On a long morning walk, the only signs
I’ve read are sounds of woodpeckers drumming
beyond the line of sight beyond the range of light.
Now I stop on a shore where some private
function in public space has made crossing
rapids more treacherous than usual
Everybody’s talking about coyotes in the park,
and it makes me smile at their patience —
two hundred years, more or less, I guess,
laying low before they move back into a place
they occupied until a wave of settlers unsettled it
for a while.
—for J.F.L., R.R. and R.R.
A place is a place
leading to another,
back and forth
through time and space.
Hardly an upscale neighborhood, Gage Park
was working class, mostly Poles and Irish,
Bohemians and Balts—all Catholic,
a mix of immigrant generations.
We sat and stood together in the pews
of Saint Clare’s of Montefalco, listened
and responded to the Latin mass, breathed
in the incense, took communion, saw robes
change colors through the seasons of the Church.
From walks in April & May 2012
On one of my occasional walks down 58th Street from University Avenue as I was passing between the celebrated Robie House and the sometimes maligned Charles M. Harper Center on Woodlawn Avenue, I saw a couple in their late 20s on parallel audio walking tours. They stood dumbly on some northern steps of the Harper Center, headphones over their ears, staring across the street at Frank Lloyd Wright’s best known Hyde Park building.
I am not sure what that tour would have told them about. The building’s architectural features? The architect? His philosophy of architecture? The Robie House is certainly worth seeing, but I wonder if their walking tours pointed out the three modernist pieces a block away, on 58th and Kimbark. The first blockish, purple one looks like it could be a garage or community gymnasium. It has an odd feature on the 58th Street face: a concrete and pipe mimicry of a Palladian double-ended stairway to a raised first level. This is striking, since modernist works usually eschew such skeuomorphism and loyalty to historic motifs.
Concrete contractors impress the pavement of Chicago
with the year of the pour:
The characteristics of the changing technique,
the nature and nationalities of the work,
the stone and sweat,
the rise and fall of everything,
all are there to see
whenever we walk
born in the ’40s, when the pavement was still pebbled
brought up in Marina City South
daughter of a labor leader.
Now, her father had a great job.
She’s busy at her treadle
in venerated Hyde Park
where we whites can muse on past accomplishments
while present conditions for browns stand stock-still
a mere block or two outside the periphery
of this great University
just outside her door
The streetlamp smashes against itself, something in the wiring gone frayed. It goes clickclickclick and then thud, but irregular and arrhythmic, a shock every time. The light itself doesn’t waver; steady and straight, the beams cast the soil like tundra in harsh grey light, next to a car’s scratched up bodywork. The wind howls. Somewhere a car beeps softly. The wind howls.
A kid’s footsteps light up the silence of the street. They are intermingled in the wail of the air and the thud of the light, so that there exists at turns a three-part melody: thud, clap, whoosh. Stone, draft, click.
It has just turned dark, and a faint aura of purple and orange hangs limply on the horizon, waiting to be extinguished by the racing hand of the moon. Cars still rush by but the flurry of great activity has hushed now. Lights are going on or already lit in living rooms, and the beams of those habitations creep out through tremulous windows and give witness to goings-on inside, where shadows move and mingle.
She walked south toward the church and cast a shadow across the street in the low sun. It was a beautiful fall day. The leaves had just barely begun to show tinges of yellow and red and glowed.
The church was almost a mile from her apartment, but her bike was broken and driving seemed absurd, so she walked. Her backpack was felt unusually heavy. After fifteen minutes in the surprisingly hot sun, she started to sweat a little. She unzipped her jacket to cool off.
Down the road, through the stone gates on campus, past the others in their jackets wearing their backpacks also surprised by the heat of the late afternoon, she kept walking. On the way her mind raced through the meeting’s agenda and she didn’t hear the chatter of the other pedestrians or notice the stop signs and walk signs she passed. She walked on autopilot.
When she passed the last gate and left the stone fortress she came to the park that butted up to it on the south side. The park was bisected by two multilane streets, and was now lined with yellow tape and temporary chain fences.
Here she slowed a bit to take in the construction. Crews on all the north-south sidewalks had cut them off from the road and were erecting giant pillars of glass. They were supposed to be lights, she’d heard. To make people feel safer going south. She looked up at them and smirked at the thought–giant glowing phalluses for security.
It was a very warm, summerlike afternoon in Hyde Park, though only the beginning of May. Recently, I had begun to leave my office in the History Department at the University earlier in the afternoon to work out my tension and frustrations, before my children would see me after school and well before my husband got home from his job in Chicago’s Loop.
I would get home before 2 o’clock to exercise, and then I’d be back by 3 P.M., so that the housekeeper wouldn’t be the only one there when the kids arrived home. Carrie, my 8-year-old, and Jonathan, 2 years younger, couldn’t make sense of the politics and trials of academia, but I could see they had begun to notice that their mother was tight and short-fused. It’s a different sort of intuition they have. Perhaps they haven’t lived long enough to comprehend everything, to absorb and appreciate all the nuances of an event or situation. But they possess a special perception of the world that adults like me have lost.
This afternoon I was running late. I barely made it out the door before three. At any moment, two tiny dynamos would charge into the house, wound up by the preview of summer, a pair of whirling dervishes.
I love them, but I need the peace. Sometimes I simply have to get away from them and escape life’s pressures. These runs had become more than mere exercise, increasingly important to me as the judgment day neared when the department would bring their decision down – whether to send my name to the University tenure committee for a final verdict in December, or pass over my name and send me soon into limbo. How I wished then my manner with my colleagues were more cordial, less competitive, less aggressive like a hungry dog.
You wake up on 57th Street beach while the febrile illumination of the moon works its magic trick and squeezes itself into the confines of the empty mescal bottle. The buildings in the distance stalk the land and your quiver of flaming arrows lies tossed in the pit. You can’t decide whether you are a beached whale or a Jonah spit out upon the shore to start anew. That is when, after years of trying, you write a drunken ode to this neighborhood that has held you like a sacred seed all these years in its belly:
When Hyde Park swings upon a hinge
And each and every mind is ajar
Then the beaches like waves shall slowly swirl
Rise themselves up and spit loudly upon the gloomy lake
And the Earth like clouds shall gather itself thickly
And darkly spit rain into the star pocked sky
And the buildings like bums shall weakly uproot themselves
And stumble penny poor and raving mad through the streets
Then crazy you and crazy me shall look madly eye-to-eye
And tremble firmly upon the ground
As twisted tongue says to bent tooth: Dese are mad times
Mistah Jones. Bad times indeed.
Warm homes were never more than blocks away
in my birthplace’s nest of family.
I’d miss the World, unless I moved away…
Rapelling iv’ry tower, hair in hand
to free myself from witch Academy,
my hunt for 2BR/1B began.
I traced this urbs in horto to Hyde Park,
good city nook for bookish ingénue,
appealing for its Janus-face’ed spark:
its love/hate a familiarity,
a town and gown in jealous tug of war
just right for new-mint, wistful Ph.D.