Archives for posts with tag: Chicago

Concrete and other measures of a neighborhood
by Patrick T. Reardon

Let me tell you about my neighborhood.
Like any neighborhood. Like yours.

In the curb, in the cement: “David 11/29/86.”
Our son, the date the city of Chicago workers poured the concrete for the curb.
He was a year old. I used my car key.

Nanay — “mother” in Tagalog, the language of the Philippines.
A grandmother already of her own family, a block away,
caring for grandchildren.
Cared for David and later Sarah when we were at work.
Became their grandmother — their Nanay.

A neighborhood of Koreans and Vietnamese,
Irish, Germans, Poles, Serbians, Croatians, Italians and Romanians,
Asian Indians and American Indians,
African-Americans and Africans from Africa,
Mexicans and Guatemalans and Columbians and Haitians
and Nicaraguans and Cubans and Peruvians,
Chinese, Filipinos, Pakistanis, Palestinians, Assyrians, Russians and…

A neighborhood of Coca Cola factory workers
and ex-priests and nursing home inspectors
and building janitors and busboys and cab drivers
and judges and crossing guards and engineers
and actors and chefs and cops and secretaries
and musicians and teachers and mechanics
and drug store workers and social workers
and waiters and…

The Major and Wally,
Lawrence and Louie, Rudy and Feli,
the house where a suicide may have occurred,
the backyard with tomato plants where David’s bicycle
was stolen by a United Nations of three 11-year-old robbers,
the townhouse where Sarah’s friend Rowena lived,
the way she pronounced “Rowena,”
the gentle slope up to Ridge Avenue,
the alleys,
the streets,
the curbs,
the sidewalks.

The precinct captain comes at election time.
Our garbage is collected. Our snow-filled streets are plowed.
Vote Democratic.

On the sidewalk along our porch, in the concrete:
“Sarah 5-6-92.”

IMAGE: Statue of young Abraham Lincoln, Senn Park, Edgewater Neighborhood, Chicago, Illinois, by Charles Keck (1945), installed in 1997.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This poem was inspired by an essay I wrote in the Chicago Tribune in 1992, which can be seen here.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Patrick T. Reardon, a lifelong Chicagoan, was a Chicago Tribune reporter for 32 years. An essayist and poet, he is the author of five books. He is writing a book about the Chicago Loop. His website is



by Stuart Dybek

I remember, though I might have dreamed it, a radio show I listened to when we lived on Eighteenth Street above the taxidermist. It was a program in which kids phoned the station and reported something they’d lost – a code ring, a cap gun, a ball, a doll – always their favorite. And worse than lost toys, pets, not just dogs and cats, but hamsters, parakeets, dime store turtles with painted shells…

Magically, by the end of the program, everything would be found. I still don’t know how they accomplished this, and recall wondering if it would work to phone in and report something I’d always wanted as missing. For it seemed to me then that something one always wanted, but never had, was his all the same, and wasn’t it lost?

SOURCE: Excerpted from The Coast of Chicago by Stuart Dybek, available at

IMAGE: St. Anthony, finder of lost things.

by Stuart Dybek

It’s the metallic hour
When birds lose perfect pitch
On a porch, three stories up,
against a copper window
facing the El,
a woman in a satin slip,
and the geraniums she waters,
turn gold.
Beneath the street the blue clapper
of a switch swings in the tunnel.
Blocks away, a crescendo overtakes
its echo, and the reverberation
is passed between strangers.
Shadows quiver like sheet metal.
High heels pace off down a platform
like one hand on a piano.
There’s a note struck every evening–
every evening held longer–
a clang only because it’s surrounded by silence,
chimes of small change
from the newsstand, trousers
full of keys and dimes
flopped on a chair beside the bed,
the tink of bracelets
as her arm sweeps back her hair.

SOURCE: Poetry (December 1986)

PHOTO: “Porch at Sunset, Chicago, 2006” by Jim Luepke, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED



by Stuart Dybek

In summer, waiting for night, we’d pose against the afterglow on corners, watching traffic cruise through the neighborhood. Sometimes, a car would go by without its headlights on and we’d all yell, “Lights!”

“Lights!” we’d keep yelling until the beams flashed on. It was usually immediate—the driver honking back thanks, or flinching embarrassed behind the steering wheel, or gunning past, and we’d see his red taillights blink on.

But there were times—who knows why?—when drunk or high, stubborn, or simply lost in that glide to somewhere else, the driver just kept driving in the dark, and all down the block we’d hear yelling from doorways and storefronts, front steps, and other corners, voices winking on like fireflies: “Lights! Your lights! Hey, lights!”

