The State of Us: Cincinnati, 2016

In honor of our Mayor’s upcoming State of the City address, I invited poets from throughout Cincinnati to send their responses to the prompt “The State of Our City, 2016,” for me to weave into a poem carrying our varied perspectives. Here is the result, by twists and turns candid, appreciative, reproachful, humorous, compassionate—and ultimately hopeful. We, the poets, present:

Cincinnati: The State of Us, 2016

She first blooms, a surprise beauty,
blossoming between the Cut in the Hill,
Queen of the West in her 21st Century dressed.
Can you find her?
We’re the south south side of Chicago, an easy commute
by a not-yet-built fast train. It’s a slow
rumble now, easing through Indiana
as fragrance from the Shasta Viburnums
waft throughout the seven hills.
By some calculations,
fifty-two equals one
city, seven hills and
a river to bound it,
above a hidden unfinished underground
of metal and glass.
At dawn, over the river
rises a haze of contradiction.
This is a city of neighborhoods,
the kind expressways divide.
We make do: our beach,
a waterpark; our parks
no Central Park
but forests and woods,
an island of homes
between the garden cemetery
and the factory.
Our parks are beautiful and free.
Colorful murals paint a story
on walls left blank from another era.
We count as neighbors both the blind wanting walls
and the unseen paying for their construction.
We carry our stained-glass decisions carefully packaged.
The Island of Misfits has become Disneyland…
(In a big sports town that plays on words,
everybody knows the cabin cleaning nits
aren’t in the same league as the nine rancid tics.)
Adding attractions are important, but the people?
Who gives a damn? I see them again and again,
men and women, lying or sitting
on the steps of the stately old church,
some clutching bags of clothes,
others with nothing.
The night is dark, bordering on cold
and I wonder who they are,
why they are there.
The name of the street?
Liberty.
The highs? The lows?
Who can read such weather?
At Findlay Market, 10:03 AM,
fallen unnoticed in flat November light,
one too-ripe-to-sweet-soft strawberry lies
like a cat’s heart on cold pavement.
At Walnut and Sixth,
blue sky hangs framed from skywalk roof to floor
to sidewalk. Hey! It’s under there!!
My city’s under there!!!
(No matter how deep you bury it in money,
the love and loss leak out…)
Careless on my bike, I got my permanent
teeth knocked out on Tweed near Linwood.
My Cincinnati metaphor: decades of trauma
with just the crooked smile I needed to cope.
The people, we’re who
give a damn. By some calculations
300,000 equals one
people spread among hills and vales,
villes and gates, parks and woods and sides
and mounts and dales and heights.
We know where East and West meet
but does each have an ending?
Because Race Street only runs one way
(runs rough to our river,)
because the city-county line
is not just a dotted streak on a map
but a pulse that won’t quit
throbbing through the veins
of our streets with people,
a linchpin people made of fifty-two pips:
our city is definitely alive!

Composed by Pauletta Hansel with lines by Ellen Austin-Li, Valerie Chronis Bickett, Michael Burnham, Owen Cramer, Sean Foster, Jonathan Goolsby, Richard Hague, Pauletta Hansel, Michael Henson, Annie Hinkle, Pam Hirte, Bucky Ignatius, Linda Busken Jergens, Theresa Kulbaga, Steven Paul Lansky, Jai Washington, Scott Whitehurst, Annette Wick, Sue Wilke and Tyrone Williams.

A reading of the poem:

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Author: Pauletta Hansel

Pauletta Hansel is a poet, memorist, teacher and editor. On April 15, 2016 she was named Cincinnati's first Poet Laureate. Pauletta is author of five poetry collections, Tangle (Dos Madres Press, 2015), The Lives We Live in Houses (Wind Publications, 2011), What I Did There (Dos Madres Press, 2011), First Person (Dos Madres Press, 2007) and Divining (WovenWord Press, 2002). Her poetry has been featured recently in journals including Talisman, Now & Then: The Appalachian Magazine, Appalachian Journal, Atlanta Review, Postcards Poems and Prose and Still: The Journal, and anthologized in Listen Here: Women Writing in Appalachia; Motif: Come What May; and Motif: All the Livelong Day. Pauletta leads community poetry workshops and retreats in the Greater Cincinnati area and beyond, and has served as Writer-in Residence at Thomas More College in her native Kentucky. She is a co-editor of Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, the literary publication of Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative. Pauletta received her MFA from Queens University of Charlotte.

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