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.


When Hyde Park Swings Upon A Hinge

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.

Winter Is Not As Cold When You’re Young

Back Then
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.


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.