The river is cold tonight. The river is sluggish, but it has always been so. By natural inclination it must empty into the lake, but humankind has changed this. Its headwaters flow in accordance to nature. Here, where the streets lie in a perfect grid, the river’s flow reverses. It was the city’s original plan to keep the river (and its human-derived offal) from the lake. And so here, where the river is cold and sluggish, its waters flow backwards.
The lake, to the east, is an invisible thing, a whisper of deeper black in light-tinged shallows that may aspire to blackness but never quite make it. There are no boats; it’s too cold for them, and so the lake, like the river, is dark and lifeless. What fish may swim in these waters have taken to the depths: a hard thing since depth is not a true Chicago-concept. The river and the lake are not the largest or the deepest. They define the city, however, and so it is no surprise to learn that Chicago’s history is only half-substantial.
Like any youngster, Chicago looks only to the present. The future is a half-realized dream that lurks somewhere in the bowels of the subconscious. The past is something buried and forgotten, though fragments of it may find their way to the surface. What history the city claims is also sold to the highest bidder.
On nights when the air is cold and clotted with lake-born exhalations, only the present exerts itself. It gleams in the colors of high-pressure sodium vapor and with neon, halogen, and incandescent light. It hums with traffic, leavening itself (here and there) with food-spices and gusts of warmth from restaurant doors. On these nights, deep in the grid-locked core of the city, the present is all that matters. It is a beautiful thing (though its beauty is inconstant and mutable, as only beauty may be.) It is safe—though only for a moment—to contemplate the river in its reverse-course, and the lights, gleaming like gems, on the face of murky water. There is beauty, and it is born in the buzz of electricity through excited gasses.
Tomorrow, the sun will rise (though in winter, the clouds will simply lighten and take on their normal, unctuous gray.) And the city will be a different thing. A gray thing. A drab thing as appealing as the underbelly of a rat. The buildings that announce themselves with light in the darkness will serve men who can only dream of numbers. These men have no need of light, no understanding of it, and for as long as their influence rules, the city will stand, sullen and colorless. But as such men—with their numerical dreams—retire to their dwellings, the city will again live, will again throw its giddy light into the darkness and (as always) deny the perversions of those whose dreams have warped its very nature.
This city—like others so young—makes its name in darkness, smearing it (paint-like) over the face of its narrow, sluggish river.
As always, thank you for viewing, reading, and commenting, and I hope that this week is going well for you.
Feb 9, 2010 7:27:33 pmby bmac62 Homepage »
The writing just pours out of you Chip. I count it a privelege to be reading what you write these days. Extremely creative. What you write tonight reminds me of a large tree with a big overhang, even a lot of height, but only shallow roots...no depth...but just enough tenacity to stay put for now. The winter weather and the black of night may even be beneficial to anchoring the city...like wires attached to stakes in the ground around the tree... Well done my friend. :)
Feb 9, 2010 7:47:43 pmby jocko500 Homepage »
I look at this and read your writing and wonder what people do and say and play here. They look at the rive and say it dirty for the waste of the city goes into it. yes the water been filther but still the idea is there. Chicago bring up images in my head as Al beats the maryor up on the steps of city hall as a policeman turns his head. The Purple Gang kills over 500 people and not one goes to jail. But the city of lights here is shineing forgetting those days and hopeing on brighter days ahead. The night shines on and the river still be running backwards but no one cares as they look to days of hope; but it a big city and all good and evil is there and no one forgot that.
wonderful night shot
Feb 9, 2010 11:51:41 pmby myrrhluz Homepage »
I've read of the changing of the course of the river. I don't remember where, perhaps in Erik Larson's book, "Devil in the White City" It always seemed so single minded and arrogant to push your garbage down to your less powerful neighbors. Similar to the blowing up of a levy in Louisiana, down river from New Orleans. The power bosses in New Orleans were afraid of losing business over the fear that New Orleans would flood during the floods of 1927. They had been told that the levees upriver were unlikely to hold meaning that New Orleans would not be in danger. But businesses were nervous so to be on the safe side, they dynamited levees in sparsely populated and powerless areas down river turning 10,000 people into refugees. Another instance of men who only think in numbers. Your writing sets such intense and pervasive moods. Of the grey drab day and the brittle bright darkness of night. Interwoven is a mindset that has no understanding of past glories or lessons. Heedlessly it races in place. Beautiful image, that seems both exciting and distant while it dazzles the eyes. Your story, as ever, kept me spellbound to the end!
Feb 10, 2010 1:32:39 amby whaleman Homepage »
I do hope you are working on a larger writing project because you certainly are a writer and everyone likes your work. But relatively few will see it here and it deserves a larger audience. As a fellow writer, I know the difficulties that may bring yet the rewards are there too. I'll keep reading in any case.
Feb 11, 2010 6:04:06 amby Meisiekind Homepage »
A M A Z I N G image Chip! Gosh how i love it... The depth of the image is incredible and I love the play of black & gold on the water...
I must admit - I am so rushed for time, so I have put a reminder in my diary to come back to this image to read the Chiplet!!!