On the Edge of Detroit


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Jim Daniels’ latest book of poems is Gun/Shy, Wayne State University Press, 2021. Other recent books include his fiction collection, The Perp Walk, and his anthology, RESPECT: The Poetry of Detroit ... [+]

Originally published in Michigan State University Libraries call for submissions on the theme of "Home," in coordination with the MSU Board of Art Museum's exhibit, "Where We Dwell."

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In the woods behind Schofield Elementary,
skipped over by levelers and pavers
bulldozing through to the Further Away,
we built nests in the swampy lowlands,
the only hiding place for miles.

Lush fluorescent algae stink, elusive tadpoles
and toads and frogs and rabbits and leaf rustle
and boy tussle over the biggest sticks,
the heaviest stones. Old trees tall enough
to drop dead out of, rampant sprawl of weeds,

cattails, stray dogs, rumors of deer, and birds
that were not sparrows. Our streets ran straight,
new and treeless yet. Our houses stamped out
like auto parts our fathers made—count mattered,
not craft. The fetid water could not carry us

to Further Away, but we could sink there, muck
oozing up into evidence of trespass we could not
wash away. What fear we could muster, we invested
in that small square of trees. Our first bank accounts

of spare change and squalor. Beside the school, factories
of our fathers squared off, surrounded by the smoking
guns of parking lots, waiting for us with their metallic
jungle of the terrible promise of security.
When we brought pollywogs home in glass jars,

they died quickly into the limp punctuation
of our futures. We threw mud and cattails
at each other in random battles, learning
the company message of turning on each other.
Our mothers washed us off with hoses

and sent us to our rooms. We did our first things
in those woods, in that swamp, until they called
it a city park—cut down trees, drained water,
erected swings and a globe you could climb.

Even a tennis court that quickly earthquaked
into cracks, and a fence that shrugged into rust—
keeping us out, or protecting us from that dull
game exposed to summer sun. Holes in the nets
too big to catch anything.

I climbed that globe to be atop that tamed world,
unable to resist its perfect roundness
above all the leveling. We searched in vain
for the rumored rough beasts.

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