Friday, June 27, 2014

Ten Things I See from the Division Street Bus, 1967

Ten Things I see from the Division Street Bus, 1967

1.      The young man in a white T-shirt
and black slacks puts his right hand
into his pocket and stands on the corner
of Division and California

His left hand holds a paper shopping bag
from the A & P.  He looks down Division
as if waiting for someone, and she’s late.

2.      A black man with a necklace of plastic
baby dolls, every one of them as naked
as baby Jesus, dances in front of the bank. 
He is singing that every time it rains

it rains pennies from heaven, heaven.
I love these songs sung by men with no wives,
no homes, no dinners of southern-fried steak
and mashed potatoes, no dreams of anything

but this gray sidewalk and a foolish dancing step.
Songs like this will let a woman in a blue scarf
with yellow flowers know that he too is someone
without hope or dreams.  This song will urge her

to take him home and sit him down at a table
that smells like some Sunday afternoon dinner  
he will always remember, even in the moments
before he dies, no matter how he dies or where.

3.      And with him dances his chicken.  A beat
red rooster he found in Humboldt Park
in the bushes at the southwest entrance
to the park next to the statue called Home,

a statue of a father kneeling to embrace
his daughter, his lunch pail chiseled like him
from rock that will last as long as fathers
come home and their children wait for them.

4.      The bus speeds up, travelling eastward,
toward the lake it never reaches
because the route bends south on State Street.

5.      A seventeen- or eighteen-year old girl
walks past Pierce’s Deli.  In her heart, she carries
a secret she fears will make the boy she loves
angry.  If she could find some way to tell him
that wouldn’t hurt him, she’d say a rosary
to the Blessed Virgin this Sunday after mass.

6.      There’s Polack Joe going into the bar
next to the New Strand Movie Theater. 
If this were ten years ago, I would say
he’s looking for his father Dulek, a drunk
who survived the killing on Monte Cassino
so he could drink too much and run naked
like a crazy man in the streets.  So long, Joe.

7.      A school girl in a plaid-green skirt circles
around and around her little brother,
her arms spread wider than she’ll ever be,
wider than her mother’s love, and wider
than the white-checkered table in their kitchen. 

She’s going faster, and making a roar-
ing noise like wind in the winter pines,
and her brother shouts, “Danusha, please stop,
you’re making me dizzy and I’ll fall!”

8.      A man stands waiting for the bus.  
As it angles toward the corner,
the driver sees he has no eyes,

not even dark glasses or an old rag
to protect the passengers from this sight,
just the empty mouths of his sockets,

Red like the chicken I saw dancing
with the singing black man.  The doors open
and the blind man gets on.  His feet

are sure, so is his hand grasping the rail. 
He drops a quarter in the coin box,
and asks the driver to call out Ashland

The driver looks square in his eyes
and says, Mister, you ought to put
something over your eyes.

9.      Two well-dressed men shake hands
in front of the Russian-Turkish Bath. 
The younger man is smiling and saying
something quickly, the older man laughs

and we can all hear it in the bus,
even with the traffic that grinds
toward Milwaukee with its Polacks,
Jews, Puerto Ricans, Austrians

Mexicans, Italians, Ukrainians,
even farm boys and their wives and children
from someplace in Mississippi
where the levee broke ten years ago

and cursed the family to a life
of geographical evolution,
toward this city and the shopping
they’ll all be doing on Milwaukee.

10.  At the dreaming center of Chicago
is an island formed by the intersections
of Milwaukee, Division, and Ashland

Once, Indians stripped the skins off buffaloes
here, and lived in huts children have been taught
to call hogans.  The driver calls the stop,
and the blind man is first to leave the bus,
thanking the driver for his courtesy. 

A woman presses the blind man forward.
She’s in a hurry, and he understands. 
His grip is still sure on the rail and he’s
getting off as fast as he can.  I’m behind him,
and I’m behind her and leave the bus in turn
walking quickly to the subway entrance. 

A legless man sitting on the sidewalk
raises his wool cap to me and in Polish
offers me a pencil.  Like my mother taught me,
I toss a quarter in his cap and say in Polish,

“Thanks, but you keep the pencil.  I’ve got plenty.”


The photo of Nelson Algren walking on Division Street is by Chicago photo journalist Art Shay.  

1 comment: