I am surprised by the streets of Chicago
when the palm of winter grips them with snow
as if to forgive the city’s mistakes
and give it a canvas that’s new, white, and clean–
its fingers, the branches on all of the trees
kneading the air that blows in from the lake.
I’ve never lived next to the pulse of the lake
(until I set foot down the side of Chicago)
breathing in through the streets and out through the trees
welcoming the cool of the wet, numbing snow.
It lets my mind slip into thinking it’s clean
as if to personally forgive my mistakes.
“But what have you done to forgive your mistakes? ”
Did I ask this? Or is that the voice of the lake?
Some days, not even does it appear clean,
worn down from its tall standing neighbor, Chicago.
It scrapes at the sky, asking it for more snow
to stick to and freeze the trunks of the trees.
If I were a branch on one of these trees
incapable of making a single mistake,
I’d grab at the sky as it shook out the snow
and grow my roots thick till they tasted the lake.
But I wouldn’t bend to the force of Chicago
that’s constantly keeping me from being clean.
And what does it mean to try to be clean?
I don’t understand the stillness of the trees
when they’re being attacked by the size of Chicago
as if to glorify the city’s mistakes
that glisten like stars at night on the lake
before it all froze and was covered with snow.
Ah! To imagine how long there’s been snow.
How can something this old still feel so clean
and dance through the wind that swoops in from the lake?
Is it the kneading by the spiny branches on trees
trusting that there will be no more mistakes
that leaves these the only pure thing in Chicago?
Here comes the snow that seeks out the trees
Am I now clean? Where are my mistakes?
Chicago belongs where it lay with the lake.
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Comments about this poem (Chicago Sestina by Brian Maloney )
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