“Message from Bongo Brown” -in print

I am very pleased that my poem, “Message from Bongo Brown” has been published. I am posting a link to the piece, which is formatted differently over at The Blue Nib from the way I formatted it originally. I offer you both versions:

http://magazine.thebluenib.com/article/poetry-by-eileen-hugo-wanda-morrow-clevenger-and-jeremy-nathan-marks/

Message from Bongo Brown

‘Detroit is just like everywhere else, only more so -a lot more so.’ -Jerry Herron

‘He was the spice.’ -Uriel Jones

‘But in the end it wasn’t up to me. The big things never are. Birth, I mean, and death. And love. And what love bequeaths to us before we’re born.’ -Jeffrey Eugenides

I

I nearly always believe what I hear if the singer is sincere

Driving westbound
past Dearborn on the 94
I hear Diana Ross shout Stop!

In the name of love turn about go back and say
the best is yet to come
and this is my kind of town

Since ‘There’s plenty of work and the bosses are paying.’

II

Eddie Brown came up from Clarksdale
drawn like the folks Jacob Lawrence drew
he went from being Marvin Gaye’s valet
to making music history

Sitting in on instinct
unable to read music
he made Boston-Edison
and then the Donovan
a centre of percussive innovation.

III

Here, too, that Mexican
Rivera
portrayed as no one had previously
that American transubstantiation
must be taken seriously

And Ford said
it’s a blessing to welcome a Red
into the cradle
of the American fable.

IV

Detroit,
should we take it to be
a city of men
or a metropolis of women

Or if that distinction puts us in a fix
how about calling it
a city of the middlesex?

V

Woman now heads a plurality of houses
so shouldn’t she be the one to issue promises
on behalf of the city Fathers
to the nomads delinquent in their payments?

But the best minds haven’t found a formula for an era beyond the auto
and ingrained civic habits try and pull rabbits from hats that don’t trick

There were so many patrons to fill the Hudson’s on Woodward
and the Grand River busses teemed with shoppers

But even then
the real estate boards,
brokers, and city councillors
the sheriffs and the county executives conversing over their lake perch
and filet mignon dinners
said they had to maintain the integrity of their investments,
that American right to property

So what if that property now is, in some ways,
a salad of weeds where coyotes and geese graze and feed
off the land Ford wanted so badly to turn into concrete?

Much of it has reverted to that same Michigan mud he used to curse
and pick from off his feet.

VI

The people I meet are more eager for belief
than they are for relief

Their hope is as driving
as the winter rain
which keeps Lake St. Clair open water

They make the rent go for groceries
brave the bus
lock the window then the door
then the fire escape
until there are more
than five latches
barring even the landlord

They can tell you which lights have to be run
red and green, either one

But if you think that this is a new phenomenon
just listen to ‘Bongo’ Brown’
or Marvin Gaye and his Twelfth Street sound
they told you what was going on-

I almost cried
when I thought how they died
but was revivified
listening to Bobbye Hall eulogize.

VII

As smoke from the Rouge reaches the sky
a long line of Sheeler’s shadows
draws the eye towards the tambourine
its metal mimicking a rhythm local musicians learned to tame

I go and listen again
to a recording of a Mardi Gras Indian
whose brother made his migration
out from a grove of strange fruit
to the lights of Muskegon,
Toledo, Flint, and then Wayne County
come to the open stoops,
bling pigs,
and testimonials
of Black Bottom and Paradise Valley

He heard his gospel translated from the feathers
and taut skin slapping
of his hand
the roll of the cymbal
a shake of the wrist
and every thumb print left
by a bent back digit impressed with beeswax

Historically, ancestrally
I cannot help but see
in the Penobscot, the Book,
the Fisher, and the Lee
a reminder of the shopkeepers who scrawled ‘Soul Brother’
on their windows and doors
calling to mind the paschal lamb, the bitter herb,
but also every untutored player: field shouters, barrel kickers, harp blowers
who jigged the streets with sequins and lace.

Untutored they were
but not unschooled
for while the Muse may be rude
her fruits are hardly crude.

Jeremy Nathan Marks

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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

Hastings Street

Hastings Street

They carved an incision straight down your sternum
then poured in the tar and rubber

If the gap was sealed, the mark is visible
a poor man’s plenum

Cadillacs, Lincolns
Impalas, junkers and jalopies
careen down the ‘artery.’

