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Toby Altman

Heimbach House, Blue Island, IL, 1939–40

Heibach House
          fig. 1. the swerve in the curtain.

Even when it was standing, Prentice was somehow impossible to see. I deprived myself of its presence. I walked down Superior with my mom and I forgot to look up. Confession: I don't remember looking at it. Until after it was demolished. And then I saw it through a lens: reducing the building to brittleness. So I left my desk and went out to find Bertrand's other buildings. I pointed my iPhone at them and I wrote down exactly what I saw. I saw trash–bags full of diapers and dog treats, shards of shatterproof glass. Is this the opening of thought, writing in public, alone, sweaty, carrying too much stuff? In March, I rode the El to a place called Blue Island to see the house he built for Dr. Aaron Heimbach, a country gent with an X–Ray machine in his front room. His syntax was division, to partition medical practice from the space where life–animal, ecsta tic, bland–tries to last. Fat chance. "Viewed from the corner of the large lot, the Heimbach House reads as a series of disarticulated volumes and planes" (Fisher). Not a curtain, but a drain. A ladder into infinite space: ivy, mortar, money. Now his house is an annex to the police station across the street. Both buildings dressed in dark plains of durable brick, as if to model the prairie they burned or buried, borrowed or bought. How long will it be till the clouds take revenge on us? From the train, I saw a white man laughing in the closed precincts of his Nissan. Surely his house is full of plump towels and fresh linens, so that the closet is overflowing and he opens it carefully, conscious of collapse. And what is he but this ringing at Easter, knowing neither he nor I can last? Each of our actions taxes the future. The future is a blue island.

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In his search
for meaning,
the chicken exhausted
all the resources
on his side
of the road.
That's the punch
line of a joke.
It's funny because
you expect
a better joke.
A lot of life is
what you expect it to be.
For instance,
I expect to be
wicked fresh
in the grave.
to the speechless
dead. What a world
what a world
say the dead
as they melt
so they're not
speechless but
by breath
from another place.
Foreign crossing
is their bodies

Pineda Island, Spanish Fort, AL, 1956–60


fig 3. the modern world really lubes me up.
  Heibach House
"My message," Bertrand said, "is much more important...than the quick identification as the round-building architect. I am talking about the performance of people in a social system, about the performance of people in the city." Be that as it may, he is remembered now for roundness, plump windows, pillows of concrete. And he learned to build in circles here: this middle–class resort named after a conquistador on an anonymous island in Mobile

Bay. Formal, but not straight. Endless causeway, standing on delicate legs. The resort closed almost immediately due to what one website calls, euphemistically "financial difficulties." Now you can find it only with GPS coordinates, moldering behind a fence. Posted. No trespassing. I respect a fence, I even love it. Down here

everyone knows borders are hot. I asked Nick what to do in Mobile and he said, "Stay for the sunset all the offshore rigs light up like crystal cities." Thanks, Nick: I see them now, lights of the future, diseased cattle and impure butter, given that the law is light and light is labor.

In an old poem, I describe the arrival of a stranger. "We bought him a bag of sliders and fries," I wrote, "to pay the pleasure of dwelling." After he closed the window, his knuckles reeked of rosemary. Soft warp in a shelf of brick. He walked through the rain, begging for cigarettes. He abandoned the past or he caressed the narrow stem of a lamp. He spoke to the horses and the horses changed all our names to 'Solomon.' In a
the present is
when i was saying

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dream, I press my palms into the façade of his face. Who is gentle enough to love it? The faculty of his eyes drains into my fingers. They wither beneath the pressure, unaccustomed to tenderness. "The triumph of rot," he said, "by braiding it gently." I would say a kind of pregnancy. Like many men, I fantasized about being encumbered: beneath me or inside, soft weaving of a new body. Who is gentle enough to love it?

In an old poem, the virgin, her luminous face, framed by roses. Dreamed she was whipped by angels. Lash of paint. Casket of butterflies. Open in the earth to receive her. Wild grass, caressing the windows of her face. Thus she lives embraced by green, embraced by glass. As if this world were not her home. As if this wound would be the last
southern fiber is
future-proof light
beyond which, flowering command. Thus she speaks the language of broadband. "Southern light is future–proof fiber," she says. Her name is written in oil, heavy, adhesive, until it begins to smoke. Too often suffering from trash: her cattle at work in a field of garbage. She is entering a century of death. The traditional marks (Christ Victorious) have been replaced by terms like "Crisis" and "Debt." Stuffed with cotton or tobacco. The heat like a tight collar. Which means: memory overtakes you.

