I wrote this poem on visit to my hometown about 10 years ago to see my mother.  The  town is working hard to try to recover from economic hard times and its aging demographics.  I wish the city and all its residents the best in this endeavor.  It was a wonderful place to grow up, and I hope it will be again someday.

Rust Belt Blues

Train tracks go in, out.
The rusting fortress of a factory
darkens the sky.

In its shadow
The old Italian men in sleeveless T-shirts
and black lace-up oxfords
Collect in metal yard chairs
Behind backyard wire fences,
Drinking Iron City and playing bocce.
Contained within their kitchens
Their aproned wives hum — 
stir, simmer, soothe — 
Providers of earthly sustenance.
“No one should leave my house hungry.”
But I have left and returned,
Hungry still.

Poking sticks into sidewalk cracks,
Children line the crumbling curbs.
Grubby, grimy, bickering,
They are ready at an instant
To issue or accept the challenge.
Running downhill until
Lungs and legs give out — 
They collapse at the curb, resuming their endless vigil.
My body remembers, doubles over,
Sharing that sensation,
Boredom alternating with breathless intensity.

The local gas station describes my life here — 
My relationship with this place — STOP-N-GO.
I pay the clerk in the plexiglass box,
A grade school class mate
Who doesn’t even register my credit card name.
His practiced hand avoids all touch,
Drops the card in mine.
We held hands to NASA launches
In the TV room of our old school
Whose windows now stare like haunted eyes.
Shattered and abandoned,
His eyes, too, are vacant.

I hear peripheral echoes,
Shadows upon shadows.

(c) Lydia A. Schultz 2016