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Detroit Grease Shop Poem
Four bright steel crosses,
universal joints, plucked
out of the burlap sack —
“the heart of the drive train,”
the book says. Stars
on Lemon’s wooden palm,
stars that must be capped,
rolled, and anointed,
that have their orders
and their commands as he
Under the blue
hesitant light another day
in the city of dreams.
We’re all here to count
and be counted, Lemon,
Rosie, Eugene, Luis,
and me, too young to know
this is for keeps, pinning
on my apron, rolling up
The roof leaks
from yesterday’s rain,
the waters gather above us
waiting for one mistake.
When a drop falls on Lemon’s
corded arm, he looks at it
as though it were something
rare or mysterious
like a drop of water or
a single lucid meteor
fallen slowly from
nowhere and burning on
his skin like a tear.
- Philip Levine
*a classic poem about Detroit by Detroit poet and former poet laureate Philip Levine (interview here). On the show today, Charlie LeDuff talks about his book Detroit: An American Autopsy.
FORMER GLORY and the $HADOWLAND$+NEAT THING$
I’m takin’ this nonfiction class right now, and one’a the essays we had to read was “What Killed Aiyana Stanley-Jones?” by Charlie LeDuff (from The Best American Essays 2011). Told the class how it was a gritty, more realistic version of Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland, and how I’m interested in stories like these of former booming areas in the Midwest that collapsed under their own glory/become rotted messes after all the factories and general industry closed down. The essay’s about what’s become of Detroit, how it got there, and how the people are caught in the middle, just trying to live. Aiyana Stanley-Jones was a kid that was killed by a stray bullet during a police raid, the result of a murder case regarding a teen-aged boy who was killed for looking at someone the wrong way. I’ll let you all read yourselves, though. There’s no sense in me layin’ out the whole damn thing here, especially since there’s so much packed into the essay.
So in class I talked about living in the Rust Belt, how all over the Midwest there are towns that were really kickin’ in the twenties (like Muncie or Gary, IN) but now they feel like cold shadows or ghosts or dying animals (and this makes me want to stay in the Midwest to hopefully see it overcome, though I’m not sure how I can help). The prof. told us that LeDuff expanded on the essay and turned it into a book titled Detroit: An American Autopsy. The next week, the prof. comes up to me (also the head of the MFA program, Tom Grimes) and tells me he ordered that book for me. Says he’ll put it in my program mailbox when it comes in.
AND I WAS A GRENADE OF PROLLY AWKWARDNESS!
Man. Just never expected something like that.
What a cool thing!
Dude handed to me before class the week after. Can’t wait to read it, but it may have to wait till summer. Readin’ The Skin Team right now, and between that and finals, I don’t think I’ll have much time for another book.***
Here are some recent things:
Made my first Manhattan: two parts rye, one part sweet vermouth, and a splash of angostura bitters, straight up on account’a we dont’ have no ice trayz (oh, I made that coaster too). I got a taste for the drink at the Austin airport, waitin’ to fly to my first AWP. No cherry, but I have a pink marshmallow peep and I might try puttin’ the ass end in the drink.
I won’t really do that. That sounds disgusting.
And one red Skittle will prolly do the trick.
Skittles really open up your drink options. Perfect garnish. You got your lemon twist, your lime twist, your…uh…grape…taste.
Made my lady this ring with a no-nonsense tough guy on it outta cheese wax. She said it smelled like cheese. Btw, I had to give’im a face ‘cause it was originally just those two eye dots and I said they were diamonds and we both agreed they were shitty diamonds and they shouldn’t be so small and right next to each other. We’re tres practical, as the French say.
Found this app from Penguin. It’s a poetry memorization game, which sounded kinda kickass, but it only comes with two free poems and the rest you gotta buy. Kinda bourgie, Penguin. But I guess that’s how you sell thingz. And I guess a dollar per poetry bundle isn’t that much, but like I’m tryin’ to get things for not free.
Detroit: An American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff
“Christ, it didn’t seem to matter. Black or white. Liberal or Conservative. White collar or Blue. Nobody could run shit. And it wasn’t just Detroit. Sacramento, Washington, D.C., Wall Street. The entire country was being run into the ground by a generation infected with incompetence and greed.” — Charlie LeDuff
It’s hard not to have a certain view point of Detroit when you live in the suburbs. A headline of ‘MURDER IN DETROIT’ in bold letters always floods the local news stations, with an outlook of, ‘what’s new?’
