Across the Detroit River

                                                 c. Matthew Lee, 1998

America this is how you look:
Shattered moonscape of vacant office buildings of Detroit,
Plywooded movie halls of the once-hopeful,
Offering a dream and then pulling it back like a mousetrap.

Reduced to crawling empty streets collecting cans,
Painting over the windows of busses.
Housing funds used to reduce landmarks to rubble,
Begging those who squeezed to come and re-embrace.
Twitching like a junkie, clutching a gun:
America this is how you look.

Frozen plains of tilting castles, the freezing air of cryogenics
Whips through the canyons of a once-vibrant downtown.
I’ve heard the soul music, I’ve heard the thump-thump-thump
You can’t obscure rot with plywood and awnings.
Casinos and gambling cannot conceal the smell of rotting flesh
Raw bricks and decay, street cars to nowhere
The glory of the automobile has taken us to the graveyard
Hearts full of grease smoking while asbestos rises
From the sites of demolished dreams--
The law cannot preserve that which the titans crushed in their hands.
Jab with your pen the empty windows of urban renewal
I smell the stank of horny conventioneers
Let the cold winds purify this ethos of greed
Let the temple of extracted sweat fall fallow and to seed
Crying from the watch towers of long-abandoned Charlevoix:
Demolish and replace with decadence.

The mind deprived of oxygen rhymes then grows still...
Demolish me inside Hudson’s Department Store
If you kill dreams, kill me.
Ten thousand dumpsters cannot absolve you of your sin
Discarded bodies discarded buildings desecration
On your alter of opportunity your jail your guardian angel...
And wonder why you’re naked and no liquor
Can soothe the pain, no music
Is loud enough, demolish and erase
But you cannot

* * * * * *


                            c. Matthew Lee, 1998

Shifting the embers of a city thrice-dead:

Walk through the ruins of downtown Detroit.

Telegraphs were once delivered to these empty tombs,

Fedora-hatted armies rushing to work through Grand Circus Park.

Remnants of a battle like the Civil War:

The lumber then the auto titans tightened the screws

And when the billie club disrespected Billie Holliday

In a porcine search for blind pigs in July of Sixty Seven,

Twelfth Street erupted in flame, Twelfth Night ceased to rhyme

Or matter, Upper Peninsula boys marched with fixed bayonets

Shooting into the darkness, reporting recoil as return fire from snipers.

We the people ask only for opportunity;

Here in America, we ask only for a playing field

To run on, a way to buy cars, raise families,

Feel the coldness of mugs of beer and no news

More important than baseball, maybe a Sunday sale

For lawn furniture, a little savings account...

Politicians can rob you blind, can revel in intrigue,

Sell their endorsements, shake down contractors,

As long as they provide this field, defend the borders

And let drinkers drink, let strivers strive

Militants declaim and sex addicts hump--

We can and will ignore a little desolation,

“We’re not lookin’ to bust your chops,”

Just don’t totally screw up and impinge on our private


But here at ground zero, in the arsenal of democracy

They fanned the flames of reality until even private dreams

Were shattered like the office buildings of Gratoit.

Now the subtle apathies of brotherhood were exploded.

Now the devilish words of division were said and not retracted.

Now some people said they had to move, and did.

While others remained, some burning the stores of the bloodsuckers

Only to travel to suburban malls to shop

And watch dollars drain like blood from their brothers.

While no one was looking, the body became a corpse

Fascinating, that with cities no one buries the corpse

It cannot be hidden, the gridwork cannot be erased

Like the criminal after sentencing, forgotten

Remains alive and penned and breathing

So the shattered blocks of the Necklace

Must be cleared, inch by inch, with dwindling dollars.

Opportunists come with their thermometers to probe the carcass.

Like Billie Holliday with an open casket

Never closed....

* * * * *

On Grand Circus Park, Detroit, 1998

                                            c. Matthew Lee, 1998

Innumerable the people who have died or fled

Since these streets were laid, with opulence and hope:

Fedora hats, steam rising from manholes

Teletype, secretaries, switchboards -- all

Grown dusty, sitting day after day silent

Behind boarded-up doorways...

These buildings, empty for twenty years,

Will be demolished, for a casino

Or its parking lot. A mute jury of infamy,

A point in time, a gravitational field...

I salute you, captains of industry

In the ruins you’ve left behind...

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