She thinks that she saw it on Kercheval [Street]

She thinks that she saw it on Kercheval [Street]

She was a baby when her mother
brought her to the clinic on the corner
of Kercheval and McClellan
it was 1967

Moms & Tots was brand new then
and when the riot happened
the building didn’t burn

In the weeks and months
and years after
her mother, who was a renter
watched as For Sale signs appeared
all around
the neighbourhood grew increasingly
run down

Then one day in 71’
her father didn’t return
but she didn’t learn
until much later
that a cruiser
on Dequindre
picked him up
and committed murder
in an alley off the Chrysler.

By the time she reached high school
running track in the building
round the corner from Ossian Sweet’s
she would jog down the avenue
and young execs
in Volts and Cadillacs
would try and catch her eye
say hey girl
want some Vernors with your rye?

When she left the state to attend
an elite liberal arts college
she had no plans for a return
she was just following
that story told often in Michigan
that you once you’ve let
you just keep going.

But when her mother grew ill
and then when she passed
she ended up with the old bungalow
on Garland Ave
the one filled with old photos
and a presence she couldn’t abandon
so she sold her business in a sunbelt city
and made a move her friends couldn’t fathom

Back to the Big D
back to Motor City.

In the mornings
or in the evenings after work
when the sun sets late in summer
she runs

On she goes
past Moms & Tots
now abandoned
past the Chrysler plant on Mack
where her grandfather
a gifted mechanic
was hired
and fired
and hired again
in a seasonal ritual
that reminded her of ‘Harvest of Shame’
a documentary she watched in college

He kept this up until
at fifty-two
he lost his hand to a machine press
which began his second life as
the father his granddaughter couldn’t have.

Onward she runs and
feeling daring
turns right on Alter Road
crossing into the Pointe-

A former boyfriend told her
that her skin was light enough
that she could pass for some white Jamaican
or even a Caribbean Queen
a mulatto in the grand tradition
of Antoinette Cosway
grand dame of a former British colony
(she knew he’d read it all wrong)

She loops around and then
back on Kercheval again
she reaches the Country Club
a place where she’d been refused entry
despite being so elegantly dressed
and the invited guest
of an up-and-coming
someone from a downtown firm
(she was then home for the Christmas holidays)

He said hun,
let me take care of this-

But he didn’t return

Later he called her
it was a midnight drunken dial
saying sorry, hun,
I don’t know what come over me
there was this man I knew
important client for the firm
and had he seen what was going on
(his remaining words were inaudible).

The Garland Street house is going to get
a solarium
and two kinds of gardens
one Japanese
since she took a class in horticulture
the other
a good old fashioned southern patch
with kale and collards and mustards
and tomatoes, peas and squash
the kind her mother and her mama’s mother
taught her how to tend

And she’s going to do it all through her own
financing options
since the banks don’t want to lend
not even to an independently wealthy
prize-winning writer
and adjunct professor of public affairs
out in Ann Arbor.

Question is:
is this where her road ends?

If our planet is growing more crowded
as the papers and social media say
then the situation in the Big D
is truly grave

She recalls seeing children
run like mastodons
across lawns
in an era when
the hopes of Coleman Young
kept so many people buoyant
despite what the hometown papers
and the national media said

About corrupt unions
and crack cocaine
welfare mothers driving caddies
and black power meaning anarchy

The pavements,
lots and sidewalks were the domain
of so many young dreamers
with febrile imaginations
the envy of a Rousseau
kids who chased down
and played chicken with trains

How they still ran on the half
and quarter hours
all that rolling stock still bringing in steel
to build Valhalla
her grandfather always recalling
the dreams of Sloan and Ford
how you could barely keep count
of the steel ships moving down river
Detroit like some Dutch or Korean harbor.

It was an up-and-coming place
a space for men without graduate degrees
a city where a black man from Mississippi
could be a pensioner
after so many years of shop experience
still catching hate
but retiring in style
with little more than his Grade 8.

But she also remembers another place
a vast metropolitan space
bereft of the name of any woman
along its avenues or freeways
in its squares and plazas
that is
until they turned that burned out street
12th
into a monument to Ms. Rosa Parks
the main artery of the poorest hood
in the most notorious ghetto

Rosa
with her aura
called on to heal
the city’s burst ventricle!

Still, it was something
at least now the people formerly known as “them”
(and much worse)
were recognized to be deserving something more
than mere scraps and crumbs

But again,
was this to be the end of her road?

Every member from her family
who knew the city’s history
who made the story
of their migration here
to this sorry place
this noble, decrepit, glorious
city of the labor treaty
and the subprime fix
they were now gone

The best of what the city had to offer
had they taken that with them?

The answer to that question remains to be written.

-Jeremy Nathan Marks

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