in a blighted city, I can not find my past sidewalks lay in rubble, curbs crumbled every house I ever lived in torn down the farmer’s market is gone, the trolley depot paved over from Hodiman tracks to the wharf whole blocks have turned into war zones become a Berlin blight in the heartland circa 1949 close to the road chain link fences replace thick privet hedges that once swallowed traffic sounds Kingshighway no longer holds cars at bay
I cannot find my way along unfamiliar roads gone the drug store where a dentist pulled teeth for free the last boarded up White Castle a lonely sentinel lost in the ragged intersection of a food desert where is the lot my grandmother used to teach me to pick dandelion greens and mustards wild onions sweet peppers to add to the pot of 25¢ fatback cooked before my mother came home from her postwar job at the laundry
what was once a vacant lot or two now knits even the best blocks of front porch houses postwar cottages have collapsed upon themselves tenements shuttered like blind giants where coltsfoot and chickweed ate brittle grass that black lawn boys groomed with pinking shears before the all white Veiled Prophet Ball began only the waters of the Wedding of the Rivers in front of Union Station run at the same sullen rate
I have lost my bearings—search for old man Farrow’s grape arbor where blue black muscadines hung fat as cherry tomatoes and sweet rocket mixed with wood sorrel mallow and alfala Farrow’s store is gone the barrel of kosher pickles gone and the wind uninterrupted by the sound of milk bottles scooped from front stoops the city has grown raggedy as Lil’ Orphan Annie after Daddy Warbucks left town leaving behind a river clogged with rich debris unspent and I have come home furious and wild faltering along the way
Colleen J. McElroy lives in Seattle, Washington, where she is a Professor Emeritus at the University of Washington. Editor-in-chief of the Seattle Review from 1995-2006, McElroy has published nine collections of poems, most recently Sleeping with the Moon (2007), for which she received a 2008 PEN/Oakland National Literary Award, and Here I Throw Down My Heart (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012), a finalist for the Binghampton University Milt Kessler Book Award, the Walt Whitman Award, the Phyllis Wheatley Award, and the Washington State Governor’s Book Award. Winner of the 1985 Before Columbus American Book Award in poetry for Queen of the Ebony Isles, she also has received two Fulbright Fellowships, two NEA Fellowships, a Jesse Ball DuPont Distinguished Black Scholar Fellowship, and a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship. Recently, her work has been featured in The Oxford Anthology of African American Poetry, Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry, Best American Poetry, Black Renaissance Noire, torch, and poetryfoundation.org. Many of her poems have been translated into Russian, Italian, Arabic, Greek, French, German, Malay, and Serbo-Croatian.