The Art of Remembering

Once, before anybody really remembers

Lake Street was called a county highway—synonym

for horses, and the stench of horse dung

but  also the feeling of freedom and living on the edge of the city and the farms

were so close a plow driver with a busted hitch could holler and be heard

and the saddle shop’d send an errand boy running

and if the boys were busy, or the plow too far out of sight

the old farmer would just drive the whole team out back his favorite shop and get it worked out right there.

Holiday, in those days, meant double headers

where both towns would meet at Nicollet Park on Lake in the morning

and Lexington Park in St. Paul for the afternoon,

but nobody watches minor league baseball anymore

and no one remembers which team Willie Mays started for.

But before the smell of peau d’espange from saddles and mitts had the chance to sink heavy

into the hard packed dirt

and the wagons had a chance

to escape the mud and dung and the muck of the lower Lake

time pushed on, and the wheel came down Lake Street—

a hoard of peddles and spokes and metal for the common man

whirring

from the Lakes to Minnehaha Falls

while everyone without $50 to spare waited 20 minutes to cross the street—

but nobody remembers those bicycles

or waiting for a gap in the masses of them,

and in 1910 the streets were paved

and new tracks were laid to a turntable on Lake and 4th

and now everyone could come across the river clean

on the first electric streetcars.

For decades they dinged along between neighborhoods

full of Scandinavian immigrants; or, pre-fab

homes; or, the paths around the lake

where woman still rode horses while talking secrets.

And this is how things were—

until the smell of motor oil baptized our nostrils

and we all craved it—

so we poured asphalt over the streetcar tracks, built

the most gas stations and dealerships in the city,

and had that oil, cheaply

for a pocket full of change, young men could drag over blacktop till dawn,

periodically parking at Porky’s drive-in

beneath fluorescent bulbs and the breasts

of their favorite car-hop— till he’d race off

again putting new street lights and old lives behind him—

but that was the 1950’s and back then, on your birthday,

we’d buy you a can of gas and slosh it down

two whole blocks, burn it, and drive

and that was a $1.00 birthday candle.

But nobody remembers these streets on fire

and the darkness trailing off

because not too long after men with long hair

and women with pants

and patches started circling around the lakes

so the normal people moved out,

leaving behind Victorian houses and a sag

called the 1980’s, which turned mad

in 1991 when Rodney was beat

and so the beat became bad

and the boys in blue lost

the neighborhoods, which nobody really cared about

half as much as when they lost

Officer Haaf to anger and

alleyway shadows,

and all we got was a headline name.

The street grew like winter and nobody had time

to remember the horses, and bicycles, and muscle cars

because remembering isn’t easy on twelve and a half grand a year.

Even though some of us remember these times

we do not talk of them.

But this is America, Lake Street

and immigrants are always coming—

so Lake filled up again

with Latin American fathers

and families, and then Somali

fathers and families

and work was done.

So the old Sear-Roebuck got flipped

and although it cost 198 million dollars

people want to walk down Lake Street again

or, if they like, ride the bike path

snaking along the memory of railcars

dropped just north of the street.

Nobody but the books remember

why Laymen’s Cemetery was never segregated

or why this street was the Boulevard of Shadows

or why it isn’t anymore

or where the Miller’s baseball park was

or what the popcorn they use to serve at Sears-Roebuck tasted like

or the tall hats of ladies and gentlemen walking to the Avalon

or why the Lake-Marshal bridge is named after Sri Chinmoy

or why, just this year, the light rail stop started playing classical music.

 

The grime of time has hardened over these stories—

sediments of life and progress,

so that all we have is a dementia of place,

so that all anybody remembers is what they saw today

and even that isn’t very accurate.

But for as deep as these names and places are buried

someday

if you’d like,

they will be hiding for you too—

in sidewalk cracks and alleyway shadows,

coming out of sewer pipes or abandoned buildings,

or even in the sound of cowboy boots

clicking against the pavement—

if only you go looking

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3 responses to “The Art of Remembering

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