I myself live in Sterling Heights (which inspired Buena Heights in my stories). I had a pretty good childhood. My parents raised me fairly well rounded, but I think because of the time period I was living in (Clinton era of the ’90s) or perhaps the area that I was raised in, I was naive in thinking that everyone had the same childhood, environment and even status. I am not ashamed of my middle-class upbringing. I, like so many other people, feel middle-class is the back-bone of this country. But it never occurred to me until years later, I lived a very sheltered life.
I bought Charlie LeDuff’s new book at my employer a couple of weeks ago. I don’t usually buy new books. I prefer the Amazon used book sales. But I like Charlie LeDuff, and support whatever he reports/writes/does. And maybe after supporting LeDuff, he might do the same and support a pesky Kindle writer and his pesky irrelevant ramblings (ahem)!
Anyhow, like his reporting on Fox 2 News, Charlie LeDuff writes a book that is part entertaining (and deeply sarcastic, an art form I highly appreciate, from one sarcastic writer to another), and part depressing. You can’t write a book about Detroit and sugarcoat it (as much as the school systems in the Metro Detroit area likes to do).
And you can’t analyze Detroit without recognizing the politics (and the corruption), the racism (whites/blacks, and the riots that occurred), the Big Three (and their so-called ‘American’ products), and the murders (so many caused by the uneducated that were conditioned into the environment they live in).
About ten years ago, I was told by my friends that work in Detroit (Downtown Detroit, mind you) that Detroit isn’t as bad as the news makes it seem. That the news broadcast killings for TV ratings. That might be true. However, the friends that work in Detroit (Downtown, Detroit) do not live in the broken neighborhoods of West/East Detroit. They commute between their nice homes in the ‘burbs, to the business sector of Downtown. The people I work with at my employer, take a bus from their homes in East/West Side Detroit and work minimum wage jobs in the ‘burbs. They wouldn’t dare work where they live. And there certainly are no job opportunities for them in a city that is bankrupt. And the stories they sometimes tell me about the ‘real’ Detroit, confirms everything LeDuff writes about.
What I admire the most out of Charlie LeDuff, he is real. He doesn’t have a fake personality to rely on. He isn’t bias toward his reporting (except, he is sick and tired of the bullshit that goes on). And he sees exactly what most don’t wish to admit: a city is falling apart. As he puts it…
“….police officers with broken computers in their squad cars, firefighters with holes in their boots, ambulances that arrive late, a city that can’t keep its lights on and leaves it vacant buildings to the arsonist’s match, a state government that allows corpses to stack up in the morgue, multinational corporations that move away and leave poisoned fields behind, judges who let violent criminals walk the streets, school stewards who steal the children’s milk money, elected officials who loot the city, automobile executives who couldn’t manage a grocery store…”
And that’s just the half of it.
Statuses don’t mean anything anymore. Detroit isn’t the only broken city in America. There’s plenty of other cities like Detroit that looks like Detroit: a third world country.
Locally, every suburb in the area is starting to look the same. You drive down any random street, count how many empty business buildings with a FOR LEASE sign attached to it. You can blame Obama for not being the Superman he promised to be. You can blame W. Bush for pushing a war none of us wanted down our throat. But in truth, I think we are all to blame for making our country seem more important than it truly is. History teaches us that every country that gained power very quickly, fell down on its ass. Perhaps it’s America’s turn? Or perhaps this land is cursed from the sins our forefathers made? Hmmm….
Detroit is a great example of the American dream. Great promise and sheer arrogance is the reason Detroit is in its state it is in. Close to 300 pages of LeDuff’s book suggests that.
There are individuals that do believe Detroit can be saved. At this point, I don’t think it can. But it’s safe to say, Charlie LeDuff will be there reporting, no matter what. If more people started listening/following what he has to say, maybe there is hope for Detroit.
“We are born to a time. What you do with it is on you. Do the best you can. Try to be good. And live.” - Charlie LeDuff