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
— LED 10/4/2005