exploring Milwaukee

June 15, 2014

[this is an excerpt from a longer piece from Reckless Chants #20; more information about the zine is available here, and it can be ordered here.]

 

Exploring Milwaukee was mostly about wandering thru Bayview and Walker’s Point. I spent a lot of time in the no-man’s land where Bayview merges with Walker’s Point, that place near the Kinnickinnic River and the railroad trestles. I fell in love with that bend in the Kinnickinnic River, and it broke my heart. I fell in love with it because rivers are holy places, and because of the half-sunk rotting tugboat; it broke my heart because it was so full of trash and poison, and I wondered how people had let this happen to that beautiful river. Sometimes I took trash bags along with me, and picked up all the bottles and butts and plastic six-pack doohickeys I could find. Other times I just sat with a bottle and my notebook, stared for hours at that tugboat and pretended I could talk to the sailor ghosts that I was sure resided there. In Walker’s Point, I walked through the rubble of half-torn down buildings, the smashed glass and the piles of bricks and the graffiti. To the west, there were the gay bars; Milwaukee’s small gay neighborhood has long been relegated to Walker’s Point, hey let’s shove the queers into this falling-down place. Though there was something beautiful about it, the gay bars amidst all the desolation. To the east, there were the train tracks and the lake, and sometimes I could get almost truly where-am-I lost back there, and I found the most magical things as time went on, like a stretch of unused tracks that the wilderness had started taking back, where in the summer it was all green and there was a field of sunflowers. And there was, of course, the train yard. Some stretches of track still had train lines that ran on them, but others were out of use or only used at times, and rusty old boxcars sat on them forever, prime spots for tagging and other criminal mischief, and also for sitting. I often sat in that train yard, with the Wisconsin Cold Storage building looking down on me. I didn’t hop my first train ’til May of that year, in Minneapolis, but I already knew how to get lost. I watched the trains go by and wished I had the courage to hop on one of them, or I sat in one of the rusty old boxcars and pretended I was on a train going somewhere, anywhere. But I was content — in my own odd, restless way — to be right where I was.

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© Copyright 2014-2019 by Jessie Lynn McMains