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Original Poem

Seven Hills and a Queen to Name Them

I always say a prayer
when I see you through
the cut in the hill,
my drama Queen City.
You swam in bourbon and blues
and called your song the river.
I doused myself in your laughter.
Now I climb hilltop woods
and stone halos
to find an unabridged view.
You’re an artist until proven innocent.
I reached for your hand in a gallery
with a painting named Springtime.
You stood me in the northern light
of a Court Street window
and made a photograph.
You made away with me.

*******

Cincinnati was first spoken by the mouth
of the Licking, in a bend
of the good river, the Ohio.
A city lifted by the genius of water.

Who can know this place,
its streets laid out with the peculiar vision
of constellation charts? Let’s draw our own maps:
triangulate the bells of every parish,
sketch neighborhoods that overlap zip codes.
Buy a cone at every summertime stand,
blow a horn at every pawn shop,
eat barbecue and slaw at every smoker
while we sift through the small talk:
Which chili parlour? West side or east?
State or commonwealth? What high school?

Can anyone say where our city ends?
The Queen shares her crown
with the northern South
and all who call her home.
Our city’s limits are carved in hearts, not stone.

*******

The Queen dreamed out loud,

Mama’s gonna pull history from the buildings,
roll it out on the street for you to see
original brick, hidden under siding, under asphalt.
Story on story, hoisting us higher into history.

Mama’s gonna open bar doors, stretch the taps out
to the sidewalk, pour drafts for drinkin’.
Light the sacred glass in blooms of stonework
and paint the streets like a beer bottle mosaic.

Mama’s gonna build a boat bigger than Noah’s,
a wheel and tall stacks, to whistle your name.
Plow the lonely barge lanes in winter
and hop-skip the river boat to boat when fireworks fly.

Mama wants to make it happen.
Mama’s doin’ it for you.

*******

Corn-fed pig town.
You taught me three-ways, goetta fests
and pony kegs. Bengal shouts in winter winds.

You taught me to Ezzard Charles,
to jab, weave and strike like a cobra.
To throw myself out of the corner and into the fight.

To cheer into the river night
with the ghosts and golden spirits
of Crosley Field, a palace to the fans.
Throat sore, eyes too full of light.

You taught me to avoid the tag,
to sing the knotted history of the hit king
with a stubborn tongue.
To slide head-first into home.

*******

I came for the magic and stayed
for the music. Heard your trumpet calls,
symphonies and syncopations.

I let a stranger sing to me,
lines that told the truth like graffiti
over sanctioned street art.
She phrased a phrase too charged to hold key.

Music reaches down the one-ways from a public stage,
rebounds off homes from church festivals.
Brick, here, is a canvas for revolution,

a reawakening of sweat and spirit.
The site of the blacksmith off Ridge is now
a record store, hammer clang to cymbal crash.
Time goes by, places change, the rhythm pushes on.

*******

The fog rolls over the night hills—
not every hill, but here.
Rolls in and hides the limits of the night.

I drive Montgomery Road to our centennial house.
From the porch, I hear the baby cry,
a new squall storming old plaster.

Joining the wind, an anthem
to our alma mater. In my arms,
I shush with wordless whispers
and no magic, sounds to settle
an arrival home.

This street, where puddles splash. On this hill,
with no historic name, one among many,
the fog paddles on into memory.

*******

Home. The name of a surprising house,
its numbers bright as jewels.

There’s a title for every square foot
of this city. We call them all again.
Reclaim them. Choosing a name
is a declaration of intent.

But it’s uncertain magic.
Cincinnati, named for the leader who cast aside
his sword when the war was won.
Named for power surrendered, and power is surrendered
in time. Swords not laid down will one day drop.

We who had been torn, stirred, packed down,
formed and baked into the brick of change,
are now referred to as able—
spoken of when pointing to progress.
The mystery unwinds but doesn’t unravel.

*******

Cincinnati is a promise that we make
to our inner selves,
and I promise
there are still stories
to tell and to tell.
Streets to walk, and corners,
like the city , to come around.

Marry me in Eden Park,
Lay with me at Spring Grove.
It would be beautiful.

You’re the heart in my wrist,
the arrow on my chest.
I tried to draw you some mysterious name
but you turned my line
into a circle around us.

Sing the Queen City.
Say home.
Coast the long cut.
Cross that bridge.

*******

Poem Split into Phrases

 

