Sometimes I call it the village,
The shops and restaurants
That cluster near Clark and Foster
It’s so convenient that now
I hardly ever venture out beyond the neighborhood
Not if I don’t have to.
As I get older I find comfort
In seeing the same faces
Going to the same places
Early on in my time in Chicago I remember
Taking a long bus ride down Halsted
To see the old Union Stockyard gate.
I took the time to meditate on it,
And the row houses you see from the Orange Line
When making a trip to Midway.
Now I venture over to different TV channels.
I have a decent job and I have cable.
It makes me feel guilty.
But never while I’m watching it.
It’s cold out and I decide to suffer by going outside.
I walk up to Clark
See who’s at the Upstairs Gallery
Stop into Lady Gregory
Realize I don’t want to talk.
I think about the people who came here long ago
Just like me, looking for something more
But not like me at all
I have never worked long hours
in unsafe conditions.
Once, in another city, I remember crouching
By my front door wearing only a towel
While a strange man on the other side
Banged on it
Looked in the windows
And demanded to be let in.
Another life. I’ve gotten used to feeling safe.
I imagine the characters from The Jungle
Visualize them in hoards,
Walking the same streets as me
Consumed by cold and worry.
I think hard, trying to send gratitude back in time.
It is American to imagine that our way of life
Is built on the backs of those who came before us.
And to honor it through acknowledgement
I pass a newspaper box.
I consider the hardships continuing to be suffered here.
And wonder if
I’m safe by blocks. By the skin of my teeth.
By Broadway, the barrier.
There is no barrier. It creeps.
There’s always a knocker
And a croucher
A worker and an enjoyer.
You can’t send gratitude back in time.
Once we changed a river’s course to correct
The damage we inflicted on it
But deep down
Towards the riverbed
It still runs towards the lake.