Where Have the Italians Gone? Gettin’ My 52 On with Walnut Hills

img_8438-2

Like any Italian worth her wine, I was drawn to Walnut Hills. That is, until I read that back in the 1930’s, one was told, “Don’t cross Gilbert, or you’ll get beat up.”

Why Walnut Hills?

Following the election, I found my wanderings in the city had taken on new meaning. Or more specifically, I wanted to find new meaning in my wanderings. I decided upon a strategy to visit all 52 neighborhoods of Cincinnati, during the 52 weeks of the year leading up to Cincinnati’s elections of 2017. I was already three to four weeks behind.

For clarification, I did not undertake this on behalf of any candidate, but for my own education and enrichment. To find the connection in the city, to find what intrigues me, to find out if what is relevant in my life is also relevant in the lives of others separated by highways, one-ways and three-ways.

screen-shot-2016-12-02-at-5-08-57-pmI had considered starting at the top of the alphabet with Avondale, but that was cheating. That day, I wanted to begin with a neighborhood I could still walk to, given time constraints. I had already over-shared on Over-the-Rhine, Downtown, and possibly the West End and Mt. Adams, though they will certainly make the cut in the future.

My finger ran across Google Maps on my computer screen and landed on Walnut Hills. I have walked to and through Eden Park, and some parts of Walnut Hills. But only THAT part, where img_8432St. Ursula High School is located, or along DeSales Corner to visit O Pie O.

One goal of my wanderings was to go where I had not, or should not, or even dare not, go. From Google Maps, I jumped to the Wikipedia page to find out the exact boundaries for Walnut Hills. But suddenly, my ancestry jumped out at me and I forgot about boundaries.

In a few minutes of research, I learned about the Italian connections to Walnut Hills. (My husbands says only I can find Italian connections that are really not there.)

img_8435From Cincinnati: A Guide to the Queen City and Its Neighborhoods, “In the southwest, limited by steeply descending Florence Avenue, lies “Little Italy”, with its boxlike frame houses, a huge spaghetti factory, a few Italian-owned shops and restaurants, and many children.”

I was in love.

I tied up my laces and ran out the door, paying little attention to the temperature outside. I marched up Reading, over to Gilbert and down to Florence. As opposed to descending, I walked up Florence Avenue, desperate for signs of the Italians.

Disappointed that I didn’t locate any residual alfredo, I did stumble across the intriguing box homes along a mostly vacant May Street, which had been referenced in the historical marker along Gilbert Ave. I found the REACH development, and spoke to a few contractors working on large stretch of land behind the new Gomez Salsa.

Along the way, I spoke to an employee of Art’s Car Detailing, “Man, I saw you walk up this hill. You’re crazy.” I had to agree.

img_8437I encountered another woman as we admired Windsor Flats, the old Windsor School and Annex/Gymnasium soon to be apartments. She and I discussed the neighborhood changing for the better, she claimed. She was anxious for some of the newer developments that she might check out, when the time and money was right for her to move.

As I made my way back down Gilbert, I was reminded of the article I had read in Cincinnati Magazine, October, 2015. “In 1930, Walnut Hills’s census tract 21—the southwest quadrant near Florence Avenue—housed the highest density of Italians anywhere in the city. “When I grew up,” says Dillard, “we were always told Don’t cross Gilbert Avenue. Because they called that Little Italy. And we’d get beat up if we’d cross [into] Little Italy. It was an Italian slum, really—poor Italian families poured into that particular area as they immigrated into the U.S.” – Charles Dillard, a physician who once ran his medical practice in Walnut Hills.”

Well, I did it. I crossed Gilbert, back and forth, leapfrogging the lights. And, I didn’t get beat up, just got a few “hey girl, looking good in those tights,” which seemed to me what most Italian men said to a woman walking down the street. I thanked them and moved on.

Though I had been seeking the Italians, the best I could do was to pay homage to the former  Cable House Italian Grill, the sight of many a good Italian meals in my 20’s. While Italians may have been difficult to find, I did find people like myself.

Curious, willing to engage, looking for a place and persons to make this corner of Cincinnati their home.

This is the first in a series of #GettinMy52on. I plan to visit all of Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods during the year leading up to Cincinnati’s 2017 election, in search of what makes Cincinnati relevant to me.

