Closing the Bar, Enough to Stand On, Letter to Youngstown

Closing the Bar

Backed up to our favorite piece of wall, we’re at Cedars the week before it closes and my friend says she’s been coming down since her bartender boyfriend snuck her in. So many Saturday nights of garage bands and traveling shows, lights and that sound that rattles the ribcage. Blues, grizzled harmonica player stepping up from the floor for a few numbers. Acoustic guitar by himself on the patio. Halloween costumes that took weeks to construct. All those conversations and cocktails. It’s going to reopen somewhere else in a month but everyone’s there, I haven’t seen you in years, cell phone cameras flashing. This was more than just a bar written on the wall. We danced here.

The patio is decked out in little white lights, my friends lovely in their jeans and boots and the music’s telling us to fall in love. I have a few memories here, a fundraiser for Sonny’s heart. One night my friend made me prove I could drive home so I walked the line in the parking lot singing Mull Of Kintyre O mist rolling in from the sea, even though Youngstown, Ohio, is landlocked, just a skinny river easing through the valley. And one Halloween I came down dressed as Flannery O’Connor. All night I said, A good man is hard to find, even though that isn’t true.

 

Enough to Stand On

Mud and streamers of dry grass
and candy wrappers dripped down
the porch columns, second and third attempt
at a robin’s nest. I watched her while
listening to you from Wisconsin,
your boss screaming. We’ve had rain and wind
every day, maybe the mud was too wet,
the ledge too slim, or open to storms.
When my boyfriend saw the scraps,
so much work by these small feet,
he cut plywood and widened the ledge,
said we’d fill the drilled holes later.
The robin’s been back and we’re waiting for
a glimpse of blue, little fluffs
with origami mouths. I guess
I’m telling you that sometimes much
is against us, and then here comes
a good thing we don’t even understand.
It’s luck, sure, and work, but
it’s not like we can overcome anything,
nor that we’re always sunk. If she stays,
the robin, I’ll send pictures.

 

Letter to Youngstown

Dear Youngstown, dear Mahoning River
Valley, dear Mill Creek, Brier Hill,
Cornersburg, North Heights, Austintown,
dear Poland and Liberty,
dear urban artists, suburban teenagers,
rural farmers, frackers, ichthyologists,
snappers, eagles, accidental brown bear
wandering in from Pennsylvania, dear deer
leaping into traffic, fawning surprise.

Dear kids of Connecticut Yankees,
Italians, Slovaks, Lebanese, Greeks,
Puerto Ricans, Russians, Southern Blacks,
Welsh, Indians, Appalachians, Hungarians,
Irish, eat your corned beef, pierogis,
latkes, meatballs, baklava, gyros,
falafel, greens, fish fry, tamales,
eat your wings, your ribs, your foot
long, pickled knuckles, blood
sausages, pasties, poppadums, gelato.

Let’s face it, dear, embrace it: rust+belt =
Rust Belt Brewery in the empty B&O station,
Rust Belt Artists sculpting scrap steel,
old bakery-turned-studios,
mirrors framed with wood
from fallen houses, dear potters,
your slip is showing.
Up the hill, Youngstown State U.,
dear old You Screwed Up, the dream’s
still for sale, at millennial prices.

Dear finance majors, musicians, physicists,
nurses, writers, political scientists, actors,
philosophers, first-in-the-family diploma
seekers, drop-outs, drop-ins, commuters,
scholars–forget knowing
where you came from. You know.
Remember the world is full
of places like Youngstown,
and places nothing like Youngstown.

Dear race, dear card-carrying hatred,
dear kids of the 1500 brought up
from the South to break the steel strike,
dear kids of the KKK elected to office,
black and white City Council, Wall Street
crash, demolitions list, gang symbols,
dear legal handguns, you’re killing us.

Dear urban farmer selling greens
from beds raised above the lead,
dear hoop houses, heaps of mulch
and compost, gladiolas spiking up
where there was scruff from an abandoned
lawn, wheelbarrows of urbanite off to
the landfill. Dear skinny kid packing
bags of Iron Roots spinach, you grew that,
you got your GED.

Dear Occupy Youngstown with your
OY sign in Christmas tree lights, Defend
Youngstown, Youngstown Neighborhood
Development Corporation painting curtains
on window boards to look like
someone’s home, Friends of the Mahoning,
Grow Youngstown filling my car
with organic apples and muddy potatoes,
Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative,
it ain’t over. The fat lady
isn’t even warming up. She isn’t even
on the census–walked away from that
nice house. Let’s buy it and fix it up.

Karen Schubert is recipient of a 2012 Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award and 2013 residency at Headlands Center for the Arts. Her third chapbook, I Left My Wings on a Chair (Kent State Press 2014) is a Wick Poetry Center selection. Her work appears or is forthcoming in terrain.org, Best American Poetry blog, MiPOesias, quickly, and Ohio Poetry Anthology. She received an MFA from the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts.