Solemn Pittsburgh Aubade | Literary Arts | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Solemn Pittsburgh Aubade

There are houses on fire every night here. It doesn’t seem a sin

          to let them burn. It doesn’t scare me

to wake up to their ghosts still hanging skyward — a siren in the War

          Streets, its doppelgänger spotted in Garfield

clear across the city tucked tight between smokestacks smacked

          along every shore, barge-brown rivers

in a slow grind against the Allegheny plateau. Nothing much changes here.

          It was built this way and it was built to burn —

I like it like that. After all, what is water without steel to cross it,

          a mountain that you cannot pierce,

a city without forest all around? Here is where autumn comes to die

          on stone steps and gridless, potholed streets.

I spend my days by a cathedral watching traffic swell and swirl. I spend

          my time like a poem spends its lines

trying to find where to pause and where to stop. Most endings

          and pauses I find can hurt. One time,

I loved somebody. One time, I crossed this street when I was in love.

          Time will damage anything if you let it,

so we’ve built this place to last, placed placards of history along the streets,

          and landmarked any building that dares to crumble.

This is Pittsburgh: black and gold bones buried deep, dinosaurs

          at cobblestone intersections wrapped in scarves,

hundred-ton iron ladles frozen in shopping districts — we only fight each other

          about what doesn’t get to stay. Sometimes

on these stone steps, I fight myself about what to keep and what remember.

          My heart is a museum where all the exhibits

are closed. Love in this city comes as often as the sun, the reset of September

          pulling clouds over Mount Washington

where I lived and worked, where some nights I’d walk its edge and see

          houses burning on the horizon, and feel

the flames in my chest. I didn’t have a word for it then. All I knew

          was the feeling of coming home in the evening

to my roommate on his computer watching videos of chess masters

          playing each other, the silence of him

slumped sideways on the sofa, stacks of Nietzsche and Jung casting shadows

          on half-full-half-empty coffee cups, eyes heavy

with the shade of the room, a reflection of Bobby Fisher in his glasses,

          hand on the rook and my roommate’s hand

on the trackpad — history with the slide of a finger.

- Cameron Barnett

Cameron Barnett holds a master of fine arts degree from the University of Pittsburgh, where he was poetry editor for Hot Metal Bridge, and co-coordinator of Pitt’s Speakeasy Reading Series. He currently is an associate poetry editor for Pittsburgh Poetry Review. His poems have appeared in or are forthcoming from Lines + Stars, The Minnesota Review, Barely South Review and TriQuarterly. He lives in Greenfield with his roommate and her two cats: Goose and Lorna D. Many writers featured in Chapter & Verse are guests of Prosody, produced by Jan Beatty and Ellen Wadey. Prosody airs every Saturday morning on WESA 90.5 FM.

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