I know it’s been awhile, folks, but I’ll try to make up for it today with something more personal. I’ve been packing and organizing, since (as I alluded to in my last post) we are leaving Chicago, as I take on a position as a tenure-track Education Librarian at Eastern Washington University in Cheney. This of course has a major impact in my life—leaving Chicago and the friends we’ve made here, learning the ways of a new institution and a new city, all the chaos that comes with a cross-country move (in December, no less)—and I’m approaching it with excitement, curiosity, anxiety, and at least a little melancholy as I start my farewells to all I’ve loved about my years in this city. In a few weeks it’ll all settle down and I hope to be back to business here, but for now this post is me planting a little flag as both a jumping-off point for all that’s about to be new, and as a banner waving in the winds of the place I will always look back to with a smile. The city that gave me my first professional experience as a librarian, and (for the rest of her life) the city my daughter will name when asked where she was born.
So for Poetry Friday today, I offer not one of the works of the great poets of the past, but rather this humble verse from yours truly—something I’ve tinkered with for a couple of years now (and truthfully have never really felt finished with). An ode to my neighborhood and my library, and one of the songs of these days in my life. I won’t comment after it in the post, but you’re more than welcome to comment to if you have anything to say (or ask) about it. All my best to all of you this wintry afternoon: This is James Rosenzweig’s
“Walking Home from the Library on a Winter Evening;
Albany Park, I thought about writing you a love-letter, but I decided our friendship is too important for me to risk it”
One scarf for your neck;
a second protects your face.
Your eyes go naked.
The robing begins as you listen in on Andy
and the man with the hat full of questions,
who’s been a student
of most of his life
for most of his life,
and whose goatee grin is the metronome
of the afternoon reference desk.
His gratitude twinkles in his eyes.
He mixes his questions with stories about jam sessions
from the 1970s: the jazz that fills his imagination.
As the gloves come on, you talk with Andy about the weather
as he’s diving into Tolkien for the first time
and hearing his progress report lets you take the journey
vicariously, as though remembering were reading.
You discuss whether your 12 year old nephew
is too young for The Hobbit,
and wonder why it’s so hard to decide.
Now your mountain coat,
veteran of a dozen snows,
doing lowland duty.
The door swings behind you: you walk into white.
The rattle of the university plow echoes off brick walls
and half-buried public art.
The remnants of last Wednesday’s storm
lie beneath this fresh fall
like cats asleep under the blankets.
The flakes sting your eyes when you look east;
your second scarf comes undone.
You accept your helplessness.
The cars on St. Louis have churned the snow,
now slightly yellow, powdered in texture
like corn masa flour.
An elderly Hasid passes you on his way to shul,
his black hat wrapped in Saran to keep dry:
Shabbat is descending.
two boys shovel the sidewalk
with their grandfather.
You can see the pride behind Abuelito’s stern eyes,
his pleasure at their love of labor,
his commitment to have his 30 feet of pavement
the cleanest in Albany Park.
On Foster, you see a child with a shovel,
slowly clearing the whole block in front of his apartment,
and wonder if somewhere above, behind a parted curtain,
another grandfather looks down.
North Park‘s campus security drive around
in golf carts that handle the snow
exactly as well as they are designed to:
elephants in a wetland,
children spun from a merry-go-round.
The tower of Old Main is postcard-perfect
as it foregrounds the storm.
immigrants of every race
wait for the same bus.
You look down as you cross the bridge:
the Chicago River is crowded with drifts,
swirling in big, slow eddies
like albino starfish at sea.
The snow fills with water, mottling like clouds,
clinging at both banks against
a current that will take it south.
With every step you become less a poet
and more a poem,
your feet beating out a meter no one else can scan,
the images you see are less around you
than they are in you, filling you up
before you can trap them in words.
Where Albany meets Ainslie
you see the crisp edges of a snow-blown sidewalk —
the fingerprints of José, whose war on ice is absolute.
As the crunch of footfalls is replaced
by the slap of pavement, you slip off one glove
to unlock the gate and check your mail:
then the dash across the empty courtyard.
As key turns, a sound —
her voice welcomes you to the
rooms she makes a home.