This Town Is Dying, But
It is not so gone as to rid itself of Provel cheese.
This town’s got a French heritage and not one good
place to get a beignet, but this town’s got an Imo’s
on Kirkwood Road, and an Imo’s on Manchester, and:
Tell me someone who wouldn’t want to eat a slab
of Provel melted on thin crust pizza, a basket of toasted
raviolis (they’re fried, says my Ohio-born husband,
who just can’t understand), a Schlafly Pale Ale. Tell me:
what else do you feed your best friends at midnight,
those friends who have proven their love to you by dancing
at your wedding until the DJ has left? What else do
you vomit in the morning but this same Provel-pizza
from heaven, changed so little in consistency
by your stomach acid? Where else do you sit talking
about your high school ex-boyfriend, if not the Imo’s
where both of your best friend’s big brothers have worked?
Where else do you meet, when you both come back
to town, if not that same table by the window? Listen: this town
is dying, but still my parents will go to The Hill for a
fancy Provel-pizza, and me and my brother will pay twelve
dollars for Imo’s, and goddamn if each bite doesn’t stop
my heart, or if I’ve ever felt love that sticks around as long as that.
Say Lewis and Clark found this city now – this sick
as silence hometown, waist-high and drowning in
suburb-fever, with red-brick high schools that hold
memorials after city hall shootings and murder
committed by police, and houses with front-yard
signs that say, Blue Lives Matter, or else, Black Lives
Matter, but never both (Lewis and Clark would
recognize this sickness, because in their time, too, it
was one life or the other, never both). Say Lewis and
Clark walked the Ferguson streets of this city with its
protests and the papers that called them riots; its
rank and file police lineups in full body armor facing
men and women in flip-flops and carrying signs
printed black and white with Michael Brown’s face:
his head floating spectral above them, his spirit come
back in hundreds of protestors to see these city
streets burn. Would Lewis and Clark not concede to
us a new manifest destiny of the nation, on seeing
our jail cells filled with protestors? There is wildfire
in our homegrown anarchy; an ineluctable heart St.
Louis dissenters harness to their backs and tow
across the nation as Lewis and Clark look on this
ruined and reborn city and say, go west.
In the Event of a Zombie Apocalypse
for Mom, Dad, Andy, Sarah, Molly, and Erika
In the event of a zombie apocalypse, I would return to you, St. Louis. Do not worry. Although I have gone outside the 270 loop, that highway which constitutes the real St. Louis Arch, scooping the city between it and the Mississippi River like the curve of Yadier Molina’s glove, it is really only you that I love. I have lived in cities with Riverfronts cleaner than our budget can afford; I have lived on the shores of the Great Lakes, in a state that names its school for buckeyes that grow in golden husks in the fields. Dear St. Louis, I am a planet of a beating heart that cannot escape the orbit of your love. I have lived nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains and sat by camp fires in their forests, stringing daisy chains of mountain laurel, and I have lived minutes from the Mexican border, where I have gotten drunk on Cucumber Margaritas on the Fourth of July and worn paper flower crowns in my hair. St. Louis, I have lived by the Wisconsin prairie my Nordic ancestors first settled, where there are Willow Trees old as my great great grandma’s gravestone and winters so cold you drink whiskey just to feel your fingers. Oh, St. Louis, I have lived all these places, but in the event of a zombie apocalypse, I would fight my way back to you. I would follow the esophagus of I-70 right into your rotting belly, because you, St. Louis, hold the jewels of the world, those few people with whom I would be honored to begin a post-apocalyptic commune among, in the humid, sticky basin of your love.
Kelly Kiehl is a PhD candidate at the University of Cincinnati and she holds an MFA from Bowling Green State University.