Charles Belbin


Hyde Park
(Chicago) Revisit

Into the openness
of then and now
where footfall was
thirty-five years ago
footprints for
a moment in the
skittering snow
and whirled away
again.  Walking
past the old book
store, past the
library, into the
old bar still here.
The winter light
diminishes, it's just
past solstice, the
bare trees etch into
the gray wintry sky
filling the bar window.
The weight of years
is actually light  how
could you hold them?

Thought, still think
Rockefeller Chapel
an oxymoron.
Meeting a gentilhomme
de la rue in the courtyard
of St. Thomas Apostle,
two gray beards discussing
the angels, small swirls of
snow across the stone.
On down the quiet
Advent sidewalk to a
sign between old
apartment buildings
announcing the McCormick
Theological Seminary,
institutional stone and
the fact of the man
in the street, home 
a cart in the park,
and wonder if they
somehow missed him.
The import and studied
theology of those
gospels would seem
to call the students
out their professors
in hurried leadership
to rush across the park
to honor, host, break
bread and church
their carted king.

Kamo no Chomei says
buildings themselves are
as transient as bubbles
on the flowing waters.
Back to view an old
apartment, an empty
corner lot. Gone, the
good hardwood floors,
the fine paneling of a
bygone era, the nails,
the familiar feel of a
doorknob, the blood
in a pool in the vestibule,
a line of red drops
under a doorway,
nothing ever said, the
too many children, the
red beans and rice and
pig tails, the mayonnaise
sandwiches of end of
the month waiting for
the check to arrive,
responsibilities
impossible to fulfill,
the analgesic
temptations, the
final shot.  Married
to poverty and
widowed to poverty.
The university streets
full of elegant churches.

Knew one who caught
the university between
its public profession of
equality and its ownership
of segregated housing,
a budding lawyer who
read the fine print,
thirty-five years it's still
staid and segregated.

Sat on the worn
wood steps leading
to an old backporch
treasuring the words
of Brooks flowing
resonantly into the pure
landscape of Woodlawn:
'My last defense
is the present tense.'

People come and
go, wood rots
away, stone itself
crumbles, does the
ideal remain?

A steaming cup
of the tea
of the moment,
of memory,
hands warmed
about it slowly
brought to lip:
one night to 
47th St. to hear
Coltrane.  (At
what was it, the
Blue Flame?) The
scrape and grind
of chairs, the jangle
and chinking of bottles
and glasses, the
cacophony of urban
bar life.  And then
he began to work
and he worked hard;
what is it we humans
do  think and feel  
and he worked that 
back and forth, up 
and down, building
and shaping, reshaping,
rebuilding through a 
long solo of about 
forty-five minutes
and there were ten
minutes in there
ten minutes of utter
transport, those
of us along the old
lunch counter, those
at the tables, those
mingling, those
working there were
all taken, lifted
into exhilaration;
ten minutes of
such intensity
that the world
dropped away
and we were
transported
to another
shore.

Another sip
of that cup:
once with a
friend to hear
in this very
back bar room
the poet Stryk,
a balance of 
song and sitting:
in a sheaf of
Chicago poems
one of a child
awed by a
hot air balloon
which like the
warmth of poetic
breath took one
away and brought
one back, here.
One of a return
to an old early
neighborhood where
friend's mother also
had grown up, this
moment, that
moment, generational.
As the moon
'snared' in pine
boughs or to sit
in a temple and
hear the 'black'
rain on the roof
or be still as the
rocks of Sesshu,
'firmness is all,'
that sense, here
in the breath
above the cup.

Hand out, money
in the pocket, an
exchange and a
blessing.  Soft
hearted and a
fool, still soft
hearted and a
fool and still
a little too proud
of it.  But perhaps
having been a fool,
a little wise and
certainly blessed,
and as with all
blessings, unearned
and undeserved.

Found a culture
in the streets as
viable as that
institutionalized
in the university
buildings.  "What
goes around,
comes around."
Think, thought
that's as good as
anything in Heraclitus.
First heard on
a street corner
as a bottle was
going around.

So young, so
desperate, so
wanting and so in
need, the tail lights
of the cars disappear
down the street
and thoughts drift
into the wind and
those who walk
the sidewalks become
thoughts in the minds
of those who later
walk the sidewalks
watching footprints
disappear in melting snow.