Author | Illustration Emily May Rose

Kalinka: Fishermen, Hookah and Haze

Melanie Janisse-Barlow is a poet, artist, and writer who splits her time between a rum-runners era house in Windsor’s Old Walkerville and a houseboat docked beside Ontario Place. We’re posting installments from Janisse-Barlow’s new memoir, Kalinka. Candid, raw, and full of references to our beloved city, Kalinka is a collection of stories about a woman, a man, and how life on Kalinka, their houseboat, has shaped their journey. We’re excited to share Janisse-Barlow’s writing with you and also delighted to pair with local illustrator Emily May Rose. Read previous installments here.


I will never forget today. It is Valentine’s day. My Detroit friend’s Facebook feed is full of Phil Levine’s poems, giving his words breath even though he had taken his last. I am sitting on the ferry with Andrew on our way to meet the current owner of Kalinka. It was only two days ago that we had snuck aboard Kalinka and today I am on my way to her owner, thinking of the poet from Detroit who had a way of getting to the bottom of the river, pointing out the artifacts. Houdini’s ring, rusting steel, catfish, dogfish.

I am thinking of the Belle Isle of my youth, my friends and I tucked into a small patch of grass watching the parade of hydraulic cars, smoking weed and cannonballing into the Detroit river with the boom of bass from the circling cars matching our hearts.

I am in the “brine of car parts, dead fish, stolen bicycles.” I am holding Andrew’s hand as the Toronto Island ferry makes its way through the sunlit ice. I am a small pink shrimp marinating in the river, lit, with a belly full of free Indian food my friends and I just ate at the Hari Krishna temple. I am wondering about unity consciousness, remembering pheasants. I am mapping out the images Frieda Kahlo painted in the Henry Ford Hospital as I stare out at the uncompromising steel colour of Lake Ontario.

This happens.

The chaos of Detroit breaks in on occasion to the uptight logic of Toronto. It is interesting to me how these two places hold hands through water, but that one is thick and humid, the shores lined with fishermen and hookah smokers and haze, while the other is ice and metal, with throngs of joggers jockeying with each other on her shores, making their way between the water and the grey high-rises that pop in droves, blocking the sun, chasing ultimate health, reaching.

Kalinka yearns for the Detroit River. Her old-timey hull is meant to be a river boat, lazily hustling her way through the muck and reeds, nestling in the crumbling beauty of the aging buildings on Belle Isle, materials all lined up like forgotten queens. She would fit right in with the summers that hang like wet rags, old musicians in their old, tricked-out cars, or with their cases of beer in their fishing boats, with the new-time artists on their old bikes in striped socks and Mongolian lamb hats. She would bob on her lines beside all of this, creaking, creaking.

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