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I am writing a novel, but I still persist – I am a poet at heart.

I am writing a novel about my grandfather and mother. The narrator is like a ghost, an empty vessel through which her grandfather’s stories find presence, worth.

These stories are not truth – fractured memories. I wonder how many of my memories, all those moments stitched into the very fabric of me, are real, true. I wonder how many I adopted, stole from strangers. How many dreams sabotaged my reality; how many nights I’ve spent, subconsciously weaving fictions, half-truths.

This is a story about reality and its fictions. It’s all a lie – the only way to live in a city like Cleveland. I remember it’s brick and steel, the cracked concrete facades that followed me, spinning out into basement bars and apartment rooms without doors or furniture. I remember men and women, all children, casting out into the night. The streets were wide, the lake was shallow, and the world began and ended at the scars on my grandfather’s hands.

I loved people in Cleveland. I despised sleep.

I lived fast in Cleveland and fell hard into any number of waiting arms and bodies.

There was always a man with a guitar on a mattress, drunk-strumming the night, resisting sleep until the bitter end.

Cleveland is a story of leaving and near regrets disguised as pride; poverty worn like a badge, a reason to exist and persist against the dimming horizon, to distrust anything beyond the struggle, to depend upon backyard BBQ’a, 64 packs of bud light, wings, pig roasts, and the stream of teenagers in June who climb into their parent’s cars and never come back.

Because this is our city. The mills and the factories all boarded up in red paint, standing relics of our past wrapped up in the present.

We don’t belong; we don’t belong.

Inside, against the impossibility of existing here – on a lake in a city, all that fire inside burning.

I love Cleveland. All the roads I chased, aimlessly, in heels and glitter.

I loved the smell of it, the sweat of it, the heat or at least, the memory of fire wrapped up in humidity, rain.

Softball games and endless highways, yellow lines tangled in maple leaves and a strange, pale haze just over the West.

There are stories, but they are not a fiction.

I remember laying on the beach in the late fall, the snow catching the rocks and gravel with Leo and James and Ian, shirtless and thin the way that all high school boys are. Open bottles of wine, two towels and the gulls outline the shore. The cove and the lighthouse, the street mimics the sand, lines its borders in large brick houses and grass-less yards.  Glass and shells, driftwood, plumes of smoke and an orange haze to the west over the city. Music blares from the dockside bar. There are lights in the water, slipping in and out of the ice fields that encase the island.

I think about writing when I think about them

in Cleveland

the electric paper cut into strips

the ways I choose to fill space

 

I imagine the stories I’ll tell our could have been children

I imagine how they’ll write us

one of them must be a poet

I’ve decided

our involved language

we stitched

in Cleveland

 

its  refrain

repetition

the phone calls

the lost emails

in Cleveland

I’ve never loved a city

I still can’t

I’ve tried

The crossed lines of the apartment and the textured walls we walked all morning with the windows and blinds open.

I imagined them and remembered dancing in the water in a blue dress lined by lace. The folds caught on the rocks and filled with water.

The turns were slow but my toes were sharp and arched, my arms were straight.

My mother swam alongside my grandfather across the lake. In the shallows, their hands clawed the sand. They ate on the beach. Their legs never left the water.

I never wanted anything but lights

the glass in the waves

I never wanted the waves just the light they kept

there is no ocean but there is light

just the ice and the black I caught between the bricks that lined the road and buildings around us.

 

 

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