Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature

Monday, September 28, 2015

Nobody Beats Tacoma


Here's how it works: Beginning as North 27th Street,
North 21st Street just gets its confidence up
when North I Street slugs it and takes over,
only to be vaporized by South Yakima Avenue,
which morphs into something called Thomson.
The streets of Tacoma are so mean they're
mean to each other. Nobody beats Tacoma. Nobody.

Seattle has forever misread the meaning of Point
Defiance. It's not a park or a peninsula,
or a place to play dress-up on your bike.
It is a destined middle finger pointed
vaguely north. Put a penny
on the railroad track down by the port,
and you might well summon Guy Fawkes,
Richard Brautigan, a Chinese laborer,
or a skeptical Puyallup woman, pre-contact.
Whoever it is will take your penny
and invest it in a cloud-cone
hovering above Rainier like the saucers
Kenneth Arnold saw. About the time

you think you have Tacoma solved,
you find yourself on a suspension-bridge,
with a dog, and the bridge starts
writhing like a boa constrictor. Then
it flaps and twists, snapping itself
free from blueprints, taking a dive
like a punch-drunk stevedore
trying to earn a buck at a smoker
in 1931. The dog lives. If you tell

the tattooed woman at the drive-in
that you ordered everything on your
burger, she will tell you, without
animus, "That is everything."
Nobody beats Tacoma. You have
to understand: Tacoma is more
than a grit city that keeps its
bourgeoisie on a leash like a pit bull.
Tacoma is a sense of humor.

Once you get that, it may take decades,
you'll understand everything. I
mean, really, after embedding
yourself in a group of eccentrics
at the Parkway, the Acme, or
the Goldfish Redux, you'll see
the folly in naming streets
and other ambitions. You'll realize
you are Nobody, the only person
ever to beat Tacoma. Good night.


2015 hans ostrom






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