Showing posts with label Northern Illinois. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Northern Illinois. Show all posts

10 January, 2011

And Counting

Christ. 388 days and the tundra
is still expansively contracting.
Fields of green and brown corn
have turned shit and soil brown,
laced with remanded snow
and lingering ice. It was once
explained to me when I was
very young: in the winter
the world sleeps
and the soil rests
to prepare for the spring
for what was once a plow
but is now a machine that cuts
more and better; plus, the cost
is more and better than most
houses and has taken the place
of hundreds of men and
man hours. It's big business here
and the corn is owned by companies
and seeds, like our future is copyrighted
by the anonymous holding company
that bought our parents' futures
cheap with promises
of a peaceful old age replete
with fat corn fed dreams.

03 January, 2011

A Sketch of North Eustacia, Illinois

The report was a staggering one; three counties over, in a little town no one had thought about since nobody remembered when, the entire town simply dropped dead one day. Of course, no one noticed until the January thaw, and then it was only a lost tourist trying to get to Galena who took a wrong turn and ended up in North Eustacia, Iowa. And the tourist wouldn't have thought anything of it, except that milk cows were roaming the streets, along with the left behind chickens, pigs, dogs, and other semi-domesticated and domesticated critters that hadn't starved to death or had learned how to survive just fine on the eyeballs, belly fat, and fingers and toes of their deceased caretakers. Just walking around, like nothing was wrong. After the tourists – two little old ladies from Cicero, Illinois – noticed the milk cow standing at the corner of Main and Market Street, they noticed the broken windows in all the store fronts. The foul stench of 557 dead bodies – based on the most recent census numbers available – didn't reach them until one rolled a window down, mostly out of amazement. Neither of them had ever seen a real milk cow or a live chicken up close; neither woman expressed a desire to look at one, alive or on her dinner plate, ever again.

After the shock wore off and they rolled up the window and immediately drove themselves to the next town over – Bluffington, population 1978 souls according to the most recent census numbers – which was only about twenty miles north west of North Eustacia, they went straight to the police station and reported what they saw. The jabbering old women were not taken seriously at first, though they might have been if the Police Chief had been on duty; the Chief Delmer Cole was worldly man, a decorated veteran of both Gulf Wars, and had seen enough to know that a town full of dead people, while odd, was not outside the realm of probability. Instead, these two panicked septuagenarians had to explain themselves to one Jasper Cullen, a part-time police deputy and with a high school equivalency and plus ten academy hours. Jasper wasn't even allowed to carry a loaded gun yet, so they let him answer phones and go for coffee. Jasper had never gone any father than five miles in any direction from the town of his birth, and had only heard of North Eustacia when the high school football team played them each year at Homecoming; and even at that, he only knew the name from the cheerleaders rallying cry “There's no pretty faces from North Eustacia!” He remembered this because he liked to watch them jump up and down in their short shirts and tight sweaters.

The two old women – who have still refused to give their named for fear that the strange death they witnessed would somehow follow them back to Cicero and look them up in the phone book – were in near hysterics When Chief Cole happened to come back from lunch with the mayor and heard their story. The first thing he did was call the North Eustacia Police Chief, Watson Gunderson. Not getting an answer, he called City Hall. Still not getting an answer, he called the one or two other numbers dialed at random using the same prefix. Getting neither an answer nor a wrong number recording, Cole got into his car and drove to North Eustacia himself – leaving the babbling women in care of a much humbled Deputy Cole, who offered to go get them a cup of coffee from the new coffee house that had just opened up the street, free of charge.

It took several days to herd all of the animals. Cleaning up the bodies took more than a week, because it meant going door to door. Some people were sitting in their chairs. Some were in bathtubs. Some had collapsed in the middle of the grocery store, or sitting in their cars. It looked like all 556 of them had simply died wherever they were, whatever they were doing. A few people were found dead while having sex. Two teenagers were dead in the backseat of a Chevy Impala at the park; the minister of the North Eustacia Church of God was found dead in the ladies' restroom at the park, his pants down to his knees, his hands still clutching what remained of himself after a wandering animal, to avoid starvation, bit the head of his penis off.

The investigation into the event took longer than it should have because out of 557 residents – according to the most recent census – a total of only 556 bodies of men, women, and children were found. At first, the detectives from the State Bureau of Investigation thought there might be someone alive to notify about the deaths. Then they supposed that maybe the one missing person was somehow responsible; but when the coroner's opus report came back, indicating no cause of death this theory was discarded and the 557th person was considered a statistical error.

The water was tested, as was all the food at the grocery, and in the restaurants. There were no other reports from any surrounding town. Many of the policemen, fire fighters, and others who came to help or to gawk needed therapy for years afterward. Delmer Cole never talked about what he saw, either with the people who helped in the clean up or with anyone else. He simply wrote a report and filed it with the proper authorities. Jasper Cullen eventually passed all of his deputy training and was allowed to carry a gun … though no one ever gave him real bullets and he still only answered the phone and got coffee. The two old women, it was supposed, returned to the safe suburban haven of Cicero and never wandered that far from home again.

22 December, 2010

Untitled Lines / Post Solstice

Winter breeds patience out of desperation.
There is no instant gratification
When the snow plow buries you alive
And your only connection with the world
Comes in form of internet social networks
And high definition reality on ESPEN and the Travel Channel.
Realize (and remind yourself) this is a hermit's paradise;
All the one way talk you need
Without having to worry you're being judged
On how long it's been since you had a hair cut,
Or on whether you've taken a bath lately.
Snow outside made perfect by the thin layer of ice
Versus the dichotomous dirty snow left behind
By the shovel and the plow and the boot.
Look forward to Christmas, not for the gifts,
But because Solstice means
The days will get longer and the snow
Will gradually melt away, leaving behind
Something resembling Patience
Mingled with the hope
You have not yet dared to name
Or even appear to recognize.

21 December, 2010

Taking Out the Garbage The Morning After a Snow Storm

Up before the sun –
eyes pop open thanks to internal alarm clock
and the fear that the garbage men dug them-
-selves out last night. Pull on yesterday's
dirty clothes and go about bundling my-
-self up against the December winter outside.
Walk out onto the enclosed porch; the cooler air
pulls me out of my stupor as I
pull on my snow boots and turn on
the outside light so I can see what I have
to look forward to. Don't look up
I tell myself til it's done.
Grab the shovel.
Get to work.

                          It's me, a cheap shovel,
and the memory of a warm bed
against freshly packed snow
and a thin layer of ice that crackles
when the shovel breaks the surface. Don't look up
I tell myself til it's done. Get to the end
of the walk, meet the pile of snow and ice and rock
left behind by the snow plow. They don't pile it
in front of my neighbors' houses this way.

Start from the top
and dig my way down
thinking about about my landlord's
lawn tractor plow attachment
and I wonder if he's awake yet. Don't look up
I tell myself. Not til it's done. Slice through the pile
and step out onto the cleared street.
Snow reaches my thighs and I
can only revel so long in my victory
before I glance left
at the driveway.

                           The snow plow
didn't disappoint. Dig my way down,
through compacted snow and ice and gravel
hoping the shovel doesn't break – until
there's a space big enough to push through
and attack the thinner layer of pristine snow and ice
leading to the garage door. It breaks easy and I
move in a rectangle pattern
because it makes me feel like
it's disappearing faster, so that I
can feel like I'm winning
in spite of the forecast I'm
pushing out of my mind that calls
for more snow the day after tomorrow.
Don't look up, I tell myself
til it's done.

                      One last giant pile
tall as my waist and that
only so she can get the car out
when she leaves for work
in a few hours. Think about
the spaghetti dinner she cooked last night,
how it was heavy and warm in my belly
even though my hands and feet were cold
in spite of the heat. Dig my way down and
make my way through. Check my work
and allow myself a futile sense
of accomplishment.

