This is where Steichen took the trolley to the end of the line,
waded through wetlands to photograph the morning light
off Lake Michigan as it moved through the trees, glowed
in a shallow pool. Those straight, native trees that predate
the planted canopies of elms that once arched over every street
in Whitefish Bay. His trees always looking as they did in 1898.
This is where my daughter's classmates, airborne on an icy hill,
slammed head-on into an elm and died, having skipped
French and other classes that afternoon. But not sex-ed,
which Wendy Shalit, Class of '93, refused to take and later worked
into more than a snit, a book about modesty, something to talk
about on the Today Show, years after the boys were dead,
stopped eternally at age fifteen. So many return.
I think they come back to find a time rather than a place.
Some meaningful chapter. But it feels like it is a place you are missing,
I know. And the life I once had might not have been possible
anywhere but there, where I was once a young mother, picking wild
grape leaves along the bluffs at Klode Park, watching the giant moons
that rose over the lake in the fall, wanting to live in one of the Tudors
the doctors owned. Maybe with one of the doctors.
In those days, when we lived in the center-entrance colonial
on Ardmore, and our marriage was breaking up like whitefish flaking
away from the bone, I did not yet know that life could get harder,
that in a few years the bluffs at Klode would be unrecognizable,
terraced with white rip rap from the deep tunnel projects,
that some of the bussed-in children with names like Oris and Sabrina
had no futures after Whitefish Bay, that the Buffets would make a grand arrival,
set up a New Age studio in their baronial beer mansion, then split.
I was no good at leaving Whitefish Bay. Even when I left the first time,
took half a house of old furniture and a half-time child with me
into the city, I came back, settled for a small Cape Cod. For my child,
I told myself. So that we could belong to the JCC and life could seem
normal: the deep snows, consumerism, the breathless sexiness of suburbia.
I loved those post-War houses with their milk chutes and crown molding
and bright casein colors. Was infatuated with that house on Larkin, seeing
a new man in revisited rooms, seized by the familiar imprint of his floor plan.
This is where I lived before I left for good: in an undistinguished
house on Diversey Boulevard, where one night a transformer blew
and showered my lawn with sizzling oil and bits of fire, where
I planted mallow and cosmos and day lilies after the cleanup;
where I lived next to a woman who told me the story of her uncle,
a German, who left Whitefish Bay to be a Nazi and disappeared forever.
He told her to wait at the beach, that one day he would return from the sky,
posted home in uniform, a crisp package carried by a clean, white parachute
who'd come back soon, gliding lower and lower over the dark blue bay,
landing in the sand at Klode, greeting her in English as if nothing had changed.
Alone on Más a Tierra