Arts & Culture » Culture

With life in Detroit slowed down by the pandemic, enjoy stories from these local literary luminaries

The Fiction Issue

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ILLUSTRATION BY PAT PERRY
  • Illustration by Pat Perry

This much is clear: democracy cannot exist without a free press. Citizens must have accurate and up-to-date information if they’re to make effective decisions about their government. As it turns out, it’s also very difficult to have a thriving arts community — the very conscience of our society — without newspapers like the Metro Times.

While you may know print publications, already struggling, are having a doubly hard time during this plague, you might not know how bad things really are. Metro Times has been forced to make deep cuts to its staff, and the remaining members are working tirelessly to keep the doors open and the publication running. A closure would leave an indecent hole in metro Detroit’s news and arts ecosystem.

The Metro Times, and alternative publications like it, are an essential part of our news and arts infrastructure and economy. Without papers like this, who would publicize the art shows, the concerts, the poetry readings? Who would introduce local artists to larger audiences? Who would pay young and seasoned illustrators and photographers and journalists alike to do the necessary work of democracy and culture?

Artists who first appear in publications like the Metro Times often go on to do great things for our nation and humanity. Most could not have reached that level of excellence without the early training and support of publications like this.

I was once one of those young artists. Nearly all of us printed in this week’s special issue were once those artists. And so 24 of our region’s most lauded and successful writers, poets, painters, and illustrators have donated their time to share with the Metro Times — and with you — what they do best. Everyone has participated absolutely for free.

As the guest editor for this issue, I was loath to ask artists to work without pay. The vocation of holding a mirror to our culture and shaping it with a brush and a pen is important work. It should be paid as such. But there comes a time when we must offer our unique and special talents as a gift to our communities in times of acute crisis.

Our names and work appear here to say, in part, that publications like the Metro Times are an essential part of our cultural ecosystem and we can’t let them die with the virus. We hope to offer our collective stature if the newspaper decides to search for outside funding, to say a healthy arts community needs healthy arts publications. We hope to offer one more week of high-quality content as a service so the paper has that much more time to figure out how to keep its doors open.

The Metro Times has supported the arts and artists in Detroit for 40 years, and we wanted to do our part to return that support and help stave off a potential closure. At the same time, we wanted to offer messages of hope to our community during the sorrow of this plague.

We want to offer you, our readers, the best parts of ourselves in the hopes that in the face of so much pain and terror, it will keep you on your feet just a little bit longer, too.

This disease steals from us; it steals our friends and family, it steals our sense of security and freedom, it’s stolen our paychecks and jobs, and perhaps it’s stolen a sense of innocence that everything is working just fine in the USA. It cannot steal our arts community, too.

While this plague is stealing so much, including the livelihoods of some of the artists in these very pages, they wanted to give generously. This is a record of what some of our region’s best communicators are thinking and feeling during an exceptionally difficult time in our planet’s history. These artists have put their dreams, their love, their best selves in these pieces for you.

It’s very special what they’ve given our community. Drink deeply from this gift they’ve given us; it was given with love. And remember this gift couldn’t have been delivered without papers like the Metro Times.

—Drew Philp

"Autumn Climbers," by  Nicole Macdonald.  - COURTESY OF THE ARTIST
  • Courtesy of the artist
  • "Autumn Climbers," by Nicole Macdonald. 

Larkins St

By Nandi Comer

For Adela

I am told each day on Larkins St
deep in Southwest Detroit, Adela
perches on her front porch,
drum in hand. Every day she pounds
and sings all timbre and clank.
Same time. Every day. And I am told
at this sacred hour her neighbors
from their stoops, join her, equally charged —
Kris with his caraccas, maybe Josette
fingers her fiddle. And others, too,
with shekeres, or guitars or just hands,
palming a soft refrain.

