Vox Populi

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Joan E. Bauer: They Left Chicago Behind

Saul Bellow called Chicago: a prairie city with a waterfront
the trees he remembers, elms & cottonwoods. 

He was an intellectual, not so Gene & Dora, 
my husband’s parents, each the youngest & most put-upon

in their big & quarrelsome families. Perhaps
Gene & Dora read Dreiser & Dos Passos, 

probably not Marx & Engels or André Gide. They were 
distantly related to Bellow. They had aspirations 

for college, for more than a factory job, but after the war, 
Gene wasn’t the same. 

By 1953, Dora was selling girdles door-to-door 
so they could flee Chicago’s snow & stockyards & tenements

for California. That year, Saul Bellow, teaching
at Princeton, entertained John Berryman & Edmund Wilson. 

Years later, my husband Paul said he couldn’t understand
why his cousin Saul described  

their Aunt Zelda in Herzog as a crass & two-faced hausfrau
with gold slacks & shiny plastic shoes. 

Paul would say: Honest, that wasn’t who she was.



Copyright 2022. Previously published in Chiron Review.

Joan E. Bauer is the author of three full-length poetry collections, The Almost Sound of Drowning (Main Street Rag, 2008), The Camera Artist (Turning Point, 2021) and the forthcoming Fig Season (Turning Point, 2023). She divides her time between Pittsburgh and Los Angeles.


Downtown Chicago (Chamber of Commerce)

5 comments on “Joan E. Bauer: They Left Chicago Behind

  1. allisonfine
    January 2, 2023

    I’ve been “Stuck” in Chicago for 15 years so this really resonates! Though I love Bellow, I know whereof she speaks. Especially as an insider. I really appreciate this great poem!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sean sexton
    January 2, 2023

    I just read everything Joan Bauer has had posted. (I love this feature of Vox Populi), and grateful for the prism of her intellect (and experience) with those figures, from Angela Davis, Fellini, Anna, “Uncle Saul” and Aunt Zelda, to Bao Ninh, shining through. I’m amazed as it says, She divides her time between Pittsburgh and LA,” which seems an amazing thing in itself. I’m grateful to learn of and hear her voice. Who are the Jackasses saying poetry is dead? I read this instead of that.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Vox Populi
      January 2, 2023

      Thanks, Sean. As I’ve said elsewhere, I love Joan Bauer’s poetry because she makes history sing. I’ve been a fan of hers for a long time.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Vox Populi
      January 2, 2023

      And the recurring rumors that American poetry is dead have been greatly exaggerated. Obviously the people who say so have not been reading Vox Populi, one of many magazines publishing excellent poetry.

      Liked by 1 person

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