Great Chicago fires
Aflame in me –scalding, burning, immense–
Fueled by nattering blowhards who prevent me
From relaxing, from heaving
My heavy chest on the humid lawn
When all’s I want to do is lay back under the stars and symphony.
Exhaust pipes fume and cars backfire,
Tinned like spoiling sardines on Marine Drive–
My view from the lake shore recalls the ocean
But beachy towns don’t exhale the heavy haze that hangs here,
Tinged with the stink of BO, the acrid sweat of old women, and
The festering yellow hills of vagrant toenails.
It’s the clattering, the clanging
From above –the jostling, jolting, revolting speed–
Of a thousand bodies heading somewhere fast,
My eardrums are their tympanies. They distract me
From the sounds of birds and bees and breeze…
Or maybe they’re absent and I can’t tell.
I’m on edge.
It’s not the press of an oven, but a steamer –exhausting, thick–
You could cut doorways into the air. Chicago has me
By the shoulders, blowing hot pepper-jack words into my face:
This girl, that car, his job, her shoes, the grass that isn’t cut, the grass that is cut,
The election, the band, the roommate, the mother-in-law,
The bad date, the bus that never came, and how she slapped him hard before he left.
With all these words, let’s use ’em:
In Chicago, it’s not only brakes that slam but poetry
At the Green Mill where brave souls take the stage
Revealing how clever they are, all those words piled up
Like interstate traffic trading paint and horn honks.
“Are you a virgin, or a virgin-virgin,” he wants to know.
I can’t escape.
Thousands of syllables…. like hail from their lips,
Each mouth is a hawk and a hawk and a hawk
Swooping down at State and Lake, a bouquet of gaping yaps
That simply, incredibly, absolutely and totally never shut the fuck up.
“What street are we on? …Cubs won the last two… Did you know…
And I was, like, hell no…I can’t remember – where does he work now?”
Enough already! I think and make a run for it.
My ears pop as I exit far above the din where there is peace:
Spiders spin webs 1,000 feet in the air, buffeted by winds
On the 96th floor of the John Hancock Tower where
I sit next to the window sipping a Shirley Temple
Hearing only the sounds of my ice clink in a glass.
The AC is cold and crisp. Finally– I’m calm.
Humph. Where did it all go?
The heat and the noise make sense to me then–
They aren’t out of place– moments like this are. I fall back to Earth and
Lay claim to a seat on the 146, sweating, listening to a thunder of thighs,
Skin slapping skin, the grind of plastic strollers and wheelchairs skidding
Buzzers ringing, outbursts of laughter, babies crying,
Cellphones tinkling and headphones blaring a tapestry of tinny voices.
This time, I let them speak. After all, Chicago is not the city that never sleeps but the city that never stops talking.
Man, when the Cubs came back in the ninth, you had to be there!
Did you see he was wearing last night?! I was all, hello!!
Mama, how much longer is ten minutes? You said that ten minutes ago!
Excuse me?! You can tell that bitch to kiss my ass!
He just graduated with a degree in sociology. What do you do with that?!
…No, ma, I told you that the picnic’s tonight! …Nah, it’s okay… Yeah, I know. …I love you, too.”
As we cross Addison I smile. I think I get it.