Two Poems by Cynthia Gallaher

Chicago Sewers

I casually flush my toilet in Chicago,
water rushes through the lateral sewer
of my abode to join storm water
from rain or snow that flow
into the intercepting sewer below,

to the deep tunnel 300 feet underground
making a long, sometimes 100-mile circuitous journey
to water reclamation plants
at the lakefront, Stickney, or South Pulaski,
or pour into the huge reservoir at O’Hare or McCook,

to eventually become fresher than fresh water,
but every once in a while there’s suddenly too much
rainwater, laundry water, bubble bathtub water,
toilet water, dishwasher water, rat sweat, bird droppings,
vomit, lawn-watering, stockpots full of pasta water,

half-full bottles of Coke or kombucha thrown away,
nail polish remover, flat beer, cooking grease,
psychotropics, antidepressants, antibiotics,
tampons, condoms and cigarette butts, cascading
at once down sewers that can only drain

so quickly, making unctuous spreads on basement floors,
sending its rawness into the Chicago River, Des Plaines River,
Illinois River, the high and mighty fecal Mississippi,
shooting down stray and illegal pipes to intersect Alien tunnels,
railroads and bunkers deep within the earth

showering the Greys and Reptilians
in a soft spray of human effluents,
the cleanup charged to black budgets,
tax dollars skimmed through the Pentagon,
or from sudden corrections to the stock market,

sending America, the whole world into financial tizzy,
heaving banks upside down
like a million backed-up toilets,
forcing millions to drown in debt
as deep as waste materials in the sewers themselves,

governments pin the blame on the masses,
Saying you did it to yourselves,
you take toilet flushing for granted,
go ahead y’all, flush your toilets,
but don’t forget to vote,

because only we can clean it up,
only we can bring clean sewers back to America,
to Chicago, but they will still be sewers
nonetheless, looping underground where you can’t see
as we reset and start the circuit over again.

but go ahead, right now,
while we’re on the subject,
walk into the washroom,
throw down the lid,
jiggle the handle,

think about what you might do
to the world
with just one flush,
know what it feels like
as we do
every day
to keep one sly, sick, shitty finger
on the nuclear button.



Urban Composter

I slowly spin it like a ferris wheel

our coffee grinds and eggshells,
cucumber peels and avocado skins,
limp celery chunkily chopped,
grass clippings, dried leaves,
dill stalks and parsley stems
dryer link, corn cobs, paper towels

thrown in to break down in months, even weeks
to waste, rot, unravel and release
a quick legislation that amends and upholds
the backyard garden

I’m not an alderman, or a mighty alder,
just a worker, a compost carny,
who straps them in as scraps
lets them sail around a few times
then bids them “Thank you very mulch”
as they hit the exit ramp
as carbon- and nitrogen-rich soil,
a hot summer joy ride of wetness, corruption and rotation.

in these moments I imitate the earth, that magician
who cracks two eggs into his
top hat and throws the shells
in for good luck,
covers it with the white silk scarf of winter,
then whisks it away
to pull out a bouquet of spring flowers.

the earth revolves,
embraces green, gold, scarlet and brown,
spent plants, cracked rocks, animal waste
and bones of our ancestors,
that fall into its massive arms
to whirl and self-heal,
with leftovers that hold the earth together.

we can only mimic this calling
in teeny, tiny ways with our composters
to feed hungry, postage-stamp gardens
like this one in Chicago,
which swallow compost by the shovelsful
and resurrect it into life-giving, prolific vegetables
with future compost scraps of their own.



CYNTHIA GALLAHER, a Chicago-based poet and playwright, is author of four poetry collections, including the forthcoming Epicurean Ecstasy: More Poems About Food, Drink, Herbs and Spices (The Poetry Box, Portland, 2019) and three chapbooks, including the forthcoming Drenched (Main Street Rag, Charlotte, N.C., 2018). The Chicago Public Library lists her among its “Top Ten Requested Chicago Poets.” Follow her on Twitter @swimmerpoet, her Facebook page @frugalpoets and her website:


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