Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Finding Chicago by Clifton King

 
I wanted to write poetry like Carl Sandburg.
I wanted to write about big cities and small towns,
about open prairies and rivers in the sky.
I wanted to write about the people:
plumbers, politicians, poets,
but I’d never been east of Tucson.
So I quit my dead end job,
closed out my savings account, all 600 dollars,
and went to Chicago in search of a poem.

Chicago—City of the Big Shoulders, wrote Sandburg.
But I couldn’t find it.
I found Chicago falling down around an old black man
leaning on his battered bass case, the way you lean
on a friend when you’re in need. And Thomas Jefferson
Brown was a man in need, shoulders sagging under
the weight of six decades of back alley blues bars
and his thirst for blended whiskey.

Chicago—Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler,
wrote Sandburg.
But I couldn’t find it.
I found Chicago in a rusted heap of railroad cars, twisted
tracks and 55 gallon drums where bums built their fires.
Factories and warehouses empty, workers sitting in nearby
bars drinking beer, expecting checks at the end of the week.

Chicago—Stormy, husky, brawling, wrote Sandburg.
But I couldn’t find it.
I found Chicago shimmering in the shadows of towering
concrete, steel and glass along 32nd Street, poets reading
in bookstores and coffee houses, children marching
to museums, women with slim hips in black silk gowns,
men in tuxedos and Italian shoes, dressed for the theater.

I wanted to write poetry like Sandburg.
But I couldn’t find his Chicago.


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