Seventh Avenue Parkway, photo by J Lincoln Dennis

Writing the City

Remembering Seventh Avenue Parkway

Over at Write Denver, I found the following prompt. I’m not sure I really paid that much attention to it once I got going, but it led me to a nice place, so I’ll share it here.

Remembering: The word “nostalgia” has two Greek roots: nostos — returning home, and algos — pain. Even if you’ve called Denver home for a short period of time something has likely gone and been replaced by something else. Part of the societal work of literature is to push back against erasure, against forgetting, by honoring what once was (and by cribbing off that in-built tension to color and motivate your work!). Pick a lost location, describe it down to the smallest and most precise details available to your memory. You may have a lyric piece in and of itself or you may have a meaningful setting for dramatic prose.

Seventh Avenue Parkway. I have memories there of things that haven’t happened yet, and maybe never will. Memories of taking a walk with someone. Holding their hand. Imagined memories of basking in my real memories. The walks to and from work. From York to Colorado. Colorado to York. The green reprieve between two places I didn’t want to be. The unexpected discovery of that street that sustained me for months and years.

It’s the trees. Big trees. Old. It’s the houses that have been lived in for years. The sharp brick corners rounded down.

It’s the walks in late afternoon and dusk I remember most, the late summer ones. Knowing that months from now, or months ago, it would be dark at this hour. (And those dark walks would only remind me of the people, the families already in their homes, home for the night, gathered around something I feared I would never have myself. People who had found their way inside together, while I was out on the street alone in the orange streetlights.) But those summer dusks: green leaves against the purple sky, blooming flowers in the medians, people jogging, or walking their dogs. Those I treasure.

Houses. Most vaguely matching, but still a mishmash. Built before neighborhoods were drawn up and planned as whole units. Some houses whole and aged, others subdivided into apartments. The odd architectural anachronism. Uneven sidewalks. Hand planted flowerbeds. Screened in porches. Cars in alleys or opened garages. The canopy of trees.

A neighborhood of soul, of character. People connected to the city. Roots running deep.

It was full of hope. It reminded me that I still had a future. That I would get past this, and something and someone was waiting for me. I’d never known this area existed. How had I discovered something so beautiful in this, the darkest, most lost time I would ever have? Something so full of hope and potential. I could have a home, or an apartment, or even a room. I could live somewhere that felt real. I wouldn’t need anything else. A space of my own among the trees and brick. The blank space of my future had a little color now. It wasn’t something from the stained past I was clinging to. It was the first time I really saw that there could be a new life for me. A better life.

It would do me well to remember that now. I’m a few years removed from these daily walks. And I don’t have the bookends of despair around them anymore. But I’m not in that glorious future either. I’m lost again, but a different kind of lost. Back then there were crushing lows, and dizzying highs. Now, everything is flat. I don’t have the righteous anger simmering deep down. I’m just tried.

But there was a road lined with tall, dark trees.It is still there. The houses not on the land, but of it. They are there too. The pointed roofs, the painted doors. The porches with benches and knickknacks. Apartments, mansions. All ages and incomes. And I saw myself in them all. One day, when I was free.

I am free now.

It was something that was mine. Not someone else’s plan for my future. The first thing that was mine. Maybe ever. And it opened the door at a time when everything was on the table one moment, and the next moment, my life was more restrained than I ever thought possible.

But almost every day I could walk through this neighborhood I didn’t even know existed. I could see beautiful old homes, and tall trees and families all living a kind of life that I hadn’t been sure was even real. And it gave me hope.

It was easy to hold on to something so bright when everything else was darkness. But now, everything is just gray and the light doesn’t stand out so much. But it is there. Its just as bright. Maybe brighter. I can not give up. I can get to that streets and those houses. I can finally go home.

I do not have a home. I can’t remember I time when I did. Not really. My childhood home belongs to the child, and is tainted with hindsight and melancholy. I only lived in the next house two years before I went to college. There I bounced between dorms and apartments, and now they don’t even feel like real places anymore. A version of me lived there that is gone, and was such a stranger.

And now, in this house I am a guest. I’ve been a guest for years now. It’s not mine. I can’t ever, truly let go here.

I need a home. On a street. With trees.


Originally posted on scraps of poetry and madness, 9 July 2015.

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