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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)