I've never seen Larkins St or Adela's house,
but I, on the other side of town, imagine her palms,
the thrash, and slap — the whir and purr of her voice.
I am sure a boy steps through a salsa
or bachata over his concrete drive. And likely,
an elder pokes her head out of her screen door
just to give a listen. I imagine a dog,
likely yowls a lazy howl. The squirrels
must flick their tails darting up and down
tree stumps. Even the territorial blue jay
must stop attacking tomcats. Each day. Same time.
Each neighbor, orphaned in isolation uses
this shared language against the melody of loneliness.
Their hum or holler stirs through their block.
What delight. What thrill. My vision,
from the other side of town,
some curb — of my city no less! — covered in song.

Nandi Comer is a writer, poet, and organizer from Detroit.

Black Sun

By Heidi Kaloustian

We are twenty days north of anywhere on a sea with no name when the storm comes. A blank white roar. By morning the ship is sealed in ice, rocking. We survey our provisions: black bread, pickled lemons, a slab of boiled beef. Coffee and spiced liquor. The quartermaster and the captain huddle over the maps, talk low. On the second day we ration the tallow and tobacco and tinder. There is enough. We will wait until spring.

We take turns keeping watch above deck. In the daytime, the wind is like ground glass in our lungs. We squint out over the frozen sea, snow hissing across the deck. The snap of the rigging. The sun is pale as smoke.

At night the stars are so low we can hear them humming and the cold takes our breath away. We stamp our feet and sing to keep ourselves upright and brave in the darkness.

I tick off the days on a plank of my bunk. A crude kind of calendar, crosshatches to mark a week, and then another, a month, and another. The surgeon keeps a log, too, his pencil scratching in the dim cabin. When we hear his papers shuffling, we ask him to read aloud. He clears his throat and reads it out in a strong fine voice as nice as a bell.

We teach Faraday, who is a boy and a deckhand, to read. Picking out the letters from a catalogue someone left lying around. We study the advertisements and dream about sweet molasses in a tin, and cakes of soap. Peppermint-scented shaving cream. Headache tablets. Lemonade. There is a picture of three girls at a picnic, bonneted and laughing, tinking their root beers together. We paste up the picture for company. Give our beauties names. The trio of girls smile beatifically when it gets colder, and when the meat runs out.

Some of the men decide to break away, and try for shore. To hunt reindeer, or the fat seals in the cove. A week goes by and they do not return. We watch the horizon, buzzing white.

In the weak daylight, we play cards and make up stories about the two-faced Jack, the queen in her jelly-red robes. We are hungry and reeling with fatigue, and we sleep all day.

I play a game of solitaire against myself. When I deal myself the red queen, I feel giddy to chance on her and believe it means my luck has turned. She smiles on me, benevolent, secretive. She smells like strawberries in the sun when I prop her up against the candle so she glows warm and golden, in a flickering crown.

Another hand I turn up the jack and he laughs in my face. He's a devil. Trapped like rats, he seems to sneer. You know you'll die here. I slap him down on the tabletop. What are you saying over there? Dawes asks me. Nothing. Not a thing. You have to be careful to hold your thoughts together.

Steady now. Swish this gin to dissolve the fur on your teeth. Shake the lice out of your blankets. We sit all together for supper at midday, even if it's only porridge, just to hang onto the habit of it, so we don't get lost in our days. Say grace. Say a toast to the three beauties fading on the wall.

The blacksmith etches a miniature portrait of a whale into a chip of ivory. It's a good likeness and we tell him so, pass it around, marveling. We tell our stories, and when we are done, we recite the same ones over again. I tell Faraday about all the crews I've belonged to. I have been as far as Capetown, Zanzibar. He tells me about his sister May, who wears her hair in a long, red braid. She liked to eat the skin on a glass of hot milk.

At night in the dark, I tell Faraday about my sister May with a long, red braid and cry about how I miss her. He tells me about his travels in Capetown and Zanzibar, and I fall asleep dreaming of an equatorial sun.

In the bright morning we find a crewman asleep on his watch, his nose as black and soft as coal. His toes crumbling in his boots. We don't go above anymore. The wind cracks. A high distant whistle. We lose track of the days in the candlelight, in our damp cabins.

Common among us is the fear that we have drifted too far north, into some unnatural place, sailed over the edge of the world. Who is to say this isn't one of those enchanted realms where night and day change places, and instead of the sun a black star rises up from the west? We speculate on all kinds of terrors.

