I first came to Toledo in the summer of 97’
Lost from Oberlin,
Rented a car with no radio,
lived in a house full of union organizers.
The house was falling apart at the seams,
windows broken out, no hot water,
and a high back porch.
I put fabric on the windows,
And with legal pads and glasses,
I pretended I was a law student
to get farmworkers electricity,
They hoisted me up,
after my first victory,
Singing songs in Spanish, toasting me with cheap beer…
They couldn’t believe a woman had made things right.
But I was lonely, a broke 21 year old virgin,
Not wanting to go back to school,
That summer I slept with a self professed anarchist,
who had a working shower and a pantry full of
Peanut Butter Cap N’ Crunch.
I fell in love.
He plied me with wine and Tiger Bakery falafel,
His kiss was full of garlic,
His politics somewhat tiresome,
But he told me I was beautiful and I disappeared
into his warm 6’3 frame.
I wanted to disappear.
The anarchist tried to convince me
to play house with him in Toledo,
But I wanted the hell out of Ohio
Out of the snowed in Shining winters, out of the aimlessness of my youth,
I was afraid of getting lost in one of those basements
Of just being somebody’s girlfriend on the scene,
Afraid of losing every dream.
So first it was back to Texas, then New Mexico, and finally California…
I ran towards the chance of renewal on the coast,
where I could spin myself into something gold.
But paradise mocks you when you can’t afford it,
Northern California made me feel like a beggar,
My dirty hands pressed against stained glass windows,
Looking in to what I could never figure out just how to have.
I was afraid of letting go of the world I felt
I could only enter once,
So I found another boyfriend to disappear into,
An ex-cop with a wine collection,
who played an endless loop of The Rolling Stones.
He took me across the Golden Gate Bridge,
and I fell in love with the curves and the light,
I fell in love with California.
But years later, I was, myself,
like the outline of a crime scene body,
the chalk ready to smudge and wash away.
One night he put his hands around my neck,
A drunken mistake that stuck out like a red light
on a highway I had become lost on.
So I packed up my car and my cat
and drove further north to Oregon.
The lumber mills and Hewlett Packard were closing down,
and I found myself on someone’s living room floor.
I spent my days at the farmer’s market and the employment office,
trying not to fall apart.
Then, an old friend convinced me,
I would “do better in Toledo,”
“Come back to the Midwest,” he said.
I could find myself again,
plow through the snow,
and get to where I could replant
My cat, my car, some boxes,
over the mountains, to the Mars terrain of Wyoming,
all the way to the flat land of Nebraska,
the cornfields and colleges of Iowa,
the race of Indiana, the stand still of Illinois,
I found my way back to who I’d left behind.
The yellow sign of Toledo on the freeway
made me feel like I was 21 again,
only this time I would not fight for anyone else,
It was myself I was trying to save.
PJ O’ Rourke (Toledo born and bred)
declared in Newsweek that, “Somehow, Toledo,
with all its busts and flops, managed to provide ordinary people with an ordinary good life.”
There is nothing ordinary about how I first got here, or how I returned,
and the good life I have found is due to all that is extraordinary.
People who can make something out of nothing,
who know how to create on top of the ruins,
it is a post industrial Rome, a butterfly hatching in ice.
Sometimes, on Monroe, when I am sitting in my car, the heat coming down,
I reflect on where I’ve been between the pauses of street lights.
Often, I see a man advertising tax services,
a waving, sad foamed Statue of Liberty.
He is smiling and friendly,
with sweat running down his face,
He is sorely determined, in the futility of the race.
O’Rourke says the people of “failed” Toledo
can say to the people of the rest of the world,
“Our junkyards are more splendid than your palaces.”
But if Toledo has failed, then so has all of America.
The American dream has gone bad,
The house is being foreclosed on,
The sugary lie of everything free has left an aftertaste,
The Diabetes is setting in.
The kids are cranky with their useless degrees, the bank account is empty,
The doctor is never in, and the insurance won’t ever cover it all.
But so what?
The junkyard is filled with good finds,
Enough to piece together a living room,
Something for folks to sit on,
Enough to make all of the wreckage gleam as new.
Our statue of liberty can be the guy passing out the flyers on the corner,
Our national beer will be PBR,
We can book the band, and not charge for the show.
Screw the palaces, you will enter the metallic ruins and sigh…
You will make something new with your hands,
You will show what you have found to a community who will smile and believe.
I have stepped into this coliseum of resurrected hopes,
I have entered this arena of dreams resuscitated from sheer will.
The old sign says, “You will do better in Toledo,”
And I reply with all I have that yes,