To My Friends in Ohio – Even One Woman Is Too Many

poem-solo_350dpi-663x1024Ask yourself this question. “Do I know, no matter the connection, a woman who has been sexually victimized through verbal or physical assault or rape?”

Right now, if you know me, you are connected to those women by two degrees of separation.

With the election less than a week away, I have waited too long to make this plea to my friends and associates in Ohio. Because I was a life-long Republican. Because of the World Series. Because I want my words to be perfect. And they’re not. Because, because, because.

No more.

Today, I beg you to consider what a vote for Donald Trump means to the women in your life, what that vote would mean for Emily Doe. You don’t recall Emily Doe? Read more here. She was named Glamour’s Woman of the Year. You don’t know why? Read more here.

Consider how your vote for Donald would embolden more Donald’s, more Brock’s, more Baylor or NFL football players to take away the worth of our young women, old women, black, white or Latino woman, any woman.

I have known too many women (even one is too many) who have been sexually victimized by men they know, whether they were in the wrong place or at the wrong time or under the wrong influence or in the wrong circumstances, should not matter. That they were with that person at all should not matter.

You know them too.

They are you, or they surround you. They are daughters and mothers, sisters and wives, and granddaughters and nieces. They are cousins and roommates and co-workers. They are politicians, and executives, the woman at the bank, women on the streets, and those who care for the elderly and those who do their best work at home.

Their names are not named in the headlines – under the guise of protection in a society that has done little to protect women at all.

But you can.

With one vote.

In a state that matters.

One vote.

Yours.

Because even one woman is too many.

 

Picture credit: Sara Caswell-Pearce who so lovingly recreated through art an image of my sister I had painted through poem.

A Poem for Tucker’s (Since 1946)

fullsizerender-47Since 1946

The old grease smell is gone
vanished in the fires
that soaked up the money
and the fat.

A new vent shines
reflecting in its hood
eggs scrambling to their fate
and goetta gone griddle flat.

You know, Mom
would still be here
back peelin’ the potatoes
if I let her, he tells us.

Joe is grill guy, owner,
neighborhood
holder together.

At 10 a.m.
we are the end
of the morning’s rush
soon the grill will turn to lunch
and so will customer’s pangs

but for now,
we wait and salivate.

You folks been here before? he asks.
Everyone knows the “before” story
no one need finish the line.

Made the biscuits myself, he goes on.
And they are light and fluffy
offering this side of Vine –
shaded by morning sun –
a buttery cloud in which to dream.

He wants to go on
but Carla is telling him
how many
pounds of potatoes
they peeled through yesterday.

A crowd of couriers
on bikes enters and interrupts
the slow flow of the moment

then one electric pole worker
plops on a stool
he’s from the neighborhood
we can tell
because Joe knows his name.
But Joe greets every customer
with the same welcoming call
and in truth,
based on his past,

he may never know
when one will be
a first-time customer
or his last.

AJW 10/12/16

 

(#MorningFind)ing My Way Through Cincinnati

img_5460I love your morning finds, a friend wrote, from Nashville where she had moved weeks ago. Over the past month, I had also been in three cities, in conversations with three people who commented the same. I love your morning finds.

But what exactly was a morning find, and when did the photos snapped while I was bleary-eyed become a wide-eyed representation of this city?

Morning finds (#morningfinds) are my social media photos shared via Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, when in early mornings, I sneak down dimly lit alleys (#alleynettie) sleuthing for  another place in time or discover countless sets of stairs leading to…..nowhere, but I take the steps anyhow while my husband might stand at the bottom and shake his head.

img_3168I seek out hidden mosaics or the faded old murals because the large-scale new ones like Rosemary and Neil get all the big media attention. Or I ponder placement of a mural or graffiti. The Artworks mural on Christ Church Cathedral, Education Not Violence, looks directly at the Queen City Tower, which for most, represents capitalism and privilege.fullsizerender-38

I have snapped photos of lost shoes (#cincylostsoles), too many to count, an obsession birthed in the boxes of Januzzi’s Shoes. I ask myself, “What did someone do last night that he or she went home without one shoe, or even two?” I have yet to try on any of them, but perhaps I will find answers when I do.

