Big Hole Where Illinois Used to Be

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Chicago Southland. I left the Toyota parked in South Holland over the Fall and the battery started leaking. So I replaced the battery, got the nodes all lubed up. Running up and down E 162nd and S Halsted. Between the auto parts, the burgers with dressings, the shopping centers, Wampum Lakes Woods. In quiet solemnity passing the Memorial Gardens en route through the big hole to either side of the errands.

It makes sense from the municipal way of thinking, to put the cemeteries over by the quarry. Over by that big hole where Illinois used to be. But it’s something very obscene when you think about it.

How big are we talkin’ about? Well, at some points it’s deep enough to bury the Merchandise Center. It’s large enough to stretch out the Loop to either long side and to split the Magnificent Mile between the two shorter ones. The numbers suggest you could even bury five Merchandise Centers. The former largest building into the former largest grave. Or you could just pack in the neighboring village of Thornton and a good chunk of South Holland, too. Pack it in and fill it up.

Pays des Illinois. Gurdon Saltonstall Hubbard acquired the land from the Pottawatomi sometime before opening Chicagoland’s first stockyard. He didn’t like the rock, I guess. It’s aggregate. What’s aggregate? You know, it’s the mechanically separated beef of the geological scene. Hubbard came from Vermont along the old French fur routes. He had learned Pottawatomi, and he had married a young “squaw”. Had two children that died in infancy. He married a woman from Ohio who died nine years later. Then in the good New England tradition he married his cousin. All that is to say, Hubbard was a man of the world who in short order made the world of the man Hubbard. And at some point he had the first shovelful of Illinois removed from the area, inaugurating the Thornton Quarry. Where did all that Illinois go off to, you ask? Cement, mostly. That Illinois got smeared along the trodden paths of other parts of Illinois and the Chicago Tri-State area.

The aggregated I-80/I-294/Tri-State Tollway crosses the hole on a dry dike elevated hundreds of feet above its bottom. There are loads bound for Salt Lake, commuters coming from Valparaiso, Indiana. The traffic is thick above this hole. Like the fireworks signs, it’s all just a given. The scenery of urban interference. The absence of the earth from which the metropolis was fashioned. They don’t know about the cemeteries. You see, interring these folks six feet below beside this 400 foot crater is a bit of an obscenity. At least bury the Merchandise Center beside them. Four million square feet of afterlife retail space.

So I left the Toyota in South Holland for the Winter. When I came back the battery was dead again. I remember it was about ten below freezing outside that night and I had to curl up beneath an emergency blanket in that little hatchback. Drinking some tequila, trying to stay warm with the occasional aid of a propane heater. I watched the snow gently fall into the big hole where Illinois used to be, and I never had any doubts about the situation after that.

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Watermelon in a Dry, Dry Place

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Emery County, Utah.

People’s favorite melons are the ones that ripen first.
When you crack open the melons or the tour buses or the truck stops the moistness comes trickling out.

The bus came via I-70, I-15 from L.A., the green Han character on the side packed together all the meaning which was visible on that side of the parking lot:

flow/stream; place + person = flags waving; to swim, to float, to wade…

flowing stream of swimming, floating persons wading through places of waving flags…

“TOUR,” it said. Damn it, Chinese is a fine language. Past that thick rind of recognition is all the juice of centuries.

“游”… from the oracle bones of the Shang Dynasty to the brush strokes of the Opium Wars to the refitted Greyhound bus with California plates parked in the truck stop across from the watermelon stand.

People’s favorite melons are the ones that ripen first.
Have you ever seen a tongue preparing the lips with a perversely wet massage while the rest of the body dried and cracked and blistered under the Panama hat of a middle-aged father from Guangzhou? In Utah?
Thinking of the Cantonese watermelons, the Yellow River watermelons, all the watermelons of home, while his children browsed the Chinese-made National Park souvenirs and Native American toys in the air-conditioned building.

The thick rind obstinate, preserving the water inside for you.
Before we could tame deserts we needed to tame the melon.
People’s favorite melons are the ones that ripen first.

Tactile Afterlife

Originally published in Heron Clan VI

I was at the age to guard the way the creek flowed like
it was some penmanship of larger men into the brown Carolina
and since waited on the country road and backwoods bridge

to become the compassionate elder viewing young catastrophes
and stepping panic stricken out into the power line clearing
as into the incisions of the black bear through hickory bark.

Then the dogwood blossoms fell before you knew it,
and with a vomit of flora the pessimism echo was muffled
as only I now recall how one or the other will first die.

Though in that green fury I am elated that it may be me.
The revolutionist’s preference is to explode like spring spores.
To collapse like the winter buck is the blackest rot.

Such interest in the produce of minds, you know, but
Carolina grows and grows again out of the cavities of
unevacuated chests – it may only be so.

Good News Crackles

Originally published in Heron Clan VI

Driving through the Carolina forests late
at night and the radio moves from music with
advice to music with recipes. Then come the
Jesus stations – all 20 or so. One, then
another. Eventually one reaches out to you,
between the trees and through your headlights,
out of the products and pop songs, splitting
apart the comfortable and the beautiful and
the meaningful people like storm clouds overhead,
and it grabs you by the lapels. It’s been

looking for You, has a message for You. It
has a job. For You. An audio exit opens in
the highway and you’re on it. Exit 81.7 FM,
downtown Jerusalem, Edge of Empire, USA. When
it’s all over you keep it like a psalm in the
glove box, unfolding it for a second in the
parking lot before work, or you read it out
loud in the break room. Because Carolina has
some comfortable, beautiful, meaningful, dark
clouds hovering over it. Good news crackles

on the airwaves, and somewhere sometime it’s
got to rip. Prosperity will rain down on the
forests and the forest people will become
woodland titans. Pulled teeth will resprout.
Lost jobs will be found. We might even buy
back the farm. So think the dry bones
on the Carolina highways at night.

Hillbilly of Monterey Bay

Originally published in Heron Clan VI

Hillbilly Larry and I looked back on all
those America places that weren’t beaches
and we probably thunk a spell on all
those beach places that weren’t America.
We poked a dead bloated seal with a stick and
pointed to a flat otter on the road and he said
“you know I don’t read,” and I said, “neither
do most, honky,” an’ that’d be why the

Steinbeck Center was back in town and
Hillbilly Larry and I are walking among the
lettuce in flip-flops an’ West Virginia Reeboks
talkin’ the cardinal directions what organize us.
Lar never saw the ocean before and I
hadn’t seen a tent city for a few days but
I looked at Larry and I pointed out to sea
“I ain’t ‘splainin nothin’ to you, Larry. Go

get knocked around by a coupla waves,
then we’ll get drunk and I’ll talk about all the
beach towns I know back East.” Lar knew
better ‘an that… “‘slong as I don’t wind up
suppin’ on a young girl’s breast or lookin’
out there thinkin’ a rabbits,” “I’m tired of
your hillbilly crap, Larry,” I said, “go swim!
I want you to text me from China by noon.”