George Wallace at The Lit in Cleveland – photo by JC 


cleveland so cold the trains stopped running, even the barrooms closed, the three of us stuck in our tracks for days and we could not stay inside with the great american midwest howling historically on the other side of the door, could not resist it and listen to the news, hunker down with the others, we thought we could experience the thing on our own terms so we drove out into the blinding cold to witness lake erie, beyond where the cuyahoga river dumps stupidly down through its maze girders and iron industrial death and spills its guts out, to a place called whiskey island, the homeless sometimes go there at night to light fires in oil drums, to warm their hands and faces against the violent ancient grip of a society they cannot stomach, only no homeless on whiskey island in this cold, the cleveland homeless are not stupid or poetry dreamers and they’re not from new york, the news said forty below with the wind chill figured in but what did we know, that’s a force cleveland hadn’t experienced in decades, historic cold, coldest night america can throw at you, tough old cleveland wouldn’t want any part of a thing like this, a cold too big for the exercise of ambition or defeat or curiosity, no human enterprise but the deep dark burrowing down, the only answer is to not stand out before it, the surface of the great angry lake was magnificent of course, the only living creature for miles and doing crazy battle against itself and the artic blast, a wind so cold it clawed at the surface of the lake and the lake clawed back, water and wind and the entire horizon raked up into swirls of ice, someone said ‘flight of spontaneous bop blizzard’ but it was not that, too big for jazz poetry phrases, completely indifferent, north to canada, eastward beyond the squat cleveland cityscape, west into an impossible gone haze, indifferent! we walked out over the lakeshore all icy tundra of sand and bleached wood, hammered into the frozen ground like any other lost band of westward pioneers might do, men who’ve found themselves face to face with something bigger than anything they had ever imagined to experience or tame, at the edge of the cold angry water — and us?’ nothing! our bones ached and moaned, sad irrelevant pioneer poet bones at the edge of oblivion, ie a thrashing surface of wind and lake and the lake thrashing back, so wild how the lake thrashes back, a lake will never give in, glowering defiant teenager subdued for a moment but it’ll just bide its time and strike back hard in its own lake-y way when the time is right for it, the assertive depthless dimensions of water, here it was a symphonic battle between two forces so great there was no way to humanly witness it, an angry lake that wanted to live, an angry wind that wanted to kill a lake, water gone ice, ice gone water, a surface so flat and deadly deciding for itself what it wanted to be, no room for human interference — how many thousand square miles of ice cloud and lake shore death can gods or men endure, how many miles of this dance, mist and crystal and crystal and mist in a living death grip, and none but us to witness it, three lonely poets with our backs to the world

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George Wallace is Writer in Residence at the Walt Whitman Birthplace, first poet laureate of Suffolk County NY, and author of 26 chapbooks of poetry, including Poppin Johnny (Three Rooms Press, NYC ‘10), Burn My Heart in Wet Sand (Troubador Press, Leicester UK, ‘05) and Swimming Through Water (La-Finestra Editrice, Trento, It, ‘05). An adjunct professor with the English Department at Pace University in Manhattan, he is editor of Poetrybay, Poetryvlog, Long Island Quarterly, and co-editor of Great Weather For Media. George is a frequent visitor to the poetry scene in Cleveland, and has several acclaimed chapbooks published through Green Panda and NightBallet Presses.