Urban in Our Nature

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Corner of State and Pearl Streets, circa 1912. My great grandfather walked a beat here, or so I’m told.

I remember gray spring days on Bradford Street every time rain goes beyond “threat” and before it hits “wet,” in that aroma its footsteps raise marching down Central Avenue to my stoop, a petrichor composed of raindrops and the pulverized concrete and dreams upon which generations built my Albany. I’m the panting beast who hears church bells in the peel of a beat up rubber basketball against a once-orange ring and its hanging chain netting on a heat-shimmering black top half court in Hoffman Park. I’m the guy who would whistle along with the birds every day at noon when the City Hall carillon played Happy Birthday—and I hate that song. But someone else walking these concrete trails needs celebrating, and I’m down with that. I’m the fourteen-year-old paperboy who met head-on the metastasizing disease of fear creep from places I was never allowed to go until it infected where I had nowhere left to. I am the old man who no longer is sure what an elm tree looks like, since Dutch Elm disease long since killed all the elms the Dutch planted in my city. I feel like an endangered species now myself, someone who, like his fathers before him, remembers the tough nature of growing up in an old city that turned even tougher in its kill-or-be-killed relative present. But do not let me hear you whine your big city insults about gingham dresses or Sears Roebuck suits. I’m an old wolf who survived the dark forest where the two rivers meet, and if anyone can bay about the place where Hudson was punked back to one-day Manhattan, it won’t be you. I earned these scars from her sunlit streets and darkened hallways, these tears only we who have cradled in her crusty touch are shed for her dead and still dying history, this accent that is no accent to my pack’s ears give me the high ground to howl at her setting sun. And it hasn’t set yet, bub.

I write too long, these prose poems in which I swim (and usually sink) these days. This is one inspired by Robert Lee Brewer’s call for a poem (I hope this qualifies) with the title “Urban (blank).” My #6 for poem-a-day NaPoWriMo. I am a city boy and from a city I’ll bet is a hell of a lot older than most of yours on this side of the Atlantic. And while she makes me cry in her lost history, we still have a history together, my Albany and I.

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