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Ugly Ohio


ISSUE:  Spring 1995
    I know what we call it
     Most of the time.
     But I have my own song for it,
     And sometimes, even today,
     I call it beauty.

—James Wright,
“Beautiful Ohio”

I don’t know why I live in Ohio,
where Stinking Creek
slithers past Hot Dog Heaven, and snowmelt
polishes the mashed, colorless weeds,
and locomotives
hunker past the beds of wasted orchards,
and the splintered windows of the Funeral Home.

Ice-stubs in the mud, swaddle of mulch:
half-hearted unfreezing, Plum Creek’s
skin of ice
salving its cuts
with its own melt—

April first, still the scab of the year.

*

All I want
is to believe
in what pleasure
a flawed world can give,

in what sunlight
is doing to the wrinkled crusts
of oakleaves
that lasted all winter,

to rejoice in the whipped
flag over Tappan Square
slapping its fifty stars,
in the quick sticks of the dead azaleas.

But I’m restless for Georgia’s
figs and Cherokee roses, the pale pink
acid juice of the pomegranate,
tangle of lilac and lavender, and sweetgums
scalded to their roots in drench-rain and lightning.

*

CLEAN DIRT

WANTED, says a wet, scribbled sign
in a pasture by the dead-end highway,
strict rows of shadow and snow
laid like a plough’s furrows.
I’ve never know what the bloated silos hold.

I could tell you
it’s beautiful, this half-frozen muck,
the stench of mudslides in sewer-bilge,
the burnt-yellow factory smoke
over cowbarns,
but it would be, like the refuge of Smalltalk,
a way of holding what’s ugly at bay—
only a metaphor, and a lie,
metaphor meaning “to bear change.”
And nothing changes,
not even in April, in the flat,
streaked streets
of my alien Ohio,
except the white crumble
of last fall’s
petrified dogturds,
suddenly under my feet in Orchard Street’s thaw.

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