Eleanor Coughlin (she/they)

Editorial Team Member

forgive my geography, it’s true i’m obsessed

with maps. with flags. a Starbucks on the block

means migration. any restaurant with bulletproof glass

is a homecoming. underneath my gym shoes

is a trail of salt. that last sentence is a test.

does the poet mean:

(a) grief

(b) winter

(c) diaspora

(d) this is the wrong question

(e) all of the above

i’m always out south

of somewhere. i know the sun rises

in Lake Michigan and sets out west.

i got primos i’ve never met. there’s a word

for that. (where did they go?) all the steel mills shuttering up

like conquered forts. one day, there will be an urban tour

through South Chicago. picture the soy cappuccino-

sipping cool kids wearing Chicago Over Everything-

branded hoodies taking selfies in front of machines

that once breathed fire. pretending the bones

are the real thing.

 I’m immediately interested in any piece of media about Chicago, and I usually enjoy it. That is true for this poem, which really spoke to me. 

I have a strong love and pride for Chicago, and so does my family, especially on my mother’s side. Both my mother and her parents were born and raised there. My grandfather’s father built railroad tracks all around the Midwest, but especially in Chicago. My grandfather likes to talk about how his aunt married Al Capone. I didn’t believe it at first, but if you Google what Al Capone’s wife’s maiden name is, it will show that her maiden name is Coughlin. Coughlin is my grandfather’s last name, my mother’s, and also mine. Apparently, there’s a photo somewhere of my grandfather and Al Capone, although it’s probably buried in the depths of my family’s photo books. Basically, I have a lot of connections to Chicago, especially because I’ve lived here my whole life. 

The part of the poem, “underneath my gym shoes/is a trail of salt. that sentence is a test./does the poet mean:/(a) grief/(b) winter/(c) diaspora/(d) this is the wrong question/(e) all of the above,” is something that I feel carries a lot of meaning. In winter in Chicago, people sprinkle salt everywhere on the sidewalks to get rid of the ice. I’m sure that this is a common thing that’s done everywhere that it snows, but I’ve noticed that Chicagoans in particular put down a lot of salt. 

Another part of this that’s very Chicago is “diaspora”. The meaning of diaspora is the spreading of people from their original homeland. There’s a lot of immigrants in Chicago, and there always have been. Chicago is a mixing pot of all sorts of people, cultures and backgrounds, and that’s part of what makes Chicago so amazing and unique. Although my mother’s side of the family has been here for several generations, we were originally from Ireland on my grandfather’s side, and Italy on my grandmother’s side. Their roots to their home countries and their roots to Chicago are extremely strong and interwoven. That was decades ago, and although where people are immigrating from has mainly changed, people having strong roots to both another country and Chicago is still very common. 

This poem is also talking about gentrification in Chicago. The lines, “one day, there will be an urban tour/through South Chicago. picture the soy cappuccino-/sipping cool kids wearing Chicago Over Everything-/branded hoodies taking selfies in front of machines/that once breathed fire.” especially speak to this. Many parts of Chicago, and especially the south side, have been increasingly gentrified, driving many people (usually Black and Latino) out of their homes. Here, the narrator of the poem speaks about the south side as if they were talking about downtown, with a tour, soy cappuccinos and expensive Chicago merch. That’s not something that happens much in a regular, non gentrified neighborhood. 

The fire that once came out of the machines in the poem is a metaphor for the people, the life and the soul that lives in Chicago. Many times, gentrification drives away the people that bring the soul to Chicago. 

Overall, I find this poem to be an emotional description of different parts of Chicago that touches on important subjects that my city deals with