Excerpt from “Sad Beauty”
The following excerpt is from my intended contribution to Eddie Loves Debbie: A Youngstown Anthology. I set out to write fiction and then toyed with the idea of prose poetry. The result ended up being a non-fiction piece (go figure), haunted by the ghost of a prose poem (at least I think so). On the surface, it’s a story about trying to write a story; below that, it’s a reflection of the past and a depiction of the present. It’s about beginnings and endings and the circular nature of things. The final contribution may end up being in a different tense or POV, but this first draft seemed at least suitable enough to share a taste, hopefully leaving you wanting a bigger bite. Enjoy!
-Bill Soldan, SLAA member and JENNY fiction-editor
…As thoughts of my story, and all the directions it might eventually take, mingled with the bleak history of the city, V&M shrank in our rear-view mirror as we moved toward downtown. Along Federal Street, passing through the city’s center, I stopped at a red light, and as I waited for it to change my eyes were drawn to the black and white images of the old city lining the facades of some of the buildings, images of a time when the future was promising and the sharp realization that good things rarely last hadn’t yet sapped the people’s hearts of hope.
Revitalization, I thought as the light turned green.
Within less than a couple minutes we had passed through the entire downtown, went passed the old Republic mill, and turned onto Wilson Avenue. Suddenly the word revitalization seemed absurd, the ironic punch line to a cruel joke.
All along Wilson, from downtown to Bridge Street, I was strangely captivated by the landscape, one I’d known for many years but had only recently taken an interest in. I’d always been drawn to ruins and abandoned places, areas that many people avoid or have forgotten altogether. They have about them a sort of sad beauty, like spirits clinging to the physical world. And this stretch of road had its share of ghosts. Industrial to our right and somewhat rural to our left, it was virtually walled with worn out spaces; junk heaps and wreckage; intermittent machine shops and auto garages. The fractured hillside to our left was a slanted grid of secret streets, broken buildings, bars, haunted hovels, and housing projects. Plywood and chain-link appeared to be the only thriving commodity.
I felt something taking place as we jostled and shuddered along the pitted asphalt toward Struthers. I was being flooded with imagery. And each sight—edges of crumbling brick, sheets of twisted metal, the burnt out husk of an old Lincoln Continental—was filling me with a strange mixture of mirth and mourning. It was a visceral feeling, and an apt sensation given my gutted surroundings.
The hollow homes on the hill created a flash of morbid associations. Picked clean by shunned vultures and half collapsing beneath a burial shroud, I saw crooked remains, rotten sheet-rock and splintered frames; the dead and dying staking a permanent claim. Copper pipes and wires became organs and nerves; aluminum siding like stolen skin, flayed, peeled off bit by bit and hauled to the scrap yard across the river, exchanged for a few greasy dollars—day after day, year after year, until all that’s left is this graveyard, littered with bones and shards of glass.
I cracked the window to let in some air. It was still chilly, and the wind was moaning a dreary song, like a messenger carrying the collective expiration of a different time.