By Curtis Crisler

You play in gray rubble
—————————–like out some grisly German
documentary where Hitler
—————————–took land like peppermints; there’s no

———–Audie Murphy kicking ass and taking
names like apt accountant, no John Wayne as

commander of fleet Flying Tigers,
—————————————–you don’t even know
who or what is the Tuskegee
—————————————–Airmen, how they lost

———–no one in transit; you’re consumed with privation, dumb
about what it is and how it is up your nasal passage; this is

Gary, Indiana—America the beautiful,
———————————————–and you are young boy
stepping on splintered
——————————wood between snaggle-

———–toothed opening in street, and on right side of rubble
a brick two-story house still stands, on the left

side of rubble, a small wooden
—————————————house still stands,
so someone foreclosed,
——————————-but for you this is ground to play;

———–in the rubble you avoid touch of rich brick-rusty
nails to sometimes find your treasure: a pen or

a deflated basketball or some small girl’s
—————————————————half beige-faced Barbie,
and abandonment and
——————————condemned means nothing

———–to you, you are ghetto child, doing archaeology two
blocks from Broadway, while “Inner City Blues” pulses

from pearl Coupe de Ville. From your little
——————————————————mind hardly any houses

stay erect, but a mother still
————————————hangs laundry on

———–clothesline; this is your beat, so you move your
little legs like they have a purpose in this drab debris,

again, this is playground, empty like a bomb
———————————————————fell, superb

like tanks squashing Warsaw, like blood-soaked
————————————————————land of South

———–Africa, like 9-year-old Phan Thi Kim Phuc,
naked, body full of napalm, and running…

and like little Phuc, you’re running…
————————————————scavenging through

the exotic lens of a camera’s intrusiveness,
——————————————————a lost—their chance.

———–This is your Gary, where hands grab at homecoming:
brown soldiers, sizzling streets, airwaves thick from a Motor City. ■



Note: “Return to Boomtowns” was first published in the book Reverie: Midwest African American Literature (2008).

Curtis L. Crisler was born and raised in Gary, Indiana. Crisler has four full-length poetry books, two YA books, and four poetry chapbooks. Also, he created the Indiana Chitlin Circuit. Crisler and is an Associate Professor of English at Purdue University Fort Wayne (PFW). He can be contacted at

Cover image of Gary, Indiana by Marc Tarlock (Creative Commons).

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