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Place of Sense

January 3, 2006

When you live in a place
long enough you learn the smells.
The smoke from its factories.
The ammonia from the fertilizer plant.
The slaughter house blood and bone.
Garlic frying in the woks.

You get used to the sounds.
The honking of horns
and squealing of tires.
The sirens of cops
and the silence of robbers.
The helicopters flying overhead.
The family crying
at the young girl’s funeral.
The wild laughter
from the neighbor’s apartment.
The Corpus Christi
procession in the street.
Hip hop music from the cars.

You recognize others on the street
in this place where you live, where
you’ve learned the smells and the sounds.
You walk by people sometimes.
Sometimes they walk by you.
Some of them are bright-eyed,
alert to the world.
Some of them carry their fists
clenched, their jaws set.
You notice that some of them
keep their eyes downcast, averted.
Some never talk.
But the eyes are always
saying something.
Something about love and hate,
about life and death,
here where three rivers meet,
The Floyd, the Big Sioux and the Missouri.
Some of the eyes know you.
They remember you
and you remember them.

The dead girl had been
murdered by her ex-boyfriend
She was an only child.
I know the family.
The funeral was on
a Friday during Lent.
A cold rainy day.
The interment was
on a windy hill.
The notes of the mariachi band
were lost in the wind.
The violins got wet.
The ladies at the parish hall
forgot it was Friday and served
ham salad sandwiches.
I guess that funeral was
everyfuneral for everygirl

Sometimes people just walk by.
You nod your head.
And they nod theirs.
They are like the others.
They are not like the others.
It is always hard to tell.

Let me make this clear.
It has something to do with
the sense of place.
The place of sense.
And the spirit in you.
And the spirits beyond you.
You become part of a place
and the place becomes part of you.
And that is what I needed to say.

Written by Fred Garber, of Factory Town.

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  1. January 3, 2006 at 9:34 pm

    Wonderful. The stanza about the dead girl’s funeral is stunning: both painfully specific and woefully universal. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  2. January 4, 2006 at 9:01 am

    Thank you so much, Fred, for writing this and being here. I, too, was stunned by the specifics of the girl’s funeral; that stanza brings the poem to another level. Wonderful, sad, real.

  3. January 4, 2006 at 10:20 am

    Thanks Lorianne and Beth! Tom Montag’s editing deserves much of the credit. That funeral was painful for everyone. Father, mother, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. When I told the parish priest about the ham salad sandwiches he said something about turning the ham into tuna. Lots of details keep flashing back to me. The cousin of the deceased girl who was the same age but had chosen a different road in life….the cop who had shot the boyfriend….

  4. January 4, 2006 at 12:00 pm

    This is lovely. I particularly like the second-to-last stanza, especially its last line, “It is always hard to tell.”


  5. January 4, 2006 at 3:00 pm

    Thank you for your kind comments. Sara, you must be noticing what I sometimes notice about others who are walking by on the sidewalk. It it a very long sidewalk and they are always there. Or it seems so.

  6. January 4, 2006 at 6:11 pm

    Heard a siren from the docks
    Saw a train set the night on fire
    Smelled the spring on the smoky wind
    Dirty old town

    I’m going to make me a good sharp axe
    Shining steel tempered in the fire
    Will chop you down like an old dead tree
    Dirty old town

    Grew up in a bad part of Detroit. Ghosts and echoes.

  7. January 5, 2006 at 8:50 am

    Sometimes it seems like it is all ghosts and echoes. All different shades of gray. The fire in the night, the sirens and the smells ….they add color and variety. For awhile at least there is some sense that you are not sleep walking and the world is more than a dream.

  8. Debbie
    January 5, 2006 at 12:38 pm

    Very good and very real feeling. It pulls you in as you feel you recognize the smell, air, and so on. Nice.

  9. January 5, 2006 at 4:57 pm

    Thank you for your kind comments! Debbie, as I write this I can smell the garlic from lunch on my clothes and there is a firetruck siren outside.

  10. January 6, 2006 at 11:28 am

    You’ve really given voice to what it means to live in a place and have that place live in you. The sounds, the emotions, the smells, the history that never goes away.

  11. January 6, 2006 at 4:11 pm

    Thank you Patry! I actually wrote the poem while living in another place. My senses were not familiar with the new place and i was longing for the old place. I have recently moved back to my old city with the familiar sensory experiences

  12. January 8, 2006 at 8:42 am

    I love the directness, simplicity and authenticity of this, a poet who is also a journalist. Thank you.

  13. January 9, 2006 at 10:48 am

    Hmmm…..your comment got me to thinking about how I write. I did earn a journalist merit badge in boy scouts. I have never worked as a jounalist. I do sell newspaper subscriptions at malls as a parttime job.

  14. January 10, 2006 at 2:31 am

    hi, this post reminded me of when i lived in philadelphia at 19th and green. that’s where i lived with my husband when we were first married.

  15. January 10, 2006 at 4:18 pm

    19th and Green……have you been back lately?….I could use a Philly cheese steak right now…..

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