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Issue 125, Summer 2024

Window Within, Without, 2022, a cyanolumen by Jeannine Swallow © The artist

I / Reverse


Psychogeography: I returned red-reeling
to the Valley against
a hoard of leaving. What I mean is downtowned
in overcast lighting. I could afford return:
afford forgetting, forsaking
a higher road for what
I can’t unurge from. montik,
dinstik: a grip of days. Now I grid
gravity with finer callus; when I send love
it is Atlantics.

The plumber from the hardware store Lou Nau sends a long snake down the drain in my basement. The store has been open over 100 years in Wheeling, West Virginia, which is about how old the house is. Roots, he says, are the problem. My toddler is asleep in the middle bedroom. I’m on break from teaching remedial English at a local college. Once, in an apartment in Columbus, Ohio, I called the exterminator for cockroaches. Opening his ladder, he asked me what I was studying. I didn’t like to get into it—I usually just said “teaching.” But, his back towards me, his arms reaching behind the refrigerator, I told him “poetry,” to which he replied that his son was studying experimental cinema. My father, I told him, runs a trucking motel in Youngstown, Ohio. Whenever I go on about Ohio, I think of the Urban Dictionary definition for “Ohio Reverse Cowgirl,” which is when you are having sex with a girl from Ohio who won’t stop talking about Ohio. The plumber in the basement hails from a long line of plumbers and is taking long enough that I am worried. What I will say about his work is that it’s not metaphorical.

II / Keep It Up


There are ways out.
I wore a white eyelet skirt
like a suffix. It altered
what I meant. I meant to leave:
I applied. I timed
ovulations. Blood tithe on a skirt
from Youngstown and a Mother Mary
pinned with dollars, but out west, they don’t take
to superstitions. In a workshop in California,
a poet said, “if you keep it up much longer,
you’ll become a regionalist.” In bed
with my husband in West Virginia, I say,
“If you keep it up much longer,
you’ll become a regionalist.”
Monogamy is a kind of regionalism,
or the other way around.

At the Working-Class Studies Conference in Youngstown, Ohio, I thought the most interesting paper was given by a scholar from Italy about the transnational Rust Belt. I wanted to ask the California poet: in this context, is my work not actually global? There were plenty of intelligent Marxists in blue jeans who would defend me with aggression disproportionate to the conflict. While he gave his paper, I thought how I’d like to visit these Rust Belts, not as disaster tourism but to find others who don’t consider enthusiasm a virtue. In “Down and Out in China’s Rust Belt,” Wu Huiyuan reports on a bar nicknamed the “Paupers’ Paradise” in Shenyang, an area that used to be so prosperous that Chairman Mao called it lǎo dà: eldest son. The owner opened the bar with her savings after losing her job and approximates that still, thirty years later, “30% of her customers are laid-off workers.”1 She is unsure about the future of the business—her kids don’t want to take it over. A beer—one fizzing, golden pitcher—cost 6 yuan, about 95 cents.

Huiyuan, Wu. “Down and Out in China’s Rust Belt.” Sixth Tone, 2022.


III / River


the Mahoning flows south from Youngstown
to the Ohio, the Mississippi/like so much
it ends up in the Gulf/I close my eyes and thoughts
move southward/my thoughts are no match
for the pushing/they are falling; the page
is wet here/distinction eases itself in marshes
letters soak, expand, dissolve/where we’re going has
no resolution/an antidote for revelation/cerulean
cerebrum of a mermaid/even now
the river’s coming/even now the river’s coming
filtering out industrial waste
its propulsion second nature/its first nature is surrender
which is what permits the second

I get married in Youngstown, Ohio, before the defunct B&O train station. We stand on a wooden dock above the Mahoning River. My niece from England, a flower girl, is nervous to walk over it. The florist who made my bouquet said his father’s first floral customer was my grandfather. I imagine dead Jews throwing white flowers at me, at the river. The rabbi lifts his tallis and blesses us. Papous in the cosmos bless us. My husband, a lapsed Catholic, steps on the glass. From both sides, a 100-year radius of pressure slides in towards bridehood. In My Detroit, Growing Up Greek and American in Motor City, Dan Georgakas writes that “marriage was the apex of ethnic existence.”2 I am dead center, unable to feel my extremities, which are housed in the wedding shoes of my mother. Everything is precise: when we dance to “Samiotisa,” my mother’s cousin throws dollar bills at my body. When we dance to “Hava Nagila,” my dad’s cousin from Israel jerks my chair towards the ceiling. There are a dozen aunts assembling a cookie table. Guests leave with small bags of koufeta—for Greeks, “the physical evidence that there would be ethnic continuity in America.” The almonds are bundled in tulle in uneven numbers.

Georgakas, Dan. My Detroit, Growing Up Greek and American in Motor City. Pella, 2006.


