Cermak & California

by Stefania Gomez

I.

Buses leave to Mexico from my street.

Tonight the laundromat auto body shop and taco stand left their lights on late, their curtains flung open.

The couple working in the laundromat were still as a portrait against the rows of clothing. They were still as the rows of clothing hung around them.

On those buses that leave to Mexico from my street, my neighbors go places. By the looks of it, the neighborhood is going. She says, we left the hood for the suburbs, but the gangs and the rats followed.

Sebastián says, to this neighborhood, I have given so much of myself. Including, 2 times near Western, nearly my life.

Which neighborhood are you from? Where are you going?

I live at Cermak and California. Each morning a ghost pounds on my door.

Back then, I bought the building for $50 K, she says. Paid 20 in cash. No brainer. Now, I have 4 people lined up for one unit.

Sebastián wants to travel and take photos. If he has to stay abroad for some months, 6 months even— so be it. He says, I want to buy a home here so I never have to live in it.

II.

I live on Cermak and California. In my neighborhood there is an enormous park that divides one people from another. The north end of the park is a different nation from the south. Today, a citizen of the north end wandered south, his shopping cart full of soda cans and his head bowed just as low as the cans were flattened. Beside him, a puddle of vomit dried. It looked like an impressionist painting depicting the planters that the viejitas fill with pink and yellow blooms outside of their homes, and flood with water from their hoses each summer day.  

III.

At the other edge of the park there is a hospital, so often does the need for one arise. From the hospital doors constantly stream white-haired, uniformed nurses like so many ghosts.

IV.

The Douglas Park service garage on Sacramento is open and empty, hollow and brick. Car hood up, mid-fixing, and a truck outfitted to fix. What happens here? What kind of service does the park require? A single truck, laden with foils and machinery will suffice to manicure the grass, fill the divots with sand, collect litter from the pond, referee the endless matches of soccer, 10 at a time, played by children and played by men. Clear the gazebo of those that live there. Re-pave the fractured sidewalks.

Abandoned through the winter months, built when the park was dreamed up as a place so different from what it would become. Even its signs were painted and posted when that dream seemed still within reach, before everything issued by the city and county was made from plastic. Today the garage door was wide open, the insides were exposed for all to see. Men were at work, tilling a field of degraded soil. The men were seeds planted in the field. They seemed to say, something can live here again. In the summer, this is how the neighborhood can sometimes feel.  

V.

My only friend in my neighborhood is the woman who works at the train stop. Today she tells me that they’re transferring her to the blue line next week. We’re going to miss you, I say, utterly floored. She says nothing, reaches out and shakes my hand.

I board the train and sit next to a woman reading the Bible quietly to herself. On my other side, a man discusses chess moves over the phone. At Western, a man boards, a lit cigarette long as a pistol hanging from his mouth.

VI.

The people who live in the Park’s gazebo disappeared today, leaving it empty as the Service Garage. Did they disperse across the Park? Did they leave together, all at once? Or slowly, one by one? Did they melt into the concrete floor? Did they transubstantiate into air? Did they leave because in the end, the gazebo never really belonged to them, but to the Park? What happens to a people whose home is not their own?

VII.

An Uber driver explains to me how he got shot when he was 15 twice in the back once in the foot at 22nd and Oakley but his foot is fine now. Over there? The SDs. Past this busy street? The Latin Kings.

Someday, he says, he’ll buy a passport. Take a vacation. Go to the blue water they have over in Hawaii.

VIII.

The Douglas Park Service Garage is empty today except the light bursting in through the pulley doors and the open roof. Inside, the brick walls have been spray painted with a series of identifying numbers—house numbers, perhaps, or a phone. Either the Park District’s municipal logic, or that of some delinquent, their impulse to reveal the way we have been indexed, our eagerness to reduce ourselves to something like the combination to a lock.

Anyway, this is a story about grit, you dig? This is story about the urban experience. This is not a story about how I kill all the plants I keep, or how I lose everything that matters to me, or how I will never belong in this neighborhood, no matter how much I write about it.

IX.

Which neighborhood are you from? Where are you going?

I live at Cermak and California. Each morning a ghost pounds on my door.

X.

Up and down California the kids detonate small bombs that stream into the sky and burst in golden florets, and nearly strike cars driving as they explode in the street. The kids scream as they light them off. California smells like sulfur.

I take the train away, east, to flee, but through the picture window in the train car, high above the buildings, the three-flats, I see the fireworks rise from every block, on every street, between each house, the whole city catching fire, exploding, and extinguishing, over and over.


Stefania Gomez is a queer writer, radio producer, and teaching artist from Chicago’s South Side. She received her BA from Brown in 2017, and has work in Bluestockings Magazine, the Offing, and the Missouri Review. She currently works at the Poetry Foundation.