                                Perch the garbage
atop the pile of snow. I know
the garbage men will throw
the recycling bin in the middle of the yard
to make me trudge through the snow
to retrieve it. Try not to think about it,
I tell myself.

                    Go back inside.
My hands and feet are warm. Strip
off cold sweaty clothes like I learned
from T.J. down in New Orleans
who warned me that a damp t-shirt
would kill me whether I was sleeping
on a park bench or soft bed.
That's how the elements finally kill you,
he said. They wait until you get sloppy.

08 March, 2010

Lines About A March Rain in Northwest Illinois

1. Morning Of

Woke to the first spring rain, still feeling the wonder
of the rarity of water I picked up living in the desert.
The sound soothes me and dulls the steady thumping
inside my skull, and reminds me
there are still small things worth watching
as the sun climbs high
hidden by gray spring storm clouds. The rain is
washing away what’s left of the snow
that’s covered the ground since early December; the grass
underneath is beginning to breathe in the still chilly breeze.
Under the large window facing the side yard, small yellow flowers
are blooming – a thoroughly pre-emptive strike at Spring.

2. Day of

I hear from the farmers, in town for last minute preparations
before the Spring planting, I should expect another winter storm.
It ain’t over yet, one tells me, though it’d be nice if it was.
Our conversation
interrupted his mental check list, the busy work
that kept them occupied through the winter
to avoid the worries about slow subsidies
and bad prices
and tornado season, which they are reminded of
because today is the day
they tested the emergency sirens
that warns people
it’s time to hide in the basement
and curl up in bathtubs.
Their voices are steeped
in anticipation, and their eyes are coated
in the worry born from generations of practice,
and I know they are weighing my responses
like another harvest – by the pound and ounce,
and deciding what its worth.
They have survived the winter
with mental check lists
and cheap beer at the local bar,
where they sit and tell stories and bitch
about having to smoke outside.

3. Morning After

The fog is still hanging close to the ground
and few patches of snow remain
like a bad hangover to remind me
of my first winter in four years
and that the memory of snow
is not the same
as the real thing.

05 January, 2010

The Old Desk

I keep beer out on the covered front porch.
It’s winter in Northwest Illinois
and the relentless cold makes for great
refrigeration. My wife hides my beer
behind an old school desk she bought
at an auction; she says
she doesn’t want it to be
the first thing people see
when they visit. I laugh and tell her
her worries are cute and that somebody,
(not me) ought to be concerned. It’s possible
to derive some comfort from knowing
all your paranoia is justified. Our neighbor
notices when I take walks, asks me
when I see him at the post office
if I’m looking for work, and he pays attention
to whether we use our car, or when we leave
the garage door open. I can tell in people’s faces
when I see them on the street, or at the (only) bar
they’re trying to decide if I’m “ok” enough;
I want to tell them
the beer on my porch is probably
their best indicator, though most of them
will never come close enough to notice.

When she brought the desk home,
she (proudly) informed me
she only paid 50 cents. (She said)
It was too good a deal to pass on
and besides (she insisted) she was thinking
of me. It would be cute upstairs, where I write;
It could sit in the corner and I could use it
to put books on. But the desk
has done its duty; the seat
is smooth and splinter free –
worn by countless student asses,
made sore by the wood
and by the hours spent
learning cursive and reading
from old primers and struggling
with long division. The wrought iron legs
are rusted from years of exposure
through creaky floor boards and clapboard windows,
wet boots, and the dry heat
of a coal or wood burning stove. The desk top is
splinter and graffiti free, and has a hole
in the right hand corner for a bottle
of fountain pen ink. When I carried the desk in
from the car, I left it on the porch
where the orange rocking chair was
that she left to sit in when she goes
out on the porch to smoke. The desk will hide
a couple of cases of beer and some liquor,
too. Every night when I lock the front door
I think about locking the screen door too; but then
(I remind myself) this is not a town
where people steal your beer;
it’s much more intoxicating
to take note of visitors and
driving habits and the frequency
with which I (do or don’t) leave the house