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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 7, Number 3, September 2013

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M. Kei
Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, USA


Elegy for Detroit

Detroit, Michigan, is a living, abandoned city. Hundreds of thousands of people have left the city since the days of my youth, leaving behind myriad decaying buildings. Miles and miles of buildings have been torn down, leaving vacant blocks with only two or three inhabited or uninhabited structures remaining.

Some of the ruins have a sere and dreadful beauty that is the subject of photographs in a genre named ruin porn because of the way it exploits the subject, usually illicitly. (It is illegal to trespass on private property, even if the property is vacant.) This projects an image of a dead and decaying city that contradicts the city’s attempts to revitalize. The remaining core of Detroit fosters vibrant arts and startups, but the city’s future remains uncertain even as it presents an opportunity for urban experimentation and renewal on a spectacular scale.

Recently I revisited the streets of my youth via Google Street View and was stunned by the massive sweeps of empty space where I had once walked jostling streets that were thrumming with life and racial tension even at midnight. My companions at the time were several white friends who freaked out at being the only white faces in a black city; a shoulder-riding parrot who made friends with everybody regardless of color; and myself, a teenager, couldn’t understand why skin difference made anybody nervous.

How prescient the knelling of the bell at the Mariner’s Cathedral! Twenty-nine strokes it tolled, and even though I heard it through the radio, it chilled me with the coldness of the Great Lakes and the finality of death. It was tolling for the Edmund Fitzgerald, but in truth, it was tolling for all of us. Dying Detroit is our human mortality writ large. It is not the remains of an ancient and unknown civilization, forgotten only to be found again by curiosity- seekers thousands of years later; it is Us, and it is dying now, dying right before our eyes, dying with the slow, gasping struggle of a drowning man while tourists safe on a far shore snap their pictures.

Then

Detroit
1985
staying indoors
during the celebratory gunfire
on New Year’s Eve

Now

Gratiot Avenue—
was this the street I walked
at midnight
with a parrot for a bodyguard
and white friends panicking?

Envoy

angels on
the freeway
call my name,
Do you still believe
in the glory of your dreams?

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