From afar…definitely

Photo courtesy: National Geographic



I can’t take my eyes from it:
This photograph of my portion of the Earth.
I stare and stare,
Pick up my small magnifying glass
And still see no cities.
I know where Chicago should be,
It’s just not there in this earthscape
Shot from 440 miles above.
I can see the lower shoreline of Lake Michigan,
How it has been pushed into the outline of the lake.
I see the shallowness of the shore,
Knowing it is man-made over the years.
But where is the Hancock, the Sears?
Where are the other magnificent buildings
Which make up my own skyline?
Where are the expressways
Upon which we rely to get from Point A to Point B?
Where is my neighborhood
So important to local politicians?

Where is Chicago, city of big shoulders?
It is only a lighter tone, just a hair lighter,
Than the rest of the terrain.

When I board the Blue Line,
It takes more than half an hour from North Avenue
To arrive at O’Hare.
The Blue Line is not apparent in this photograph,
Nor is O’Hare Airport;
Nor are the Red, Brown, Green, Orange, Purple or Yellow Swift Lines.
There is only the lighter tone, just a hair lighter,
Than the rest of the terrain.

Where are we, the people,
Who make this city run?
There is only terrain
Separated by waters.
No Stock Exchange, no Board of Trade,
No evidence of the Internet,
No Picasso, no Dubuffet,
No City Hall, no corruption visible.
The City of Chicago is reduced to only a lighter tone,
Just a hair lighter,
Than the prairie terrain.

Not one recognizable human being,
No mayor, no homeless man,
Is discernible in this photograph
Taken from 440 miles above the Earth.
No Magnificent Mile, no garbage dumps,
No power grid, no lakeside estates.
Just the Great Lakes, the Mississippi River,
The smaller rivers and lakes.
Off to the right are Cape Cod and Long Island,
Also important places in our world,
Obviously less important in this photograph.

Where is Chicago, what is Chicago?
Is the photograph real?
Are things not visible
Seen by the Creator?
Or does He/She glance contented
That it is good, still good?

Where are the tourists, hand in hand,
Walking Michigan Avenue
Hoping to not be mugged?
The immigrants arriving from their various countries?
The sculptures, old and new?
The gardens, parks and conservatories?
The colleges and universities?
Where are they?

This photograph shows little
Of the hand of man
And how he has changed the landscape of Earth.
It shows no medical or scientific triumphs
In stamping out disease.
It shows neither wealth nor poverty,
City nor suburbs,
Death nor life.
Nothing but a lighter tone in the terrain:

Nothing to designate the Second City,
Nor the accomplishments
Of Sullivan, Wright, Holabird and Root,
Skidmore and Owings.
The photograph reveals no remnant of the lives lost
In the Great Fire of 1871,
Or the Iroquois Theatre in 1903,
Or a crash that day on the Kennedy.

It is a photograph
Of nothing but Earthly terrain,
Limited in its colors,
Not monochromatic,
Thrilling yet bereft of detail.

Unlike most photographs, there is no history:
No Abraham Lincoln walking the roads;
No Sandburg laboring over poems;
No Danhausen sculpting in his studio;
No Skrebneski focusing a lens;
No Terkel hunched over a keyboard,
Listening to tape playback.

Unlike most photographs, there is no sign of human life:
No Walgreen’s, no McDonald’s, no Starbucks.
No sign of the 4.8 pounds of garbage
Produced by each person every day
Within these 227.1 square miles.
No Saabs, BMWs, not one Lexus or Hummer.
No trains or buses,
No limos or taxis, or construction that ties up traffic.
No traffic discernable.
Can you believe it, in Chicago?

In this photograph I cannot determine the exact location
Of “Sunday on the Grande Jatte” or Chagall’s mosaic;
The gravestone of John Belushi or the Bishop Ford Highway;
The “Hillside Strangler” or the Couch mausoleum;
Navy Pier or 63rd St. Beach;
Haymarket Square or the Lincoln Park Zoo;
The Pullman neighborhood as it was
Or even is now.

The photograph is timeless,
As if each little falling triangular freeze-frame
Never occurred
During the past 166 years
Since Chicago became a full-fledged city.
It does not shout “Chicago!
Home of the Cubs, the Sox, the Bulls, the Bears, the Blackhawks!”
It does not capture the images of gunfire
Or dirty needles inserted in pleading veins
Or the woman’s legs spread apart on the well-used bed
In a room of a sleazy motel.

If only my magnifying glass were more powerful,
More magical,
I might be able to see
The reversal of the Chicago River
Or the remnant of color from the middle of March;
Or Old Comiskey’s marble home plate
In the middle of a parking lot;
Or a sea lion’s head emerging
From its pool in Lincoln Park Zoo.

None of this exists in the photograph.
Only the lighter tone,
Just a hair lighter
Than the rest of the terrain:

Copyright 2003


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