February 6, 2009
On Chicago: Old Loopy
How do I hold you, city, in the mind
When my backward memory goes exploring?
An ocean without salt, a gale roaring,
A cruel blackness with a glittering rind.
Luxurious windows along dingy streets,
A rumbling loop of elevated cars,
Forbidding alleys, shadowshining bars.
And every mood from Al Capone to Keats.
Fantastic town, town feminine, town mad,
The town of Panta Rei (or, Everything Goes) ,
Town packed with comedy like bones in shad
Where even the cop a cuckoo-whistle blows
And in the sky an electric whiskey ad:
A seal that spins the world upon his nose.
It is not my wish nor ability to offer a philosophic essay on Chicago. I simply want to tell her I love her. She is one of the few big towns that can be loved as an integer; a subtle unity holds her together, makes her apprehensible. It is partly her essentially provincial spirit; the deep inferiority complex which is so valuable to the artist, goading him to excess, both achievement and despair; and it is partly some underlying vein of rank vitality. The wild onion for which she was named (most Chicagoans have forgotten this) is an accurate symbol. An exquisite garlic of paradox is still discernible in her doings. Garlic is a magnificent savor if leniently used. She appeals to something untamed, young and central in the romantic heart. Most sentimental of towns, she weeps over her defaulting financiers and loads the coffins of gunmen with tons of flowers. She plunders the shrines of the world to adorn the Gothic office building of a newspaper; stones from Westminster Abbey, the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, Notre Dame and "Hamlet's Castle at Elsinore" are plummed into the fabric of the beautiful Tribune pile. Is that childish, or is it noble? It's both; it's Chicago.
From: Old Loopy: A Love Letter for Chicago by Christopher Morely (1937)
Christopher Morley (1890-1957)
CHRISTOPHER MORLEY KNOTHOLE ASSOCIATION
Christopher Morley Presented by Michael Gilleland