Sunday, October 7, 2007


I live in San Diego and I love it here, but I was back in Detroit last summer after a 28 year absence, and the truth of the matter is that I fell in love with the city all over again. I stayed with family in Royal Oak and Birmingham ( I lived at Livernois and 8 Mile Road), and the mixed feelings I had were over-whelming. The old neighborhood made the transistion from middle class white families to middle class black families, with the brick homes still in beautiful shape--not a blade of grass, limb of tree, seemed to be mussed--but the business district on Livernois was distressing, with barbed wire and check cashing markets where the clerks were behind bullet proof glass, and the whole shot. Went to a downtown jazz festival at hart plaza, and had great fun walking around the buildings--I have a love of old, tall skyscrapers,but I remember one image.

I was driving back over the Ambassador Bridge from a visit to Windsor on my way to meet family at the RenCen, when I looked to my right on the Detroit side and saw a grand old high-rise, built, I would guess, in the 1910's. it was overcast that day, the sky cloudy and blue grey, like pencil lead, and I noticed that I could see the sky right through the windows of the high-rise.EVERY WINDOW WAS OPEN AND EVERY ROOM WAS EMPTY.The building, grand, old, beautiful, was abandoned, given over to the facts of old factory towns like Detroit.



Sane by the times the wars were done,
my wings are clipped and preserved
with tar on brick walls
where scenes of a family
hang like posters from grainy home movies
that shimmer on TV screens in Interstate motel rooms,
jet planes bring me here.
I come home riding jet planes
over industrial skyline and
houses huddled at the end of blocks angled like bums
raising shoulders to the bad weather
they have become.
Wings cut through the chill
over still lakes with a
sight that whistles through the empty steel frames
of auto plants
that tires rolled from that rolled a nation through history that
came undone like a map
folded too many times,

There is only a big, empty factory that sits here
with a sign that notes what used to be current
and what was never replaced once the price tags were torn from the mattresses,
the soul of a city
chasing the sun,
leaving empty buildings,
the sun coming through the windows
that are eyes you cannot stare back into

After all feathers are trimmed
and useless
or stale air that blows through
the canyons of downtown Detroit,
there is no
going home
to a street that hasn't left you.
with the tall buildings
we can see through.

I'm in love with skyscrapers empty and towering,
seeing through windows
on the highest floors
left open for years over burning rivers, centurion smoke stacks,
across the water, cars full of tourists feeling homesick
candy bars on the Ambassador Bridge.


After work, busboys
who had bought old cars
with their tip money
discovered that
their tires had been spiked,
now flat
as a dollar
under an empty cup.
Over American cities
fly jets full of unwritten biographies,
history will not settle in,
it's a wind that turns cold
when the sleeves of
a junkies' shirt get longer,
the glass kingdom on the Detroit River
thumbs its nose,
it's rounded, gleaming turrets at Canada.
I think about flying away
looking for bricks,
the river rolls on,
roads lead to new airports
where they sell the same national magazines,
the same kinds of tires
get slashed.

Flying over the Cabrillo Bridge
or watching
the shadow
of the plane shimmer and slide over the folds
of a crowd doesn't change
the table of contents I read,
the tires
have been
spiked and are flat in any state
in any wheat field
and downtown corner
or trading room floor,
we're coming to the age where ghosts
arrive and stare over your shoulder
as you do your taxes
and fill in your crosswords,
a bony hand cannot hold you to things you've said,
it can only point
and point
and point until lights come on the towns
that is the furthest from the center,
we cry at our own funerals,
I weep at the
drone of a plane crossing a lake,

Detroit looks awesome
from across the river,
from Windsor,
all the buildings are tall
and made with stone,
but on the bridge,
eating candy,
getting closer, every window on every floor is open,
the buildings are riddled with daylight, only wind is being traded,
only ghosts shop at Hudson's,
Cars burn near Cadillac Square
and busboys swear in every language.


No one speaks for the dead
except a priest
who's so drunk
that all he talks about is how many saints

it takes to screw the poor
all the capital letters
they might have written their names with
and invested
themselves in a city where the future was more than the silver of the words it takes to blind everyone the mist of promises that evaporate before they hit the sidewalk.

But he tells the truth, slob that he is,
that language is controlled beyond requisite breathing
and everything is on loan from God.
Even my name means
"gift from God"
and someday
I'll retire to the dust fields
while another
fool prates on
on how I was only passing through this neck of the woods
and now I've
gone to the better place,
returned like a library book, or a dented two speed bike whose bell
rings in a muted, choking rattle.

Everything is taken away,
but red brick buildings
look great
after the fires and bombs
blasted them empty
of residents
and meaning, anything worth staying for,
brick and glass towers
climb over the four-wheeled remains of a rumored prosperity
where nothing but
grind and groaning has gone on for years.

Drivers along the road going through the mythic downtown
now spell

their names with no letters at all
and the hit parade from
Mexico is replaced with static,
rap and country music mix together,

Jazz from the waterfront pavilion
where the sweetness of the human voice
rises in the ruins of industry that
almost erased it.
The music rides over the water on diesel fumes,
the only sound Canada wants
to hear from us, ever,
music that drifts on
pristine mountain winds
over her lakes
and forests and rivers of teeming trout,
all is industry
where storefronts still glitter with name brands
and the orchestra plays the music of dead men,
the audience places its
collective tongue

To pencil tip and answers the essay contest question
about the future being about
ghosts in cars playing soul music in Motown
where cruising for burgers and chicks
in the grind of motorized manhood
while millions move from
suburbs where oil drives the engine of burned out futures,
You're a life story on TV, and then canceled, on Woodward, driving past big tires and gas ovens and spark plugs,
realizing every road marker is a plot against what wasn't thought up,
the future that families like mine bought into until money and hope ran dry
as the ink of the contract I signed, both of which turned invisible when any one called anyone from a pay phone at the edge of the county, I try to light the steps along the street in Fall when the sun sets earlier and maple trees threw long shadows across the streets that used to belong to all of us.

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