The following poem was composed by Justin Karcher, the recent winner of the 2015 Just Buffalo Literary Center members’ writing competition. The poem is an ode to a changing Buffalo (about Rust Belt love, a road trip through a changing Queen City landscape, the divinity of Dominik Hasek, and the mortuary that is the Pink…) As a city rapidly changes, so does the literature inspired by it.
On the night that the greatest goalie ever Dominik Hasek’s number is being retired,
I’m driving drowsy around Downtown Buffalo listening to the radio coverage
And thinking about that phantom toe save that ripped the gold right out of
Canada’s hands, all the times he sprawled and barrel-rolled like an acrobatic
Butterfly to make some unorthodox save or to catch a puck with his gloved hand.
Makes me think of the butterflies roaring in our barrios challenging economic
Dilemma with alternative chemicals. You have to be emotionally acrobatic to make it
These days and if we all are then maybe we’ll find the pig shit at the end of the rainbow.
I guess I don’t know why I’m driving around so aimlessly – maybe I’m looking to
Reacquaint myself with those foreclosed homes that have faded in the eyes of sunshine.
Now hipsters are battling it out to rent warehouse lofts, their lips boarded up
And stripped of all saliva and other useful materials. It’s like a blow to the heart
When the ships come in covered in rust and chock full of bullet holes,
$600 million invested in love at first sight – a trail of coins around the neck.
Thank God for antidepressants with a pang of self-recognition! Nothing like
Cruising through this lockjaw landscape of Zoloft so I pull into the parking lot
Of this boarded up strip club and break in through one of the windows.
I sit down in one of the musty chairs and stare at the ghostly and forgotten wildlife
And soon after get sick of their gyrating vengeance and before long I’m feeling
The side effects of antidepressants and puking out gastro-rivers that shimmer like
Loganberry and flow like gynecology falling through the cracks of healthcare.
We are the dirty awesome beauty that capitalism discards. Even the greatest goalie
Ever can’t save us. No time for pessimism though – I exit the burlesque purgatory
And go back to my car looking gaunt and pointless in the January moonlight and I try
Scratching it up with my frostbitten fingernails but I’m incapable of leaving any scars
So I resign myself to a life behind the steering wheel driving drowsy around Downtown
Buffalo and thinking about that time I got drunk in college and dressed up like a goalie
Because when I was younger I played goalie because that’s where they stick the fat kids
Because hey all that girth might be useful, to cover the breadth of the hockey net. So yeah
I was drunk and slimmer but I looped myself into that worn out equipment and threw on
My Dominik Hasek jersey no. 39 and chain smoked my way through the Canisius College quad and like Jesus told frat boys that I’m here to save them, to catch their woes
In my glove, to suck their sad away like a Prozac mosquito and, once empty
Of worry, they could rest their Keystone heads on my thrift store pads and dream of
Championships and bank accounts full of money and loving wives with ample lips
Who never leave tampons behind in wastebaskets that remind insecure husbands
That there is blood in the world, that life is a uterine trail of tears and you’re either on it
Or off it. The frat boys dropped to their knees in reverence but before any church could Be built in my name I turned my back on Sigma Phi Epsilon and ran across Main St.
To Forest Lawn Cemetery and dropped to my knees in front of my great aunt’s headstone
In the nun section and asked for forgiveness. I remember thinking the night is strange,
That there are no birds singing and, because of this, the moonlight is a lot less chipper.
Some groundskeeper found me at dawn passed out next to a glass mausoleum spooning
Hasek’s jersey as if it were some tender lover. Oh well, memory is for forgetting. I come
To my senses when I hit Allentown and see teenagers in blue overalls learning how to
Distance themselves, learning how to assemble implanted chips that’ll turn humans into
Cyborgs. I remember this one time I made out with an out-of-work prom queen against
A frosted gaslight outside the Pink. I remember wanting to study the soil in which her
Plant grew but the crisis had spread to the whole of my insides and I was not safe from
Life’s infectious disease. That night I realized that heartache is like the universe: more
Massive than it looks. It was the first time I noticed everyone wearing wigs of fuzzy
DNA, that looking for love is hot, itchy, and uncomfortable. Now I see the bigger picture:
Folk-heroes blooming in the rust, aging hipsters blacking out in breweries of endless
Delight from Pittsburgh to Buffalo, grungy astronauts moon walking in rat-infested
Basements, low-fi princesses brushing their hair with icicles in front of used tire rims,
A bad case of Rapunzel paranoia sweeping over the Rust Belt. Tired of driving aimlessly
Around town listening to neurotic fairy tales, I decide to try my luck and show up at my
Girlfriend’s place in the middle of the night with an old bottle of Trazodone because
We’re both addicted to antidepressants. She tells me she wishes it were raining because
That way it’s as if the sky is vomiting down our throats like a mama bird. She’s barefoot
And in pajamas and probably in tears. She seems to exist only to cry – like one night
We’re in bed like sarcophagi and she starts crying because we’re talking about her history
Of abuse and I’m watching this one teardrop peak out her eyeball and it’s like seeing
An endangered bird in a tree because the more you cry about something, the more liable
You are to get over that particular sadness, the more likely it is to go extinct. The tear
Hovered around her bottom eyelid all awkward and desperate like loneliness at last call
And eventually it made its way to her nose, jaywalking across her busy face to get there.
It squatted for years staring at me and I stared right back trying my best to identify what
Kind of sadness it was. The challenge of identifying birds is one of the best parts of bird
Watching and being with her sometimes makes me feel that there are some things worth Identifying and saving. After love and Trazodone, I’m smoking in her broken backyard
When suddenly I see the halogen light at the end of the rusty tunnel. Even in a backyard
Full of helpless fridges, smashed TVs, and rotting mattresses, there are still some flowers
Willing to bloom, flowers willing to juggle freelance jobs just to make ends meet, yellow
Bell-shaped flowers saving us against the dark, acrobatic flowers jumping up out of the Grease like a jack-in-the-box making us happy in our time of need, when we least expect.