Steady yourself. Soon it will be spring and the ice will melt and the ship will rock loose and we will sail back into the world. We repeat it. Our breath steaming in the darkness.

I lose my bearings sometimes when I close my eyes. The sky swings open beneath me and the sea is droning overhead, and I feel my cot teeter over a great emptiness, pulled toward some place without hope. Then I say to Faraday, in the bunk above me, are you there, boy? You're not afraid, are you? Listen, it's not so bad. I swear it. I tell him I've known men worse off than this. I've known men in tighter spots, and they made it through. It's true.

Faraday's voice pipes down. Are you there? And I tell him yes, I'm here. Do you think it will be long now? he asks. No, I tell him, it won't be so very long. If you concentrate, I tell him, you can feel sunlight in your mouth like butter. You can smell apple trees, if you practice. Try. And we go silent again.

It won't be long now, we tell each other; we will just wait it through. Are you still there? we ask back and forth. I'm still here. I'm here with you.

Heidi Kaloustian is a writer living in Hamtramck. Her fiction has received numerous honors, including a Kresge Fellowship in the Literary Arts.

“Portrait of Lorena Borjas” by Jacinto Herrera. Lorena Borjas was a Mexican-American transgender and immigration activist; she died from COVID-19 on March 30, 2020. - COURTESY OF THE ARTIST
  • Courtesy of the artist
  • “Portrait of Lorena Borjas” by Jacinto Herrera. Lorena Borjas was a Mexican-American transgender and immigration activist; she died from COVID-19 on March 30, 2020.

Diego, Frida, and My Grandfather

Nonfiction by Louis Aguilar

I read and hear the word depression a lot right now. Maybe it's why I'm reminded of conversations my grandfather had with the artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Depression-era Detroit.

Those exchanges happened sometime around late 1932 and early 1933. The world's economy was in a dangerous free fall for more than two years. No one really knew when, or if, it would get better.

Detroit, a factory boomtown in the early 20th century, was slammed harder than most places in the U.S. Most factory workers lost their livelihoods. The city's jobless rate was 50 percent, double the national level. Two-thirds lived in poverty. There were massive street protests demanding jobs and aid from the government and automakers.

Amid this bleakness, two glamorous Marxists arrive in the Motor City: Diego Rivera and his wife, a then-unknown Frida Kahlo. Rivera was at the height of his power. The Mexican artist had gained international acclaim for his murals and paintings that celebrated the common worker, among other things.

My grandfather Antonio Martinez and his two brothers, Francisco and Jose, were Detroit working men living in Corktown.

Rivera was invited to Detroit by Edsel Ford, heir to Ford Motor Co., to create a mural based on the development of industry in Michigan. Rivera's creation would be the centerpiece of the Detroit Institute of Arts — the DIA. Ford was the most powerful capitalist patron to have in Detroit.

Rivera's commission was $10,000. Before the Great Depression, it would have taken the average U.S. worker like the Martinez brothers ten years to earn that amount.

The Martinezes considered themselves blessed during the decade-long Depression because they kept their railroad jobs, though their hours and wages were slashed.

Rivera and Kahlo welcomed working-class visitors to the DIA to watch Rivera create. The connection of the artists was deep among Mexican immigrants in the area. So the Martinez brothers would hop on a trolley in Corktown and trek to the DIA.

Kahlo would sometimes offer them tamales and Coca-Colas. Rivera would show them the elaborate process of producing a fresco mural.

Soon, the vast expanse between blue-collar workers and a superstar art couple became clear.

Rivera and Kahlo loved to use the word revolution, according to family lore. The brothers fled Mexico years earlier to escape hellish revolution; their sister was raped by a soldier.

Rivera and Kahlo could praise socialist ideals and still get invited to dinner at the Ford mansions – both Edsel's in Grosse Pointe Shores and Henry's in Dearborn.

For most working-class people, the slightest hint of being associated with communists usually meant losing your job. There was a real chance of being beaten by corporate goons, and, ending up on various government lists as a dangerous subversive. For the Martinez brothers, it could mean being illegally deported. Thousands of Mexican immigrants in Detroit were wrongly kicked out of the U.S. during the Depression.

