Winner of the inaugural Max Ritvo Poetry Prize, North American Stadiums is an assured debut collection about gracethe places we search for it, and the disjunction between what we seek and where we arrive.
"You were supposed to find God here / the signs said." In these poems, hinterlands demand our close attention; overlooked places of industry become sites for pilgrimage; and history large and smallof a city, of a family, of a shirtis unearthed. Here is a factory emptying for the day, a snowy road just past border patrol, a baseball game at dusk. Mile signs point us toward Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Salt Lake City, Chicago. And god is not the God expected, but the still moment amid movement: a field "lit like the heart / of the night," black stars stitched to the yellow sweatshirts of men in a crowd.
A map "bleached / pale by time and weather," North American Stadiums is a collection at once resolutely unsentimental yet deeply tender, illuminating the historical forces that shape the places we inhabit and how those places, in turn, shape us.
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About the Author
Grady Chambers was born and raised in Chicago. He was a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, attended the MFA program at Syracuse University, and has received fellowships from the Norman Mailer Center and the New York State Summer Writers Institute. His writing has appeared in Adroit Journal; Diode Poetry Journal; Forklift, Ohio; Nashville Review; Ninth Letter; New Ohio Review; and elsewhere. He lives in Philadelphia.
Read an Excerpt
Explaining the Resurrection in Simple Words
A blessing can be the act
of invoking divine
or a favor or gift
bestowed by god,
and I don't know
how to define mercy,
but the field
is lit like the heart
of the night, gnats flitting
above the crosshatched grass,
huge shadows of the ballplayers in stadium light
whistling in signals
from the outfield.
The wind lifts and settles
our shirts against our skin,
and you ask after my day:
there'd been pinwheels
spinning on a rain-soaked lawn, pigeons
cooing and nesting in the gutters.
I'd pressed my back to the dark
damp wood of the trunk.
Yellow flowers fell on me.
Another Beauty I Remember
Somewhere in South Chicago the millwrights and welders
of US Steel are leaving their masks
to hooks and lockers and shining out
into evening still covered in dust.
Those men do not belong to me, their world of arc
and fire, but many nights I have loved them.
When I was seventeen
my friends and I rode each weekend
toward the Indiana border. One drove, another worked the dials
on the radio, and I drank gin in the back
and ordered us to slow over the toll bridge
to peer down at the barge lights roaming the Calumet River,
then up to where the smokestacks of US Steel
rose like an organ in a church. Gin, fire, the workers
coming off their shifts, light lighting up the metal-dust
spread along their shoulders like the men
had all walked through plate glass windows.
Their dust does not belong to me, but many nights I have loved them.
They do not live where I was born, north of the mammoth
glass residences of the Gold Coast
where the worst news
was soon mended: a neighbor girl's bone
broken in a fall. A garage fire sullying the air
over Broadway and Balmoral. I did not know
their sons: the Byrnes, the Walshes, the Mansekies
of Bridgeport and Fuller Park. The green parade and the green
river and the pride of the Irish. Laughter, bright
balloons over cracked asphalt, yellow hair
and sunlight, all the families singing songs
of another country.
I keep taking the long road back
to that summer because the image won't leave me:
weekend evenings, gin and driving south, smoke
blasting from the factory stacks,
the men glancing up at the flash of our passing.
We were going to spend all night drinking gin
on an Indiana beach. Dust had settled
like fragments of a hand grenade, like silver wings
across the backs of the men. We were going to tell each other
what was beautiful.
The dark water was beautiful. The fire drowning
the air with smoke, our voices
drowned by the sound.
I stood at the edge of the water
where the coastline stretched from my left
and curved enough north that the stitch
of factory lights looked like they were shining
from the far side of the lake.
We burned traces into the air with the burning
tips of sticks poked into the heart of fire.
We all said the sky was beautiful. Our bodies light
against the water.
