Chicago - Nov. 15, 2018
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Chicagoetry: West Town Blues

West Town Blues

Rose of Sharon thrived in the odd patch of hard dirt
Amid the asphalt, concrete and steel when I lived in West Town.

Defiant rose, city rose, hard rose. "Jaybird, when Joey the Clown
Ran the neighborhood, women could walk home from work

At 2:30 in the morning and feel safe," declared my landlord, Dominic.
I would watch my neighbors celebrate their daughter's Quinceanera

Across the back alley, uncertain what it was at first but
Guessing it was a coming of age ceremony in the Hispanic community

Like Confirmation or Bar Mitzvah. Right:
When a young woman turns fifteen, when the rose grows thorns.

For decades, when ethnicities were segregated
By neighborhood, West Town was largely Italian.

Dominic had houses throughout a three-block radius, his investment portfolio.
True to form, he was secretive about the basement.

The water heater was just one of many cut corners.
One time I found him down there kibitzing the repairman

To NOT repair the thing properly because the replacement parts
Would cost too much.

Lately it became a more Hispanic neighborhood,
Though the "white" folk were still mostly Old School

Italian. Like, literal stone-cutter Italians, descended from the
Original residents. Then one morning, I get in my car

To run errands, and here comes Dominic,
In the middle of the morning street, loudly, and with a smile:

"I'd vote for a nigger, Jay, before I'd vote
For your Irish buddy Daley!"

I hadn't asked. Him, and the remnants of a legacy where it mattered
Which white you were and

When one revered men like Joey the Clown.
Fuckin' Dominic.

This is how they roll: bigots can't wait
To trot out their slurs, especially if they think

You'll be offended. I did wonder

How I hadn't "passed," what with my English Protestant sounding
Last name, how he sussed that I was Potato Famine

Irish on both sides. This was my West Town
From 1987 until 2007, when the Developers

Finally took moved in. I faced the music: "You got to move."
So: west up Grand to Humboldt Park. Many ethnic Chicagoans followed

A common diagonal boulevard upwards and outwards by generation:
Poles up Milwaukee, Germans up Lincoln, Scandinavians up Clark, etc.

For the Italians, west up Grand to Elmwood Park
Where they finally found Joey in hiding at a friend's,

On the lam in '05. Late in life, he fled
His home on Ohio Street just west of Hoyne,

A block from my old flat, charged with racketeering,
Extortion and loan sharking. He'd grown a long beard

A la Saddam Hussein. Beard of thorns.
Hard rose. I wonder how he voted.

-

J.J. Tindall is the Beachwood's poet-in-residence. He welcomes your comments. Chicagoetry is an exclusive Beachwood collection-in-progress.

-

More Tindall:

* Chicagoetry: The Book

* Ready To Rock: The Music

* The Viral Video: The Match Game Dance



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Posted on October 15, 2018


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