At some point, Rivera offered a solution to some Mexican immigrants in Detroit: return to Mexico to form worker collectives.

Depression-wracked Detroit was the best opportunity my the brothers ever had. Their children, including their daughters, could attend public schools with whites. They didn't live in a boxcar, as they were forced to do in Texas years earlier. Their Corktown home had electricity and indoor plumbing.

That's why my grandfather — the leader among his siblings — eventually explained to the artists that the brothers would no longer visit the artists at the DIA.

"You are amazing, but you are troublemakers," he apparently told them.

Rivera and Kahlo erupted in laughter. They hugged and kissed them goodbye, according to family lore.

I love the respect imbued in those conversations.

Those conversations give me hope in these current dire times because my family saw the value of Detroit, even as many thought it was all gloom and doom here.

My mother and her five siblings were young children during the Great Depression. They cherished those times for the rest of their lives. They talk of neighbors sharing meals and goods to help survive.

It gave them a sense of mission to succeed. Three of my uncles went on to become decorated World War II soldiers and then lead successful middle-class lives. My mother and aunt would both earn college degrees. For decades, they fought for various civil rights issues for Detroit's Latino community.

Detroit, then and now, has felt more severe pain than many communities. Like the best of Detroiters then and now, it makes us no-bullshit realists whose challenges give us wisdom and strength.

And as Rivera's and Kahlo's art proves, a volatile Detroit can spark masterpieces.

About Rivera's Detroit Industry mural: Historians have never determined the identity of one of the main workers depicted on the assembly line. (Most key figures are based on real people).

Whoever the unknown figure is, he's beautiful. His skin is the color of cinnamon, and he has high Indian cheekbones like that of many Mexicans with indigenous blood. He's wearing blue overalls and a hipster white Fedora hat. He's hauling a Ford engine block.

He strongly resembles my grandfather and his brothers.

Louis Aguilar is senior reporter at Bridge Detroit, a new online venture that's part of the investigative news site Bridge Michigan.

For Dudley Randall (1914-2000)

By Terry Blackhawk

During the after-funeral luncheon
when the conversation turned to healing,
I told how the doctor from Shanghai cured
my frozen shoulder, and how, on my sixth
or seventh visit, he described the burning
of his father's books — the father himself jailed,
the family persecuted by the Red Guard.

As the needles entered my skin, I didn't tell
about a different red, the red I followed
years before when red meant rage
against the machine, meant set suppressed
stories free. Red had me then, freezing
on street corners, sending a collective
challenge into the teeth of 5 a.m.

shift changes, trying to catch the eye or ear
of even one worker hurrying home
from forge or stamping machine,
sometimes willing to stop, buy a paper,
more likely glad to flirt with any young female,
as I stood, feet numb, pulling out nickels
or dimes, brave red star on my coat —

while deeper in my city a man I never knew
was waging a new revolution with new words,
new names: Haki, Nikki, Sonia, Etheridge:
publishing from his storefront on Livernois
hundreds of volumes, broadsides, chapbooks —
distributing thousands of pages to make the world
Think Black!, Jump Bad, fanning thousands of flames.

Once the needles were set, Dr. Wang touched them
with fire. Holding tiny cotton torches
delicately, with tongs, he conducted
his "needle dance" from point to metal point
until, I swear, my arm began to rise,
reaching for the middle of the air in a manner
as unpremeditated as Shelley's lark,

or Ezekiel's wheel, or the sisters
and brothers at the service, their spontaneous
tributes recalling the poet as mentor,
fighter, seer, friend. Malaika rising
from her pew in a capella homage.
Ibn pouring libations on his grave.
What is the difference between will and intent?

Dudley, the dogma I pinned to my chest
dissolves in songs and stories
and I think of the phoenix you summoned,
how the faith you held in every voice lifts now
through these dozens of different incantations,
flashes of hope, like the bird's spangled feathers
drifting down across this ash-ridden town.

Founding Director of InsideOut Literary Arts Project (1995-2015), award-winning poet and educator Terry Blackhawk is a Kresge Arts in Detroit Literary Fellow and the author of eight volumes of poetry.