Somewhere in South Chicago the millwrights and welders
of US Steel are leaving their masks to hooks
and they are going home. What did I know then? What did I know
of the beauty of the men? Driving past, I watched just long enough
to see them stepping out of their shifts,
believing them angelic, knowing not a thing
about their lives, each of them, perhaps, seeing what I saw: light
coming off the backs of the others as they drifted
into the lot, but knowing the light I saw was dust,
not wings, and, knowing to call it dust,
calling it dust.
This was my routine: I woke, and in the morning
carried my houseplants to the courtyard,
three small succulents
potted in a wooden box.
Each evening I returned to retrieve them.
When a neighbor inquired
I explained that I did this to give the plants sun and air.
Her manner suggested she perceived my action to be
unusual-I suspected she'd been watching for some time.
Soon after, the rains came.
What little light there was
only made visible the water
that had been falling invisibly all night.
The daily journey from the kitchen to the courtyard became unnecessary.
Here I should explain something
about the room in which I lived.
It was small, three walls and a door,
but one whole wall was a window.
The view was of the courtyard
and across it, windows into the rooms
on the yard's far side: blinds, reflections,
individual panes the width and length of coffins.
In time I became interested in a window opposite my own.
It was like the others
in most respects, except all day a curtain
was drawn across it. Light burned
from behind it all hours of the night.
Evenings I positioned my chair behind the blinds-
night came. One by one
the windows glowed
on the building opposite.
One by one they were extinguished
except the one I watched.
I recall a night-light I was given as a boy,
a moon the size of my hand
illuminated by a slim bulb.
The light shined through the moon; the moon's plastic
softened the light.
In the sky, the white moon.
In the corner of my room, the small moon appeared yellow. The window
came to seem connected: the way the curtain
held and thickened the light,
how the light made the weight of the curtain apparent.
Reading back, I see that I have omitted
certain important details-
many nights had passed; the curtain remained closed.
What I knew of the room I knew
only from the shadows cast
by the objects inside-
a spray of stems.
I never saw anyone.
I never saw anyone,
but I knew the room was occupied: the shade of the light
sometimes altered, bright or dim
depending on the night,
like a pulse.
I lay in bed. The rain erased the world,
and the world's noise returned-
trickling water; the hum
coming from the walls.
Days passed. A stain formed
on the sill's tile around the outline
of the box of plants.
The window, as I have said, often remained lit
late into the night. When I saw it, I would rise
and turn on my own. If the window darkened,
mine did too. In this way, I felt, we came to form
a kind of correspondence.
At the courtyard's center
sat a round glass table, four chairs
tilted toward it, like people conspiring.
A pool of water formed across its surface,
blue in the evening, pale in the day, the sky
moving inside it. Each night before sleep,
my eyes traveled from the window
to the table, from the table to the shape
of each vacant chair, the darkness filling
the absent forms.
Noon turned everything white-
shadows walked back
inside their trees.
You were supposed to find God here,
the signs said-
West Jordan, Zion, there
where the first Saints
into the Valley
by the Range.
Dusk drowned the canyon's gashes-
dawn brought them back-
then all that sunlight. All that
brown burnt trackside brush.
Kids by the roadside,
I remember-blue snow cones
in white paper cups.
Table of Contents
Explaining the Resurrection in Simple Words 1
Syracuse, October 5
The Life 6
Another Beauty I Remember 8
Thousand Islands 11
Sunday Morning 14
Far Rockaway 15
A Summer 26
View from Brooklyn 29
The Window 30
The Syracuse Poem 44
Blue Handgun 49
After Psalm 17 57
A Story about the Moon 59
Dispatch: Pittsburgh 60
Picasso in Milwaukee 63
Dispatch: Canal Zone 64
Salt Lake 67
Forbes Field, Pittsburgh, 1966 68
The Leavings 73
Bands You Might Have Liked If You Were Still Alive 80
Stopping the War 82
Rainout in the Twin Cities 91
Memorial Day 92