The South Side
where the L screams wickedly
through the backyards of Hades, Satan unwanted
chanting sacrilege at a baptism, claiming new souls. The South Side
of Chicago
scraping the powdery soft skin
of the delicate Loop, filling its veins
with the opiate of jazz, shocking its lovers
with mouth music blues, leaving only the scent
of sulfur and ash, to vanish like smoke curls
off a stolen cigarette. Cages drawn down on facades
like facemasks of muggers, the short circuit
of epileptic lights
where rats create choreography
on stages of blight. Politicians rise
on wings of hidden money, speaking in calligraphy, indecent promises
in the language
of renewal. Too much of The South Side. No one comprehends its pariahs, deciphers the accents of tongues
left at liberty’s door.
Orphans who came for candy, then stayed for drinks, stranded on islands
named Stoney and Goose, not islands at all
but ghost ships of live cargo. So unlike the cathedral
of downtown city sidewalks, where stars of functional streetlights
beckon sinners to worship, while those in the South
blast radio hymns of anguish, power and fear hovering like angels. Sirens squeal, the blackened air vibrates, a meteor shower of intensity
declares turf wars of frenzy. There is so much
of The South Side
that repeats and shatters
into infinite fractals. My family couldn’t have known
that I would resurrect them. They lived so guardedly, full of life yet caged, servants of the blast furnace, pockets full of coins, lungs full of disease, the smell of whiskey
coating every breath. Life was balanced
on the edge of a knife
intense, immediate,
ready to cut
and sever the cord. Gwendolyn Brooks arrived,
a visiting seraphim, offering wings and balm

in an ointment of words. But there was too much
of The South Side.
It intimidated the city, bullied its way beyond boundaries, knocked on the bolted door
of staid City Hall. Sprayed pain
on crumbling underpasses, littered names on L platforms
challenged lightning, danced in heat, authored is own bible, forging a new religion
of personal damnation. There was no savior, Only the saved. Progress came,
dressed in scrubs of opportunity, pulling out scalpels, blades forged in law, cutting unbroken skin
down to muscle and bone. Pulling away layers, searching for cancer, offering false hospice
in tones of despair. There was no one left to listen. The cathedral of streets trembled, cast out its sinners, muffled pleas for mercy
People bade farewell
without goodbyes. No tears, such dry mouths. Shackled to false faith, swung low on sweet chariots, pushing past redemption
in glad-rag gospel song, the unheard whispers
of a lost people’s Amen.

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