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.
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.
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.
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.
The old Chinese woman
refused to ride the elevator
with me this morning.
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
What cultural barrier
can we not pass?
I do not wish her ill but,
upset at first,
I am now becoming
my mere presence
is so offensive, so
repulsive, she cannot
the same musty air
from the 13th floor
to the lobby.