I would have research old social media postings to determine when random city shots became my “morning finds.” I had begun taking pictures around the city after our move two years ago, but only recently had the practice become ritual.

fullsizerender-41I approach the routine with a reverence for viewers, readers, and myself. I am not dependent on “likes”, the “tweets”, or the “hearts” for my self-esteem, but I am dependent on the framing of the pictures to nourish my curiosity, to fuel my creativity and to foster my connection – but to what?

On a recent Sunday morning after a monster walk around the city, my husband and I had stopped by Urbana Café for his cortado and my sparkling water (I had already had my one cup of caffeine limit). We had been frequenting Urbana Café for many months, especially in winter, following our lengthy treks to count the number of neighborhoods reachable by our aching feet.

fullsizerender-40Returning from the restroom, I overhead Elizabeth Walk, the baker, pose a question to Mark. “So what is it you like about Cincinnati?”

“To be honest,” Mark said, “I grew up here, but I like having access to the arts, its an easy city to get around….” His Shakespearean soliloquy took off from there.

“Why do you ask?” Mark questioned in return, as I made my way back to my stool.

“I’m reading this book This is Where You Belong. The Art and Science of Loving The Place You Live. One of the suggestions the author (Melody Warnick) makes is to ask people you know, what they like about the city and begin to model your own enthusiasm on their interests. That helps you appreciate the place as if you belong there.”

Customers began streaming in, anxious for his or her morning cortado or slow pour. Elizabeth’s question never made its way to me.

If so, I had my pat answer.

I came to love Cincinnati through a different set of eyes – and feet. A set originating in a small town in northern Ohio (Amherst) outside of Cleveland. While I lived in Cincinnati for a brief span in my twenties, I returned to the city also with a different heart, one still pining for the Pacific Northwest and the spirit I had left behind. I had to learn to love again, and not just another person, but in another city, in another way.

Every one has their lens. In particular, mine is loss. Thus, Cincinnati for me became a place I learned to admire through what had been forfeited, what had been obscured from my everyday view. I had to work through the river of fog to find it again.

fullsizerender-37When I moved into the city proper over two years ago, that too had been time of loss. I had relinquished a role that defined me for so long, a period of motherhood. My father had died two years prior. He had so desperately waited for us to finish this house so he too could live through us (The streetcar was also a great loss as it was something my father, the train aficionado, never saw to fruition). And of course, the complexity of the loss of my mother’s mind to dementia. Yet her condition became partially responsible for my reformulation of “finding the lost.”

At the lowest point of those losses was a sister who experienced a tragic accident which left her disabled. My big, beautiful sister, the original Queen City Queen, with whom I created many memories during my first stint as a Cincinnatian. Our sisterhood taught me the virtues of loving where you live. A part of me laced up sneakers in early mornings to find her and explore the city in a way she no longer can. I am always still trying to find her.

Everywhere. Loss.

I love all the pictures you post of OTR and the city. Reminds me of what is was like, what it could be like, another associate wrote.

I’m doing it for my own sanity, I respond.

The photos, the blogs are sticky notes with reminders to love everything directly in front of me. Based on my life experiences, morning finds could disappear downstream in the Ohio River tomorrow and wash away for good.

I would have shared all these statements with Elizabeth. I could have saved her the time and effort of reading the book. However, later, I too put my name on the library’s wait list for the book. I’m sure I’ll learn something intriguing about myself, about this city that I hadn’t intended to discover.

img_7696The morning finds are not just about things, or places. Morning finds are a pictorial representation of how I have plumbed the depths of joy, heartache and revelation. How I am still curating that part of myself, and the city, I don’t want to lose.

 

 

Author’s Note:

Beginning this Fall, I will be using this blog and other spaces to explore the 52 neighborhoods of Cincinnati, as Cincinnati prepares for its 2017 elections and what makes our neighborhoods lovable, walkable, the same and different.  I’ll be using the #52meandyou hashtag so, as Rosemary Clooney once sang, “C’mon along!”

A City Poised to Radiate

I have been at odds over how to best honor Friday’simg_7493 opening of Cincinnati’s streetcar line, the Cincinnati Bell Connector. I have been touched by the ghosts of those who rode the last line, conscious that someday, I will tell my children, I rode the line when it returned.

In the past few weeks, I have looked back on my writings, to when I testified before city council on what will forever be known as “the pause”, and found a wealth of words that could have only originated from a deep frustration and also, a profound love.