SOURCE: The Coast of Chicago: Stories by Stuart Dybek, available at

PHOTO: Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, where Stuart Dybek grew up and where many of his stories are set. Photo by Eddie Railway.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Stuart Dybek is the author of three books of fiction: I Sailed With Magellan, The Coast of Chicago, and Childhood and Other Neighborhoods. Dybek has also published two collections of poetry: Streets in Their Own Ink and Brass Knuckles. His fiction, poetry, and nonfiction have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Atlantic, Poetry, Tin House, and many other magazines, and have been widely anthologized, including work in both Best American Fiction and Best American Poetry. Among Dybek’s numerous awards are a PEN/Malamud Prize “for distinguished achievement in the short story,” a Lannan Award, a Whiting Writers Award, an Award from the Academy of Arts and Letters, several O.Henry Prizes, and fellowships from the NEA and the Guggenheim Foundation. In 2007 Dybek was awarded the a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.

by Stuart Dybek

The garments worn in flying dreams
were fashioned there—
overcoats that swooped like kites,
scarves streaming like vapor trails,
gowns ballooning into spinnakers.

In a city like that one might sail
through life led by a runaway hat.
The young scattered in whatever directions
their wild hair pointed, and gusting
into one another, fell in love.

At night, wind rippled saxophones
that hung like windchimes in pawnshop
windows, hooting through each horn
so that the streets seemed haunted
not by nighthawks, but by doves.

Pinwheels whirled from steeples
in place of crosses. At the pinnacles
of public buildings, snagged underclothes—
the only flag—flapped majestically.
And when it came time to disappear

one simply chose a thoroughfare
devoid of memories, raised a collar,
and turned his back on the wind.
I closed my eyes and stepped
into a swirl of scuttling leaves.
SOURCE: “Windy City” appears in Streets in Their Own Ink by Stuart Dybek. Copyright 2004 by Stuart Dybek. Available at

PAINTING: “Chicago Takes a Beating” (1989) by Roger Brown (1941-1997).


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Stuart Dybek is the author of three books of fiction: I Sailed With Magellan, The Coast of Chicago, and Childhood and Other Neighborhoods. Both I Sailed With Magellan and The Coast of Chicago were New York Times Notable Books, and The Coast of Chicago was a One Book One Chicago selection. Dybek has also published two collections of poetry: Streets in Their Own Ink and Brass Knuckles.  His fiction, poetry, and nonfiction have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Atlantic, Poetry, Tin House, and many other magazines, and have been widely anthologized, including work in both Best American Fiction and Best American Poetry.  Among Dybek’s numerous awards are a PEN/Malamud Prize “for distinguished achievement in the short story,” a Lannan Award, a Whiting Writers Award, an Award from the Academy of Arts and Letters, several O.Henry Prizes, and fellowships from the NEA and the Guggenheim Foundation. In 2007 Dybek was awarded the a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.

by W.S. Di Piero

Trying to find my roost   
one lidded, late afternoon,   
the consolation of color   
worked up like neediness,   
like craving chocolate,   
I’m at Art Institute favorites:   
Velasquez’s “Servant,”   
her bashful attention fixed   
to place things just right,   
Beckmann’s “Self-Portrait,”   
whose fishy fingers seem   
never to do a day’s work,   
the great stone lions outside   
monumentally pissed   
by jumbo wreaths and ribbons   
municipal good cheer   
yoked around their heads.   
Mealy mist. Furred air.   
I walk north across   
the river, Christmas lights   
crushed on skyscraper glass,   
bling stringing Michigan Ave.,   
sunlight’s last-gasp sighing   
through the artless fog.   
Vague fatigued promise hangs   
in the low darkened sky   
when bunched scrawny starlings
rattle up from trees,   
switchback and snag
like tossed rags dressing   
the bare wintering branches,   
black-on-black shining,   
and I’m in a moment   
more like a fore-moment:   
from the sidewalk, watching them   
poised without purpose,   
I feel lifted inside the common   
hazards and orders of things   
when from their stillness,   
the formal, aimless, not-waiting birds   
erupt again, clap, elated weather-
making wing-clouds changing,   
smithereened back and forth,   
now already gone to follow   
the river’s running course.
Photo: Matt Maidre (shot 12/16/08)


There are only two ways to get to Chicago. You either are born here or you arrive. Those born here have a natural claim, the automatic ownership that emerging into the world upon a certain spot has granted people, at least in their own view, since time began…Being a Chicagoan is not a matter of how long you reside here, but how it affects you. It is a process, an attitude, a state of mind.”

