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A Chicago Coloring Book

by Hannah Rose 2 months ago in art

In memory of Darius

Barber shop in Bronzeville

Chicago is grey - salt mixture on the streets, the cars, your shoes. Corrosive, it does you good one way and destroys you in another. Grey is a Chicago winter. It’s the slush in the gutters, cold like the thousands who walk past the homeless Vietnam Veteran on Michigan Ave without acknowledging his existence. Silver are the CTA trains, enabling people’s lives like hemoglobin through our veins. Metallic grey are the skyscrapers in all directions reflecting off the Bean. But, just like the Bean’s distorted reflection, the grey of Chicago is only a fog that cloaks everything in bleakness. Beyond the grey are brilliant hues – blue and green and yellow and black and red.

Blue – royal, periwinkle, navy, sky. Royal blue are a little boy’s baseball dreams at his first Cubs game and a trip to Culver’s when mom is too tired to make dinner. Navy blue is lake Michigan on that glistening April day when you try to enjoy the lakefront for the first time after winter but end up shivering after twenty minutes. Periwinkle is the sky in February during the deep freeze. Blue are the buses that become our oxygen when the car breaks down and we can’t miss a single day of work because the bills are due on the first.

Hunter green are the dumpsters we jump in when we’re so hungry it keeps us up at night and we’re looking for something we can take to the pawnshop. Pistachio green are the bills we flash on the gram trying to prove we are somebody to nobody. Green are the weeds growing in Englewood’s abandoned lots where people used to cultivate families and livelihoods. Green is the promise of spring, the young blades of soft, lush Midwestern grass under your bare feet.

Yellow are the buses that take our kids to underfunded schools that become their safe haven from the hell in the streets. Gold are the displays on the designer stores on the Magnificent Mile. Yellow is the summer sun radiating weak heat on the city of too high a latitude to be oppressed by triple digits. Yellow are the dandelions the four-year-old girl in Auburn Gresham was picking when she got hit by a stray bullet.

Black are the unending nights rife with violence that doesn’t discriminate. Black are the guns we get arrested for having but can’t survive without. Black is that feeling in your stomach when you get a flashback and feel like you’re gonna die. Black are the remains of the apartments that caught fire because the landlord was too cheap to keep them up to code. Black are the hearts of the city leaders who see the way it is and go home to their suburbs at night and sleep anyway.

Black are the ashes from which the phoenix rises.

The phoenix is red. Red is blood, the blood that pumps through every Chicagoan’s veins, every human’s veins: the same in the Cook County Jail Inmate and Rahm Emanuel, in the heroin addict and the lawyer. Red is Halsted street with its endless brick buildings, uniting Englewood and Auburn Gresham with Bridgeport and the Loop – the same vein circulating neighborhoods of every tint and hue. Red is Portillo’s; serving the best hot dogs in existence. Red are the Chicago Bulls, uniting all sides and facets of the city in the excellence of a sport. Red is the color of love; the color of passion, the color of life.

Yes, after you see Chicago through my eyes you might hand me the glasses back and say you can’t read some words up close; or they make you lose the background while focusing in on the details. But that’s fine with me. You’ll never hear a news report about “Chiraq” without seeing the humanity behind the headlines.


Hannah Rose

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