Alphabet Day (Fiction Based on Real Events)

By Jean Alicia Elster

I.

I didn't go to preschool. Ma was a stay-at-home mom until I went to kindergarten. Before I was old enough for school, we had lessons at home. Each day of the week was reserved for a different subject: one day was numbers day. You can guess that we counted stuff. We added and took away stuff. We made a huge number line where I discovered the wild concept of negative numbers. Another day was for field trips: If the place was within an hour drive of our home, we went there. Another day was for art and drawing.

But my favorite was alphabet day. We had alphabet puzzles made out of wood and cardboard and squiggly foam pieces. Now most folks probably remember turning the puzzle boards over, dumping the letters onto the table and then fitting them back into the right space for each letter. Not us. We dumped out all the letters and then we built things with them. A car? No problem — there were plenty of round shapes to make four wheels. A house? The v and even w make a perfect roof. We made people, boats, books. It was dorky, I know. But then it got crazy dorky: Ma bought a room-sized alphabet puzzle that we would put together and then walk all over those letters, calling them out as we stomped on them. Before I knew it, I could recite the alphabet backwards and forwards and any way in between. I loved alphabet day. It was my favorite. And that's a good thing, too, because down the road — many, many years later — alphabet day saved my life.

II.

When I was high school age and learning to drive, my dad is the one who put me behind the wheel and did the honors. Mom left it to him to teach me about blind spots and how to merge onto the freeway and how to parallel park. Soon enough though I learned that my driving lesson from her was going to be quite a bit different.

Now understand that I'm mixed. Bi-racial: Daddy's white and Mom's black. And one evening when we were almost finished with dinner, I saw Mama look over at Dad and he nodded his head as if to say now's as good a time as any.

"You'll be driving out on your own soon. And you need to know this," she said, turning to me.

It was her turn to give the driving lesson.

"When the police pull you over," she said — and I noticed that she said when, not if — "they won't look at you and see that you have a white Daddy. They're just going to see your brown skin." She crossed her arms in front of her chest and glared at me. The look was deadly. I knew right away that this lesson from Mama was not going to be as much fun as alphabet day.

"There are some very fine people out there who are police officers. And there are some who are psychos who take great pleasure in terrorizing black drivers. Unfortunately, you have no way of knowing which of these types of officers has pulled you over, sometimes until it's too late," she said.

Ma proceeded to tell me that when I'm pulled over, keep both hands in plain sight, on top of the steering wheel at all times. She told me to answer only when the officer spoke to me and then respond with as few words as possible. Don't make any sudden moves, she said. And if I have to get something from the glove compartment...

She kept talking, but I had pretty much tuned her out by then. I had gotten the message loud and clear: Driving with brown skin could be risky business.

III.

It was my first job out of college. I had just finished a week of off-site training and was driving home on a state road, passing through a suburban area, when I saw flashing lights behind me in my rearview mirror; then I heard the siren. I pulled over on the shoulder and turned the key. I hadn't been speeding. I had no unpaid tickets — no reason for him to stop me. The police car pulled up close behind. A white cop got out the car.

I had my window lowered and was gripping the top of the steering wheel with both of my hands in full view before he got to my door. I was sweating over my entire body before he even uttered a word.

"I pulled you over because I smelled liquor on your breath," he said.

Oh shit, this is it, I thought. This is the psycho cop. He smelled liquor on my breath while he was driving 50 yards away from my car. Right then and there, I knew I might not make it out of the encounter alive. I wondered when I might start seeing images from my relatively brief life flash before me.

He bent down and leaned closer to me. "Recite the alphabet backwards," he said in a low voice.

It was instinctive. I didn't miss a beat. Looking straight at him, I started at it: Z, Y, X, W, V...

He scratched his forehead.

U, T, S, R, Q, P...

His jaw dropped.

O, N, M, L, K...

"OK, OK, that's enough," he said. He stood straight up. He just looked at me and stared. Then he asked, "Do you think you're sober enough to make it back home?"

I was on a roll. I wanted to finish. But I had sense enough to stop. Yes, I answered.

