1. The Exchange: To Our Flags
  2. The Exchange: The Negro Speaks of Dryland
  3. The Exchange: blue is darker than Black
  4. The Exchange: Sans Fleur
  5. The Exchange: Blindspot
  6. The Exchange: Her.
  7. The Exchange: Lint
  8. The Exchange: Reality Check
  9. The Exchange: Caution
  10. The Exchange: Rubik’s Cube
  11. The Exchange: The Path
  12. The Exchange: sTREEtS
  13. The Exchange: Butter
  14. The Exchange: The Bright Side
  15. The Exchange: Concrete to Shoreline
  16. This Empty Cage
  17. Paper Machete
  18. The Exchange: Marketplace
  19. The Exchange: One Year Anniversary

The Exchange is the Weekly’s poetry corner, where a poem or piece of writing is presented with a prompt. Readers are welcome to respond to the prompt with original poems, and pieces may be featured in the next issue of the Weekly

The Exchange was first published in the August 19th, 2021 issue of the Weekly, making this issue the first anniversary of our poetry corner. The Weekly is extremely grateful for every submission and reader, and we look forward to growing this section that we’ve built together, one poem at a time. 

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Explorer
 by Chima “Naira” Ikoro

my dad says
“don’t make a u-turn at the intersection”
as we leave La Fruteria on Commercial
identified a corner, round and worn
tells me, before he owned a house or had a credit score
a bunch of plain clothes cops in an unmarked car snatched him up
and showed him what urban renewal feels like.
i don’t know how to ask if he was sure those were even cops.
a transplant tells me tales of their South Shore escapades as if i am the one that’s new here.
i guess i move further north with every apartment
but my mom has only ever lived South…far South
so far, when i moved to Hyde Park
she told my aunt that i lived on the north side. 

“things are different now,” i say
making a u-turn in front of the unmarked ford explorer.
the license plate says michigan. 

Chima Ikoro is the community organizing editor for the Weekly.

 

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Prompt

“What is the birthplace of your artistry?” 

This could be a poem or a stream-of-consciousness piece. Submissions could be new or formerly written pieces. 

Submissions can be sent to bit.ly/ssw-exchange or via email to chima.ikoro@southsideweekly.com.

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Featured below is a reader response to a previous prompt. The last poem and prompt can be found here.

To Ashtin – Chicago, My Safe Haven
by Yoo Chang

I was on the corner of North and Western on the way to picking up some ketamine from my friend Felicia—a code name for my friend of Yoruba ancestry—who studied to be a pharmacist like his father, from Nigeria. Felicia, like me, is a first-generation immigrant. Unlike me, he was born here in Missouri. Unlike him, I immigrated here when I was six—as a Corean, re-casted Asian, re-born American. Living in the United States. This cursed country—the land of the free.

Or was I stolen here?
Did I come here willingly?
How could a child know—
who came here illegally.
whether it was a choice?
a vocation—a curse—
a blessing?
to carry the English brand
as my second language?

While waiting, my eyes caught eyes with a woman—Black—with lashes that furled and blinked, cute and pouty, at me. She had a round face that was pleasing to me. We both knew we had been waiting a while. “It’s coming,” she said. I said, “is it?” She said “the bus—it says it’s coming.” “It’s always coming,” I said. She laughed.

The trains are better. Though she began to tell me of the time she was stuck on the CTA. “Someone had died—that’s what I thought,” she said, “I was stuck there—just waiting.”

Chicago is a lot like that—there’s a lot of waiting. And learning how to be patient in the waiting, like waiting out the winter—that is Chicago’s soul, its richness, its rhythm—the wait.

“you got lucky,” I said, “the city didn’t charge you $5 to get off that train.” She laughed because she knew the city was siphoning money from its residents. She was Black. You couldn’t be Black in Chicago and not know how the city was gutting a whole community of people of money–jobs—a life. The city’s attack on its Black residents was impossible to ignore if you were Black—an endless list of charges.

In the 80s though, things were different—at least that’s what my Uber driver Summer said. She grew up in Chicago. She said she liked my energy and told me she remembered the moment when it changed—the gun violence. She said she remembered when it was all sunshine during summer in Chicago and you could run and laugh and play as kids with other kids. She said it was a diverse neighborhood where she grew up. But then it changed—noticeably in the 90s—everyone left until there were only poor, Black people. Two Black men, her brothers, she referred to them, she was out by her porch when she heard two gunshots and she saw—like birds—the older boys who grew up with her shot dead side by side. “That’s when it all changed for me,” she said, “it all went downhill from there.”

It must have because it takes too goddamn long for the #49 and #X49 bus that goes up and down Western and the #73 bus that goes west and east on Armitage to arrive. Sometimes it takes forty minutes—literally—for one of these buses to make its way down these major streets but for the majority of people who are coming home from work, it is an infuriating reality that it could take twenty, often thirty, if not forty minutes just to catch a ride on one of these deprived, depraved modes of alleged transportation.

Which is why many residents resort to Uber or owning their own car if they can afford one. Biking is an option during the summer time. But once, at a bar, I saw a woman who had knocked out her whole set of front teeth and I was so confused when she smiled at me because I was sure it was not Halloween. She said it happened in a biking accident—so if Chicago is not turning into a major biking city like those you can find in Europe, like Strasburg in France, maybe it’s because Midwesterners like to drink more heavily than people who reside in the metropoles of the other side of Western dominance—Western Europe.

