A City Story | Jennifer Maloney

A City Story

Once upon a time, our town owned a story —  William Stafford

This town once told a story.
It was all about our goodness,
our presbyterian Jesus, embodiment
of meek and mild, 
knew just when
to shut his mouth.

We might’ve owned the world,
but we knew we owned this city—
it looked like us, grey-faced, combed-over,
Our uniforms—

blue coats,
white coats,
top coats,

peaked caps,
and stethoscopes—

they could have stood up empty,
could have stood up on their own,
so upright were we, so stiff, 
so erect with straightness—
the bleach of it burning 
our eyes, our throats,
our thoughts—our thoughts

were all about this city, 
what it needed,
what we’d give it,
whether it needed it or not:

white-gloved crossing guards
blonde, baton’d majorettes,
a thousand brushcut lunchpails, 
a parade of white bread wonder
fed into the factory daily—
while we kept

the wheels turning,
kept the peace
at the business end of the nightstick,
kept the hysterical sedated
with TV and Black Velvet 
and small pills
for big-mouthed women—

this town once had a story,
a secret underneath its skirt—
the pressure point of the club handshake, 
the sweet grease for the palm-reader—
the future
was ready-to-wear. 
We believed it, believed in it, believed we’d

what we wanted, 
the trophies we paid for,
the money, the manna, the mammon—
we’d get everything
we deserved.

It’s not the dogs,
not the fire hoses 
that ended this tale.

It’s the photographs the press took,
how it looked 
on the news. Operations interrupted
for awhile as we smiled, 
shook our heads, said
what a shame,
we must do better…
and we got better.

At the story.
At the inside jokes. Got degrees 
in Women’s Studies, hid
in Diversity Departments.
Learned to murder Black kids,
but phrase it right on resumés,
and get a job as the director
of the Police Accountability Board.

This story keeps on rolling.
This story is a running joke.

This town elects its drug dealers, 
pays its whores with plummy titles,
keeps its finger on the pulse,
says we have no DNR, 

so the ventilator breathes for us,
the psyche meds think
and dream for us,
the generic Viagra fucks for us,
the Trazodone tucks us in.

In fiction, there are endings, 
there is meaning, sometimes lessons, 
but this story,
like this city,
has a life of its own.

And who am I to judge it? 
To defend it? To defund it?
Who am I to count its blessings?
Or to number all its bones?

This city is American.
This city could be anywhere.
This city never pays for guardrails
if it can vote for guns

This city is my hometown.
This city isn’t getting better.
This city has no place for me.
It’s my hometown,
but it’s not

Jennifer Maloney writes poetry, fiction and plays from her home in Rochester, NY. Find her work in Litro Magazine, Panoply Zine, Ghost City Press, and many other literary magazines and journals. Jennifer is the co-editor of Moving Images: Poetry Inspired by Film (Before Your Quiet Eyes Publishing, 2021) and the author of Don’t Let God Know You are Singing, Poems and Stories, forthcoming in winter, 2023, from the same fine press. Jennifer is also a parent, a partner, and a very lucky friend, and she is grateful. For all of it. Every day.

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