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Inviting the Expanse

By Sondra Morin

“Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders...” -Carl Sandburg


Chicago is spiteful.
Its legs barrage through the alley
like an elephant charging a circus.
It takes your sleep, resilience and repose,
folds them into a breast plate compartment
you didn't know you had.
It lies by omission,
telling tales of poetic feuds since the 80's,
never reaching out or letting go.
It wears a yellow hat, a construction worker's gun,
takes no prisoners, leaves open wounds.
Its streets are slick with neighborhoods:
condo brick, unforgiving and gregarious.
It pulls you in, back straight, upright and determined,
masks the stale breath of an air of liberty.
Startles even the best of its citizens:
removes their badges, hides their skins.
It devours prostitutes, portrays the work of a benefactor:
a young girl disappears following the promise
of a 95th Street hotel, a boredom replaced
by a love spelled wrong.
It spits Lake Michigan back into itself,
measures water levels, reroutes systems, reverses rivers.
It lifts its shoulders, a beacon against the expanse,
one last leg of civilization before a slow crawl tractor
of wheat against the west and east,
says, "I’m not budging," when asked to give a little,
to support a common good.
Purports a political bias against Venezuelan gifts
returned for its stance on oil: a patriotism freezing houses.
It hammers you to sleep. Reminds you there's little good to be done,
that just you wait.
It expects the dawn each morning,
makes plans to plant a garden next summer,
and forgets to water the rhododendrons in spring.


About Sondra Morin

Letters to Mamma

By Martini Harkert

February 4, 2002

Dear Mamma,

Do you recall the first time we stood together on the steps to the courthouse? I do.  It was raining and dreary. The clouds were heavy, but not as heavy as our hearts. The huge concrete steps smelled wet and moldy.  The bottom seemed a million miles away from the huge double glass doors at the top.  I asked you what those large gray archways were. You said they were metal detectors. There were a lot of men in brown suits with gun belts on their waists. When they took Rodney away in that orange jumpsuit, handcuffed and shackled, we both wept.  I was twelve.

Time went by, and things went bad.  You cried all the time, at least until the booze came around.  Then, you only cried until the first bottle was empty.  I used to sit in my room waiting for the tears to stop. I learned a lot on those Saturday afternoon visits we took up state to Joliet.  I learned even more on those long lonely nights, while you lay passed out on the worn brown tweed sofa.  I learned to cook. I learned to clean, but most of all I learned the streets.

I heard that pot was a gateway drug, but I never believed it. I do now. I smoked it; I sold it; I even stole for it. Mamma, I know you tried to stay away from the liquor. And you tried to keep me from doing the things Rodney had done, but…  At sixteen, I met Marla, at seventeen, I became a daddy; at eighteen, I caught a case of my own, armed robbery. At nineteen, I was another Rodney.

Mamma, I was scared coming into this place. Two tiers of gray and white metal. Railings wrapped around the entire top floor. The stairs seemed to reach the sky, something I wouldn't be seeing for a long time. It felt like I had just walked into the monkey house at the zoo. The noise from the other inmates whooping and hollering--- "New meat on the block…" --- A giant green ball of spit and snot landed on my left cheek. Trash flew from every direction. I was terrified. My throat had gone as dry as the desert, and my legs had gone weak.  I was afraid they would give out at any time and I would fall flat on my face.

I finally reached my cell. It's an eight by twelve concrete room with two metal bunks, a stainless steel sink, and a toilet to match. There are no windows to the outside. There are no windows anywhere except for on the heavy steel door that locks me off from the rest of the world. The sound of it when it slides closed and the lock settles into place is chilling.


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