Selected poems from Hochelagurls

Translated by Deborah Ostrovsky

1. Drama of La Grande Odalisque

she was born with a dorsal malformation
worse than spina bifida

it’s all the fault of Ingres
who painted her with three extra vertebrae

the risk of falling is constant
she gets around with a cane
the fucking unthinkable pain
only solution:
Dilaudid three times a day and Beefeater Gin
like a redneck from Asbestos

despite all this
she got a BA in social work
nice job, gurl

according to her doctor
the only operation that can help her
comes with the risk of paralysis

Ingres claims it’s thanks to him
she’s famous
well fuck him and his mansplaining.


2. Hochelaga


Hochelaga, beautiful Hochelaga

land where the children are raised
with a syringe as their guardian
where childhood growth is measured in milligrams
and in prescription renewals of Ritalin
no surprise that the allure of dope starts from the cradle

Wildcat beer pumps through the veins of vagrants
all varieties of lice on their coats
their fierce, crude tongues like Godin’s
Diogenes the Cynic passes by giving high fives

Hochelaga, beautiful Hochelaga

juvenile delinquents drink their purple dranks
screaming badtripping gibberishing spasming overdosing
reviving vaunting being born again

the elderly roll along in three-wheeled, motorized chairs
along the bike paths
check out those hubcaps, flame decals on their wheels
so new, so hawt

Hochelaga, beautiful Hochelaga

the percentage of poverty so elevated it’s obtained
a high grade on its report card
in the local dictionary the word dream doesn’t appear
nothing sad about not knowing what you’ve never had

fast food chains and convenience stores proliferate
empty calories and endless inebriation
life expectancy so low, so fucking low

Hochelaga, beautiful Hochelaga

profanity exchanged by the homeless
like a tennis match
le hate is just everywhere

at five in the morning, the dawn takes a stiff drink and snorts PCP
the night alleviates its pain by being at the end of itself
and with twilight does some blow
right in front of its kid brother, six years old

Hochelaga, beautiful Hochelaga

in the kitchens of Hochelaga there are rare, volatile species
knives and plates fly very low
about this phenomenon ornithologists and caseworkers alike
understand absolutely fuck all

prostitutes stroll night and day
a sordid, pitiful parade
they charge ten dollars for fellatio
to buy all they can to keep refilling their crackpipes

Hochelaga, beautiful Hochelaga

girls kidnapped by gangs
as soon as their breasts start to bud
better transform this gurl squad
into a paramilitary crew
for weapons we’ll ask a favour
from dormant cells of the FLQ

Hochelaga, beautiful Hochelaga

our book won’t be called Straight Outta Hochelaga
Hochelaga is the land you never leave


3. My T-Shirt, My Skin

in a Hochelaga thriftshop
somewhere between a t-shirt for the Optimist Club of Repentigny
and one of Labatt’s Blue
i found my old jersey
the school symbol still intact

my mother had given it away in a bag of old clothes–

and upon inspection i recognized traces of bullying
ketchup stains on the lower back
drips of soy sauce on the back of the sleeves
cigarette burns
from some dude who wanted to
transform me into Joan of Arc

yes, it’s definitely him–

eyes wide shut
i start thinking about all I’ve done
A pluses despite the partying
B.A. in Art History
M.A. with Honourific Mention

for two bucks i buy my own shirt back–

i return to my apartment
hang it from my ceiling when I enter
like a hockey sweater
from the Bell Centre


4. Nelly Arcan (Original Title: Nelly)

reading Whore at 14
baseball-bat-blow to the uterus

first time running away at 15
i bumped into Nelly in front of Bily Kun Bar

i wanted to
thank her
touch her
kiss her
worship her
make love to her

Nelly the sublime
always doused in an inch-thick of makeup
to camouflage her funeral mask
poor inconsolable, soul-stripped Nelly

after Nelly’s death i wanted to go
to the hardware store and
buy three metres of rope

my friend Noémie took care of me

every gurl who is my true next of kin
has the date 24-09-09
written somewhere on her skin



Audrey Hébert‘s first book of poetry, HOCHELAGURLS was published in 2018 by Éditions de l’Écrou. Hébert was born in what is known by residents as the Hochelag (Hochelaga-Maisonneuve). In 2015 she finished an MA in Art History on the needlework of the French artist Louise Bourgeois. She is now completing a doctorate. Upon doing genealogical research she discovered she is distantly related to the writer Anne Hébert (although she would have preferred being related to Edie Sedgwick).
DeborahOstrovsky_gpphoto_CLR-3Deborah Ostrovsky lives in Montreal where she is an editor, writer, and translator. She has previously translated non-fiction by Sonia Anguelova for Issue 32 of carte blanche. Her creative non-fiction piece, Holy Treasures, was nominated for the 3Macs carte blanche Prize in 2015. Her writing has received funding from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund and the Marian Hebb Research Grant. Photo credit Gopesa Paquette.