Thursday, May 24, 2012

The New Land

         Our friend Mark emailed me old photos of Detroit.  I could figure out exactly what year it was in one of the photos by recognizing the model year of the cars in the parking lot, which I can do because I'm from Motor City. I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that the photo that most resonated with me was the menu of F.W Woolworth's soda fountain.  I think I ate everything on that menu that didn't have ham in or on it, at these low prices: 
BACON and TOMATO…………… 50c
  Toasted Three Decker Sandwich
(I had an agreement with God that bacon was OK outside the home if there was lettuce and tomato and toast with it. Alone it would be traif - unkosher).

That photo of the menu brought back this memory:
Deep winter, my friend Karen & I walk all the way from Greenlawn and Curtis to the State Fair Grounds on Eight Mile and Woodward to ice skate. Coming home at 4:30, it's getting dark, and even our layers of clothes won't protect us, it is so cold.  We are a little more than half-way, and there, finally,  is the Woolworth's on Seven Mile & Livernois.  We come in pulling off gloves, rubbing our hands, galoshes stomping the wooden floor.  

Renovated Woolworth Soda Fountain Asheville, N.C.
      We sit down on a red stool and take a little spin - just to make sure we have a good one. ( We will change if we don't.) We look out the window at snowflakes falling through the colored light from the neon sign. We watch the waitress make our order. And there it is in the photo of the menu

   It is remarkably strange to have grown up in a vital “city of the future”, characterized by dynamism and industry, and know it is now a post-industrial wasteland.   

William Livingstone house photo by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre
   Have you seen the photos of the ruins of Detroit? Empty high- rises, the ghost of the  Beaux Arts Michigan Central Station, decaying mansions, and the population halved since I left. There is a general atmosphere of despair -
but a strange and rather wonderful thing has been  happening there.  

Let me tell you about it with a poem.
 The New Land

You’ve heard of that city
It had an affair
with concrete and steel 
the machine was their lovechild
they named it Advance
and how could it not
be the future?
That city was my first home

     Have you heard it’s in ruins?

Next to 40 stories of abandoned smashed-glass skyscraper
and the startled remains of a Beaux-Arts station where
the 20th Century Limited pulled in and men and women
in hats and suits hired porters in perfectly shined shoes
Next to that  
                     long blocks of empty lots   
I’ve been gone too long to know how the day-to-day goes  
But it’s a Black city now   no supermarkets settle in 
and nothing fresh comes from a liquor store
So the women go to the vacant spaces   clean up the shards  
the bullets    the needles
hoe   plow  weed  seed and feed the ground that belongs
to no one   put in tomatoes  corn   greens   potatoes   
And the earth knows they are listening
says “Barter”   says “Seed exchange”     says “Saturday market”

Outside of the churches   among the early sprouts
they say prayers for the crop   grandaddy’s hymn and Gaia hip-hop
arms reaching  not skyward
but down 
toward the rich  reconsecrated land
of Detroit




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