Days on Lawndale – by MATTHEW J. LAWLER

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Days on Lawndale


Oh those days on Lawndale,

The summer sweet weed smell

and 40 ounce behemoth breath

left its mark upon me

like a flame searing flesh.

I was in the present moment

more attentive than ever,

Now reflective upon feeling

a certain fire of uncertainty,

A vivid emptiness internally.


Identity was an infant

like a restless spider weaving

an endless web of discovery,

And every day was different

discovering the hate and love in me.

The teenage angst of city life

yet somehow I found a bliss

not in coins, but in pitching them

under the sun’s scream on concrete

where teens crowded corners

pitching quarters.


There was pressure to conform

to the image of the Cobra.

To weather the storm of youth

and not slip into that swamp,

To seek some sort of truth

in finding out who you are

and who you’re not.


Oh Chicago I remember,

Walking up to Jensen in September,

Ready to play ball in brilliant weather.

80 degrees and counting.

The court with its austere gleam

called teens to play.


We played ball that day in September,

Without any thought to what we’d do next

caught up in the moment until

we ran out of breath.

I took a break to grab a drink

and watched the dreamless

drinking on a park bench.

I was a question mark

consorting with exclamations.

Surrounded by dreamless

drifters and street bums

hearing the distant sound

of harmonica beats

as the marijuana seeped

into sewers of Seagram’s.

I grew up in this ageless

aimless teenage kingdom

where void was the concept of authority,

A kingdom of anarchy

and ranting of strange minds,

I saw the “powerless” feel empowered

in the proclamation of gang signs,

But I felt power on the court.


There was pressure to conform to their ways,

Though insecure about myself

I never bit the bait,

Denying my desire to belong.

My school days were lonely

like the loneliness of my disease,

Reaching with its forceps

and yanking out self-esteem.

Most classes I would cut

to smoke a blunt in the Cutlass

trying to regain a sense of composure,

I fled to the neighborhood

drifting in the currents of Cullom.

A place where teens found identity

and self-worth in the image of the Cobra.


Where did I find my self-worth?

I found it in my dream of playing ball,

Basketball at Jensen,

Soaked in September sweat

dribbling up and down the court

as mad men looked on

eager to participate.

I stuck the dagger in

with a swish to end the game,

Damn!! I felt good about myself,

Forgetting my limitations

in a blurring moment,

I ran like how the river runs,

Free from diabetes consciousness,

Free from the label of being dysfunctional.

I held the ball, smelling the dirt, the musk,

The burnt roach weed smell

from the fingertips of felons.

I fell in love that day at Jensen.

I fell in love with dreams.


“Come on Matthew, you coming with us?”

I watched them that day after the game

disperse from the park to hang out on Leland.

About ten of them.  Green eyes, green and black

back bruises, tattoos, shaved heads,

40 ounce behemoth breath.

Alone, I grabbed tight onto my dream

and dribbled it home down Lawndale,

Watching the dreamless go into a restless





Matthew J. Lawler is a poet and Chicago native. He is published in numerous online journals, Visual Verse, Unlost Journal, Caravel Literary Arts Journal. You can find him on

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