Saying Goodbye to the Old Airport

Greater Pittsburgh International Airport
looks like it was built by Mussolini:
giant bronze eagle over the entry,
fat black marble columns squatting
like the entrance to Hell. I’ll miss it,
old terminal of the steel petit bourgeois.
I hear it’s going to be converted
to food boutiques: boutique bakeries,
boutique souperamas, perhaps boutique meatshops
selling gutted rabbits, like empty pink purses
magically transformed into Lapin Provence
so the provincials will have something
to write reviews about, though I miss
the ugly places with blood on them
that tell us where we came from, what was done
to our grandparents, and our rude uncles who wore
handlebar moustaches and swore at the bosses.
My grandmother scrubbed floors her whole life
and her finest possession was a chip of diamond
on a wire ring. She’d be amazed at this place,
how town after town there’s mo failure visible,
gleaming miles of steel and glass so that
only if you search for the hidden places,
the towns in valleys we don’t visit, the shacks
in the shadows of the rusting mills, like medieval
lackeys around their fallen lord, do you find
the fat mutti sitting in her broken chair,
the grange halls, windowframes peeling and the glass
loose, where the poor danced.
I used to tell visitors how
the great magnate Frink on his deathbed
said “tell Mr. Carnegie I’ll see him in hell”
and surely he has, if there is a hell beyond the Ohio.
Or maybe there isn’t, or maybe the sleepwalkers
in the malls are what we know of it, deracinated,
deodorized, in their eternal artificial spring.
The last joke of history on those who don’t know it
is that it writes us. In all the great malls
sad, desperate or blank faces, as though
the Pinkertons were coming up river again
with their guns, as though history were repeating
itself, as Groucho said, but this time as farce.

I used to laugh with visitors at this hideous
terminal, its fascist flag bank flapping and flapping
but I always said, “somehow it grows on you” and later
getting out of the car at the place where I work, I’d say
“before the university paved this space over
for parking there was a cemetery here.”
But of course the authorities didn’t remove the remains,
just smoothed asphalt over what after all
were nameless immigrant graves. Painted straight
white lines. Put up signs. Stuck meters,
starved wingless angels, all over it.

:: Ed Ochester, Allegheny (1995)

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