The Deer

I’m coming home from a cold meds run to Walgreens. It’s dark. It’s winter. Most sane people are in their homes. I’m tooling down Matson in my shitty minivan when the fog clears and there you are. Fucking 12 point buck. I know people in Alabama who would shit their pants if they saw you. You look like a special effects version of a buck, like you were painted by Thomas Kinkade on a plate. You are perfect.

20 yards back, I just roll to a stop, and stare. I’ve been dealing with sick kids and a busy wife for two days. My house is hip deep in wadded-up tissues and there’s a faint reek of eucalyptus, like we use it for an air freshener. My kids are piled onto the couch against my wife like snot-crusted bookends. They’re watching terrible television and coughing without putting their hands in front of their mouth. They can barely speak, they cry a little every time they hack one up.

And I’m no worse, I’m a solid peelable crust from head to foot. I haven’t showered for two Tuesdays and every time I breathe in I can feel the exact shape and size of my lungs, as if two smoldering loafs are catching fire in my chest. I have the window down because February air in Chicago is like a gust of knives slicing under my hoodie and raking down my back and it feels freaking awesome on my fever skin.

But I stop. I take you in. You’re standing there under the lonely streetlamp by the forest preserve, right in the broad halogen halo, just looking at me. You are archetype. You are unhurried. You are unafraid. You own that fucking road. Yet, I feel like I’ve seen you before. Like we know each other. The feeling is so sudden and so crisp; I rack my memory for some other time in my 10 years living by the forest preserve golf course in Chicago when I’ve had a run in with a buck like you but I get nothing. You drop your head, sniff at the asphalt. Your ears twitch. Your tail twitches. Then you lift your head into the classic hunt club silhouette. Perfectly still. I open my door as quietly as I can. You turn toward me and the sense of familiarity is overwhelming.

And what is this thing that’s happening? I believe in symbols, like we’re avatars in a great universal video game and moments like these are Easter eggs. We are given high-level instruction at these peak moments, instances soaked in synchronicity and groaning under the weight of symbolism. Why a deer? Why a 12 point buck? Now, when I’m racing home to administer bubble gum flavored acetaminophen to my broodlings? Why the overwhelming sense of fraternity? Like the buck is my wild self, torn loose and freed the instant my first born slipped out into the light. Now come back to judge me, to harangue me, to remind me that we are still brothers, that there is still a wild child waiting to tear it up somewhere inside me.

I take one step toward you just as headlights come around the far corner and you charge, nearly running into me, leap high over the fence into the narrow space between the gold course pump house and the containing pond. No sound at all, I swear.

The car comes barreling past me, kids on a drunk. Someone yells, “asshat!” and I remember: You look exactly like the fucking deer in the old Hartford Insurance commercials.

Writer:  Bull Garlington
Location:  Mason & Matson Avenue

Matson & Mason

A New Man

I don’t read my New Yorkers, but I still subscribe because once a week they remind me that there’s an outside world. I’m almost always at work and sometimes just need something to flip through on the bus, but more than anything I need to feel connected to people like me. No one I see on a regular basis has ever even heard of the thing. But somewhere other people do subscribe, and maybe read it. They must. The New Yorker keeps on existing. Makes me feel like part of a community.

For awhile now, I’ve needed to have that feeling.

My girlfriend left me, really slowly, which was more annoying than I can describe. It was obvious what was happening, that something had happened, but instead of owning up she just kept looking at me like I was trying too hard, looked at me in a way that told me I was failing. I saw something in the pout of her lips that told me to keep on failing. What was I supposed to do but listen.

She wore these great jeans, with little pockets on the front and none on the back. They took awhile for her to get into but looked really hot once they were on. I loved these little bumps of flesh they formed above her belt, and held onto them like there was no tomorrow. I liked to stand behind her, cupping them with my hands, and squeezing them better as they got bigger, like if she bent over to wash her face or spit in the sink. If she was facing me I’d find where her butt separated from the back of her legs and then make myself lose the spot so I could find it again.

But something somewhere in me must not have been good enough.

I went to my med school reunion and everyone looked at me with deep respect when I said I worked in a community clinic. Wow, they said, that’s so. great. Some would shake their head and look down and say good for you, man, or introduce me to a teacher—someone’s wife—like we were supposed to understand each other. One guy told me Thank You for Your Service like I was a war veteran. I left feeling worse than when I came.

