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In honor of National Poetry Month, Chicago commissioned Phillip B. Williams to write a piece that reflects his Chicago. Then we asked artist Gladys Nilsson to respond to the poem with a work of her own.


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City of wind and glass dressed in frozen lace,
of the wide-stone tower that would not burn,
of Lake Michigan and the poor who never
see the sun drop lines of light across the cold ache
of water, of televised faces spitting water on children
in a park obliterated of its pigeons. City of pigeons
on train platforms where trains say the names
of approaching destinations like prophets: you know
me as your restless child. I creep through dimensions
of snow-scythed wind and ruthless summers
looking for my semblance in neighborhoods
gentrified into dull disasters of coffee and scones.
I have loved you like darkness loves the base
of a throat yet songs I could sing for you
won’t come. City of Lou Malnati’s and Giordano’s,
of segregation and gang wars, of bus drivers
who seem to hate me and so I hate them back,
the blade of their impatience, the phantom dark
beneath their abrasive eyes, until I meet the one
who says “good morning” back and it sounds
like “I love you” and “I’m sorry” and I needed
to hear that this morning because traffic’s slow
as a corroded vein and the Red Line changes
races halfway through and that feels wrong
and beyond explanation like the parking meters
eating our tired bodies down to their good bones.
At night, Michigan Ave. slips on its suit of lights
and tourists while Madison and Central Park
roll restless with Shark’s fried fish and barbershops
where a boy sits with the buzz of clippers
carving something beautiful from the black curls
on his head. You’ve been on my mind, City
of African music festivals and Bud Billiken
parades, City of name changes I refuse to honor.
Sears to Willis, the ghost of a Marshall Field’s relief
oxidized into obscurity. Here is my face, City.
Here is my face and my hands are open for you.
Here is the body that has rejected your violence,
that has been missed by your bullets, City.
Here is the scimitar of my tongue to cut you
down to your particulars, in hope to find
something in you to love that will love me back.


City/Lake by Gladys Nilsson


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