City of Bridges
This here used to be
one hell of a town.
That store over there, that was Tinie’s,
painted by some Italian immigrant
who held his cigarette between his thumb
and forefinger, sang funny Italian songs.
There was a five-and-dime
down this way, and over there,
that old empty lot, that was the grocer’s,
a great big bluish green monster of a thing,
something the color of a Catholic school bathroom.
Now it’s all gravel and slate-colored stones,
not even soft enough, not safe enough
to be a place where your kids might play.
Maybe you know all this.
Maybe you looked out this window
in the middle of the night
while the tomato plants plumped
so hard and red and uncomplaining
under the sooty sun, the aching moon.
Maybe you watched the traffic light
change red to green to yellow to red
even when there was nobody there
to stop at it.
These days the streets smell like balm
and tomato sauce, the sidewalk glows
dull from prayers and stunted ambition.
Everyone here stopped growing up
and starting getting old. They came back
from the war and everything changed.
Even before they left, it had all gone away,
everything good we knew, gone away.
They were drafted to kill
when they were barely old enough
to rear a family or publish a book,
barely old enough to pack and move
into the heart of this muddy city
where they’d have to find a wife
or cook for themselves. Nobody had nothing
then, not a thing in the world,
the boys only had room for the fear. That fear
would sit on top of their shoulders,
burrow in the minefields,
splatter like rain across the sky.
And when they came home,
it was only here they knew,
it was all that they could do,
put away their medals and punch their cards,
sweating into barrels of steel.
They buried the streets in brawn,
the city all the while spitting out security,
retching stability, throwing fantastic
culture to the corners of the world:
Gertrude Stein, Charles Schwab,
But our boys, they were mythic and mighty
Joe Magaracs then,
bending red-hot irons with their bare hands,
turning this town into a man’s town again.
War could not tear this town up.