Nine Chicago Poems

To Reg

1    season opener

The ants are licking open the peonies
unwrapping the seal to the tight globes
of bloom    they gang up on
and chase away a ladybug
I can sit here    on the porch stoop
as on the step    of an amphitheater
and watch    ours
is a great sports city the tour
guides say   even the house roofs
are bleachers    some ball is always in the air
ready to open    its colors
fragrance like stadium food
scent reaches the street    our mouths drop
open    tongues about to do the work


The wind is so high,
the lake surface contracts
in a gasp

The waves jump straight up.

Our side must be winning.

I can't hear
the crowd of whitecap I see
from the bus run

The joggers and cyclists
look as though hysterically
they carry,

themselves,     the news
and breaking sound        that maybe

There's not another side
to water        nor to the whole of
what we play

We field against a fog,
or, the home game in solids, ice
in a change of uniform

We contend against what is
and is ourselves        though

We want a side that isn't
ours to have of
the universe    to have us on our feet

like the waves cheering on
this morning this morning

We want our messengers
to lie    a pool of good news

dead silent
at our feet for us to walk
open.    Our winnings
winning or not: still won a life

that lets us live it
the excitement    of winged ankles,
seas of dancing streets in the envelope.


When the waves jumped straight up, the messenger
Sand smashed them to pieces for winning

When the surface fainted back, the stampeding
Sky sank its foot in that face to leave winning

There were two countless words for the score
You hear the roar of silence over winning

Someone screaming, What are you doing, what are you
Doing    Something answers, I am winning.

Doing nothing is thrown out the window
To eliminate that way to deal with winning

We burned gridlocked cars in Morse code before
We took off running to say living is winning

Lake Shore Drive reads Chicago is 'living
life city' (quoting the song)          winning.


The whole street     ladies
lay afloat in the gondola
stroll     of their own legs

the daylit lanterns of their dreams
hide inexpressibly their faces made up
with not being in Kansas

they fan with maps
like feathers of brightly colored directions
to famous brands

of which this street is
that one direction.     And all one direction
only—         no movement.

as if, since people move, there are no people
on this street; the stalks of the buildings, reeds
a hem of the lake sweeps through.


daylight you see people's
reflections off each other fill the street
cascading one from another
the crowd slips like a fan out of itself,

in the angling of store displays
the glass facets kaleidoscope a rose
window back
of themselves full of the flash petals of grace

that fall by evening home,
when the ones dressed in evening
wear        possession-less and so, without
reflection here        take all the empties back

all the want and people scavenged back
off the streets     into these who dine with starving    off the streets


The street in the opening between buildings
is running a strip of the el like a frame
by frame tape, the windows of the train
different shots of the sky, then it breaks,

and the clouds are caught up in the walls
of nearby glass-skin architecture.
I never get to see what I think
would be the whole movie. I, too, move on.

The turns in the drive roll the buildings
out from behind one another in a scenery
change, only I am the one on wheels,
the drop backs a larger stage than this town.

And just as I can see betrayal coming
by the music, my eyes braille the thunder
hidden even up the sleeve of a silent
film. The hand shakes anyway. Not meant

to be the end of things. An inbound train
toward the loop will be arriving shortly.
The street in the opening


The John Hancock Building has never struck
the actual oil it looks like it should.
Wildcatters call this a dry hole. But it isn't,
it has the pool of Lake Michigan

on the bottom when you're looking from the top
What an amazing hole, he said. Enchantment's name
to call into      what we all are looking for, a spell
to an opening as deep     into seeing.

He had the gift of new    first time in a city,
pick pockets hadn't sighted yet the eyes,
the bulging wealth of openness, the shiny change.
We were watching the old movie of our century.

—our village root, the well's drawn-words drip
into volumes in our pack trying to solve our plot.
A close-up on the winch-rope, frayed
by so continuously raising the question,

cuts off    not to mislead the viewer; and screened
on our bodies, the billboard buses, city wall—
the crude that is this day struck from our drilling


All over everything    the sun rises funny.
I heard the eagle flies on Friday as
the eagle shits on Friday where I lived.
Not enough for any growth to get paid

its flowers. Mostly weed. Bouquet of distraction.
Broken glass season gives way to plastic
in the lots, only the packaging changes,
it snows something or other year round

white to deal with, powder or rock. Or through
the window, the country unable to stop
opening its poverties, making the sun go 'round
to the back. But the sun reserves its someday

someday to shine where door don' 'llow light.
And I am drenched by a slow, barely brought in
gusher of my working through the cracks,
a gold opened in myself like a vein through

blinding pain, through the names of need and silence.
But my someday come seems didn't
when the hit is only mine, not also enough of  to my brothers.


Dawn burnished
                wave,        smoothed free of everything
but the slowest curve
                                barely less than earth's

hump      unloads
                 a surf-less silence
we can see—

                                clear bright yet shimmering—stillness as.

Stillness as a dangerous surface                    enough!
                a floor walked all night
clear to the end of nowhere                     got to get my hands on some
                                 no place          except where
                                                                             money from somewhere
                                                                             to get me over this hump
an arm swipes
                everything off the table to
this floor        the hit bottom come to
                the surface                           on the table
Ed Roberson, "Nine Chicago Poems" from To See the Earth Before the End of the World. Copyright © 2010 by Ed Roberson. Reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.
Source: To See the Earth Before the End of the World (Wesleyan University Press, 2010)
More Poems by Ed Roberson