By Dein Sofley
Cook County Citizens, I’m writing this letter to you on behalf of my friend Dein. She loves you and wants you to love her.
I’ve never been to Chicago, but I’ve heard that it’s windy: a working class city with a heart of gold. Home to Gwendolyn Brooks, Studs Terkel, Muddy Waters, Kanye West, Richard Wright, Chief Keef, Li-Young Lee, Common, Chance the Rapper, Haki Madhubuti and America’s forty-fourth president.
Dein is sorry she left you. Heartbroken. Confused. It took her 2,104 miles—through winking lights and gasoline, by time’s appetite and dismembered memories—to figure out that it wasn’t you she was afraid of; it was her feelings. Lost to be found, she came back to you on Valentine’s Day, her wayward tongue thirsty for the taste of your wounds and the words she has yet to earn. The Centennial Fountain marks the shape of returns.
Her body needs you. The arresting rush of your winds, the roar of your trains, the screams of your ambulances, the murmurs of your lake, the slap of your gun shots, the impatient footfalls, the spasms of car horns, the scent of cumin and skulking lilacs find the humming in her ribs. She’ll abandon sleep to breathe you in. In your noise, a love-in-answer. But how will you hear her?
Her: the class clown, the orphan, the shape shifter, always moving, famished for meaning, looking for ways to be real. A foundling in your sanctuary, she wants to serve your storied, buttressed, scavenged, policed city. Soothe her unrequited ache for home, Chicago, please; put her back together again. You people: your misfit blocks of dark skinned cousins, bushy Slavic uncles, lining waving yentas, the vendors selling StreetWise, the paleta man at 63rd Street Beach, the kids rolling across the green at Foster, the Army of Moms patrolling Englewood, the polar bears who jump in the lake midwinter, daring death for vigor.
You lent her: Gina Frangello, Megan Steilstra, Kevin Coval, and Joe Meno.
She lent you: her daughter.
Your jazz scabbed streets of tribes: Mexican, Puerto Rican, Polish, Vietnamese, Palestinian, Indian, Pakistani, Swedish, Ukrainian, Israeli, that pull her out at night like an addict unable to name what she seeks through thrumming engines that collide with the babel of languages. Behind the sounds is another sound. And another.
Your long shouts of avenues: candy-colored storefronts, Beijing ducks roasting in windows, nail salons, tattoo parlors, dive bars, bathhouses, used goods, gold coasts, magnificent miles, dry cleaners and good burritos. All no-bullshit propositions that allow her to keep the criminal feeling of sovereignty.
The tavern sign says: “$2 Shot $4 Pints.” The grammar might be wrong, but she gets the message. This joint’s here for a shot and a beer and a six-pack to go because like her, you keep moving.
And you give: public parks, social policy, scholarships, cultural institutions.
And you take: seven hundred and forty-seven homicides last year.
If only she were bulletproof. When fear left and she said “I’ll make my home here.” She adopted a slew of stray cats, gathered her band of banshees, and stayed. She’ll fight for your honor. She’ll scrape away the narrative outliers made to her extinction. No sissies admitted.
Because in your winter mornings when she sees one neighbor shoveling another’s car out of the snow or a woman in hijab helping an old Russian man navigate the slippery sidewalk in route to the bus stop, mornings when the goodness of human beings shine, she feels herself triumphing.
Dein Sofley teaches Syrian refugees English at Albany Park Community Center. She earned her BA from Columbia College Chicago and is currently pursuing her MFA in fiction from UC Riverside’s low-residency program, where she also serves as nonfiction editor for The Coachella Review.
Photo credit: “Chicago Through a Cloud” by Roman Boed via a Creative Commons license.