvious—the name of the intersection—but some are not at intersections, and require a bit of creative thinking. There is, for example, a stop called “Train Tracks” on the 55, after St. Laurent and Beaubien, that lets you out near the Home Depot by the train tracks, and if you ever find yourself going to the east end of the island, past the oil refineries, some stops are given five-digit codes.
Anyway, one of the stops on the 55 is named “Hôtel-Dieu-de-Montréal” and I found it kind of exciting that every single day I was seeing the words “Hôtel-Dieu” and having a pre-recorded voice tell me I was passing “Hôtel-Dieu,” like, “There goes God’s hostel, ladies and gentlemen, if you look to your right you’ll see the hostel of God.”
I don’t know who or what de Gaspé is (probably some loser colonialist); I just like that in English it implies Gasp!
For the poem I was kind of hoping to sustain the mood, of being in the presence of God, or God’s work, or something. I think when I was being extra with myself I also liked to imagine the world as God’s hostel, this place where we check in when we’re born, where we are hurt and healed and given gauze while we live, before we check out.
There are two street names in the poem. I’m very inspired by place names. They’re like miniature poems you can put inside a poem.
St. Dominique I put in the poem because that street has always been sort of magical for me: it’s where Guillaume Morissette lived when he was doing film screenings in his backyard, a very formative social/art gathering thing for me; I lived on that street for a while with Olivia Wood; last summer my partner Henrika saw some wet cement along St. Dominque and wrote her name in it. I’ve always liked walking down that street. Then I was reading Alice Notley’s Grave of Light and she has this poem “Moses and the Burning Bush” where she refers (twice) to “rue st. dominique” and I was like OMG Alice Notley knows that St. Dominique is magic, too! So it had to go in there.
The other street is de Gaspé, which is where Ashley Opheim used to live. We would usually have Metatron meetings in the evening, after work, and often when leaving her place it would be sunset. My bike ride home was up de Gaspé, towards the Champ des Possibles (The Field of Possibilities), so it was all just too perfect. I don’t know who or what de Gaspé is (probably some loser colonialist); I just like that in English it implies Gasp! Like I’m “gasping” at the sight of something.
So, I guess what I’m saying is this poem was inspired by a bus stop. Thanks!
Jay Ritchie is the author of Cheer Up, Jay Ritchie, a full-length collection of poetry forthcoming from Coach House Books in 2017. He is Assistant Editor for Metatron Press and a Publicist for Vallum. Find him online @jaywritchie.