Warning

Black and white photos line the walls 
of the local Italian trattoria.

Young men in uniform, women in
between-the-war dresses, do not smile

as I drink red table wine from the
Abruzzo. No jobs and our boys are dead,

their eyes say. Sober as a new widow,
certain as a premonition, their sepia tones

tell all: it can happen to you.

Go home

Close your eyes and stand by the cornstalks.
Listen to the wind tickle tiger lilies and Queen Anne’s lace on the creek bank.
Hear it hiss across the top of the red maple, whistle through barn rafters, spin and squeak the windmill.
Smell the hard-packed earth, the burn pile in the backyard, the acres of grass drying in the late July sun.
Listen for the tractor buzzing in the neighbor’s field.
Now, listen to the silence: a few birds chattering, an owl, nights so completely dark and quiet you can hear the constellations murmur, “You are home.”

Open your eyes to find stone and steel.
See it climbing, desperate to peer over another’s shoulder; the prairie windows of Frank Lloyd Wright staring down Louis Sullivan and I.M. Pei.
Watch the mismatched eyes of stoplights winking on the corner and the slow blink of the Monroe Harbor beacon.
See skyscraper lights parse the passage of time: Christmas red, St. Paddy green, July 4 blue.
Smell the rain damp pavement and the dumpsters and the old urine of dogs and man.
Spy on Technicolor pictures that glow and pulse in apartment windows.
Hear the symphony of the elevated train – wheels clattering and brakes squealing two stories up – reminding you, “This is home.”

**This is a revision of a year-old poem.

It’s a trick…

This mild October day
tugging people from their homes
to take breakfast on outdoor
patios. Frost and wind chill
hide behind half gold leaves
waiting to bite our bare arms
and sockless feet.
Beware this perfect blue sky
empty as a Midwest swimming
pool in March. Sleet and snow
loiter above its clever mural
mocking our sudden exhuberance.
Pumpkins leer from every shopfront
their teeth sharp as icicles.

Unabashed

What did he see when he stared at me,
the old man at the next table, trapped
in his wheelchair while his wife and friend
chatted in cheery English tones?
Mutely he eyed his mini-lamb burger,
eating so slowly, each bite an act of muscle
memory. Three times I glanced up,
caught his dark brown pupils on me,
but I was the one who looked away.
Did he graze my breasts and think
of the first time he cupped a woman
with uncalloused hands? Or was it my
cheekbones – transporting him to a dance
hall terrace on a warm summer night –
a sweetheart’s face close to his?
We linked our sight only briefly,
but what I saw there was a man,
as alive as I, trapped in a failed body
and failing mind. “Peter, do you want
some coffee? Peter?” His wife enunciates
each syllable. Fog descends.
“Give him decaf,” she tells her friend.

Repulsed

The old Chinese woman
refused to ride the elevator
with me this morning.
Again.

Is it my clothing? My face?
The way I give a cheery
hello? Have I not shown
the proper respect?

Her face is so lined
I may have mistaken her.
But Korean or Thai,
Filippino or Malay, the
arrangement of her wrinkles
makes her seem eternally
unhappy. Maybe she laughs
with her granddaughters
and smiles at the sight
of bluebirds.

What cultural barrier
can we not pass?
I do not wish her ill but,
upset at first,
I am now becoming
secretly pleased:
my mere presence
is so offensive, so
repulsive, she cannot
even share
the same musty air
from the 13th floor
to the lobby.

Invisible

Delivery trucks line Financial – that half-street stunted by train tracks
and Board of Trade barriers. Vehicle signage announces Document
Destruction, Evian, Ajax Security, Minute Maid. I walk swiftly
from condo to office, as pigeons scatter slowly at my feet, completely
assimilated, scavenging leftover Goldfish and Sun Chips.

Men push dollies laden with soda to the back doors of sandwich shops,
up loading dock ramps, bound for vending machines and refrigerated cases
where they will sit next to bottled water and cups of sliced fruit.

The CEO decides to refocus the firm on first principles, which results
in the obsolescence of an entire division, which empties a floor or two
of a Louis Sullivan building, which means fewer workers buying coffee
and bagels and yogurt, which bankrupts the old man in the lobby,
which means one less delivery truck on Financial, which means Carlos
must take a second shift to make up the lost wages, which is why he stumbles
from lack of sleep and spills soda cans on the sidewalk before me.

I am implicated. I am complicit. I walk around the cans. My boots crunch
on the salty streets, my face aches, fingers are numb, nose runs.
A train curves shakily round its elevated corner, delivering the next wave
of office workers to the newsstand, the nail salon, the flower shop.

[revision of previous poem]

Walking to work in early March

Back side of my condo building,
step carefully around muddy snow
and the frozen evidence of small dogs.

Descend into the subway to shortcut
the busy street, past the Jamaican vendor
and his posters of Bob Marley,
Martin Luther King, his incense and
island music.

Emerge from the ground under
an announcement for nonstop flights
to San Francisco – last week it was
Tucson, Denver before that.

Delivery trucks line south LaSalle –
that half-street stunted by train
tracks and Board of Trade barriers –
vehicle signage declaring Document
Destruction, Evian, Ajax Security,
Minute Maid.

Pigeons scatter oh so slowly at my feet,
urban birds, bold and completely
assimilated, scavenging leftover
Goldfish and Sun Chips.

Men push dollies laden with soda
to the back doors of sandwich shops
or up loading dock ramps, bound for
vending machines and refrigerated cases
where they will sit next to the bottled
water and cups of sliced fruit.

Invisible jobs that depend on my job
(mine only slightly less invisible),
the professional services staffer,
the information age worker, pushing
paper while the men outside push carts
to newsstands or nail salons or flower shops.

Who would buy their pedicures and roses,
if not for the hundreds of office workers,
logging on, logging off, scurrying with
paper  cups from cubicle to copy machine
with great purpose, or great in the minds
of someone – CEO, CFO, CMO, CIO?
Is there a man or woman among them who
eschews their special letters in favor of
“fellow human being”?

A CEO decides to “refocus our firm on first
principles,” which results in the obsolescence
of an entire division, which empties a floor or two
of a Louis Sullivan building, which means
fewer workers buying coffee and bagels and yogurt,
which bankrupts the old man in the lobby,
which means one less delivery truck on LaSalle,
which means Carlos must take a second shift
to make up the lost wages, which is why he stumbles
from lack of sleep and spills soda cans
on the sidewalk before me.

I am implicated. I am complicit. I am
sure of this. But I walk around the cans.
My boots crunch on the salty streets, my face
aches, fingers are numb, nose runs.
A train curves shakily round its elevated
corner, a bright orange ad on its metal body
commanding me to “Stop Whining.”