Bluesman picks his dobro
with a delta accent
carrying its own vibrato
after several tours in the furnace

He pries loose the tar and rubber
with piston rod fingers
over vulcanized hands

A city has no secrets.

But here’s the deal:
five will get you ten
then six of one
half dozen of the other
that everyone’s crying foul
now that the phone
is a personal amplifier.

Jeremy Nathan Marks

Conyers

Conyers

-for Aubrey Pollard, Fred Temple & Carl Cooper

I

The stories we tell ourselves
sincere as they seem
mostly overlook the stories others
live individually
so we live in worlds where blue is green

While buildings burn
while freeways are built
through cramped campuses
of what was simply available
While civic leaders bruit
about promises they cannot keep
While imagination remains the true
invisible hand making its porous
palm felt across the land

The heat from the streets
from locked gun cabinets
and pockets not deep enough
to do something enduring
about the Jones that grows
so it is that confessions
and intentions pale beside
predilections that hardly
can be called
the snows of yesteryear.

II

Congressman Conyers
standing on the hood of a friend’s car
implores the rioters, looters
to return home before the first molotov
cocktail is thrown
before the first child is acquired
by scattered fire

These are his people, or so he believes
they put him in office
assured him of his status
respected that he bought his own place
just a mere two blocks over
from the worst street of sin in the city

So it is a genuine rebuke when they say
‘We don’t want to hear it’
they might as well have called him a honkey
or an ofay
and as a bottle shatters on the street
mere inches from his aide’s feet
he stands down, shaken
saying:

‘You try to talk to those people and they’ll knock you
into the middle of next year.’

III

They had the best mayor in the land
the one who came in on a promise that
he’d put in a chief of police
one who understood the nature of the stress
the black man experienced
merely trying to walk to get a late night brew
on streets familiar enough that he should have been
known to any uniform
vice squad or unmarked cruiser patrolling that beat

The folks said the mayor’s appointment
of Justice Edwards as the new chief
was as reassuring and prideful a moment
as President Johnson’s placement of Marshall
on the highest court in the land

Edwards, it should be said, was himself
a white man.

IV

Three young men
all suspect
by virtue of the color
of their skin
were simply dining late
and taking it all in
when a mysterious act
on the floor below
led to shouts of sniper!
and the arrival
of the police and the Guard
so that within a couple of hours
all three young men were dead

Should it be said
that it was fitting that
these deaths occurred in
a motel known as the Algiers
a city famous for a colonial war
that had been lost by the same power
that had passed the baton of its flailing
effort at curbing insurrection in another
formerly colonial land
and that these United States had taken up
a similar mission civilatrice
in that other corner of the brown and yellow world
only to find that bombs and martial superiority
couldn’t cure the clear intent of those yellow ni&*^rs
to no longer take orders from a white Christian face
if it could be replaced by a party or committee
that preached power and proffered proof
that power is still power
even if means to be lord of a pile of rubble.

Jeremy Nathan Marks

I am looking for a girl

I am looking for a girl

‘I’m looking for a girl who has no face
She has no name, or number
And so I search within this lonely place
Knowing that I won’t find her
Well, I can’t stop this feeling deep inside me’ -Traffic

‘Fare thee well gone away
There’s nothing left to say
‘cept to say adieu’ -The Pogues

-for ‘Nadine’

I am looking for a girl
whom Joyce Carol Oates contrived
for some lonely, half-crazed
son of poor white trash
back in nineteen sixties Detroit

She wears tennis shoes
tennis skirts
bangles and is a brunette
destined never to work a day
in her life

She can smell the fires wafting down
Jefferson Ave
moved by a siren’s breeze
she could wonder whether the lover she shot
is caught in the thick of those things
a far greater indifference wouldn’t claim

Her patron
the man who lets his children
do how they feel
be it hunting each other
busting jungle bunkers
or bearing ‘eyes as blue
as the water in the bay’
knows that this is the way
of free born children of the USA

I seek her up that same Jefferson Ave
past the habits and habitats
of belled wolves
and plaited deer

I am nearly certain that I see her
swinging down Woodward
coming out of Hudson’s
trailing eau de cologne
like a song

That is until I hear a rifle shot
from a sniper
that is actually a firecracker
while her smoking pistol
drops into her purse

The Guard, police
the Airborne
they storm off toward Clairmount.