Like a flower, in our global, cultural landscape, it is still the Rose. And our imaginations, the little prince who waters it daily.

I’ve learned to appreciate the English language for its aplomb but the people who were born and raised in the English language do not know how alienating of a language it can be. Spanish has urgency and fire. It is the voice of the restaurant class. It feels a bit disrespectful to work in Chicago restaurants without trying to learn a little Spanish. The communication barriers are quite literal—most often with the person who washes dishes or polishes.

Without learning how to speak Spanish, I do not know how else to reach out to the humanity of the person doing the grinding job that is being the dishwasher. Grime and sweat and smiles—gracias they say to those who are able to leave the mess—the dirty dishes, endless glassware & trash of excess and fête. How else do you learn more of their life, of their humanity?

The English language, to a non-native speaker, is an Emily Dickinson’s dash—a suggestive thread that weaves and crafts. Its essence is wrung, like ceaseless rosemary, to intoxicate you; slowly & subtly, the anaconda twists around the meat of its meaning. It is a strange, humorous, oblique business—to speak English. Corean is more direct—immediately it can create intimacy and the understanding that we—those who can speak and those who can understand Corean—are compatriots, why not blissfully, just by virtue of understanding each other in this language. But no matter how well I speak English, there are those who will never recognize me as a full compatriot. That is an undeniable difference.

The thing is—as the woman and I were talking, cracking jokes, waiting for the #49 and #X49, there was a difference in which bus we were waiting for and this difference was telling for I wasn’t traveling as far South with her and that meant something—socioeconomically in Chicago—that I realized and she did too.

She smiles sweetly at me, “well, later.”

“later,” I said.

My safe haven would look like me not feeling the weight of that discomfort—knowing she is going places where the legacy of segregation is more prevalent and impossible to ignore.

My yellow face was already a suggestion to her that I had structural advantages as opposed to being Black in America. Even my bus is different.

Is it me or is it the city? Sometimes I feel like I’m living in a pre-Gotham city. Before things got so violent. I read about it happening in New York City, where a man—Black—held another man—Asian—whilst another two took turns to punch him at Fulton Street Station in Manhattan. The victim was accused of molesting a girl he claims he didn’t touch. People tried to call the cops to alert them about the public beating taking place but police officers didn’t arrive for about 20 minutes after the first call1. They also said no complaints of sexual assault had been filed.

I imagine instances of such bullying rising, especially between communities of color, and I mourn for the victims. My safe haven would look like a city where such beatings were unimaginable because why would a person have so much hatred and hurt in their hearts that they would want to publicly humiliate another person in the name of vigilante justice (the Asian man was a “pervert”)—especially if they were of a certain race.

That is white supremacy’s invisible hand sowing division and their hero?

Batman
he comes without bats
but like a bat
he comes

I imagine an alternate reality where Batman comes but instead of with the vengeance of the violent judicial system, he comes as the warm and paternal male role model these men most likely never had, who would teach them how to deal with emotions like anger which they righteously had but in more productive ways than the perverse enjoyment found in publicly humiliating another person that a bully receives. That could be a safe haven.

The thing is, Marwan, another Uber driver, told me he never knew why Batman couldn’t understand his parents walked past the homeless and the poverty in order to go to the opera. They walked straight past those they could have helped and had an obligation to help—knowing what we know about capitalism—and instead of helping, their wealth ended up getting them murdered.

Alas, 1789 still lives in the heart of Gotham city.

And Batman still has the entitlement of a white man that would have him put on a super high-tech, expensive bat suit instead of seeing the necessity of giving up his wealth, and pressuring other wealth holders like him, to reduce crime in Gotham city.

So why the farce? That is the allure of Batman—the self-delusions of Elon Musk. That Batman still represents the story of a hero and is not read with the comedy of Hamlet whose madness is the source of the play’s tragedy is an essence of how seriously white Americans take themselves and their attempts to “help.”

Every donation from a millionaire or a billionaire is nothing more than evidence that despite their wealth and alleged self-awareness, they are still not willing to go all the way with the thought experiment that their wealth is the root cause of a city’s crime. How much could they really care about mental health if they do not care to use their influence to ensure that the city’s homeless have rights to shelter?

In another reality, maybe Bruce Wayne’s parents felt compassion and grief over the plight of the city’s poor and dropped their pearl necklace mysteriously into the pocket of some homeless person’s cup. Maybe that person who was homeless would be overjoyed because it meant they could afford a present for someone special’s birthday. And they noticed that the couple who dropped the necklace was being attacked and through some miraculous instinct saved them—as it is the historical instinct of poor people to lay down their lives for the wealthy.

What then? Bruce Wayne’s parents would live and Batman’s story would still be a foolish, angsty tragedy ripe with comedic intrigue—that in the historical comedy of being born with the privileges of white manhood, billionaire or not, their demise is inevitable. We must guarantee it—us, the tired, huddled masses, the wretched refuse, the tempest tossed to sea yearning to breathe free—send these, she said, of liberty, my safe haven, this city—our Chicago—a lamp beside the golden door.

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