The City Has Moved Too Close to the Sun

Aug 27, 2008 at 12:00 am

I have long said that a bad day in Detroit is better than a good day anywhere else in the world.

Maybe I'm just burned out from traveling, but in recent years, I have roamed around the world more than a few times, and these experiences have only solidified my conviction that there's no place like Detroit. I call it home because I believe we have the strongest arts community anywhere, filled with working-class poets, performers and artists who collaborate and cooperate with much mutual respect and honor.

That's why I thought Metro Times editor Kim Heron's suggestion was brilliant. He had just read a cento — a "patchwork" poem — compiled by my old friend, New York poet David Lehman, who had recently edited the Oxford Anthology of Poetry. The poem was a collection of lines plucked from other works, and Kim wondered whether such a project might be doable locally. A resounding yes. What better way to pay homage to Detroit's poets of the past, present and the future.

Reflecting on Lehman's approach, I scoured the anthology, Abandon Automobile: Detroit City Poetry 2001 (Wayne State University Press, $22.95), which I co-edited with poet Melba Joyce Boyd. In addition, I've included up-and-coming poets who have arrived on our scene since that publication.

"The City Has Moved Too Close to the Sun" is somewhat surrealistic and metaphorically abstract, but I think it paints an accurate portrait of our diverse, complex and unique community. Think of each line as a distinct poem by one of our great writers. Then, weave them together for a vibe of the city. Here is Our Detroit in words and images. —M.L. Lieble

The editor has taken some minimal liberties by adding minor punctuation, articles and prepositions so the piece flows more smoothly.

The city has moved too close to the sun. 1

In childish confusion I'd respond: 2

"There is no music." 3

At night and in dream 4

The moon is raw light. 5

I stand before it naked 6

Without warning 7

Beneath the dissipating fog 8

On the river front in downtown Detroit. 9

In a personal war of independence 10

In Motown at the Millennium, 11

A spasm in the search is 12

Thrown, barreling towards the future 13

Right past happiness. The sentence ends 14

By the river. 15

While birds stand by without applauding, 16

I stalk memories 17

Of Detroiters born in the Carolinas 18

On a grain of rice 19

Behind Plexiglas weeds 20

In the suffocating dusk, 21

While busses roar by like urban dinosaur rat-catchers. 22

We want our city back! 23

Detroit gave me my first America, 24

Which put me firmly and finally in the world 25

Like a hurricane backspin, 26

In the hard stares of mannequins 27

Where we had lost our voice in the suburbs,

In Conant Gardens 28

Only to meet the needs of civilization 29

In the center of a vacant lot 30

To choke in factories. 31

We danced endlessly 32

Towards the apocalypse. 33

Paradise Valley, this once was 34

Where the river slid like an eel 35

And billions of footsteps once chattered here/nipped snaggles of silence 36

Like rocket propelled glockenspiels — 37

Blessed sounds — 38

The rhythms of your dream 39

That bloomed in the night garden

Of the valley. 40

Detroit as the intimate secret of my love, 41

I understand that the current citizens have been employed 42

To materialize before the eye

Of memory — your Afro-Indian features — 43

Smell of salt and sea. 44

I listened for a long time. 45

I paint you some pictures to show people who you really are Senor Capitalist. 46

But I knew. How could I not know? 47

It was on TV. 48

Artists born from persistent gray. 49

Born on slow knives 50

Walking towards the river 51

Pushed through a crack in earth 52

Just blending in with the crowd 53

Against the jagged truth — 54

A memory in the sewers of time 55

Calling you to a Great Reawakening 56

In this earthly paradise

Of North America. 57

Money and wheels — the combination makes me shiver 58

And gaze intensely 59

At the deserted assembly plant, 60

Without limit in the bright and distant land, 61

In a culture of collective energies 62

Against the intrusion of thieves, 63

Grizzled and bleary-eyed as memories. 64

The headlines never say good morning any more. 65

Taste the blood in my mouth 66

Smooooth. In syncopation to dashboard jazz 67

Lightenin' up the blues 68

With no money — how do we 69

Fish off the dock

And never catch anything — 70

The color of significant waiting. 71

Stretched over the empty lot

Embedded in frozen

Grass felled by chain saws — 72

Be where real poets are: in the streets, in the shelters, in the ghetto 73

Where they see Malcolm walking down Woodward 74

Beyond the river that

Ran through the city like a leak. 75

Sooner or later a beauty will strike, 76

in the city spit: 77

Strait City

City of Straits

Detroit. 78

Alternative routes are advised —

It's midnight in the Motor City. 79

Oh — you gotta be a walkin' Bodhisattva! 80

I believe we exist to subvert what we believe 81

For hunger and sweetness. 82

I cried out, "I believe, I believe," 83

As Shadows from past ghosts soar among streetlights— 84

Across the heavenz —

Calling r ancestorz, 85

Prune black, with bloodshot eyes and one white tooth. 86

"Don't be afraid," 87

When summerstink crawls the street on its belly. 88

What would it take to have you come here —

To ... the other side of Eight Mile 89

Where time falls back 90

Shooting at no one to empty the thing 91

That seems to be petrified wings of butterflies 92

With the dull ends of abandonment. 93

I say the earth blows out its green 94

Bullets from the gun 95

Let us stop this madness! 96

Get me out of this idea 97

Of the waxing and waning of the moon 98

In old Coke bottles where 99

The world once again gets its industrial passion play 100

Foreigners banging at the gate 101

With lights behind closed eyes. 102

West of the Belle Isle Bridge 103

There are pinholes in the social fabric through which we see. 104

I am part of the landscape

That nobody told me about — 105

It wraps around me. 106

We stopped singing. 107

Even slave songs lost refrain. 108

I trip the hood, grope about blindly in the dark. 109

Some point to this house here and say, "This is where..." 110

Your money your heart your body

Where your mouth was. 111

Trust Jesus, I said to myself. This is Detroit. 112

Low yellow Renaissance Towers, 113

Gum in the ashtray, 114

Caught in the belly of denial — 115

"This is where your mother and I first held you brother and sister." 116

It's easy being young. 117

What happened? 118

As always, I was on my own. 119

Where did her love go? 120

She's moving on — 121

Her essence was extracted. 122

Waking in a dream 123

In a valley of rust 124

Cold from the sun. 125

The air smells different here. 126

Music like water 127

Rushing over the open wound 128

Dissolved by sunlight 129

In the space where my wife's wings must have been ... 130

Now, a blizzard of absurd low stars 131

Will sleep sound — 132

With a simple grin and a Sanders chocolate box. 133

After they close the casket, 134

I can still feel his heart is beating beneath
concrete 135

Into dump-yards, into graves,
Into glutted rivers of amber 136

As subtle as the scent of the neck rising. 137

This is our history.
This is the way it was. 138

I believe there is no freedom, 139

But slant the map to suit yourself; it is we who see the land. 140

Grab a shovel —

Dig!!! 141

See Also:
Poet Index

M.L. Liebler is the author of Wide Awake in Someone Else's Dream (Wayne State University Press, 2008), available at, and the forthcoming Working Words: Literature of Work, Class & Art (Coffee House Press). Send comments to [email protected].