Bookmark #1 Toronto, Ontario

In the Skin of a Lion, by Michael Ondaatje


Then there was no longer any fear on the bridge. The worst, the incredible had happened. A nun had fallen off the Prince Edward Viaduct before it was even finished. The men covered in wood shavings or granite dust held the women against them. And Commissioner Harris at the far end stared along the mad pathway. This was his first child and it had already become a murderer.

— from In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje, published by McClelland & Stewart. Bookmarked at the Bloor Viaduct, April 23, 2009.


 

About Michael Ondaatje and In the Skin of a Lion

Michael Ondaatje was born in Sri Lanka in 1943 and moved to Canada in 1962. His fiction and poetry have received Canada’s most prestigious literary awards, including The Giller Prize and multiple Governor General’s Awards. In 1992, Ondaatje received the Booker Prize for The English Patient.

In the Skin of a Lion is set in Toronto in the 1920s and 30s, and imagines a place shared by the immigrants who build it, the powerful men who plan, execute and dream of its possibilities and the outsiders who stamp their own impression on the landscapes and landmarks. Using recognizable locales across Toronto, including the Bloor Street Viaduct and the R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant, In the Skin of a Lion blends real and invented histories to create a mythical and mysterious portrait of Toronto as it might have been.

In the Skin of a Lion is published by McClelland & Stewart.


Discover the Bookmark and the story behind it online with a special exhibit featuring readings and interviews with Michael Ondaatje, and an audio walk inspired by the poem. The exhibit is produced by Angela Shackel of Accounts and Records and was made possible with the generous contribution of the Good Foundation Inc. 


The Passage

Then there was no longer any fear on the bridge. The worst, the incredible had happened. A nun had fallen off the Prince Edward Viaduct before it was even finished. The men covered in wood shavings or granite dust held the women against them. And Commissioner Harris at the far end stared along the mad pathway. This was his first child and it had already become a murderer.

The man in mid-air under the central arch saw the shape fall towards him, in that second knowing his rope would not hold them both. He reached to catch the figure while his other hand grabbed the metal pipe edge above him to lessen the sudden jerk on the rope. The new weight ripped the arm that held the pipe out of its socket and he screamed, so whoever might have heard him up there would have thought the scream was from the falling figure. The halter thulked, jerking his chest up to his throat. The right arm was all agony now — but his hand’s timing had been immaculate, the grace of the habit, and he found himself a moment later holding the figure against him dearly.

He saw it was a black-garbed bird, a girl’s white face. He saw this in the light that sprayed down inconstantly from a flare fifteen yards above them. They hung in the halter, pivoting over the valley, his broken arm loose on one side of him, holding the woman with the other. Her body was in shock, her huge eyes staring into the face of Nicholas Temelcoff.

Scream, please, Lady, he whispered, the pain terrible. He asked her to hold him by the shoulders, to take the weight off his one good arm. A sway in the wind. She could not speak though her eyes glared at him bright, just staring at him. Scream, please. But she could not.

During the night, the long chutes through which wet concrete slid were unused and hung loose so the open spouts wavered a few feet from the valley floor. The tops of these were about ten feet from him now. He knew this without seeing them, even though they fell outside the scope of light. If they attempted to slide the chute their weight would make it vertical and dangerous. They would have to go further — to reach the lower-deck level of the bridge where there were structures built for possible water mains.

We have to swing.  She had her hands around his shoulders now, the wind assaulting them. The two strangers were in each other’s arms, beginning to swing wilder, once more, past the lip of the chute which had tempted them, till they were almost at the lower level of the rafters.  He had his one good arm free. Saving her now would be her responsibility.

 

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