Hyde Park

Hyde Park Walking Tour

First developed while a member of the Poetry Performance Incubator of Chicago’s Guild Literary Complex.

Ahhhhhhh…ll right, do we have everyone? Everyone for the Hyde Park walking tour, this way…

Hyde Park. Chicago. Illinois. See our many amenities – schools for foreign languages, like Macroeconomics… A bakery that feeds and waits on you in buttery French… What’s that? Yes, that’s right: white folks! We do have white folks in Hyde Park! Look how they walk around safely. Asians and Latinos too. Even old-money Black folks …Well, old-ish. Hyde Park, ladies and gentlemen: our oasis in an oasis! But bits of sand always fly in.


The New Redline (The Practice, Not The Train)

Beloved for the way it rides the drive
takes fingertip to city’s curving spine;
tracks ribboned marker giving sense of place
route in or out with ease facilitates

Assuring for the way it hugs the Shore
to unfamiliars coming from the North
or South, that matter, place of skeptics too
Hyde Park the neighbor everybody knew.


The Cloisters

The building claims its place among the swirling winds
off the lake. It claims sunlight and the yellow glow
of streetlights at night. It claims the steam exhaled
from nearby sewers and the rain spat down on its streets.

The building claims sophistication in classic red
brick and gray masonry. It conceals treasures
embedded in its body, brass nozzles and valves
reflecting nothing but light. Prairies are carved

in the blossoming stonework of its columns to proclaim
that what dominated the land is now dominated by stone.
But passersby often miss the building’s declaration
even as lights flicker on to illuminate the script.


The Red Zone

I could say that Jake was my childhood boyfriend, but that wouldn’t really be accurate. Jake was more like a cicada, turning up every three or four years without warning, making a lot of noise and then disappearing.

The last time Jake turned up it was a scalding summer day with overcast clouds threatening rain. I was making deep-dish pizzas at Caffé Florian’s sauna of a kitchen. Why do Chicagoans insist on eating doughy pizza when it’s hot? Beppi, the squat owner who wore white aprons artistically splattered with pizza sauce, came back with that look of his, brows bunched up over his dark eyes.

“There’s a fellow out there who says he needs to see ya?” He stood crossing his arms over his Picasso drizzle.


“He’s got a gee-tar,” Beppi said, stretching his neck as far as he could to appear taller. Tufts of curly hair sprouted along his neckline.

“Uh-uh. Don’t know anybody like that.”

“What I told him. Says you went to school together. High school.”

When I pushed open the swinging door to the dark, cool, dining room, I thought of all those other cool, dark places we had been: the laundry closet at a Lab School party, the backseat of his car in the parking lot at the Museum of Science and Industry, the seedy hotels on 47th Street when he was passing through on a gig. I remembered sitting at dusk at the pond near Jackson Park, waiting for Jake’s baseball games to end. Afterwards, he smelled of cut grass and talcum powder and had dirt in the crevices of his elbows and in the creases under his eyes.

It had been three years since we had last seen each other. Since then, there’d been stray appearances around the holidays that people reported to me breathlessly. My mother once saw him at the Co-op picking up milk and bread for his mother. They spoke briefly. He told her to tell me hello. But I never saw him. Not once. Not in three years. Not even a phone call.

And yet, there he was—slouching against the dark, piney paneling, his guitar case at his feet. Seeing him reminded me of the image I’d been clinging to all those years: the Lake Michigan eyes, the twisted, teasing smile, the innocent freckles scattered on his nose like specks of dirt, making him look more like a child than a man.


Being an Account of a Move

well I was incubating for a while
there on the corner of ellis
in an exemplary bit of prairie gothic
with a sweet view of the china-hole of the future.

god, somebody kept at the boiler
all february, that crust of a month!
my theory: twas an impetus
towards the good ole state of nature.
for fever bloomed, sweat streamt.

most made the most of it,
swapping sick & genes,
but I would not quit my lair;
there I daily tuned the strings
that the night-heat had flattened
fifty, sixty cents.

such were things
when I fled the breedery,
a flight bold & all the bolder
for its lasting three days.
at the end, a mile down: a room
implicated with the supremely
modest name of Broadview.


Conversational Concrete: A Real American Dream

The raw air lashed our cheeks as we trudged.

Three below, excluding the wind chill, is merely a statistic. I know it’s cold because my Amazon-ordered, Soviet surplus Ushanka isn’t even partially preventing my lips from welding shut more thoroughly than the iron bars that ensure that we stay out of the dining hall after 8.p.m. College kids, man. They’re dangerous!

Always one for mediocre-at-best quips, I suggest to the group that “this is so Stalingrad.”

Ken laughs, at least. It’s one of those throaty, bellowing laughs that, in the moment, seem out of line with a pencil-thin frame, horn-rimmed glasses, and black combat boots. He’s thin…POW thin…but can easily put down ten shots on a Tuesday morning. It makes less than no sense. And it’s the highest honor I’ve received in weeks.

Ted’s carrying the group’s right flank. He shakes inside of his sweatshirt and asks us to stop. A trembling hand reaches inside a breast pocket. Hardly a scene of Napoleonic grandeur, he instead takes out a hard-shell plastic package of discount wine-flavored cigarillos. Only God knows where they came from, and I certainly don’t want to find out.

