In his deeply evocative poem, “Up from the Alleys,” Martin Marcus recaptures public history and private moments of joy and sadness from his 1940s-era childhood spent in Chicago’s Hollywood Park neighborhood. This poem was originally published in the Chicago Tribune.
Between 1935 and 1952, when Marty went away to college, his family lived in five different Hollywood Park apartment buildings: on Bernard, Spaulding, Kimball, Bernard again, and Kimball again. Some of these buildings are shown in the photographs (not in any particular order). More of Marty’s poems about Chicago will be published in future posts.
Up from the Alleys
by Martin Marcus
I climbed the buildings, walked the rivers of Chicago,
read its papers, laughing at the photos
of its leading citizens, helped to decorate
its subway, put my family’s bones
in its graveyards, knew several of its pigeons
by their first names.
In the ‘forties watched colored boys new and clumsy
with a basketball, and in the ‘fifties
their younger brothers make this hobby
a religion, saw which empty lots filled up
with junk and which with progress.
Shared a beer at ten with father
right up at the bar of its saloons,
rode its old red streetcars with their yellow straw seats
banging screeching through the three-story neighborhoods,
named its alleys, passed a third of childhood in them,
they seemed made for dusty boys, and boys inhabited them,
Unwelcome to their own mothers in the polished front entrances
of their flats.
Hunted ring-neck pheasants with a b-b gun
(never hit one) on the prairies of north Kimball Avenue,
and Saturdays traveled every movie matinee from the Logan
to the Howard, jumped the fence to play touch football
on the forbidden grounds of the Municipal Tuberculosis
Sanitarium marveling I was never infected,
played “tackle” in the pasture at Kedzie and Bryn Mawr
picking goat pellets out of my home-made uniform.
Lagged my rubber-banded stacks of war cards
at the sidewalk cracks (traded Mitsubishi bomber
for hero navy pilot Colin Kelly
going down in flames forever), and summer after
summer dodged the polio viruses aswim
in the pre-vaccinial waters of Lake Michigan.
And when the rent was raised from forty-two a month
to forty-eight we had to move and father lost his business
and his wits and for a while mother and I lived in a weird
hotel while father was having his breakdown rebuilt
in some Frankensteinish Sheridan Road hospital.
And the Ravenswood El still snakes between the back porches
of the apartment houses, but the prairies where we played
are gone, and father never was again the same,
though sometimes now at twilight, looking down a northside alley
I see some mud-caked ghostly boys passing on
Chicago secrets out of hearing of their German Swede
or Yiddish parents, and one of them is me.
Martin Marcus imagined the Hollywood Park neighborhood (and parts of Albany Park) during the Depression era in his novel, Hollywood Park. Retired from a twenty-year career as an advertising creative director at major Chicago agencies, Marty teaches classes in creative writing, copywriting and English as a second language. He now lives in Northfield with his wife, Sue, a retired clinical social worker, and still sees his Peterson Elementary School Vulcan friends from Hollywood Park a few times every year.
Published works by Martin Marcus
Hollywood Park, a novel. Firstbooks 2002
The Power of Yiddish Thinking, Doubleday 1971
Yiddish for Yankees or Funny You Don’t Look Gentile, Lippincott, 1968
Alien in Adland, a memoir. Unpublished
File Under Melancholy Troika V. (Poetry) Thorntree Press 1994