I discovered photos from the groundbreaking, held in 2012, when I had hustled down the highway to arrive in time to watch the removal of the first cobblestone in front of Memorial Hall.

These past months, I strolled alongside so many streetcars that I hardly noticed them whiz on by.

In all that time, the streetcar had, like the rest of the city, gotten under my skin, and I subconsciously crafted a poem, delivered whole and ready to roll.

 

The Rebirth of Connection

For months I have followed you
walked unsteady along your furrowed tracks
observed as you have taken your first ride
your wobbly first loop around one block
then the next
like watching my own learn to steer a bike.

I remember how I shuddered
when workers in green gave birth to you
how I railed against anyone
who railed against you.

Early morn, I heard you moan
then slowly I became tone-deaf knowing
that was the noise you were born to make.

At times, I have envied the attention
and the ever-changing hues
showered upon you,
always aware of those who tried to brand you
something you were not.

Now as days glide easily into night
and rays run out of dark bends in the alleys
there is new light.

You have set down a new trail
for the thinkers, the makers, and joiners
proving what once divided
no longer spills into our streets
and runs rough to our river.

Like the surprise of quintuplets
fertilizes the family tree
your five cars will forever
alter a city destined outwards.

AJW 9/7/2016

The Courtship of Writing

(With apologies to my readers, as this piece was written as a distraction from Mom’s current hospitalization, and really nothing to do with the city, other than I am not in it) Untitled me

First, you are met with a warm sensation as words wash down your arm, through your pen, then leak everywhere onto the page. Forget the runner’s high. There is a writer’s high that mimics the rush of dopamine, adrenaline and norepinephrine from falling for words. Writing from your insides spills out. You scribble furiously. You have finally found what your soul wants to say.

So, you write. At all hours. You eschew affordable housing workshops and Argentinian happy hours and sometimes, even your faithful, yet always pouting, Cavalier. You only want to be with your words. You have unleashed an ardor onto the page that no man or woman has ever before been known to capture. You cannot sleep because these words sprint instead of dance in your head. You rise, and inhale the morning’s first cup of burnt beans, rush to the door and gulp in the morning dew, energized despite so very little sleep. Your thoughts immediately turn to streams of sentences that must be imprisoned that very instant. Everything is RIGHT NOW.

The fever has you in its grips, infects every part of your being. You write about three dimes accumulated in the fountain you will collect in a mason jar, about your mother and how she clutches her rosary as if holding onto to heaven, about dahlias that dance in the northwest wind. There is not one part of your life that has not now been touched by the way you are in love with words.

All too soon comes the reckoning. You share your words, perhaps online or an opinion page. Your friend remarks, “I don’t get it. Why would you say that about an onion, stripping off years of the garden’s stink?” And you fight, ten rounds with your conscience. Doubts and regrets are suddenly keeping vigil with you at night. You wanted validation, not criticism. You wanted inspiration not condemnation. You wanted a soul mate.

You are in pain and thus perform an entire scan on your body of work. You look for bumps and bruises, or some internal bleeding. Anything that would have indicated writing had consumed all of you. You turn away from the Italian Ladies desk, the yellowed, torn page. You switch off the words that have been running like a spigot through your senses. Your synapses cease snapping. You stop receiving the long-distance appeals that originated from your desk. You will no longer be accepting those calls. You disconnect.

But there comes a time, when you are pulled back. The tug comes on a night when your friends are drinking margaritas with salt or listening to a Pulitzer Prize novelist read at an ancient library. You are entombed elsewhere. You cannot breathe. You can no longer say, “No.”

You return to your love, fall in and begin the long slow waltz with words again, more committed than ever. You begin to notice your writing has plunged into the deep end. You can mine a body for aches you didn’t know were there. You write about breaths last encountered and hearing by heart, not by ear. Finally, you are ready to accept that long-held belief.

You have secured something obligatory. This is the engagement you have been waiting to happen. The life you almost walked away from.

You are pronounced woman and writer.

But then, the anticipation grows greater, the commitment more difficult to endure. You are expected now to tend with compassion and craft with care. There are others involved now. You must think of them, and what they will think. You reflect on the days when you didn’t have to care what others thought. You knew, you just knew.

