For the past few days, I’ve been back in Chicago, remembering with my feet as I walk the familiar slate sidewalks.
If poems had mailing addresses, this one would surely be marked Chicago, the Southside.
Winter hasn’t yet arrived, even in Chicago, but I’ve been reliving one particular winter memory. It was my first winter here, and the heavy skies were unburdening themselves of a record amount of snow. In early December, I sat at my writing desk trying to complete my first graduate seminar paper. Hunched close to my window, my Texas-bred eyes couldn’t stop wandering toward the snow-globe view.
Everything outside had been erased by the whiteness, even the people and the cars had disappeared. But then I saw a black parade slowly winding its way in front of my building. A hearse, a limousine, followed by a patient tail of black-flagged vehicles: I knew, without being told, that this was for Gwendolyn Brooks. Her death, on December 3, had been in all the papers and on every channel.
I can’t remember if the memorial was open to the public. I don’t think I would have made it to the university’s gothic chapel anyway, not through all that snow, not with a paper keeping me at my desk.
The chapel is beautiful, but it isn’t a poem. The slow slash of black in a washed-white world: that was a poem. I’m sure I could never fully capture what I saw in words, but there’s really no need. Gwendolyn Brooks had already done it.
Cynthia in the Snow
The loudness in the road.
And laughs away from me.
It laughs a lovely whiteness,
And whitely whirls away,
Still white as milk or shirts,
So beautiful it hurts.
– Gwendolyn Brooks