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Melissa Altenderfer

Most of my friends live in roundly
vowelled cities: Tampa, Orlando,
Sarasota, and New Orleans.
“You live in Pittsburgh now?”
they ask, worrying the consonants
against their teeth like burns
on their tongues. Down
South, words and landscapes roll

in inexorable slopes towards
the Gulf's inevitable dilution.
“Pittsburgh, yes.” It is hard
to tell them how before I moved
here I'd never heard a complete stranger
pronounce “Altenderfer”
correctly on the first try. I'd never
driven triangulated streets that vanish

at the point promised by perspective.
“My neighborhood has a name,” I say
over crackling connections spiky
with static. “Every place in Pittsburgh
has a name. Hill of Squirrels.
Land of Oak. Side that is Shady. Mount
of Washington. A Field in Bloom. Come
visit!” They always demur, imagining another
city that occupies the same space—

an old shadow where stacks stab
at the sky and leak suffocating
soot that blackens everyone
into anonymity, even those in my
neighborhood, the one they call
“Friendship” here in Pittsburgh.

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