But this, this is the beacon you have followed, the elusive beam emanating from a lighthouse reachable only by rowboat or swim, neither of which you will attempt on a dark and stormy night as you once did when young. And yet, you gunnel and stroke, then paddle and butterfly.

And after ten years, your pace slowed, you find comfort in a bulging waistline rounded by poetry, prose, blogs and musings. You forget how thirsty you once were for words, forget how parched you once felt when you had gone days without words swirling round. Something else has satisfied a thirst once only quenched by words pulsing through veins.

In the long stretches of winter, you roll up in a cocoon of quilts, reach for your beloved, warmed by the routine rivulet of writing that is no longer frantic or frenetic. Words that no longer poke at you in the nighttime, but carry peace to you like a cup of lapsang souchong tea. Words that rock you to sleep.

I Can Swim, I Can Trust

IMG_6618I was five as I sat at the edge of the Y’s swimming pool, crying. My mother kept encouraging me, “Get in. Go to the teacher.” But I was utterly fearful of the water.

In my second earliest memory of water, my mother washed my hair over the sink in the stationary tubs and I cried, again with dread, “It’s getting in my eyes.”

At some point, I did conquer my anxiety through swim lessons at the indoor pool of the YMCA and the outdoor pool of Maude Neiding Park. As a matter of fact, I proceeded all the way through the lessons to earn my Red Cross Life Saver certification.

Fast forward 45 years, and now, I am trying to find water in the city of Cincinnati.

Not the Ohio River, nor the Genius of Water, nor the spray fountains of Washington Park. But real water I can dip my toes into on a breezy summer day, the last before our son comes home and I become a parent again.

Over the past two years, I have walked seemingly every inch of this neighborhood and a few more. I have spotted various city-operated swimming pools, but the pools were never in use during those early morning hours.

Last year, I walked past the Ziegler Park pool (now under reconstruction), and found it rather empty. I made a mental note that a fifty-year-old winter white woman would probably have some privacy there. I found also the play pool at the Hanna center, just north of Findlay Market, thinking I could certainly walk or ride my bike there.

Last summer must have been busy, for I never did attend any of the swim times there.

But today was different.

A previous jaunt around the West End had yielded a pleasant surprise. Once I strutted some of the back roads, I found myself behind the Lincoln CRC center. And there it was, a pool with fifty-meter lap lanes in all its shimmering chloride glory.

Of course, it was only 6:30 a.m. and still May, yet I registered its location in the back of mind, cataloguing it for the summer day when I would need it.

Today was that day.

One lesson I have learned, as a writer, is about self-care and self-reward. Both are important because I don’t hear “nice job” and very few times do I actually say, “I’m going to take a vacation today from my writing,” because my mind never does. I am busy absorbing and observing and noting and correcting what I note.

So, after submitting the final piece of a freelance work, and after sending off my manuscript to book coach for a read through and after visiting with Mom (her sun comes first), I was ready for some self-care and self-reward.

As if still an eight-year-old, I yanked on my swimsuit, rolled my towel in my backpack and headed for the Lincoln CRC pool on my bike. Only this time, I didn’t have to cross the four-lane highway of Route 58, with Mom watching in the background, and then ride on a narrow kid-made bike path to the city pool.

This time, I rode my city bike, on the city streets, one mile to the rec center.

FullSizeRender-22I was sweating as I completed the last yards of my mile and walked my bike to the window to pay for my time at the pool. When I asked about swimming laps, “Denise” told me this was her first year in the job. She handed me a book.

Wow, I thought. I only had take a swim test in the water in Amherst to swim, but here I was, on vacation from the writing, and I had reading to do.

I slipped the book in my bag, waltzed through the women’s bathroom and found a cozy spot near the corner of the long pool, where I could take in the entire scene.

I lounged in the sun for a while then finally rose up to get myself in the water. Oh wow, how cold. Then I imagined how frigid the water would feel at 6:30 am when the pool opened for laps. I took a deep breath, unsure I if I would follow through.

While water has always been a healer for me, and I had many reasons to seek it out today, what was more healing was the summer swim and camp programs for the young kids in the neighborhood. Most kids there were attending the pool through the generosity of grants and donors and city money.

Pools are hard to manage and maintain. Something always goes wrong with the plumbing. Think household toilet, times one hundred. Personal budgets are even more difficult. What I think of as pocket change is an extravagance for some of my neighbors. (Read more here about the burden of summer camps on low-income parents).

