Poetry

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Cities

by Lionel E. Deimel

 

Mississippi River at New Orleans

New Orleans

The Crescent City:

Much rain and yellow fever;

Bad site selection.

   

Chicago

Windy Chicago:

Grid spreads to the horizon;

Traffic everywhere.

Chicago at night
   

 Pittsburgh bridges

Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh, Steel City:

Rivers and hills and bridges;

No steel to be found.

   

Meadville, Pa.

Town of David Mead:

Once had fibers and zippers;

Now only pliers.

Channellock 440 Tongue and Groove Plier

Copyright © Channellock Inc.

Used by permission.

   

Waikiki Beach

Honolulu

Fair Honolulu:

Place of endless sun and breeze;

Boring soon enough.

   

Atlanta

Atlanta, Georgia:

Grown past all imaginings

Of Margaret Mitchell.

Atlanta skyline
   
Raleigh, on North Carolina Map

Raleigh

Raleigh: like Durham,

Apex of the Triangle;

Chapel Hill the other.

 

These haiku were inspired by e-mail from a friend returning from a business trip to New Orleans, where I grew up. He complained about the torrential rain that greeted his arrival. The message I wrote in reply contained a sentence with haiku-like meter, which I transmogrified into “New Orleans.”  The next three poems were written to provide “New Orleans” company. I attended college in Chicago and now live in a Pittsburgh suburb. For a brief time, I taught at Allegheny College in Meadville, in northwest Pennsylvania. Those poems were written in March 2001. The next two poems were written in November 2002, also about cities where I have lived. In December 2002, I wrote “Raleigh,” which completes the list of places I have lived for any substantial time.

I don’t know how much of the content of these poems I need to explain, but I’ll offer some brief notes. New Orleans, of course, is built on a swamp, roughly at sea level. In its early history, yellow fever was common. Mosquitoes and rain are still prominent features of life in the Crescent City. My judgment on the location of New Orleans seems prescient in light of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Chicago is nearly as flat as New Orleans, but the ground is more stable. From the air, the grid of streets spreads out from the lakefront as far as the eye can see. That grid is crisscrossed by expressways that, at rush hour, might be mistaken for parking lots.

Pittsburgh was once the steel-making (and air pollution) capital of the U.S. The steel mills are gone from the city now, which allows the natural beauty of the landscape to be seen. The Bridges of Pittsburgh, by Bob Regan, with photos by Tim Fabian, claims that Pittsburgh has 446 bridges. My haiku appears in this book as an example of art inspired by Pittsburgh’s bridges.

Meadville residents will understand “Meadville, Pa.,” but no one else will without an explanation. The place was founded over 200 years ago by David Mead, after whom it is named. Meadville is a town of about 16,000 people with a long, and mostly happy, industrial history.  The ’80s were unkind to Meadville, however, as the Avtex Fibers and Talon Zipper plants closed, leaving Channellock, a maker of pliers, as the best-known manufacturer in town. My apologies to readers who find this poem a stretch in a collection called “Cities.”

I lived nearly all of 1970 and 1971 in Honolulu, courtesy of the U.S. Army. Hawaii was culturally interesting, architecturally impoverished, and climatically pleasant. It did come as something of a surprise, however, that the perpetual sunshine and year-round average temperature of 75° F could, in its way, become oppressive after a time. No doubt, the phenomenon is intensified by one’s being isolated on a small island in a vast ocean. “Island fever” is endemic among extend-stay mainlanders.

I spent time in Atlanta at Georgia Tech and at the U.S. Army’s Ft. McPherson in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Southern charm was in short supply even then, but the place had many attractions for young adults. The city, unconstrained by the usual natural barriers, was rapidly becoming the expanse of urban sprawl that it is today. Do I have to tell anyone that Margaret Mitchell wrote Gone with the Wind?

Raleigh, N.C., is one of the cities forming the “Research Triangle,” the others being Durham and Chapel Hill. Within the triangle formed by these three cities is the high-tech Research Triangle Park. The three cities are well-known for their respective universities—North Carolina State, Duke, and University of North Carolina, often referred to simply as “Chapel Hill.”

— LED 10/4/2005

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