I am sitting at a window in the lounge
of a swank hotel looking out on
Lake Shore Drive in Chicago,
where I do not belong.
An Asian boy sits across from me,
his arms over his knees,
his face buried in his arms, wires
running to his ears, a Red Bull
in front of him. He is deep
into himself, oblivious to me and everybody
else, while I watch and listen and sketch,
in words, whatever I can take in.
I have never tasted a Red Bull.
Across the street is a park and I think
maybe it’s Grant Park. Snow swirls crazily,
beautifully, down from a neutral sky,
and in the sky are branches of trees
black and delicate
that I would draw if I could draw
though these letters are a kind of tracery.
And because I think the park across the street
is Grant Park I am thinking
of 1968, which I can do because I am
nearly sixty, too young to have been there
in Chicago in 1968, and living on a farm
in Tennessee to boot, but I was
a precocious child and not much got past me.
Life, Look, it was all there, in the daily mail,
the library, the wire rack at the corner drugstore.
All kinds of people, mostly Americans I assume,
walk past the window. There’s a clutch
of smokers by the revolving door, huddled
in the intimacy of their exile.
And now these young girls with fluorescent hair
and unfathomable piercings, skinhead
skateboarders, a gay couple talking madly
and gesturing like they’re in a play.
The Asian boy stretches his arms
as if in supplication or despair,
and I ask if he’s all right. He is,
I guess, but the Red Bull doesn’t seem
to do much for his vacant eyes.
A young black guy in a lavender Nehru jacket
strolls by looking like an extra
from the Sergeant Pepper cover shoot,
his cornrows intricately braided
like the branches of the trees across the street
that I would draw if I could draw.
My page fills with words.
These are the people, yes, the people,
my fellow Americans, March 3, 2012, in the gray
and lovely city of Chicago, where I do not belong.
Davy Jones, the Monkee, has just died
and somehow that doesn’t seem right.
Many are gone now, fleeting figures
framed brilliantly in a window,
their departures sad but hardly surprising.
Evening is coming on, the Asian boy
is gone, and the dimming sky absorbs the black
traceries of the tree limbs across the street
in the park where Phil Ochs once sang some tune
nobody out there now would remember
of a lost America, not of love, no,
not that, and not of war, either,
but something concrete — the cornfields
of Indiana, one state over, a boy
racing a hotrod into eternity —
as I sit in the darkening window
of a swank hotel on a street in Chicago.