Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2018  Vol. 17 No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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Mid-February at Navy Pier

From the far end of the pier I can see where
the sprawl of skyscrapers stops. The taxi I took

is still parked, Venetian mask hanging from the rearview
mirror, its gold sequins dulled and eyes vacant.

At this time of year it is empty.
Surface indistinguishable from sky,

from the gray expanse of it all. Snow falls over the lake
behind me and sticks to the mounted binoculars at the railing.

The shore’s edge has frozen into a white strip of bone
holding the lake in place against the cement and docked boats.

I can’t name what pushed me
to return to this place

where the curved glass of the Crystal Gardens catches only
the blankness of the day above the stilled carousel

and Ferris wheel. The carnival whirling from the ’90s comes back
now, though is gone, mostly, from the pier.

Back then, when I was supposed to be
happy like the other children,

I felt shrunken in the crowds. A burnt glow hovered
around the carts with roasted pecans in paper cones

and vendors selling odd trinkets—long beads, polished stones,
cartoon figurines, wooden snakes perforated along the sides

so that when held at the tail
they careened in the air.

I couldn’t know then that all of it would come back,
that hollow terror of loneliness

above the carousel’s warped mirrors where a pale statue
of a woman’s head gapes downward at the horses frozen

mid-stride, their eyes blank
and teeth reared back in fury.

Her lips are painted red. I can’t place this fear, precise
only because it is recognizable now and still spins me

further into something insignificant. And what’s left
of that time wants to be significant.

The Ferris wheel spokes fan into clouds
that stretch themselves thin

like breath, breath the only thing a place becomes
after settling into memory. I turn my back

to the pier’s length and stare across the uneven surface
of the lake. Footsteps scratch over the salted ground,

then pause in front of me.
A woman twists a quarter

into mounted binoculars and peers away from all
she, too, can’t name, her figure almost vaporous.  

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