The day I got home and called my own front door an asshole I decided it was time to stop moping and make a serious change, but I didn’t know how or what. I had muttered inexcusable things the whole walk from my bus stop and the kids on my block stopped rough-housing long enough for the grass stains to settle into their bright polycotton kidpants, the kind that cut just above the ankle, to look at me with big eyes and wonder if I were drunk or homeless. It’s the city, but on my piece of Paulina we have front yards—twenty-six feet wide, with two-foot paths, no fences—and on any given evening kids race clear across the lots. Grass grass grass concrete grass grass grass grass grass grass grass concrete. Good thing that stabilizing muscles help their ankles adapt to differing terrains, or I’d see these kids all the time at work, probably crying. I didn’t want to see them cry. I took the mail in but didn’t have the energy to look at it, or to do anything other than lie on my floor.

The next day, I finally got what I needed: not just rupture, but vision, inspiration. I hadn’t known there was a cut on my finger until I used the hand sanitizer at the front desk. Suddenly, just like that, excruciating pain, and I winced. Looked like a baby in front of my patients—mothers, babies. A boyfriend laughed out loud and the rest used their eyes to make fun of their girlfriends, You’re gonna pay this guy to cry all over you? I told you you don’t need to see a doctor. I hated myself for validating the jerks most in need of de-valuation. I hated myself for any number of things, and in this moment I hated all men. Hey assholes, I wanted to say, I’m here because of you, because you took whatever you hold hanging that makes you feel like you can talk to me like that and you flung it around and now I’m taking care of your ladies cuz you can’t do it or pay for it and I’m wincing because I’m trying not to get your babies sick so they don’t grow up to be f***ed-up like you. And these were the “good” boyfriends. And I realized in my frustration that I could be a father, a good one. I thought about it all the way home—past the kids in their polycotton kidpants—where I found on my counter a new New Yorker and a birthday card from my grandma.

My grandfather died three years ago, on my birthday. It ate me up more than I care to admit, and now every year I’ll still remember it and flinch. I think that’s mostly a good thing. Respect where you came from. This year wasn’t a whole lot different, except that I found myself staring at the envelope that my grandma’s card came in. It’s the first time she’s used a label without my grandfather’s name on it too. Eighty-five, and suddenly a new woman.

So Gramma helped. This woman on the bus might too. Probably thirty-six, dimpled when she crosses her legs, sniffles that make me wonder if she stayed up too late changing diapers, maybe alone. And she is reading The New Yorker. Her neck looks really soft. Her breasts look really soft. Her purse is small and the magazine would never fit in it. I don’t know what she plans to do with her New Yorker when she gets off the bus. But it occurs to me that I could carry it for her.

Writer:  Marya Spont-Lemus
Location: Paulina Street, Between 35th & 36th

Race To Finish

Chicago Literary Map

 

A crisp fall morning, the street lights are still glowing, and the birds have just begun to sing their daily melody. The atmosphere is festive, but there is also a feeling of ambiguity as I am completely unfamiliar with this experience. The majority of the people are wearing far too little clothing considering the brisk temperature in the upper 40’s. Some stand still and endure the chilly weather, while others awkwardly jog in place as they attempt to keep warm. One young male is even shirtless already. Over the PA, the announcer proclaims that there are participants who have gathered from all 50 states and over 100 countries.

The day has arrived; this is indeed my first marathon. A carefully mapped course spanning precisely 26.2 miles, this is the path which now stands in-between the finish line and me. Never in my life have I attempted to run such an incredible distance. Even though I am confident with my training, a sense of doubt creeps into the back of my mind.

As I stand at the start line, everything around me feels surreal. I turn to my left and wish my friend a good race; I turn to my right and shake hands with a stranger donning a ‘Mexico’ jersey. The anticipation at this point is overpowering, almost unbearable; seconds begin to feel like minutes and minutes begin to feel like hours. Suddenly the banner is lifted and the race has begun.

Mile 0: The herd of runners spreads out over the eerily empty streets of downtown Chicago and the crowd makes its presence felt. It is estimated that over one million spectators will be in attendance. The energy generated from the combination of enthusiastic shouting and thunderous applause sends chills down my back.

