Old Saint Paul, up and down your ripped up sidestreets,
kids roam, hands deep in pockets, snapping ice with each step.
Their mothers poke out of houses,
“Time to come inside,” they say,
waiting to hang blankets off shoulders
and brush the child’s hair from his face.
But you know all this, yes—from the old stone haze of Highland Park,
up Snelling, past Mac-Groveland,
riding I-94 like a slick pack of ghosts, made pale from snow, salt and progress,
past your dome and your horses and your Wild Travelers,
and right on past the damned East Side—you’ve seen it, felt it.
Watched us as boys and girls on the Tilt-a-Whirl at Como Park,
felt us freezing like silver in Moscow, waiting for buses downtown,
watching the well-dressed bastards meander in the Skyway.
You’ve seen us burned out in Frogtown, flattened down in Rondo,
pushed away to the West Side, and kept busy in the workhouse.
You watched as we leapt from the High Bridge.
Old Saint Paul, as we stumble down your bony roads
you know what we think. You know we forget.
You know we deny you to Minneapolis.
You know the kids in the caves, dunking their heads in booze and carbon monoxide,
You know the moment
when people hit the Third Street Bridge at night and they see the skyline breathing
and I swear, it’s like they were falling open.
You know the old men who snore soft in the back of the 16, bouncing their way to temporary placement offices,
the bright boys and girls whom you drive to dreams of absinthe-soaked Babylon
but who, until then, are happy just to be driving their dad’s car down Summit.
You know that from the cold
to the racists to the immigrants to the mean men and women,
the pissed-off boys and girls, we’re just tired of it all. We bow our heads against the wind,
and mutter together something about the life in the world to come.
We see you staring. And we look back, spit, and raise our heads,
and we tell you to wake up!
and we tell you we miss downtown, we miss Galtier, we miss Dayton’s!
and we tell you cathedrals are meant to be sea-foam green!
and we tell you that you’re terrifying alone in cars at night, when—
no matter where we are, whether at Mounds Park or Cathedral Hill or Dayton’s Bluff or Swede Hollow or Selby-Dale—we fall, down into this valley
of transient youth and gutted, rusty Fords.
But you know that now. You know that you’re a Chicago without the size, you’re a Minneapolis
without the balls. And you know in your heart, like a white plume of smoke
holding onto the frozen air, sucking and wheezing for a last few seconds
to hang over that river, that all we know is that somewhere, past a street-corner we may never know,
even if we dig with our nails in the dirt,
there is a home.
W. A. Alexander is a Saint Paul–born and bred writer who will probably never shake his hometown. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota, Morris, and is looking into graduate school. He currently resides in Northeast Minneapolis.