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"In Pittsburgh, there are 450 ways to escape, the old joke goes, built on the fact of its many bridges. I once lived there with a friend as he struggled to get sober. He's going to kill himself, I thought, and he is going to make me watch."
—James Allen Hall


James Allen Hall

I burn your Highland Park. I acid your Carnegie
car dealerships. Your Squirrel Hill, sheer terror
in winter. But most of all, I hate your Liberty Avenue,
the last place, one night, I saw my closest friend
saying, Wait here, outside the after-hours club. I wait,
hating your Strip, half your Shadyside, all of Bloomfield,
the bluffs and flats where my friend trades himself.
I wait hours, then trace your Mexican War
Streets looking for his car, so I could declare a truce
in the battle he was fighting against himself. Your Hot
Metal, your Fort Pitt Bridge that leads headfirst
into the Monongahela. In the morning, he's home.
He cannot tell me where it hurts. I help him shower
off the Duquesne residue, the priesting old world
shame. Pittsburgh, you're all grit and gristle turning crystal
track marks, turning a man meth mouth. I feed him,
put him to bed. I'll keep watch tonight in a cable car
ascending Mt. Washington, your smokestacks
blowing clouds over the confluence until all you are,
Pittsburgh, is a sleepless shimmer I will watch
diminish down to the savaged seed of morning,
as impossible to watch as you are to name.

Copyright © 2013 by James Allen Hall. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on June 19, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

James Allen Hall