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The Tallest Building in America
Jaswinder Bolina

In the season of her first cancer, my sister looms over lampposts,
over broadcast antennas, over cicadas in flight. News helicopters
chuckle below her, but I can see her from every corner druggist,
I can see her from the pier at Pratt Street Beach, from the botanic
gardens in Glencoe, from every expressway and ring road.
I can see her from Ohio, or maybe it’s her tumor, yes,
her tumor is the tallest building in America rising into her chest
like a spire shoved into the troposphere. I call it her first cancer
because any cancer that isn’t the last cancer is an only fleetingly
crowned behemoth crowding her skyline. Any new cancer
will be much, much taller, so the next cancer becomes the tallest
building in America. Every road goes there. When I think this way
of the epic, encroaching future, I become the tallest building
in America able to see over quivering horizons. The President
must feel this too when our civic maladies metastasize
into national disasters, and when he does, he’s the tallest
building in America until his agenda is thwarted by the Majority
Whip so the Speaker of the House is certain he’s the tallest building
in America, but the Fox Newsroom overlooking The Avenue
of the Americas is taller. For years, the kitschy white folks
who yammer there tell me Osama bin Laden is the tallest building
in America, and it’s better to throw boots through his windows
until the weather gets in, until his rebar corrodes, until
he teeters into the sea. When this happens, the headquarters
of the Central Intelligence Agency in Langley, Virginia,
becomes the tallest building in America, though the Chamber
of Commerce is much, much taller. It worries China’s rising
monstrous and tall, but I remember when stern Russia
lumbered larger, and I’m nostalgic then for our antique enemies.
Nostalgia always has been the tallest building in America, but later
I’m walking through the elastic shadows of Fullerton Avenue
to the Lincoln Park Zoo to wonder at the hopeless, daffy
giraffes, or I’m in the Signature Room of the Hancock Building
for a bourbon alone, and I think, No, above all these,
my sister is the tallest building in America. But all her joists
are showing. Scaffoldings hem her. Work lights scream
from floor-to-ceiling gaps in her where windows should go,
but there aren’t any windows, so the monsoons of autumn
roil clear through, and from this height the other buildings
are small, the people beneath them smaller, their other concerns
minute, their other catastrophes smaller, those other folks remote
little lymph nodes about their diligent business, their other lives
enduring in a sanguine nation, in a small and temporary country.