Aroma of Argyle Street

The train stops at Argyle
Where red Chinese characters and green Saigon signs
Name the neighborhood shops.
I breathe in hungrily
Ginger and sesame.


Albany Park

I can’t afford to leave here.
Kids ride bikes on the sidewalk
And uncles play poker in the garages.
A junk truck rattles up the alley
Like a plywood and rust dragon
Gobbling up scrap metal.

Refocus Your Sights

Citizens carrying hope in book bags.
A garden, empty
Beer cans mix in with beautiful roses,
Think – no loitering about the man say.
You can stand in the alley …with the trash.
Ashland and 63rd street station, mega center
Bus connection to Midway.
The police station two block down
Twenty minutes to downtown.

You Throw Your Life in My Face

An excerpt from Ben’s forthcoming essay collection Lost in Space (Curbside Splendor).

Debbie and I lived in New York City together and never talked about having children. Then we decided to move to Chicago and still didn’t talk about it. We didn’t know Chicago: we had never been there. We went to Burton Place on Burton and Wells because we saw they were showing that night’s Knicks-Bulls play-off game.

We drank with some guys we did not know, and Scottie Pippen refused to enter the game as a decoy. We asked the guys where ex-New Yorkers who didn’t have a car should live and they sketched out the corner of Goethe and Dearborn on a used cocktail napkin.

“There is a coffee shop right there,” they said, “the Red Line and Jewel are around the corner. There are buses. It’s perfect.”

“Okay,” we said.



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



In the nine years I drove a cab in Chicago, aside from Hegewisch and Edgebrook, Beverly was probably the neighborhood I took the fewest fares to. My one memorable fare to Beverly was a very drunk city attorney coming from a North Side dance club, where—to hear him tell it, the ladies couldn’t keep their hands off him. He was on his way to meet up with his good South Side girlfriend and all her friends—all of whom hated his guts.

I never thought I’d end up living here.

I’ve never lived in a place where you couldn’t hear the neighbors moving around above your head or under your feet.

I’ve never lived in a place with a lawn, nor understood why anyone would want a lawn, not to even mention ever having to actually mow one.


Some Chicago Parks—The Sixties

—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.


Singing for the Here and Now

She always felt so warm here, so comfortable and totally at ease, although she had long realized that her comfort and warmth were, after all, empty. The aqua-robed choir, shuffling side to side, to the right with a clap, then to the left with another clap, all in perfect unison. Their swaying, swooshing robes were a frame—almost a bright blue ocean backdrop from a school play—to the white-suited dervish who spun, rocked back on platform heels, stomped one foot forward and then the other, punctuating his words like a rhythm section all to himself. But of course the Reverend Alvin Foster had a rhythm section too—two besuited teenagers on bass and drums, one of them his favorite nephew, and as always Sister Marian on tambourine, banging away, a glow of sheer joy spread across her face.

The choir voices soared, rising to the low rafters and shuddering the small church to its very frame. Words of forgiveness, of salvation, of eternal bliss filled the crowded room, sixteen bars of fervent singing which then dropped to the melody hummed en masse as Reverend Foster paused his dance and resumed his sermon, continuing at first with the choir’s heavenly message before gracefully easing to a more cautionary tone.


Walking and Biking in Lincoln Square

I might argue with

The Walk Score for the north Pittsburgh suburb where I grew up was 8; in fact I managed tolerably well on my bike there, though it was a boring place to live.  The tedium might have had as much to do with the 1970’s, the Great Stupid Moment in American History, as it did with a lack of interesting places to walk to, and the sterility of suburban life in just about any zip code or era.

My Lincoln Square neighborhood today features a Walk Score of 97, one more part of the community that I can brag about, but only 68 for transit?  When I can walk to an L stop, to a Metra stop, to three bus lines?  And bike score of 76?  I’ve been biking downtown, biking to the Lake, biking to Oak Park to meet friends for music on Tuesday nights, biking everywhere, for over 20 years.

Well, I still brag.  And I still walk.


Saturday on Lincoln Ave

A child
wearing an unzipped raincoat
one-foots her scooter
around the corner
into a gust
and transforms
into a pink bat.