Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Versed in the urban experience

I love my Chicago neighborhood, and have always felt that its many positives far outweigh its unsolved challenges. Living in Rogers Park is an urban experience that won't appeal to everyone, but the natural beauty of the nearby lake shore coupled with a vibrant cultural scene make it a perfect place for me.

Drawn by Lake Michigan's proximity and a still robust affordable housing stock, hard working folks of all ethnicities and incomes make our corner of the city one of the most diverse zip codes in the nation. Unfortunately, due to broader social factors and the city government's too frequent negligence, we also have to struggle with issues of poverty and homelessness.

In an increasingly pay-to-play world, public services are perpetually underfunded, understaffed and under-performing. Our local schools don't offer a good education to those kids whose parents can't afford a private opt-out. Mass transit is being threatened with massive service cuts and fare increases. The county health system is approaching budgetary collapse.

Public safety has devolved into a game of high-tech call and response. Surveillance cameras and sensors are mounted on poles at crime hot-spots to gather evidence more reliably than the human eyes and ears walled in behind brick and mortar facades. Most often, when the cops arrive, whatever was taking place has already moved somewhere else.

Sirens are an all too frequent part of the local soundscape. Thankfully, gunfire isn't as common, but shots still ring out more often than I'd like to admit. Sometimes it's hard for the untrained ear to distinguish real gunfire from more benign disturbances, so you always hope you heard wrong.

When a loud bang rings out, you can only wait for the sirens and pray that another young person hasn't lost their life to senseless street violence. The following poem was inspired by a recent night of such uncertain aural stimulation.

Four Shots
By Francis Scudellari

Four shots, then two, one more
Staccato, rhythmic pops,
Crisp claps, crackling echoes
Shatter the mid-night calm

Staring, brick-walled, I wait
Unsure, probe the silence,
Once serene, sleep-walk made
Too close, seeming fatal

Distant sirens cry out
Infants pulled from sep'rate
Drowsy cribs, converging
Nightmares, now awakened

Imagined violence
Suddenly surreal, first
Arrival announced, screeched
Squad car or ambulance?
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