Jul/Aug 2019 Poetry Special Feature

Back When Chicago Bars All Had Old Style Signs Hanging Outside

by David Mathews

Multimedia artwork by Belinda Subraman

Multimedia artwork by Belinda Subraman

Back When Chicago Bars All Had Old Style Signs Hanging Outside

My young mother tore me
          away from my library copy
                    of A Journey to the Center of the Earth

one Friday to see if I could get my stepdad
          out of the dive bar down the block,
                    where he was pissing away a paycheck,
                              & my mother wouldn't be welcomed.

I was eight. Scared shitless.
          I stood in front of the door for a while
                    listening to what was on the other side—
                              an argument & the juke box playing "Bad Company."

          I made my descent into the unknown like Axel from my library book.

Back then, that Logan Square dive bar
          served a patchwork of the working class.

          The factory men—end of workweek drinkers
                    —back when Chicagoans made things.

                    Vietnam Vets. Cab drivers. Deadbeats. Bikers.

Old timers who shot at Nazis
          flicking lucky strikes with tattoos
                    on their arms faded like lingering dreams,
                              drinking 7 & 7's & boilermakers.

I was given a glass of 7-Up with ice
          & a cherry stabbed with a plastic sword,
                    like one of the boys, before a slow burn
                              switched them to

          "Finish your drink & go" to "Get out!" Then "Go home to mama!"

The jukebox started The James Gang's "Walk Away."
          As they laughed their asses off, I left that cavern of ape-men
                    never getting to the center of the earth.

That dive bar on Kedzie is longer there.
It's one of the nation's most celebrated places for brunch now.
Our replacements take pics of their plates. Can't even change a tire.
Nothing of what we went through exists except for this.


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