IV / Rubber


Lower in the “Paupers’ Paradise” article: photos of regulars,
a rag collector. He’s captured at that America ReFramed
angle designed to maximize pity. Yet I think of my father’s photo
in the paper above captions like “across from the motel
stands a decrepit, abandoned truck stop.” My father—in his baseball cap,
frowning, his hands clasped somberly
before him—is actually getting a real kick
out of it, and is so excited to see his picture in the paper
that he’ll tape it on the wall to show his buddies. I’m not saying
the rag collector is actually happy. And the episode of America
ReFramed where the camera holds too long on the old Jew
in Latrobe as his synagogue is closing makes me weep.
When he hands over the Rust Belt torahs to a prosperous coastal
congregation everyone is celebrating the “continuation”
of Judaism, but the old Jew is not smiling.
He is what I mean by the outskirts. The tensile strength
of the rag collector. The camera tries to get them
but bounces off.

The band Devo was born out of the Kent State Shootings and the collapse of the rubber industry in Akron. The band members were not idealists; Devo stands for “de-evolution.” Speaking of absurdist art movements, bassist Jerry Casale said, “We had our very own backyard version of it. A rubber version.”3 The song “Whip It” sold because people thought it was about sex; it is actually about capitalism: a critique of union-busting Reaganomics. Devo didn’t mind that people missed the point. On the contrary. They are where labor strikes stop and postindustrial cynicism begins: “In a healthy capitalistic world,” singer Mark Mothersbaugh explained, “rebellion is just something else to market.”

Cowie, Jefferson. Stayin Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class. The New Press, 2012.


V / Womb


The oldest child is beside herself. She can always be older.
She can always be holding together
a little tighter. She can always take on a little
more, take out a little more, take the skirt out
until the next thing she knows they place
a baby in her arms. I’m your mama she said.
She went with it. And now it is running.

In the projection room at Esquire Theatre in Cincinnati, the film was running. The projectionist threaded it through machines that spun the film around the room from platter to platter. The tension had to be right; the soundtrack on the proper side so it could be read. The entire room was dark and taut and whirring. I was there to tell the projectionist about an issue in theater three. Then I returned downstairs to continue selling popcorn.


VI / The Children


In the tub, my toddler pushes up on his hands
and extends his legs, announcing he’s a barge.
We see barges on our walks along the Ohio River, which is,
in fact, where his bathwater flows from.
Wheeling used to be a port town,
a cigar town, a coal and nail town. Now,
the record store is called Nail City,
the hockey team, The Nailers. There isn’t
much else, and we often discuss moving,
but our two-year-old was born here, his body
innately nautical.

In an article about Oberhausen, a city in Germany’s Rust Belt, Melissa Eddy writes about cuts to schools, libraries, and even flowers in the park. The city refuses, however, to close its theater because so many of its attendees are children. “Many of them come from homes where there is little emphasis on education,” says the city’s treasurer, “and this is something that we as a city can give them.”4

Eddy, Melissa. “In Germany’s Rust Belt, a Polished but Ailing City.” The New York Times, 2013.


VII / Locals


We are going into an outskirt bar.
                     It does not add meaning to anything. It subtracts it.
We are with my father; I no longer pass.
                     Which he is happy about. Which is a sign of his success.
The bar is wooden. The walls are paneled.
                     There are autographed photos of local boxers in plastic frames.
There is a bottle of Kessler’s whiskey and another of Sambuca.
                     You may also order a Genesee.
The outskirts are cash only.
                     The graininess of a $5 oils your fingerprints.
Whorl, arch, loop.
                     The order of columns is one kind of barstool.
You may not sit on a stool if the dead are on it.
                     (The dead may sit on each other if they were family.)
There is a cigarette machine with knobs. Pull one.
                     What noise did it make?
-ist. -ed. -ness.
                     -er. -eer. -ism.
And noises that go so far back in the mouth you can only feel them.

George Romero shot Night of the Living Dead in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In a region often approached through the lens of “needing to be saved” from degradation, the zombies attempt to save themselves using their own degradation. In “Living Dead Spaces: The Desire for the Local in the Films of George Romero,” Hugh Manon writes “the largely unmodified settings of Romero’s films both present and reflect on the local as a decomposed, disgusting stain—a stain, that is, unless the audience qualifies as local, in which case, the uncanny stain comes into focus as something more like home.”5

Manon, Hugh. “Living Dead Spaces: The Desire for the Local in the Films of George Romero.” Taking Place: Location and the Moving Image, eds. John David Rhodes and Elena Gorfinkel. University of Minnesota Press, 2011.

Allison Pitinii Davis

Allison Pitinii Davis is the author of Line Study of a Motel Clerk (Baobab Press, 2017), a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award and the Ohioana Book Award. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Best American Poetry, the New Republic, Laurel Review, and the Arkansas International.