Letter to My Parents Explaining How I Became a City Person

by Kimberly O’Connor

First, I lived in cities.

Sitting beside the window this morning,
I hear the sound of soft rain, cars on the interstate,
birds in the bush next door, a train.

A helicopter now. Amelia’s lingering
cough downstairs amid her toy computer songs
and a car swishing past on the wet street.

Sometimes Barky Joe, the name we’ve given
to the dog who barks and barks and barks
two doors down—and me the daughter

of you two, one of whom, according to
family mythology as well as my fuzzy memory,
punched a neighbor in the face because

her yappy dog kept you up
for most of your second pregnancy.
Heather was born in February.

The dog disappeared soon after.
I should be ashamed of myself,
listening for months—two years!—

to Barky Joe before someone else on our street
finally reports him and his owners shut him
behind a plywood gate they make for that purpose.

What I am trying to say is I like the noise.

There is always somewhere to go.
Though I don’t leave the house much
this summer, since I’m writing this,
within blocks are three bookstores,
their brick walls lined with books
I haven’t read yet, restaurants offering
basil fried rice, spicy tuna rolls,
gluten free pizza dough (though
I don’t need it; we still eat wheat),
a store that sells dildos (though
I’ve never been in). A Goodwill.
A fancy bowling alley. A fabric store.
Along the sidewalks, sometimes,
homeless people, or crazy people,
or some combination of those,
who require in passing a drawing up
of a certain kind of humanity:
generosity, at best, or at least
kindness in denial. Sometimes
drunk people, who sometimes talk or sing.
When you visited, this neighborhood
scared you. I don’t like to be scared,
either, so I like to live somewhere
a little bit scary. It’s how I know I’ll be okay.

Does it make a difference that
we have a garden, albeit one scattered
in raised beds you’re unsure of,

having gardened exclusively in rows?
Even if sometimes stray people
sidle by and take a few tomatoes,

once a whole pepper plant by the roots,
when I garden don’t I hold
my grandmother’s hands, your hands?

When the trash truck comes
and Amelia dashes out the back door
to watch and I follow,

crossing my arms over my thin t-shirt,
the trash man does a kind of dance,
leaning in to take hold of the cans,

lifting them shoulder high,
flicking his wrist to turn them upside down.
They empty and then he spins, almost

a twirl, to put each back in its place,
yells HEY and bangs the side of the truck,
runs like a deer to the next one.

It’s beautiful and quick.
The alley smells like trash,
and I am happy.

Published on November 7, 2017