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B.K. Atrostic,
Washington DC

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B.K. Atrostic grew up in Pittsburgh – the subject of the poem Pennsylvania. She now lives and works in the Washington DC area.


FINDING WHAT'S LEFT

Pittsburgh's population in 2000 fell to
half its 1950 population.

Only half as many live in Pittsburgh
as half a century ago,
but that steel city still exists,
not just in the worn currency of memory
whose last use
pays the old man to row
us across the Monongahela River
from the South Side, but in coin
that buys admission
to a city speaking in tongues
of flame sent up like prayers
from the mills in Carpathian,
Ukrainian, Russian, Ruthenian,
prayers rising on incense inside domes
of Orthodox churches, their blue
and gold onions floating above
narrow stands of red brick row houses.




We'd go back in a moment to the city
spewing smoke plumes, touching clouds
with the very fuming breath
of the living beast,
signaling ancient spirits enduring
beneath the hills we tunnel and mine,
where we follow barges plowing
downstream laden with fine rolled steel,
lose ourselves in broad rivers
flowing into ever-broader waters, the seas.
Sundays after church, in the hills,
blackberries quickly fill all three tiers
of a miner's lunch pail,
soft dark cups falling
into hands
we snatch out of the bushes,
fearing the snakes
always lurking among the thorns,
but dreaming more
of pies,
latticework crusts
oozing dark, hot, juice.




Pittsburgh is a place so rich
with millionaires and place names
that not even the county treasurer
can make sense of its boroughs
and townships, villages, wards,
understand the stories of pigeons
cooing in Market Square,
chefs in the Strip District
spreading joy as they choose
foods fresh from the rail yards,
tastes beyond understanding.
Bridges, ever longer, stronger,
testing new materials, techniques,
span its rivers but never join
Baptist to Lutheran,
German to Italian,
let alone Slovak to Slavish,
Slavish to Slovenian,
God alone knowing
how any connected to Croatian,
Bulgarian, Serbian, Galician.
Only half of these souls left
to save, half of us left
to dream our way back.
Would our footsteps echo
now in Market Square,
or is silence all that is left?









Poem by B.K. Atrostic © 2004. Original graphics by Sally Crawford © 2004.
Page realisation © 2002 Sally Crawford. All rights reserved.