life in a dying city

Posted by on February 9, 2011


Housekeeping in January

Evergreen, evergreen,
Your shaggy arm
So full of snow.
If you look in

You know
Sheets are clean
Once a week.
A law says laundry

Cannot be created,
Nor destroyed.
Despair and hope,
Share props,

Squalor and order,
Dry beans clatter
About the child

Near my feet.
Ceramic squeaks
And drowns
In the noise

Of scattering.
Winter sees me
Gathering, gathering
Armfuls of sheets.

* * *

I wrote the above poem and I think it may be the bulk of what I have to say today, so I am nonchalantly throwing it up here, as if publicly sharing my own poem is not a risky, gutsy thing to do. Honestly, it should feel that way, but for some reason it doesn’t today. This poem is what I have right now, so I’m sharing it. I managed to wrangle some rogue words into an order that pleases me. Of course, any critical feedback is welcome, but not necessary.

I feel badly when I miss Poetry Wednesday, as I have now for two weeks in a row. Life is full and there is plenty I could write about, but sometimes it does not come together. The muse is not talking to me, and that is alright. If there is one thing I have learned from six years of life in the Midwest, it is that although it may seem that nothing is happening, something is still happening. Something is always happening.

South Bend was just listed among the nation’s ten most dying cities. I was not surprised to see this. It helps to explain what I have always sensed: that when I came to live here, I was shot like an arrow straight into the heart of a paradox. Life in a dying city is paradoxical every day, especially in February, after a blizzard has left the streets of the city bordered with walls of dirty snow. Jeff and I have been watching this goofy TV series Psych, which is set in Santa Barbara, California. I think that half the attraction of the show is the setting, which can make me feel like I am being administered a little shot of transcendental orange juice in my dark igloo.

I was in my old neighborhood–College Park–in Orlando in January. I cannot believe how this area of town keeps blossoming in interesting ways every time I go back. On Edgewater Drive, where my dad’s old, humble chiropractic storefront office used to be, there is now a really hip-looking bar and grill with outdoor seating. The facade of every building has been redone. There are boutiques and even the franchise drug store has a Spanish tile roof to make it conform aesthetically to the overall town-center feel.

Meanwhile, in South Bend, the only known independent coffee shop with local personality and a sort of 90s pedigree–Lula’s–was forced out of business for unknown reasons by its landlord, and now sits vacant on a depressing little corner of town, where cars stop at a red light, then go at the green light, tires kicking up a wintry mix of dirt and melted sludge. This is where my two children were born, where I do my grocery shopping, and where I cling to friendships in place of the sun in February. And it is also where I have changed and grown and developed my best tools for feeling content and happy with life.

Life is an ongoing creative travail of making something out of nothing. Maybe the dying city only lends more clarity to the assignment. Everyone has to do this, no matter where they live. No one can expect a city–even the most apparently alive one– to do this for them.

  1. Beth
    February 9, 2011

    So I am having problems leaving comments today. My second attempt on your's. Thank you for the original work. I like it, especially the use of squalor and order for this is where I feel like my attempts to create exist, to bring order from this squalor of my exterior surroundings and the interior of my heart.

    A dying city. It is so depressing isn't it. The winter and its gray slushiness never helps but I keep clinging to the fact that beauty exists everywhere and as you point out, life can be spring forth in something that is dying and maybe especially more so.

  2. mollysabourin
    February 9, 2011

    Ha! I knew it! I've thought to myself before, "I'm just sure that Julia could write her own awesome poem to share." And then you did, and now you have, and I am excited because I actually fell in love with it as I was reading it, even before I knew it was yours.

    Please post more (and, goodness gracious, submit them somewhere) if you have them.

    Regarding your reflection, I totally get it. That's exactly how I feel about my old neighborhood in Chicago. While there, it felt stifling and even menacing sometimes, and yet that's where I was forced to die to myself in order to become a mother. Now just the thought of Chicago, our teeny condo, can make weepy with nostalgia.

    "Making something out of nothing." I loved this. Thank you!

  3. Manuela
    February 10, 2011

    Love it…the poem and the rest. It is almost like you were describing my own life. Oh wait, we are practically living the same, same apartment, same dying city, same laundry schedule, etc…
    On a more serious note, I wholeheartedly agree with the last paragraph.
    More poems please…

  4. Manuela
    February 10, 2011

    I also LOVE this:
    "If there is one thing I have learned from six years of life in the Midwest, it is that although it may seem that nothing is happening, something is still happening. Something is always happening."

  5. Kris Livovich
    February 11, 2011

    Gutsy and brave – and good!

    Despair and hope,
    share props.

    They are intertwined, aren't they? Much like the christian life – the despair of the cross, and the great hope it brings.