1) I always say a prayer
2) when I see you through
3) the cut in the hill,
4) my drama Queen City.
5) You swam
6) in bourbon and blues
7) and
8) called your song the river.
9) I doused myself
10) in your laughter.
11) Now I climb
12) hilltop woods
13) and stone halos
14) to find an unabridged view.
15) You’re an artist
16) until proven innocent.
17) I reached for your hand
18) in a gallery
19) with a painting named Springtime.
20) You stood me
21) in the northern light
22) of a Court Street window
23) and made a photograph.
24) You made away with me.
25) Cincinnati was first
26) spoken by the mouth
27) of the Licking,
28) in a bend
29) of the good river,
30) the Ohio.
31) A city lifted by
32) the genius of water.
33) Who can know this place,
34) its streets laid out
35) with the peculiar vision
36) of constellation charts
37) ?
38) Let’s draw our own maps:
39) triangulate the bells
40) of every parish,
41) sketch
42) neighborhoods that overlap
43) zip codes.
44) Buy a cone
45) at every summertime stand,
46) blow a horn
47) at every pawn shop,
48) eat barbecue and slaw
49) at every smoker
50) while we sift through
51) the small talk:
52) Which chili parlour?
53) West side or east?
54) State
55) or
56) commonwealth?
57) What high school?
58) Can anyone say where
59) our city ends?
60) The Queen shares
61) her crown
62) with the northern South
63) and all
64) who call her home.
65) Our city’s limits
66) are carved
67) in hearts, not stone.
68) The Queen dreamed out loud,
69) Mama’s gonna pull history
70) from the buildings,
71) roll it out
72) on the street
73) for you to see
74) original brick,
75) hidden
76) under siding,
77) under asphalt.
78) Story on story,
79) hoisting us higher
80) into history.
81) Mama’s gonna open bar doors,
82) stretch the taps out
83) to the sidewalk,
84) pour drafts for drinkin’.
85) Light the sacred glass
86) in blooms of stonework
87) and paint the streets
88) like a beer bottle mosaic.
89) Mama’s gonna build
90) a boat bigger than Noah’s,
91) a wheel and tall stacks,
92) to whistle your name.
93) Plow the lonely barge lanes
94) in winter
95) and hop-skip the river
96) boat to boat
97) when fireworks fly.
98) Mama wants
99) to make it happen.
100) Mama’s doin’ it for you.
101) Corn-fed pig town.
102) You taught me three-ways,
103) goetta fests
104) and pony kegs.
105) Bengal shouts
106) in winter winds.
107) You taught me
108) to Ezzard Charles,
109) to jab, weave and strike
110) like a cobra.
111) To throw myself
112) out of the corner
113) and into the fight.
114) To cheer
115) into the river night
116) with the ghosts
117) and golden spirits
118) of Crosley Field,
119) a palace to the fans.
120) Throat sore,
121) eyes
122) too full of light.
123) You taught me to
124) avoid the tag,
125) to sing
126) the knotted history
127) of the hit king
128) with a stubborn tongue.
129) To slide head-first
130) into home.
131) I came for the magic
132) and stayed
133) for the music.
134) Heard your trumpet calls,
135) symphonies and syncopations.
136) I
137) let a stranger
138) sing to me,
139) lines that told the
140) truth
141) like graffiti
142) over
143) sanctioned street art.
144) She phrased a phrase
145) too charged to hold key.
146) Music reaches
147) down the one-ways
148) from a public stage,
149) rebounds off homes
150) from church festivals.
151) Brick,
152) here,
153) is a canvas
154) for revolution,
155) a reawakening
156) of
157) sweat and spirit.
158) The site of
159) the blacksmith off Ridge
160) is now
161) a record store,
162) hammer clang to cymbal crash.
163) Time goes by,
164) places change,
165) the rhythm pushes on.
166) The fog rolls over
167) the night hills—
168) not every hill,
169) but here.
170) Rolls in and hides
171) the limits of the night.
172) I drive
173) Montgomery Road
174) to our centennial house.
175) From the porch,
176) I hear the baby cry,
177) a new
178) squall storming
179) old plaster.
180) Joining the wind,
181) an anthem
182) to our alma mater.
183) In my arms,
184) I shush
185) with wordless whispers
186) and no magic, sounds
187) to settle
188) an arrival home.
189) This street,
190) where puddles splash.
191) On this hill,
192) with no historic name,
193) one among many,
194) the fog paddles on
195) into memory.
196) Home.
197) The name
198) of a surprising house,
199) its numbers
200) bright as jewels.
201) There’s a title
202) for every square foot
203) of this city.
204) We call them all again.
205) Reclaim them.
206) Choosing a name
207) is a declaration of intent.
208) But it’s uncertain magic.
209) Cincinnati,
210) named for the leader
211) who cast aside
212) his sword
213) when the war was won.
214) Named
215) for power surrendered,
216) and power is surrendered
217) in time.
218) Swords not laid down
219) will one day drop.
220) We who had been torn,
221) stirred,
222) packed down,
223) formed and baked
224) into
225) the brick of change,
226) are now referred to
227) as able—
228) spoken of
229) when pointing to progress.
230) The mystery unwinds
231) but doesn’t unravel.
232) Cincinnati is
233) a promise that we make
234) to our inner selves,
235) and I promise
236) there are still stories
237) to tell and to tell.
238) Streets to walk,
239) and corners,
240) like the city
241) ,
242) to come around.
243) Marry me in Eden Park,
244) Lay with me at Spring Grove.
245) It would be beautiful.
246) You’re
247) the heart in my wrist,
248) the arrow on my chest.
249) I tried
250) to draw you
251) some mysterious name
252) but you turned
253) my line
254) into a circle
255) around us.
256) Sing the Queen City.
257) Say home.
258) Coast the long cut.
259) Cross that bridge.

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