Saturday, July 23, 2011

Interlude at the Ohio Street Beach

Interlude at the Ohio Street Beach
A Visual Interlude With an Excursion to the Land Shark Beer Garden at Navy Pier

Waters restlessly, with every motion, slipping out of used colors for new. So that each fresh wind off the lake washed the prairie grasses with used sea-colors: the prairie moved in the light like a secondhand sea.

- Nelson Algren, Chicago: City on the Make, page 10

Always Chicago seems ready to topple into the water. On this heat-drenched Friday afternoon the office clerks, businessmen and Captains of Industry move through a blistering canyon of concrete, chrome, brick and steel. The skyscrapers throw the heat back at the sky. Walk barefoot in the sand and for a moment this is some primordial shore, ancient and abandoned to the vestiges of Time. Light and water are mesmerizing. The sound of a 200 horsepower Evinrude interrupts the sunbathers and irks the gulls that swoop in for the picnicker’s crumbs. Walking through the park the sun lances the water and spills shattered reflections across the waves. There are silent places here, gentle and solitary, a small oasis from the turmoil of concrete and steel. Whatever we think of as civilization is no more. Of course it’s an illusion, but the city seems empty. You are alone here, the last survivor; and the sun slowly drops through a molten sky.
An hour later I’m drinking from a plastic cup in the Land Shark Beer Garden as the band Maggie Speaks lays down some hot music on hot day and everybody is dancing. The crowd is sweaty, happy, dancing and giddy with sun, water and beer. The music is great and the band has everyone clapping. Now, at last, it’s not unusual to see people smile. Music does that, and maybe a little bit of the Land Shark. And for a moment I remembered a day thirty years ago when I watched Muddy Waters play here; and a few years after that when the pier was still a dilapidated tarmac and Sullivan and I had stumbled drunk from a ship dry-docked in Time and laughing loudly. Now I alone am left to tell the tale, and the people dancing about me are the adult children of the crowd we once ran with. It’s good to see these friends, strangers all, smiling and dancing.
On days like this the poems write themselves.

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