Marina City, Chicago, 1959–67

Fig. 5: Dazzled by June, I sit on the far bank of the river, across from Marina City. Behind me, bright scenes of commerce and prosperity: "Everything happens for a Riesling," a waiter's shirt announces. In front of me, a boy, maybe thirteen, drops his hook into the green darkness:

He caresses the river, as if to unwrap
tense pubic mullions, a kettle of silent
carp, their gills faintly flapping
in the river grass. His hook catches
and he wrestles up a red solo cup.
He makes a sign of embarrassment
and chagrin, this lamb who the police
closely kettle, this brown boy bound
in blossoming muscle.
Then he sinks his hook again.
So too, the architect must advance
into the river, unbuckling, to crack
or caress the backbone crook of lime–
stone on which the city rests.
So too, he is undressed,
a strong man captured by sleep,
a man who built abundance.
"He is the joiner, he sees how they join."
He builds circular towers, flat discs,
spinal flutes that creak or flutter.
"Some loves are more failed than others."
His buildings crumple like a loose guitar.
He leaves a series of angles, Dick's Last Resort,
dew–wet, heavy, downcast,
as if to announce that luxuriance
is the property of heaven.
As if to say, the groin is where it splits
and becomes the heavy hull of a mid–sized car.
Beauty is addressed to no particular.

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Fig. 5 (cont.):1933. Le Corbusier and the fourth Congrès Internationaux d'Architecture Moderne leave Athens on an ocean liner. Behind them, Europe descends into black marble, leaves of beaten gold. Its comb–over capsizes in the storm. Absolved, they propose a clean, ideal city:

The architect shaves his flaky fingerprints
so that the pressure of his digits
leaves anonymous marks,
septic incisions
in the city's throat.
Madison: "The nation ought
to be constituted
to protect the minority of the opulent."
Ought to twist like a calf
caught in a barbed wire fence.
Travel toward cosmetics,
carpal tunnel.
Its future is the asphalt artery
clotted with fallen brick.
It catches in the doorjamb,
or on the deck of a cruise ship.
It watches the world
windcracked, collapsed.
Corbu: "You will build
in quadrants and cuts.
You will divide life into its constituents.
Each act will be clad
in concrete and glass.
You will build clean radiance,
a city in which the sutures melt
to leave cropped property,
a shimmering lot of freshly washed rental cars,
pubic bristle of rebar.
Each particular is addressed to beauty."

Corbusier and the fourth Congrès: in 1933, Le Corbusier and a team of Europe's most daring modernist architects abandoned the continent, setting out on an ocean liner for Marseilles. Over the course of the trip, they laid out a foundational vision for the modern city–the "radiant city"–organized into discrete, segregated zones: a place for living. A hive of office towers. Luxuries and shops. Separated by medians of grass and joined by the automobile. So that the city digests any act to its perfect, distinct, radiant practice. At Marina City, Goldberg builds against this consensus. He enacts a dizzying impaction of functions. The iconic corn-cob towers press against a theater, an office building, an ice-skating rink, a steak-house named, improbably, "Dick's Last Resort," a series of docks, all in the space of a tight, half block. The future is the past: the great cities of history with their flows of cash, crops, ceramics, false prophets, quarters of meat, counterfeit currency and secret police.

Raymond Hilliard Homes, Chicago, 1963–66

Heibach House

                     The starving man becomes
      his cloak, Manchester, Detroit, Shenzen:
         melody of migration, melody of perishing,
sleeping beneath the viaduct or huddled in a door. His footstep triggers
                unexploded ordinance
           Yankee kindness
                embroidered in the banks
          of the Euphrates

                             hypnotized by the pale unfolding powerpoint
                             many were the minds that capsized there
                             our boys in the almond groves

      and the time they pass through
                                     is heavy as crude

      [black edge] [of insurance]
                                     [embroidered] [in the bank]

      [wallet of sandbags]
                                     [to hold the river back]

"Be the bomb, see what it sees"  
it is 10:45 am, Sunday
     July 3rd, and Hilliard is
red expanse, vernacular flower,
     that frames the security booth,

"Be the bomb, see what it sees"  
trees without reticence, hot
     charcoal in the grill,
freshly harvested hamburger,
     packs of pink hot dogs,

"Be the bomb, see what it sees"  
pink pacifier abandoned under a gate
     soft whistle of the El
     and the grass itself
tough                  sudsy                  verminous

"Be the bomb, see what it sees"  
defies the photographer's
     impatience with things that are alive.
fig. 6. "Plump stately Dick Daley."
     fig. 6."We're not happy til you're not happy."

Toby Altman is the author of Arcadia, Indiana (Plays Inverse, 2017) and several chapbooks, including Every Hospital by Bertrand Goldberg (Except One), winner of the 2018 Ghost Proposal Chapbook Prize. His poems can or will be found in Gulf Coast, jubliat, Lana Turner and other journals and anthologies. He holds a PhD in English from Northwestern University and an MFA in Poetry from the Iowa Writers' Workshop.