The photo is of a piece from the Translated Vases series by the Korean artist Yeesookyung, which is displayed at The University of Chicago's Smart Museum of Art

Turn the Return: A Meditation on Eicha, Chapter Five

(Photo credit: The photo is of a piece from the “Translated Vases” series by the Korean artist Yeesookyung, currently displayed at The University of Chicago’s Smart Museum of Art.) 
This is part of Jewschool’s poetry series on Lamentations for our modern cities and urban justice. You can find here Harold Jaffe’s piece on chapter 4 and here Adam Gottlieb’s piece on chapter 2.
How desolate lies the city: brownfields and boarded windows, population falling. For now, decline, not growth, fuels the engine of progress, but from its making, there was mansion and shanty; first wooden sidewalks and rutted streets, then an asphalt grid outlining a continually shifting configuration of Changing Neighborhoods™. Contract buying drained money from where it’s most needed, and redlining turned blocks into turf to be fought over, while the victors built their finer homes elsewhere. Settler versus Native, then migrant versus already-settled: this city has always been a tumult of placement and displacement.
We don’t want nobody nobody sent, but how many nobodies have made their way here? Chicago is too busy being on the make to be eternal: Jerusalem of gold and stone, but Chicago of steel and glass and a river engineered to flow backwards, so that its source rather than its end becomes the stagnant stinkwater.
So when we plead “Turn us to you, and we shall return,” (Eicha 5:21) what would we be returning to? “Renew our days as of old,” (ibid.) we cry, as if it would be as simple as restoring what was, whatever that was. Is this the fast I desire, Isaiah’s G-d asks, sackcloth and ashes without responding to the damage around us? How about a real Urban Renewal this time, with people turning to each other to repair the broken world as each present moment unfolds?
Whatever we imagine renewing, we must imagine anew. The sanctuary we would rededicate, the city we would rebuild, will not be some prelapsarian state to which we will be passively restored; it will be the work of our hands, which have been scarred by destruction as well as our efforts to pile brick on brick, to plumb the line aright. Like a shattered pot whose shards are formed into a new vessel, and whose mended seams are sealed in gold, the remaking memorializes what was and what can be. What if, when we saw the Mogen David pattern in the railings outside the Baptist Temple at Woodlawn and 63rd Street, we did not simply mourn the absence of Jews, but saw instead the traces of a struggle still unfinished? There is no Paradise to regain, only better worlds to reimagine, built on, and of the remains of what we will ourselves to preserve, not because these fragments are relics of the dead, but because they are signs, against all odds and reason, of ongoing life.

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