"Detroit Ghost City" (The last line is important.)

DETROIT GHOST CITY

In what has become characteristic fashion, the reporter’s irony is founded on the still more ironic (if unself-conscious) assumption that a city so overfilled with human misery can be written about as if it were empty.
— Jerry Herron, AfterCulture: Detroit and the Humiliation of History

Your emptiness
takes up so much space!
It casts a shadow longer than your history,
broader than anyone’s field of vision.
Your inscrutable landscape
is missing any hint of a horizon, you
pink noise, static screen,
white-washed palimpsest.
Even the fissures in your outermost skin
are hard to discern; your scars
only disguise your still-raw wounds.
You are a book left in the rain,
a headstone eroded and sunk beneath the grass. 
 
This is no nothing—
no blank page, nor fresh canvas,
no return to unspoiled nature,
no pristine innocence.
No raw materials remain.
Full of treasures, refined and reified,
you are disassembled, left to rust. 
 
Your inhabitants
are all but invisible, eluding
all scripted identity. 
 
It is said of you

 

that no human is found in your streets—only
curious beasts: pheasants, foxes,
cryptids, chimeras, criminals. 
 
None of which is true.
 
 
–1 April 2013
 
Everyone who knows me here in California knows I am chronically homesick for Detroit. This poem is a response to all the media reports about my home town, as well as the research and reading I’ve been doing. The last line is the key. 
 
Some of the poem is true, however: Detroit is full of treasures; it isn’t empty; it is decidedly not a blank slate for outsiders to write on. 
 
I’m not a fan of the native/outsider divide, however, any more than I am of the city/suburb divide. I’m a fan of Detroit, and whatever really promotes the city’s health ought to be welcome. Detroit Future City seems to be a particularly exciting project, because it opposes gentrification and seeks to create a “just city” first for the residents that have stayed in the Detroit, as well as for newcomers.
 
Don’t look for Detroit to “come back”—that’s backwards thinking. Look for Detroit to slowly emerge as a fresh possibility of what a city can be, constructed by grass-roots efforts by ordinary people and devoted experts for whom this work is a labor of love. Detroit’s supposed “glory days” were a bubble, and one with a very ugly underbelly. We don’t want that again.
 
As Jerry Herron also writes (in the same book quoted above),

Detroit is the most representative city in America. Detroit used to stand for success, and now it stands for failure. In that sense, the city is not just a physical location; it is also a project, a projection of imaginary fears and desires. This is the place where bad times get sent to make them belong to somebody else; thus, it seems easy to agree about Detroit because the city embodies everything the rest of the country wants to get over. [AfterCulture: Detroit and the Humiliation of History, p. 9]

 If that’s the case, and I agree that it is, then the rest of the country continues to have a vested interest in Detroit, and should join its citizens as “we hope for better.”

Speramus meliora; resurget cineribus –Detroit city motto
[Translation: We hope for better; it will rise from the ashes.]


(The quote at the beginning of the poem is found on p. 83 of Dr. Herron’s excellent book.)

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