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    John Koethe

    45. The Menomonee Valley

    By John Koethe

    It was always the first thing Geoff wanted to see
    Whenever he’d drive over from Madison to visit me.
    He saw it as the quintessential landscape
    Of the Essential City, by contrast with that ersatz one

    Some eighty miles away, the juvenile capital
    Of record stores and gyro joints and bubble gum.
    It splits Milwaukee into South and North, the factories,
    The bungalows and taverns of the men who used to work in them

    Vs. what remains of downtown, the Pfister Hotel, the lakefront
    And the mansions of the millionaires who used to own them.
    In early spring it’s still a nearly frozen wasteland
    Of railroad tracks and smokestacks and a narrow, dull canal

    Flowing past slag heaps flecked with scraps of snow and seagulls.
    Down the road from Badger Bumper, the Miller Compressing Company
    Flattens what’s left over of the cars, then lifts them up and
    Dumps them on a monumental mountain of aluminum and steel,

    To be pulverized at last into a kind of coarse, toxic metal meal.
    Yet even wastelands change. The noxious smells
    That used to permeate the air are gone. The Milwaukee Stockyards
    Where we’d stop for lunch (there was a funny restaurant there)

    Left town two years ago. The Peck Meat Packing plant
    Is rationality itself, with trucks with modern logos and an antiseptic air.
    The Tannery, an “Urban Business and Living Center”
    Lodged inside the shells of what were once some of the foulest

    Factories in the country, is the first stage of a plan
    To redefine this “huge forlorn Brownfield” into a different kind of space,
    A place of “offices, light manufacturing, a riverfront bike trail”
    Meant to ease the lingering traces of a vanishing industrial sublime. . . . Read More.


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