Ted drags in, but the material—whatever it is—won’t catch. As he labors in vain, the question arises as to whether getting cancer should really be this difficult. Ad hoc is the man’s specialty, and I see him disappear and then just as suddenly reappear with a goofy smile and a lit cigarillo. Of course, he emerges from behind a particularly grimy dumpster filled mostly with ice and forties of Corona.

No, this group’s mannerisms are not representative of the general population. Call it strange, call it gritty, call it screw loose. I call it real.

Ice also covers most of the sidewalk. We collectively watch our step to avoid falling victim to the grim prospect of face to the concrete. Nobody commits a misstep, no joy is to be had for the pavement which allows us transport, but lies in wait like a well-meaning but slightly sadistic younger sibling.  The fateful green street sign now appears; dusk hasn’t managed to quash the austere splendor of the two characters: 53. We make the right turn.

The populace here isn’t emaciated. No one that I’ve seen, even on the most precarious of nights, has resorted to slaughtering Lincoln Park zoo animals for food. A college army does march on its stomach. And real people have to eat real food.


Pizza. Ordering pizza at an institution nationally known for its fried chicken. Sounds like a gamble with stakes somewhere between a crate of gas station sushi and Russian Roulette.

We enter. Vagabonds, professionals, homeless, students, lifers, professionals. If Winthrop was here, he’d see a City upon a Shack.

The kitsch is beyond comprehension; the group smiles collectively. The paramount logo features an axe-wielding chef chasing a chicken that’s sweating. My heart leaps at the fact that PETA hasn’t yet hit the South Side. Perhaps the bulletproof glass which separates cashier and customer, and is permeated only by a metal slot into which money can be placed, has scared them off.

We revel in our meal. What is $3.51 for half a chicken, some fries, and a gratuitous amount of indigestion but the ultimate in college grunge?  A liter of orange soda packed into a standard-issue brown bag also finds its way through the also-bulletproof lazy Susan which functions as a calorie-delivery system. It’ll certainly be entertaining to brown-bag a bottle of water in class, come Monday. One last look at the menu has an “Extra Bag” listed for five cents.

“I’ll take three wings…with a side of bag, please,” says Ted.

The group erupts.


Thursday Market

The only mountain in this whole region:
the pregnant mama at the farmer’s market.

Her veiny vines touch the past and future.
She, Lilith, scoffs at the tiny tables,
and hunchbacked peppers, and arthritic squashes.

She revels in her laughing stature.
To hell with pale plums and stressed-out peaches!
The fruitless eggplants rise up—but quiver.

Inane Chicago, you are Atlantis.
Skyscrapers, like so many corn cobs,

collapse and crack by her mammoth toes.
She drinks the lake and naps in the prairie.

The pregnant mama is just pretending.
She wears a planet, and feels its pulling,

its almost-falling, its fruit, so different
from sterile apples grown for urban hippies.

The fruit is born, but to be birthed yet;
the human tree does not know its children.

The pregnant mama is a child, spellbound,
and walks through ages, through distant orchards,

and climbs the world’s tree for a simple cherry,
and feels it ripen into a globe.


Morning, Dealing With Etiquette


The first mushroom after a day of rain,
solitary, comes as a surprise, parasol
high under the tree next door. By
the end of the block, the only

surprise is the absence of a crowd of them
moving like Chinese women in an old newsreel,
black and white, holding up more than half the sky.


Guy on the steps of the gsb is on a cellphone
at 6am. He waits until I turn to call out
excuse me sir to my back. You see,

this gives me permission to walk away, as
in a parable, to see without taking notice.
It makes it clear he’s not a threat,

like one dog baring his throat to another.
When I turn and say what can I do for you?
He says thank you for treating me like a person,

sir, to which I reply it’s pretty clear you are one,
so why wouldn’t I?
He’s launching into what promises
to be a long tale when, treating him like a person

on the steps of the gsb at 6am chattering
on a cellphone, I ask him to cut to the chase
and tell me what it is he wants.

I’m just tryin’ to get me somethin’ to eat…
I don’t carry change on morning walks, so
I say sorry, can’t help, and walk on,

speculating about the cost of a cellphone.
He says sorry, man; and I, not
turning, say no problem.


Not until the last mushroom rises
do I see his sorry, man
was not for me.

Mutual Invisibility

In the garden under a statue of Linné,
I negotiate mutual invisibility
with two young rabbits. We stay
still for some time, contemplating
his cold gaze over a mass of warm
blossoms the day after rain. He
moved here not long after I, thinking
he’d be more at home among classifiers
and systematizers than on a Lincoln Park
lakefront full of naïve social Darwinists
working on their tans. He settled
close to social sciences and classics,
but his eyes are on the School of Law,
and he smiles a little at the thought
of Rockefeller and the GSB to his left
and serious baseball fans far to his right
who know each middle relief pitcher’s ERA
against batters on both sides and can calculate
the odds of a hit on the fly, who know
Ozzie was a chess master, that nature
red in tooth and claw is about nothing
other than being in the right place
at the right time.