That school listed like a leaking ship,
boilers pounding toward thrombosis.
Its red bricks half-crumbling onto Roosevelt Road.
Glistening around it: a necklace of glass shards,
beer cans. In that wreckage, gold-toothed
boy dealers slouched in charred door frames.
I still see the building awake, lit up past midnight.
As if the years, the wrecking ball had no weight,
nothing to keep us from entering the music there.
Inside, they are all there: the righteous,
the ruined, the raped, the rebels;
welfare mothers you tell to cease fattin' frogs
for snakes. The men, you storm, should fish or cut bait.
It is your world, the poor of Lawndale who come
for a diploma to take back spoiled honor.
You call them my music, and that old building
bobs itself awake, blinking like a prizefighter clearing
blood from his eyes. Sax, bass, piano is what plays,
the jazz and gospel they sing. Tired mothers, factory
workers, janitors shout hallelujah at graduation, sing
There is a balm in Gilead that brings the spirit home.
You tell them: we own this history bought in the Warner plant,
the mills, the rolls, the stinking factory on Damen, we make these blues:
make this building remember when the West side lived.
Oh, I see you stepping, tapping, clapping them down
the aisle. All five feet of you, your intense brown eyes
laughing, testifying. You are the story they tell their children
because you left past midnight every night, joining Cook County
shift nurses and bleary-eyed cleaning women, a ghost navy
of the exhausted sailing for the harbor of sleep. You, who never
left that sisterhood, you who were Gilead's balm.
Renny Golden's most recent book of poetry is Blood Desert: Witnesses 1820-1880 (University of New Mexico Press, Dec. 2010). The Hour of the Furnaces (MN: Midlist Press, 2000) was nominated for a National Book Award—poems about war years in El Salvador. Imprisoned Mothers and the Families They Leave Behind (NJ: Routlegde, 2005) was nominated for the C Wright Mills Award (Sociology Social Justice Award). She has also published three books on Central America.