Miles 1-11: I cross through my first mile at a blistering speed of six minutes and fifty-four seconds. I consciously tell myself to slow down, but the adrenaline is in complete control. As the initial excitement slowly begins to fade, I begin to transition into a more conservative pace. I breeze through the first eleven miles smooth and precise like a fine blade carving through a block of cheese.

Mile 13.1: Halfway point. My time of 1:36:28 is quicker than any of my previous training runs when reaching this threshold. As my GPS announces my average mile pace of seven minutes and fifteen seconds, a rush of excitement permeates through me like a shot of whiskey on an empty stomach. I continue a steadfast pace through mile markers fourteen and fifteen.

Mile 16: My body is beginning to rebel against the continued pounding. My pace is slowing, and pain begins to protrude through my feet, upward into my legs and lower back. My brain casts a seed of doubt as the daunting reality that ten miles still remain before the finish.

Mile 18: A spectator hands me a salty pretzel stick, this provides temporary relief. I carefully consume the crunchy treat making sure that I do not slow my pace. The late morning sun has now placed itself directly overheard. The bright and powerful rays feel like daggers penetrating through a delicate leaf.

Mile 20: Many experts say that the real race begins at this point, my body has now completely been depleted of its glucosamine reserves. I am beginning to doubt my ability to last another 6.2 miles.

Mile 21: The distance between mile markers feels exponentially greater. Every step is more miserable than the last, but I refuse to stop, I remind myself that surely the end is near.

Mile 23: I am keeping pace in a cave of pain. Who in the right mind would consciously sign up to run 26.2 miles and think that it is a good idea? My heart sinks as I turn onto Michigan Avenue and can see the outline of the CNA tower, a 44-story high rise which roughly correlates to the mirage of the finish line. Never have I felt so demoralized with how far I have come yet how much further still remains.

Mile 24: I desperately want to stop, but stubbornly refuse to walk. As I gaze into the crowd I see a spectator holding a sign: “Your Only Option is to Finish.” For whatever reason, I remember a friend who was diagnosed with cancer. My friend was forced into a battle for his life in which his only option was to fight. Likewise, I too need to fight. Each and every step is now more painful than the last; despite the pain my only option is to continue onwards.

Mile 26.2: Cruel as it may be, the only hill in the entire course is at the very end. I am numb to the pain as I carry my fatigued frame up the sharp incline. I power onwards through to the finish and release my emotions in the only way I can—a steady stream of tears roll down my cheeks and a feeling of warmth wraps around me like a blanket. As I begin to rejoice, I come to the realization that this experience forced me out of my realm of familiarity. The marathon allowed me the opportunity to run side by side with the human spirit.

 

Writer:  Benjamin Gerber
Location:  Streets of the Chicago Marathon
Photography:  Event Photography Group

Seeing Again A Painting By Marsden Hartley at the Terra Museum

The wind of music swings open a gate.
An arc of hand draws the line and bow,
then a touch to dampen the timpani.
The name of his lover rides to heaven
held high by the hum of violins.
Such is the sigh when flesh unfolds.

The artist outlines chevrons in black,
all the while imagining his lover’s face.
There is so much he wants to show him
as horns echo the dance of armies.
Paint a red arrow flying to yellow wings.
One sore heals another.

The New World draws out the old
when he sulks below the lamps of Paris.
A lame warrior from birth, he is one
who gains the hour by a sketch.
Stay away. His lips taste of tobacco.
Forget the jigsaw years, just build a day.

The gray hulls of battleships move
like a brush through murky turpentine.
Gunners sight their shells by eye.
An artist learns to aim at another heart
with the viscous scope of oil.
We are all fisherman who haul up bones.

These mark the confines of his world:
a rocky coast in Maine, the weave of linen,
pallets of mute desire, and a bottomless
draw when men move into shadows.
“If he is part of me, how can he go away?”
All ages are equal by the wound of love.

Time and desire. The itch of melodies.
The other word for loneliness is ice.
To sing when the snow falls is to weep.
He painted a code for their names
and read it like music. The color lingers,
then a blank silence like looking at the sun.

Writer:  Robert Klein Engler
Location:  Terra Museum of American Art