Mama Says

(Plain Press, March 2006) In his poem, “The Waste Land,” T.S. Eliot asserts “April is the cruelest month.” Which goes to show that Mr. Eliot never experienced March in Cleveland.

Granted, at the tale end of this particular Northeastern Ohio winter, we are drinking a far smaller draft of winter’s bitter dregs than usual. There have been more blue-sky days, less soot-blackened slush along the roadside.

But still, there are months’ of soggy accumulated litter. And while I am truly grateful for January afternoons of yard work, the beauties of Cleveland are still harder to bring to mind in March than in any other month. All the more reason to make a special effort, I guess. How do I love thee, oh Cleveland?  Well, let me think.

I love your snow shovelers, for one.  I love your zinnia planters, sidewalk sweepers, painters-of-murals on underpasses. Though few in number and thinly spread across your vast acreage, these good citizens are the Devonian limestone on which stand your bridges, your bank headquarters, your public housing complexes.

I love your deep and fertile roots: senior citizen gymnasts at local Sokol units, six-year-olds learning their grandmothers’ Hungarian, thin-sliced onions gently frying in brown butter.

I even love your gray-clouded skies blanketing the city in these last deep days before spring. Not smothering your gasping inhabitants, but swaddling them together for shared warmth. I love your parish suppers, your fish fries, your Saturday evenings and slow Sunday afternoons when music and coffee and kolache can be had for a freewill donation within rose-tinted sanctuaries or the cinderblock walls of church basements.

I love your clapboard houses, your pickup trucks and chicken coops. When your adopted sons and daughters left their dairies, their cornfields, or the lonely rural hollows of West Virginia and Puerto Rico, their homes took flight with them and settled here on new foundations.

And although it may shame my tree-hugging soul to admit it, I love your smokestacks, when they breathe forth the steam of industry and not some carcinogenic particulate or another. I love your lunch buckets, your mud-crusted steel-toe boots and tawny Carhartts. I love your manufacturing men and your hard-hatted women.

Oh, Cleveland, in the springtime how I love your ringing hammers and your air-powered tools! The wakening on weekend mornings to the thrum of mowers and the call of neighbors at work cleaning winter’s debris from gutters. The rattle of aluminum ladders, the hum of industrious home repair.

And, listening still, I hear your speech that I love: “Where are you at?” and “work that needs done.” Your nasally tones and your “pop,” not “soda. Your stop-short rhythms, your statements that end in rising notes, like questions.

And, ah, my Cleveland, how I do love your summer months? Yes, though full many a firecracker is chucked in thy alleyways and playgrounds twixt May and September, there is yet a summer peace to thee. There is the green grass of your tree lawns, mellowing to gold by the All Star break. There are the evening walks to your icy public pools, landscapes, still lifes and hopscotch grids chalked on your sidewalks, stilt-walkers in gaudy garments and dancers threading through the streets of Public Square. How your grand and hopeful cultural experiments nourish my urban soul!

March shall end, and the city shall send dumpsters, oh Cleveland. Thy yuppies and thy block club members will scour thy riverbanks and industrial byways for garbage and abandoned tires. And bright shall be the day.


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