I closed my eyes and listened to the kids yelling and jumping and being yelled at for jumping, and my entire swimming journey came back to me.

How afraid I was. How my mother, lessons, and a few cute lifeguards helped me overcome my fears. How I used to watch my parents unable to swim, wade into the water, and push us deeper. How I had now gone swimming in the Pacific, Atlantic, Mediterranean, and South China Sea. I had kayaked, canoed and rafted. I had waterskied, snorkeled and paddle boarded.

Swimming for me, was about endurance, through setting a reasonable pace. Swimming equaled strength. Water offered buoyancy. But at the heart, swimming was always about trust. Trust in the water. Trust in my capabilities. I return to the water again and again, to learn to trust in the deep end of my soul.

I slipped in, while kids circled around me, some warning their friends, Swim around that woman, or don’t get her wet. But I wanted to be wet. I wanted to be those kids again. I was thankful they had the space to be just kids, yelling and screaming and jumping. And that none of them carried a fear of water, except the little one in the corner who, with his lifejacket on, every now and then, approached the water’s edge, then ran back between his father’s legs.

On occasion, I asked a few kids what part of town they lived in, did they come far (I’m sure they thought I was a weirdo) and few pointed in the direction towards low-income housing which abuts a highway, a site that’s had it share of police calls.

But they all could swim, including the young girl who stroked in my direction, and when asked, told me she had swam the entire length of the pool and, “I’m turning around and swimming the whole way back.”

I rode my bike home in a state of utter joy. I hadn’t changed anyone’s life through that brief time I was there, but I had the book Denise gave me and I was going to read it to find out what time I could swim laps and where I could send funds to help a few kids trust the water and conquer their biggest fear, trust of self.

I hope anyone reading this post, who remembers their fear of water and how they overcame that fear, will take a moment to read more about Cincinnati’s “I Can Swim” program. Or, if you have some pennies left over, to make a donation, so that all our children have the same opportunities our own children had. My check is in the mail.

Learn more about the “I Can Swim” program of CRC. 

Donations can also be directed to: Cincinnati Recreation Foundation, Attn: I CAN SWIM, 805 Central Ave, Suite 800, Cincinnati, OH 45202.

Our City’s Treasure Assays Our Own Worth

FullSizeRender-15In the two years I have called Over-the-Rhine home, I have also christened Music Hall my touchstone. As I wrote this piece, I sought out other synonyms for touchstone and learned the word’s first definition: a lack siliceous stone related to flint and formerly used to test the purity of gold and silver.

And now I know why.

Recently, the Society for the Preservation of Music Hall, and volunteers Clint and Carol in particular, opened the doors of the grand lady to let me have a look around before Music Hall closed down for renovations. The rest of the public had been welcome too, but on that day, no one else had yet to step inside.

I informed Clint that I knew the history of the building and could quote his quotes in no time, so he offered to just walk with me and answer any questions that I might have.  I didn’t want the company, wanting to soak up all of Her treble and base on my own, but I relented and Clint tagged along. We did after all, share a comon bond.

When I stepped behind the scenes, I was surprised to actually see the puckered carpet, the peeling paint, cracked FullSizeRender-18drywall, in essence Her crippled bones. The many times I had approached from the front of the house, so much space had covered by humans. When I stepped on stage, in the cavernous silence, I heard the many voices Music Hall had spawned and the many more She could birth.

I often call Music Hall She.  She has been like the Mother watching over the performers and guests, and all of those patrons of Washington Park. She has also been witness to rocketing stars and victims of pointless crimes, to people experiencing homelessness and those uniting through marriage.

She possesses a unique connection to every citizen of Cincinnati.

As Music Hall prepares to shut down, I too, must prepare for this temporary loss by reminding myself one must build with the imagination and integrity of the ancestors.  And one must hold strong to her deepest values like those who have been long-time residents of this odd-shape polygonal neighborhood.  And that one need only touch but a single person in this city of 300,000, as Music Hall has touched me, to find purity in the endeavor.

 

Musikhalle

In darkness She pauses
takes in the weight
of what She has carried
for hundreds of years –

FullSizeRender-19how She has laid down
stiff arms of brick
for others to soar,
how holes in her mortar
have absorbed croons and strains
of Sinatra and Bach
how She has risen each dawn to sing
with a timbre only she can reach.

Throughout her decades
She has been Queen
existing only
in the upper range of good
amidst darkened clouds
of falling timber
and tumbling crowds.

Now I want to caress her face
as drills invade her space
and disrupt her resonance.
Men, and its mostly men
come to work,
do they know the burden of
hammers on her heart
the piercing
of nails upon her soul.

They traipse through dust and dirt
where centuries of crumbs
mingle with their daily bread.
When they remove their Wolverines
when they scrape off heels,
do they know those specks
were once the tears She rained
and arias of Odyseus.

Do they know She dwells
in each and all atoms
of our metropolis air
despite those who protest
She never touches them at all.

I hear the drills, feel her shrills
as they carve into her
slice through her mid and mortar
which has held a city together.
Her life will be buried
behind iron and steel
as if it were that simple
to imitate the Germans’ skill.

And behind the fence
imprisoned will be
the high notes and baritones,
the sweeper and the Turners
the sangerbunds and bellringer
the ice man and washerwoman
the opera singer and magic man
the one who costumes with plumes
and one who presses collars to the stars

one whose elbow creaks when windows crack
open for sales, and cuts a finger
along the ticket’s jagged edge.

and the one to whom
on winter nights
her sigh of lullabies skip
across the frosted rooftops
to warm a cold soul.

She is near hollow now,
while the window made of rose
flutters open then close
open, then mum.

The heart of her ghost
begins to mourn.

Erica Minton, Experience Junkie

Erica MintonLast month, I had the opportunity to interview this talented poet, marketer and Cincinnati lover for Movers and Makers (formerly Express Cincinnati). Erica plans to depart Cincinnati for Colorado, after she directs the effort of transitioning Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra subscribers from Music Hall to the Taft Theatre.

However much I enjoyed learning more about Erica, I was disappointed that she too is justifiably frustrated by the lack of progressive thinking for our city, in aspects related to transportation, urban renewal and how we reach our citizens.  Will she make it back to Cincinnati? Stay tuned.

You can read the full profile in Movers and Makers here.

 

The “C” Word in the City

FullSizeRender-8I stood at the intersection of Music Hall and Washington Park with headphones partially plugged into my ears. So I didn’t hear fully what the older African-American gentleman standing nearby had mumbled to me.

That was not my normal disposition. In fact, I NEVER wore my headphones in the city.

However, it was still early and I was returning from a workout at the Y in the West End. I had been listening to a podcast of Corporate Talk with Charlie and Eva. I had been their guest and the interview was now posted online. All during my workout, through squats and planks and sit-ups, I had been slowly digesting the words of this woman who sounded so wise in the interview.

During the live recording of the show, Charlie and Eva and I had laughed and shared and dug deeper into my writing work, deeper than I had for some time. Reaching back to the far beginnings in ninth grade to present day poetry inspired by living in the city.

Writers have a hard time branding themselves. We’re just writers, we say, despite what the world of publishing wants from us and what FB and Twitter and Linkedin demands.

Writers have a hard time pushing their words onto their followers, risking it all for the sake of one, “like.”

But in that moment, while I stood at the intersection, a smile had snuck across my face. I liked listening to the woman in the interview. I liked her voice. I liked many of things she had to say. I didn’t experience any cringe-worthy moments. No gaffes, no snafus. Just honest talk about comparisons to Captain Kirk and Netti Spaghetti and courage and loss.

While I stood smiling, and marching my feet in place, the older African-American gentleman tapped on at my sleeve, speaking to me again.

“I said, you’re like Jesus today.”

I tugged at the earphones ‘til they fell from my ears.

“What do you mean,” I asked.

“I mean, you’re like Jesus today, looking all blessed with your smile.”

“I am,” I asked and said in return, “the same back to you.”

Then the light changed.

“Courage,” Host Charlie Lobosco had referred to, during the interview. “What you do takes courage.”

And I felt like the lion in Wizard of Oz, with certain courage bestowed upon me, setting my foot onto the sidewalk of this city and marking out on my own trail.

Well ahead of my fellow pedestrian, I turned back for a quick moment. My dimple had dipped deeper, forming a place on my cheeks to catch an even broader smile.