NEIL STEINBERG, You Were Never in Chicago

“I grew up in Chicago. And reading You Were Never in Chicago reminds me why I still think of Chicago as home even though I haven’t lived in the city for more than twenty years. Steinberg brilliantly explores the historical and contemporary city and how each of us makes (or loses) our way in it. Whether you’re a native or you just arrived at O’Hare, read this book: it will make you feel at home in Chicago. Even better, it will you make Chicago yours.” DAN SAVAGE

 ”[A] rollicking newspaperman’s memoir . . . and a strong case for Second City exceptionalism.” NEW YORK TIMES

Find the You were Never in Chicago by Neil Steinberg at


As editor of the Silver Birch Press blog I try to keep a low profile, but today I’m honored to announce that a 2,000-word excerpt entitled “Windy City Sinners” from my upcoming novel of the same name appears in the just-released Chicago Quarterly Review — find the table of contents at

Edited by Syed Afzal Haider and Elizabeth McKenzie, the edition features writers with Chicago connections — in my case, it’s where I was born and raised and where I’ve set several novels. The Chicago Issue (Vol. 17/2014) — which includes short stories, novel excerpts, essays, and interviews from a range of authors — is available at

Thank you, Chicago Quarterly Review!


Silver Birch Press GREEN ANTHOLOGY

Introduction (Excerpt)

Growing up in Chicago, one of the most anticipated events of the year occurred on St. Patrick’s Day, when the Chicago River turned shamrock green. Whether we experienced the “Shannon River”—as the dyed waterway was dubbed for the day—from a downtown bridge, saw it on TV, read about it in the newspaper, or just heard about it from someone who was there, this annual happening was a magical moment that sparked the civic imagination.


I, for one, pictured myself floating down that green river to all kinds of fantastic places—the Emerald City and other amazing locales were around each bend.

Yes, the green river…the flow of imagination—that creative stream that artists ride and then return with the bounty. And part of this bounty appears in the Silver Birch Press Green Anthology, which includes creative explorations from authors in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Europe, and Africa.

We’ve priced the collection as low as Amazon will allow us to sell a 260-page paperback ($10) and Kindle ($2.99). Our goal is to create a platform for up-and-coming writers and bring established authors to a wider audience.

If you’re looking for an inexpensive, yet unique (and we think classy and, dare we say, classic) gift, check out the paperback and Kindle versions of the Silver Birch Press Green Anthology: An Eclectic Anthology of Poetry & Prose. Thank you!



Photographs and Text by Art Shay

Foreword by David Mamet (below)

I hear the Chicago accent, and I am a gone goose. Decades of living away, acting school, speech lessons, and the desire to make myself understood in a wider world are gone, and I am saying dese, dem and dose, and am back on the corner, tapping the other fellow on the forearm to make my point, and happy. Art Shay’s writing, and his photos, have the Chicago accent, which may be to say he’s telling you the truth as he knows it, as what right-thinking person would consider doing anything else?

I remember Algren’s Chicago. I remember Algren, sitting alone, in the back at Second City, regularly. I remember the pawnshops on West Madison street—I used to shop there; Sundays at Maxwell Street, and the ventors pulling on your arm and talking in Yiddish; police headquarters at 11th and State, and getting dragged down there on this or that bogus roust when I drove a cab. Art’s photographs are so real that I reflect that I, like them, must have all occurred in black and white.

I think it takes a realist to see the humor in things. I know it takes a realist to see the depth of tragedy. Art’s work feels like the guy tapping me on the forearm.


In the book’s preface, photographer Art Shay quotes Ernest Hemingway’s assessment of Nelson Algren, after reading The Man with the Golden Arm, “…He has been around a long time but only the pros know him…This is a man writing and you should not read it if you can’t take a punch. I doubt if any of you can. Mr. Algren can hit with both hands and move around and he will kill you if you are not awfully careful…Boy, Mr. Algren, you are good.” 


Chicago’s Nelson Algren is photographer Art Shay‘s account of visits during the 1950s to Chicago’s “lower depths” with novelist Nelson Algren — at the time, a resident of the city’s Near Northwest Side.

Here’s an excerpt from book’s description from the page:  Algren gave Shay’s camera entrance into the back-alley world of Division Street, and Shay captured Algren’s poetry on film. They were masters chronicling the same patch of ground with different tools. Chicago’s Nelson Algren... [is] a deeply moving homage to the writer and his city.