a-path-1908 nicholas roerich copy
The Day the Streets Rose Up
by Dick Westheimer

Cincinnati streets to close so restaurants can use
outdoor space for seating
                         Cincinnati Enquirer, May 8, 2020

In the second week of the second month
of the great slowdown of 2020, the streets
lined up for blocks around the Capital
and held up signs that once read Stop and No Parking,
that now proclaimed Set Us Free!

Keep at bay, they say, the heavy burden,
the cars and trucks we’ve carried.
Let the ground beneath us breath free, relieved
of the fearsome weight you’ve put upon us. The soil
whispers up through the press of pavement.

It longs for the feel of human feet treading lightly on its spine,
awaits the chatter of conversation instead of the roar
of road machines, yearns for laughter and the clatter of china
replacing screeching tires and clanging horns, imagines
the aroma of fresh bread and the exile of exhaust fumes.

And in the hush quiet after-hours
when all the people have padded away, silence.

The earth will dream of roots, the pavement will sigh
like an ox unyoked, the signposts will twine like lovers.
And as the streetlights dim, the brownstones will huddle ‘round
and sing lullabies to the bench sleepers.

I will peak from a side alley and weep at all the times
I’d plied those roads, forgotten what lay beneath them—
hunting grounds, the far-reaching roots of virgin forest beeches,
voles and ant colonies, beetles and moles and badger dens.

Now, only the faintest whips
of mycelium survive, still in touch with
the wild cousins, miles away. They await
the day of a greater slowdown yet to come.

PAINTING: A path by Nicholas Roerich (1908).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: In the early days of the pandemic, amid the heartache and suffering, green sprouts emerged. The air cleared due to lack of automobile traffic, a sense of collective effort prevailed in many parts of the community, and here in Cincinnati, some streets were closed to car traffic in favor of pedestrians and outdoor dining. The image of the soil beneath the streets relieved of the weight and cacophony of vehicles became the impetus for me imagining—via the writing process—just what a world might feel and look like. Relief indeed.

Westheimer copy

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dick Westheimer has—in the company of his wife Debbie—lived, gardened, and raised five children on their plot of land in rural southwest Ohio. He has taken up with poets and the writing of poetry to make sense of the world. He is a Rattle Poetry Prize finalist. In addition to Rattle, his poems have appeared in Pine Mountain Sand and Gravel, Rise Up Review, and Sheila Na-Gig, among others. You can find links to Dick’s poems and other musings at dickwestheimer.com.