Jeremy Nathan Marks

This poem appears in the July 24th, 2017 edition (today’s) of vox poetica. You can also read it here: http://voxpoetica.com/i-am-looking-for-a-girl/

Note: ‘Nadine’ is a character from Joyce Carol Oates’ National Book Award-winning novel Them. The poem takes its title from the 1967 song “No Face, No Name, No Number” by the British rock band Traffic. You can listen to the song here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pbVo5LlmrJY

Go to Detroit

Tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of the Detroit Riot. In the early morning hours of Sunday July 23rd, 1967 the vice squad raided an illegal after hours drinking establishment (known locally as a “blind pig”) and arrested more than 80 people who had gotten together to celebrate the homecoming for two GIs from Vietnam. This set off the worst riot to hit an American city in the 20th century.

Some say Detroit’s decline began with that riot. Others have shown that the decline is far more complicated than that and goes back at least to the early 1950s (The Origins of the Urban Crisis, Thomas J. Sugrue). But no matter what you may believe, Detroit is a city that needs to be rethought and re-seen. My poem is offered in that spirit on behalf of a city that I love.

Go to Detroit

Tomorrow it is fifty.
Fifty years since a blind pig was raided
and forty-three people died
and a city of more than 1.5 million
began a long narrative of declension
where the factories became shells
and bungalows were burned down
or became crack houses
and the chief business of the streets
was and is the criminal trade

So we’ve been told.

Go to Detroit.

People are starting businesses
and paying off mortgages
and cleaning eaves and gutters
washing salted winter streets

People are watching the return
of spring with the same anticipation
we all feel
sighting colourful migrations from afar

Go to Detroit.

Read about the lives that were lost
and talk with the lives that were not
while taking in the St. Clair breeze
on your East Side stroll

Over in Corktown
there are recently installed windows
at Michigan Grand
and the return of the prairie grasses
mingles with the toasts and raucous
laughter of young folks hoisting Founders
where the sound of the call to prayer lingers
in the air

Go to Detroit.

Get off of the Edsel Ford
the Chrysler or the Lodge
and park your car.
Open your doors and breathe
the breezy air
and hear the sounds of actual live people
and feel the same sunshine that tumbles down
on the Windsor side of the river
and feels warm in just the same way
on the other side of 8 Mile
as it does along Livernois.

Go. To. Detroit.

Jeremy Nathan Marks

Needed repose

Needed repose

‘And cold the sense and lost the motive of action.’ -T.S. Eliot (“Burnt Coker”)

On December 31st, 1999 I entered my home
and didn’t come out again until January 1st, 2010.

The Millennium’s just a trick of time.
9-11? I read the book.
Subprime meltdown?
Looked out onto my block.
First black president-elect?
Still recall several first mayors
one governor
and a great deal of debt.

A neighbourhood kid cut my grass
trimmed my hedges and raked
the leaves
then when he graduated
he hired his brother for me.

Of this I’m most proud:
through it all I barely touched
an electrical switch.
Detroit Edison presumed me deceased.
They called up one night after fourteen months
a call that was like taking a pulse

It still beats.

Speaking.

Was I the man who stopped paying his bills?
Never stopped, I said
I just don’t get any juice from you I can use.

In 2006,
a man from the News learned all this
and he, too, phoned one night
asking was it true I hadn’t stepped outside
in (then) six years?
What motivated me to withdraw from the world like that?

Well,
George Harrison once wrote
and I quote:
‘Without going out of my door
I can know all things on Earth.’

I never actually withdrew;
things just came into hyper focus.
I saw much within one quarter mile
to allow myself this needed repose.

Jeremy Nathan Marks

Jefferson

Jefferson

‘I don’t care how many letters they sent morning came and morning went’
-Bob Dylan

I was on the corner
when they broke ground on the Ren Center
wore my flared trousers
heard the sound of cavalry officers
calling for the bird

Had a honey then
a former bunny
she used to place coke in places
that had seen too many faces

But said all that was past
I was her steady
it didn’t last
I can still taste the ash.

Jeremy Nathan Marks