Seattle Praise Song, Ending on a Line from Richard Hugo

Malcolm Friend

Praise the summer, how you waited through months
of cloud cover to hit up every beach you could:
Pritchard, Coulon, Seward Park—any spot along Lake Washington—
praise the way the sun bounced off the water and buzzed on your skin,
the way cool lake blue washed the sweat off your skin and algae
brushed up against your legs as you dunked your heads
beneath the surface. Praise the quarters Mom and Dad gave you
to venture into summer heat alone, cash for lunch money
and movie tickets in Columbia City. Praise the laughter
bouncing off old buildings and back at you and your siblings
the whole walk from Subway to the theater. Praise the spare change
you kept to buy Raisinets or Whoppers or Red Vines, sticky sugar
clinging to our fingers all the way home. Praise summer evenings
when Mom would fire up the grill, watch the neighborhood kids stare
with hungry eyes past the lavender bushes and at the chicken cooking
over hot coals, how she’d keep the fire going just late enough
for you to roast marshmallows over the rack to make smores.
Praise the cool breeze that would knock ashes back onto your legs
as you poured them over the rose bushes, that held onto the smell
of grilled chicken skin and eased it back into your face
as you sat on the back porch, so sure that this would forever
be summer, be home, be yours.

Praise the summer you are old enough to teach kids the same age
you were making day trips to the theater. Praise your older sister when,
after picking you up from work, she asks When did all the white folks
move to Columbia City?, when she drives you down Wabash, where we grew up—
praise her when she says she just needed to confirm that niggas still live here.
Praise the summer your parents are forced to move out of the house they’ve rented
for almost fifteen years, same house where Mom would grill chicken
while neighborhood kids’ mouths hung open in hunger from behind the lavender;
the summer they are forced to move out of the South End, the last summer
you will ever sleep in the South End. Praise the visits home that become less frequent,
the all-to-frequent excuse that it’s too expensive, same thing you’ll say to anyone
who asks if you think you’ll ever move back. Praise the unspoken wish
that you could move back, the tears that form in your eyes when you consider
your future children will never frequent the same beaches you did, will never pick
Lake Washington’s algae out their toes like you did, will never laugh
through Columbia City like you did, pocket whatever extra cash it takes
to buy sugar to coat their fingers on bus rides home. Praise how you will
look back on it all and never think it wasn’t worth it, how you will take the grief
because you know it only comes from joy, how you’ve always known
some places are forever afternoon.*

*Final line taken from Richard Hugo’s “West Marginal Way”

Originally published in Moss: Volume Five.
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