when i say Chicago

From Nate Marshall's Collection, Finna

August 11, 2020  By Nate Marshall

capital city of the flyover.
crown jewel of the jailhouse.
a town in love with its own blood,
a blood browned on its own history & funk.
hometown of the riot & the riot gear,
the gang & the loitering law.
misfit blocks of dark-skinned cousins &
thick knuckled slavic uncles
who call each other their worst names.

what this country know ’bout a rustbelt
dipped in salt & vinegar & sold as
marked up & rustic?

my city is the city.
not your close enough suburb not
subject to the suppression of tape
& the tapping of phones.
how can you say anything about our blocks
& schools & children that you refuse to see.
don’t tell us what is wrong
with all of our cousins you’ve never known.
you do not govern what you do not love.

when i say Chicago
i mean that first Haitian cat who could pronounce it right.

when i say Chicago
i mean the stopped & frisked.
i mean the euphemism of frisk.
i mean the beat down & tight cuff.
i mean the drop-off in Bridgeport
or Mount Greenwood.
i mean the lessons
taught to an uppity one.

when i say Chicago
i mean the lake
(& i mean all of it).
i mean the candy lady at Rainbow
& the paleta man at Calumet
& the kids careening across the green at Montrose
& the jogger in midwinter daring a death for fitness

when i say Chicago
i mean Cabrini & Stateway & Ickes & Ida,
the city i’ll tell my kids about in the past tense.
i mean the rents that sometimes
make me mean Georgia or Indiana or Dolton.

when i say Chicago i mean
the restaurants with no chairs
just a window, a bulletproof sneeze guard.
i mean a Michelin star for all the ethnics slanging
their seasoned meats & language.

when i say Chicago i mean my mama’s house
that was my grandma’s house.

i mean the neighborhood
that was our neighborhood
because we said
we’ll make a home here
& we’ll stay.


From the book Finna by Nate Marshall. Copyright © 2020 by Nathaniel A. Marshall. Published by One World, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Nate Marshall
Nate Marshall
Nate Marshall is an award-winning writer, rapper, educator, and editor. He is the author and editor of numerous works including Wild Hundreds and The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop. Nate is a member of The Dark Noise Collective and co-directs Crescendo Literary. He is an assistant professor of English at Colorado College. He is from the South Side of Chicago.

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