James Zaferopolos

Immigrant Churches on The Near West Side: St. Theodosius

West · Tremont / Ohio City · Poetry

The steel mills hunker down to sleep
like surly beasts at rest after the hunt and kill,
blinking and yawning in their sweet satiety.

They drift off soundly, like the simple innocents they really are,
sleeping more soundly, surely, than the ones upon whose lives
they nightly sup; and as the demons rest, lost in the satisfactions
of their darkling lair, they feel the curving backbone of
their sleeping mates beside them in the dark, and snore
in ultimate contentment.

They all sleep well, deep in the brooding valley
that we call The Flats, where we don’t ever dare to go.

The beasts are satisfied with life
they have that molten metal flowing white inside them,
like the blood of immortality.

They cough and belch, spewing their acrid smoke and glowing steam
into the gasping sky. They know too well how to torment the lungs
and sear the souls of men who cannot rest in peace beneath
their belching stacks.

They drive men’s spirits deep into a troubled sleep
with such dark images of Hell on earth as only Bosch
could have imagined in another time and place.

Yet, still, St. Theodosius in her grandeur stays.
The old church stands her ground.
Her tarnished onion dome rises above the crumbling
neighborhood, a proud green presence by the grace of God.

The immigrants who built this place and worshiped here in former years,
longing to see in her even a vestige of their home-place lost, o lost
to them forever more, those immigrants have long since gone to their reward,
if not back home, and now, only the poor and the displaced reside within the shadow of her onion dome.

They cling in tenuous abandon to this thing they call a life,
clinging tenaciously to hope, along the crumbled streets and alleys
of the neighborhood, in tenements the city built,
commonly called “the projects” here about, which cling like stubborn weeds onto the crumbling hillside where the trash discarded there
is all the neighborhood must use to keep itself from tumbling down
into the Flats below. Yet, still, St. Theo’s tarnished onion dome remains,
an anchor rooted stoutly to the ground, to keep the whole securely in its place.

Steadfast. Protector. Guardian of abiding hope.
The unacknowledged symbol to the people living here today,
Of what it means to stay, and to survive.

James Zaferopolos

James Zaferopolos is a retired professor of history. He was born in 1946 in Northern Greece, of a refugee Anatolian-Greek family. His father died when he was one, and his mother and he came to America in 1955. Except for a stint in the military, he has lived in Cleveland ever since. He has been writing since his boyhood in Greece. At seventy-four, he is just now making an effort to publish. To date, this constitutes a handful of pieces in a couple of journals. Nonetheless, the struggle continues.


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