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This photo essay contains images of performers from People's History of Chicago, a group poetry night on Friday, January 19 that featured Chicago's own Kevin Coval alongside local poets, including a group of student-poets from Rebuild FoundationA People's History of Chicago is Coval's collection of poems on the Chicago that was published in 2017 and offers seventy-seven poems, for the seventy-seven neighborhoods that together constitute the city. We have combined the images with the words of Ashvini Kartik-Narayan's poem "Before I Got Here I was never here," a reflection on what the city means and embodies to her. Kartik-Narayan is a second year in the College. 

If Chicago was a person I met in elementary school,

It would be named Amberly Price

We were in the same first grade class

with Dr. Walther

She and I lived so close to each other

But in elementary school, two streets over was far away

In elementary school, two hours by train was far away

Which is to say that before I got here, Chicago was far away

In first grade, Amberly Price said, “Hey, you should come over for a play date.”

And I said,

“Yeah, I’ll ask my mom”

I kept forgetting to ask my mom,

I lived on Palm Springs, she lived on Peach Tree,

Would we have to drive?

Would I have to coordinate

so after my brother was picked up from daycare,

I could be taken to Amanda Price’s House

Would her mom be able to drop me back at my house

before swim practice at 7?

Would I make it to swim practice?

Never mind, I would go to Amberly Price’s house next weekend

Next weekend

Next weekend

In second grade, Amberly Price and I weren’t in the same class anymore

Surely everyone has an Amberly Price like this

Where your schedules never line up, the ones you never see

Even on breaks

Because she was washing her hair

and you were shaving your head

and you actually had so much in common,

almost there but always missed it

You saw her in pictures all the time

All the girls from your class saw her during the summer

Two “city gals” from Naperville went to her house for the photo op

They posed next to the shiny marble centerpiece

They didn’t leave the foir

You didn’t either

You knew that her favorite color was pink

But you did not know that she was on the swim team

You did not know that there was anything more than the Bea

You always had to leave before you got too close

Mom was always making dinner,

there was always something calling you back

I say you, but of course

I’m talking about myself

Of course, I’m just making up for lost time with this poem

Every word, one more moment I’m making up for the fact that

I haven’t talked to Amberly since grade school,

that in 18 years, I could count the number of times I came here

on two hands, now,

Chicago holds my two hands

and takes me through every room in the house

and says, “I’m glad you’re here.

I hope you stay

for a long time.”


February 15, 2018