Brick hulks of houses,
three stories tall with parapets and slate roofs
and plywood boards where windows should be,
near big gaping holes where once stood neighbor houses.
I’m sure they were meant to last forever.
We used to build for the ages, even houses.
But the people with money who built these are gone,
and even their successors have found better pastures.
Except for a few stalwarts,
holdouts for a different kind of progress,
who carefully nurture aging phoenixes in the ashes
Or those who wander, finding slight shelter
where they otherwise would have none,
sleeping in the less well-loved buildings
Or the ones the stalwarts and the wanderers hope to avoid
in fears of becoming another item in the police blotter.
A friend claimed to have seen a man, just shot,
from the window of his apartment on the border.
His tones hushed and spooked as he told the tale.
On a cold winter’s day, meager sunlight in the afternoon,
you could sense that these houses are leafless trees.
The trees will surely be green in April’s warmth, at least.
Maybe these brick hulks will be gone.
The city has Plans, you know.
They’re in the papers every few months, promising rebirth.
For now, on this leafless day,
with an eye cast over your shoulder,
stand watch amid the sparse city blocks.
These houses will be here another night,
like dreams from childhood
some not quite what they hoped to be,
some almost gone.
—November 29, 1998
Notes: I wrote this years before the new baseball and football stadiums were built on the south edge of the Detroit neighborhood known as Brush Park. The area had been one of Detroit’s earliest “high-rent districts” and had fallen beyond disrepair. Things are better now since the stadiums brought some more development, but there are still a few blocks with an odd mix of restored homes, crumbling buildings, and empty fields.
At least one person will tell me this is not a poem. Like I really know anything about poetry, but I think it is.