Gods of the city
Jove seems to have forgotten this neighborhood where I now work. Or have its residents forgotten him? Two condemned houses stood side by side, their weathered signs testifying they had been condemned years ago. They stood untouched until one simply fell, leaving the other standing. City workers came and cleared away the debris of the fallen house, but the other condemned building still awaits its accidental death.
When the mayor and the city council speak with pride of all that they have accomplished, they do not mention this neighborhood. They do not speak of how the smoke and dirt of the great trash incinerator lie over the whole region, tainting the air and the water. They do not mention the Superfund site next to my building, the gravel-strewn tainted ground. They do not address how polluted is the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River that flows so near us, that brought business and industry here.
I walk through this neighborhood and see no churches, no supermarkets, few local businesses. One Korean family runs a corner store and a laundromat. The old lady gives me a toothless smile as she accepts my card. The fried chicken looks delicious.
A few years ago, there was violence among high school students at the light rail stop where I disembark every weekday morning. If Jove is mentioned here, perhaps the residents curse his name. Mercury does not linger here, though I think he visits the laundromat and corner store. Mars is not the kindly though stern father who stores away his arms and armor when the harvest comes, but the enforcer who shoots first and claims to have asked questions later. Ceres’ blessings of grains, fruits, and vegetables are nowhere to be seen.
Yet right now, there are rosebushes in bloom all over this neighborhood, planted and tended by people who still care about the beauty of their homes. Red, white, peach and orange, they thrive despite the gritty stink in the air. Clover has sprung up uptended, both white and pink. The gods of the patricians may have turned their eyes away, the protectors of the plebes may have departed in despair, but there are still gods here. Flora and Rosa do not withhold their blessings, even if weeds must grow out of trash pits. Silvanus and Faunus hold sway in patches of woods where birds nest and sing and snakes prowl (finding their way into our warehouse in search of our mice). Cats roam the streets, watching me with calm centeredness, sometimes coming to ask for petting. The Middle Branch rolls on between our train tracks and the docks of the wealthy with their pleasure craft. Vertumnus turns the seasons. The mourning dove coos protectively as I pass, while the mockingbird defends its territory with arias worthy of grand opera. Despite everything, I feel at home in a place that reminds me of the neighborhood where I grew up, and where the gods, despite everything, are present.