I gave you my heart in Hyde Park where I was born in the University Hospital with no time for paperwork. Forty-five minutes– Whatever came after, I swear I was born wanting to live. I gave you my heart and you had it every sunrise and every sunset that gave way to an orange night sky, hiding the stars to preside over silent-night sirens like the night dad came in the back door dripping blood all down the hall, but that was just what happened, Chicago. Sometimes we bled, and some bled more than others, you know, you have to know, the way your police save their serve-and-protect for your kids with the right color skin and their fists and their guns for everyone else. You were fourth-of-July fireworks set off in parks and some of them were gunshots. Chicago, sometimes they don’t get back up. Sometimes we stand on sky and you know just how many times my heart sang walking down Michigan Avenue in the sun because you had it, and you still had my heart when I fell in love in Iowa.
Growing up, I learned to love the smell of car exhaust but to hold my breath anyway. Growing up, I learned not to step on broken glass but no one ever warned me about picking it up. Chicago, no one warned me at all. My heart beat fast in your asphalt fist on the number six bus avoiding eyes, avoiding I’s, but you were my certain stretch of broken limestone along the edge of the Lake that I knew and named and needed. God, I needed you. I really did.
Chicago, you call me when the air’s too clear, like the song, “calling me home.” You call me in the rattle of the trains like the men on the Red Line– “what’s your name, girl? what’s your name?” I’ll tell you; for the first time, my name is Not Yours, Not Theirs, Not Anyone’s and I’m sorry I can’t beg for forgiveness this time. When I come back, I’ll give all the cash in my wallet to your boys and girls in sidewalk sleeping bags, I’ll listen for music on the breeze and run right into traffic just like I used to do and you’ll know me, Chicago, and I will know you less and less with each return, as I do, as I have, ’cause Chicago, I fell in love in Iowa.
Tell them I love them. Tell it like you saw me die. Tell it like you couldn’t save my life, so tell the truth. Take care of my heart; it beats with the crash of the waves on concrete, pulling blood along your streets, along your veins, singing along Lake Shore Drive. I am there. Grow tall while you can and break hearts ’cause you must. Break me if you dare, but I’m gone. Tell them I’m gone. Show them what I left with you and tell them what I learned: that home isn’t always where the heart is, not if the fear lives there, too. Not if the knife lives there, too. Chicago, tell them I’m okay. Tell the knife I’m not coming back.