gave the university’s commencement
speech, but when I left the campus gates,
Dad whispered Steelcase closed another
plant. Only a skeleton crew runs
the day shift, touching up paint
on machines. Rich friends from Detroit
offered work. How little college
had prepared me. Deceiving smiles,
a compliment laid for a favor—
so unheard of in the flats
of my Calvinist farm town.
twisting into Joe Louis Arena,
or the Windsor underpass—
NBD execs with bongs
in their bottom desk drawers.
for his out-of-wedlock kids.
Crossing his mansion’s street,
a neighborhood of boarded up
crack houses, or the other way,
with four-car garages.
I manage Jimmy’s, a black
nightclub not a mile
a wannabe World Trade Center.
My employees consist of two
ex-con addicts, a tall, long-
haired single mother,
who pockets the money for drinks.
They all smile, say I look
like Eastwood with my cigars,
the place weeks from Chapter 11.
story rooms, brocades of gold
letters on purple fields stream
down five floors from a skylight
to strobe-lit dancing—refrigerator
The steel door’s inside locks seal
my office like a safe, the plush
leather chair on golf-green
carpeting—all of it crowned
as the walls. Unpaid invoices pile
next to an unused stack of fine-
ruled yellow-pad notebooks—
pictures of the boss’ Grosse Pointe
glass top. The air conditioner’s
secret password controls in faux
wooden paneling turn the cooling
pipes off at midnight. People dance
pounded by club renters desperate
to cool the grinding heat,
or thieving workers are axing
the liquor room door since no one
to know who’s in charge when
renters refuse to leave, it’s easy
to lock the double bolts, dim
the lights, and pretend I am not there.
Victorian-era mansion stands,
the gutted stucco building
overgrown with poplars.
Near the brush-enshrouded
pavilion, a tributary flows
to Lake Huron; the night’s
Windsor skyline frames the ruins
of the once-palace.
after tequila shots. We laid
our clothes down, dove
headlong into the water, hoping
for a taste of that old place, to touch
deeper than the car-filled
Saturday night streets, or the fifty-
foot lines of shriveling drunks
sitting along sidewalks cracked
with weeds—the street gangs walking
downtown’s boarded-up shopping
district, mugging any who don’t know
better. She swam nude easily,
comfortable with her unadorned skin,
but the booze flew through my empty
stomach. When she climbed a bank,
her eyes searching the ruins,
I was choked with pain, gasping
but by Detroit, the six-pack is run
out. Buy another, slamming it, then buy
later. At the wedding, sit on the roof-
top of the Detroit Athletic Club. Toke.
so high we can’t feel the ground
when we walk, or our skin when we touch.
to Jimmy’s, where, in the basement,
we leave white specks of dust
there, rubbing against one another.
We get our own booth, drink free booze,
the women, free in their pink dresses,
any way any time you want it. She wants
beyond self-respect, beyond
anything rational or comprehensible
I question why it made more sense
to stay with my men friends, smoking
on our backs, watching what stars
the city of Detroit would show us.
apartments by Lake Huron:
a two-story loft and indoor gym,
twenty-four hour security, windows
looking down on the city’s shore-
lines. I pay the deposit,
but my friend goes back
on his word. It is easier
unlived in residence—a shooting guard
for the Detroit Pistons.
Hand-laid wooden flooring, walk-in
closets, and skylights running
deceptive; the landlord keeps
a loaded shotgun in his office—
the nearest grocery store, a beer
lot of broken glass and dug
up asphalt makes sense to my friend.
When the drunks across the street
raise their bleary eyes
to the color of his car, he leans
My girlfriend will move
in. We can both sleep
stacks of shot glasses. Doilies
and jambalaya rolled out for Jamaica night.
Roadies for the Trinidad Tripoli Steel Band
in the back alley filled with haze from glowing pipes.
In stillness, the early evening bathrooms enclosed no
on the dance floor, no beer or liquor smears
to be wiped from tables. Waitresses sang
in the aisles. There was nothing to take
a picture of. There was nothing worth comparing.
for the tally sheets, I dimmed
the lights, set the alarm codes, and went home.