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Janine DeBaise


Amidst the chatter
and clink of white coffee mugs
I drink your voice in

The City of Syracuse has had some wonderful little coffeehouses and restaurants, often small places with brick walls and courtyards where friends can get together. They are great venues for poetry readings.

I like the sounds in those places -- the clinking of the plates and mugs, the swirl of chatter as friends gather over steaming cups of tea or coffee. I was thinking about the way people have to lean close in that setting, to hear each other's voices. I like the intimacy of that gesture, being close in a room crowded with people.

The city at night.
Let me take off your glasses.
See, it's beautiful

The image I had was actually from the fifth floor of St. Joseph’s hospital. I was there quite a bit with an aunt who was dying. If you look out, you get a nice view of the city. But also, if you’re like me, and you’re nearsighted, when you take off your glasses and look out, it’s very cool.

When I stay in hotels in strange cities, I notice the same thing. One time I was visiting Atlanta, Ga., and I took out my contacts and looked out the hotel room. Again, it looks really beautiful without them. All the lights, they all blur together once you take your glasses off. When I was writing the haiku I was thinking of it more as a romantic situation, but the reality was me with my dying aunt, or in a hotel room by myself.

Snow sweeps the sidewalk
Piles fluff onto bare branches
Turns gray to glisten

I’ve lived in the Syracuse area my entire life. I’ve always liked winter and snow, and enjoyed winter activities—building snow forts when I was a kid, and now cross country skiing, snow-shoeing, or snowboarding.

With this poem I was thinking about how pretty things look downtown when there’s fresh snow. I had seen a performance at the Civic Center, and I was walking across the plaza by the Everson Museum. The built environment there is very gray and geometric—lots of right angles. You get fresh snow, and those corners become curves, and you’ve got white glistening snow.

When people talk about snow, they think of the country. But downtown is beautiful in snow, too—unexpectedly beautiful.

By the museum
Bodies dance across pavement
Skateboards crash and clang

When you leave the Everson Museum, and walk out, there’s a whole area by the museum where there’s a bunch of young people—teenage guys, mostly—skateboarding. And it’s great to watch! Such amazing energy! They’re just zooming along!

Syracuse is lucky to have them. I think sometimes we don’t realize that these teenagers are an important part of the community. Some people are turned off by the image of the skater dude and see them hanging out as a negative thing. But I think we need to look at teenage energy as an asset, a resource. We need to celebrate it.

Rows and rows of books
Lure me into their pages
I leave with arms full

Last June, I went to the library in the Galleries with my son’s fifth grade class, and I thought, “Wow, what a nice library!”

We are lucky here in Syracuse. We have an independent bookstore, My Sister’s Words, we have used bookstores, and we have some great libraries. One of my favorite things to do is to browse through a bookstore or library. I always leave with an armful.

I do the same thing if I’m visiting a city—visit bookstores and the library, if I can. You’ll find local authors and regional books. It’s a great way to catch the flavor of the city.


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