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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Chase

Poem Inspired by West Side Story

By Justin Karcher

After Seeing West Side Story, I Start Wondering How We Can Make Buffalo Better


When you're a Buffalonian

you're a Buffalonian all the way

from your first cigarette

to your last dyin' day

which makes us all a little blind

to the reality of living

on the eastern shore of Lake Erie

where shark girls are always piloting Tesla jets

straight into the sun’s black eye

they’re trying to get away from pigskin boys

sledding down hills on burning tables

or men wearing antifreeze suits dry-humping parking meters

people weighed down by canal-sized badges

or the scarlet letters you find in empty pizza boxes

the disappointing legacies we’re forced to carry

we also suffer from existential laziness

the kind of comfort that creates beds in our chests

so our hearts are always stoned & sleeping

still beating

but they have a hard time getting up in the morning

they never capitalize on the passion pumping through our blood

the dreams we don’t declare

but should

for example

the other day, a barista at Caffe Aroma asked me

“Why do you like living in Buffalo?”

it didn’t take me long to answer

“Because I like living in a city

where you only need to be at, like, 25%

to get by… you only need to look kinda nice

be kinda charming, be kinda funny

& you can basically get what you need”

the barista nodded & poured me my 18th cup of coffee

of the night

& as the lukewarm coffee lazy-riverd down my throat

I began to feel shitty about my answer

I began to realize that I’m probably blind too

I should care more

I should stop talking about what’s wrong with Buffalo

instead do everything in my power to make things better

but what does that even mean though?

maybe I should join a beauty-seeking gang

that roams the streets at night

stripping Buffalo to the bone & fighting the good fight

battling villains until the morning light

villains who sleep on beds of broken windshield glass

villains who freeze passionate lava with judiciary touches

villains who carve up neighborhoods into gentrified charcuterie

villains who smash up speakers with opioid hammers

villains who decree, “Too much bass, too much dancing

never try to shake off the feelings that crush our spirits

because this is Buffalo… walk into quicksand & love it!”

look, I firmly believe we’re trained in this city to ignore reality

we learn it at an early age

always telling ourselves that something’s coming

something good

so we dutifully listen to all those promises of a future

where heavenly condos have replaced half-filled theaters

where championships have replaced participation trophies

where solar-powered love has replaced moonlit mud-slinging

& we’ll all be making enough money

so we never have to struggle again

what promises!

look, we can’t lie to ourselves

like most nights I tell myself I’m experiencing weird Buffalo fairytales

yeah, that’s what I’m doing when I’m wandering around

then I share ‘em on Facebook

then I stare at my phone & wait for the validation

but what am I

what are we

really looking for though?

all the beautiful sounds of Buffalo

in a single song?

yeah, because all we wanna do is sing

I do believe in that

a song about how we want to live in a city

where the babies aren’t always crying

or where the bullets aren’t always flying

instead we want a hurricane of flowers in full bloom

a skyway you can drive on toward a culture of belonging

toward miracles that are always happening

no need for the sons & daughters of crystal meth

to live in darkness

but what is that darkness?

unemployed workers fighting a cold

that will never go away

no snow on the ground

but still a frostbite we can’t explain

a numbness we can’t outrun

a Downtown

where Xmas music is always playing

even though its spring

even though its fall

all these young

& desperate lovebirds

skating on ice rinks

that were formed

from the frozen-over tears of moms

whose kids have committed suicide

moms from other countries

moms from elsewhere

moms who climb a hill of skulls night after night

but it’s not really a hill of skulls

just a bunch of fat toilet paper rolls

that some unemployed artist drew skulls on

they’re piled high along the waterfront

you can smell the sharpie from miles away

before long, all the young & desperate lovebirds

will be extinct

I get it

if we truly pay attention, we’ll lose our minds

but we can’t go crazy though

let’s get cool, let’s take it slow

let’s turn off the juice

calmly swim to the bottom of this ocean

search for all the beauty we’ve cast aside

or have forgotten to pay attention to

I imagine a vanishing of crooked police officers

a vanishing of crime lords, no more murderers

no more false promises, no more athletes tweeting

what we’re so desperate to hear, no more assemblymen

saying words they don’t understand, imagine an epidemic

of ballet sweeping the city from north to south

east to west, imagine neighborhood gangs

setting aside their differences, becoming lovers

brothers or sisters & exploring abandoned department stores

in the middle of the night, the bones that are often

crumbled to dust in the name of progress

imagine them finding headless mannequins

bodies that lost their heads to misunderstanding

severed by the clouds because their feet couldn’t leave the street

now imagine those neighborhood gangs

rescuing the headless mannequins

& planting them in stages all over the city

eventually, new heads rise like spring flowers

mouths that will sing songs no matter the situation

a garden we can all take pride in

who knows what I am

what we are

dreamers, singers, hypocrites

we just wanna rock it tonight

jazz it tonight

a love that comes so strong

in the city we all call home

I like to think we’re halfway there

but I know I’m wrong

I guess I just wanna say that Buffalo should be a playground

where we’re always skinning our knees

& discovering what beauty means

a song that explains it all

why we fall

& why we get back up again

I guess I want us to operate with 100% of our hearts

because if not

it’s impossible to get that brand-new start

I don’t know

just hold someone’s hand

because maybe

we are halfway there

after all

when you're a Buffalonian

you're a Buffalonian all the way

from your first cigarette

to your last dyin' day


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