the chicago tradition is etched
in the chapped palms and dirt fingers
of its workers, of the 9-5,
the “by any means necessary,” the ones with 12 w2s and still
live paycheck to debt.
the brownstone granite countertop kitchens next
to puerto rican families six children whitewashed
on bosworth between two vacant lots and a parking lot
that fills at 4am with mexican men and women
coming home celebrating
of every beer bottle that erases a little more
the memory of yesterday’s oven, grease burn,
boss and 13 hour day.
one day, there will be high-rises
uplifting perfect noses that hold
breath on the street until ashland kisses lake
and eucalyptus steam rooms save fresh manicures
from touching hand to city.
that live underneath
that pump the city’s blood when no one’s looking
put on art shows that no one comes to
write poems lost in the labyrinth of our own imagination
wear hearts outside of parkas in the winter
so that we can feel what it means to be human
we are all made
from the same stench and smokestack
of dreams and side hustles
second and third jobs … or seven
and attend school under the radar
interlope in activities that are not meant for us
because, when asking for direction,
the city gives us broken arrows
as slap education in finding our own way home.
who live in a world tipped on its side,
no matter where you rise or fall in the oil
and water of the city’s cast system,
buy spray cans.
give a finger to the city. and etch
like algren so that schoolchildren and adults will walk
by your triangle and epitaph
though they'll never know
you founded this place.
but, the homeless do
the poet, too, and, for that, it’s worth it
to continue the chicago tradition
of living between the grind
inside the bedsheets of dreams, working.
because even though there are no stars in the skyline
there are sparks on the street
and in the absence of light
a bboy strikes his own match
and the patch-work of chicagoans
from omaha, kinkakee, milwaukee, ann arbor, and isreal
become the closest allies to navigate our way
through the clean inhale on lakeshore
and dirty exhaust of humbolt park.
we are all trying
to scavenge our way through this tradition
of mess and symphony
who says this is a city of small communities?
some of us have never felt more alone
more like someone wrenched soul from body
and shoved it back at us to witness
as an artifact
that will one day live in a gallery
or choreography or
because, while this city will never be mother
to caress us from the reasons we cry alone on the 8 bus,
it is the old woman on Halsted blowing smoke rings
and pointing a crooked finger toward her chest
the last, and probably only, arrow left to us as direction
through chicago's labyrinth of what it means to be cold, honest,
Witness by Marja Lankinen
Cover Photography by Arno Rafael Minkkinen