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A Crooked Crown University Avenue Sonnets by Maryann Corbett

Copyright 2012 by Maryann Corbett

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1 Orientations To start, you need to know which way you're headed. The butting skulls of these fraternal Twin Cities are wreathed in mismatched dreams; the threaded strands that link their thinking are strung thin, east/west. East is the white Cass Gilbert dome, the weight of history under the eye of day, while west zaps to the sky, a zero-ohm resistlessness, a club-night blast of play. Between downtowns, the small, square shops have doled pleasure or duty, time that’s jazzed or slowed in varying proportions. What we choose is where we go, so which trip are we sold on? East is traditio, the pilgrim's road. West is the sleek, the new, the free. Let’s cruise.

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2 The Last Night at Porky's Lords of the custom cars, where will they cruise with Porky’s gone? What drive-in’s neon haze will fold them in the glow of ancient days? Where will they flaunt the metalflake chartreuse, the pink/magenta, two-toned as a bruise, or stroke a curve, or fondle a streamlined grace? Beyond the final love-feast in this place, where will lowriders slide through velvet-blues of summer dusk, with the Big Bopper blaring? Bare-domed, gray-ducktailed, who will love them back to full communion with the holy names— Packard, Studebaker, Pontiac, de Soto? Shutters come down. Now they are staring at sunset, candy-mauve, painted with flames.

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3 Axman Surplus Things happen, and the plan goes down in flames. Too many gizmos made, or not to spec. New failures fill the shelving every week, Tuesdays. Most of the widgets have no names, but here’s a dreamer, muttering Make it new. No novel use embraced the iron lung at the back for years. Some patient died unsung, says realism. But the dreamer’s view wants zest, imagination, frills, detail. Insists that somewhere out there was a man who fiddled up new lungs, taught them to sing, and blew the roof off with the miracle. And that the woman he made new again picked up her bed and walked. Left everything.

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4 The Restaurants of Frogtown Left everything. Left Laos in '78. Followed a husband following Vang Pao. Moves briskly; brings a customer his pho; clears a table; buses a gummy plate; bustles back to the register to grin and greet me. Left the mountains. Kept the words. Makes do without the tenses of her verbs. Survived the camps in Thailand. Knows it's been some weeks since I’ve been here. The framed paj ntaub embroideries behind her hold their peace forever. Now she brushes from her face thin strands of gray and bows her tiny bow, offering me my take-out almond ding.

What compensates for leaving everything?

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5 Central Corridor Light Rail Construction It will leave nothing. Nothing. The future comes, ripping the asphalt up—black, jagged slabs. It chews and spews and carts away the crud. We’re in its dust, coughing, detoured, irate, squeezing our wheels between blaze-orange drums, while on both sides the wheeler-dealers land-grab. Where refugees nursed little stores on blood are artists’ lofts and high-end real estate, their grand decks stacked against us. How this ends (upending our directions in mid-scheme without the be, finale to the seem) is a steel-track lesson: that your road depends on dreaming of what cannot happen yet. The future comes. It frees us to forget.

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6 Campus and Dinkytown We are not free, and we will not forget: It bought us with a price, a dear tuition in calculus and rent, music and debt, bodies and beer, existence, angst, ambition. Here is the grid of streets we could walk blind but struck with strangeness, stacked with uncouth blocks. Free with us once, the place has changed its mind, tossed memory on the curb, re-keyed the locks. Only the Northrop Mall still saves its face, as fixed and formal as an English sonnet. This campus visit, we have slowed our pace to watch them charging up and drifting down it, the nervous ghosts still living out our pains, all young, all beautiful. That truth remains.

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7 Nordeast What Truth remains is shape-shifty. Six blocks take in four churches: Roman Catholic (Czechs on one corner, Italians on the next), Maronite, and Ukrainian Orthodox. The ethnic parishes shrivel, yet the delis glisten with oils and ache with sweets, arousing the appetites of youth in low-rent housing. The hipsters brood, pose, flock to the galleries. Replanted locust trees drape pre-war homes. It’s old meets new meets Art Association entangled with Historic Preservation: a German brewery. Look—we’re back to domes. They interweave: new/old, food/spirit, art.

We’ll head the other way now. Shall we start?

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A Crooked Crown, by Maryann Corbett  

A crooked crown of sonnets by Maryann Corbett, inserted in Lief 2 magazine

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