"Then get on now." He turned and went back to his car. He was back on the road before I even turned the key in the ignition. Then it started to sink in what had just happened and what I had just done. I started laughing, then came the tears.

Thank you, Mama, I said out loud. Alphabet day just saved my life.

Jean Alicia Elster was Selected as a 2017 Kresge Artist Fellow in Literary Arts. She is the author of The Colored Car and Who's Jim Hines?, among other works.

Heal

By Billy Mark

In the shadow of human quiet,

as the unforeseeable future
opens like the wing of a lung,

a balm as wide as the earth
stretches into unaddressed places.

“Pieta,” by Tylonn Sawyer.  - COURTESY OF THE ARTIST
  • Courtesy of the artist
  • “Pieta,” by Tylonn Sawyer. 

A Midsummer's American Dream

By Samantha White

When I came to Detroit in midsummer 1922, the auto industry was booming. I had just left Talladega, Alabama, because I heard a young man like myself, I was 19 years old at the time, could make a good living and I wanted in.

I had never owned a car but no matter where you come from, everybody knew about the legend of Henry Ford. And I wanted to be a part of that legacy. It was better than picking blackberries like my father for the rest of my life.

I ended up meeting a guy outside of the grocery store, Smykowski Bros with the good ham. And he told me he could get me a job on the line shining bumpers for Ford Motor Company. Well, that's where it all began and I showed up on July 26, 1922 just like he told me with my Carhartt overalls and leather boots my momma gave me as a present before I left to pursue my dreams up North.

There were two bumper lines in the factory at the Highland Park plant with different managers: Oberon on the first line, he was a tall, older gentleman with a voice as deep as the Detroit River, and Titania, a middle-aged woman who had surpassed any of society's limitations for women at the time and became one of the most productive line managers in the city.

I worked for Oberon who nicknamed me Puck because I looked like "a little devil." I am not sure what that meant but he liked me. He'd even send me on the other side of the factory to deliver taunting messages to Titania about how many bumpers we had shined on any given day. He always believed in a little healthy competition and I was up for the task of being resident instigator.

One day a guy from Indianapolis, Indiana, showed up to get a job. Apparently, he worked for a place called H.C.S. Motor Car Company and he didn't see much of a future there. He had a reputation in the Rust Belt for being strong as a bull and for shining steel like nobody else could. Titania and Oberon had a lot of back and forth about who deserved him on their line but she won the fight for the new guy.

My boss wasn't going to let Titania off that easy. He was pretty upset that she had the new guy on her team and he wanted to make her pay — just a little humiliation to feed his ego.

There was another line a few square feet away from us that built the doors for the cars. We'd see them every now and then in the lunchroom, but we never really crossed paths and everyone sat with their respective groups: bumpers here, doors over there, hoods and trunks back that way.

Our group always heard the door guys would moonlight as an acting troupe on the weekends. They called themselves "The Mechanicals" and they thought that was a pretty clever name. I guess it was better than "The Doors." I mean, that name could never work for a group, right? Anyway, there was one of them in particular who was an attention-seeking jackass who Oberon knew would certainly be up for a bit of acting.

Titania's birthday came around and Oberon told me to tell the jackass, Nick, that he would give him a job, which paid fifty cents more an hour, on our line if he helped him play a trick on Titania. And, being that he was a jackass, he agreed.

Oberon had acquired a bottle of Chanel No. 5, a new popular perfume that all the ladies were wearing and he knew that Titania might be impressed if Nick gave her a bottle for her birthday. I relayed the message like a good Puck should to Nick's manager who gave him permission to sit in the lunchroom when we knew Titania would be in there for her fifth coffee of the day. He sat there at one of the white tables with his grape Faygo and when he saw her come in, he said: "Hi, you're Titania, aren't you?

She replied: "Yes, I am and you're Nick, right? I've heard about you."

His ears perked when she said that because he loved attention, as I told you. The thought of having a reputation, good or bad, was thrilling to him. "Good. Well, I have a present for you. I heard it was your birthday and I got you this."

"Now why would you buy a complete stranger a birthday present?" she asked.

"You aren't a complete stranger. You're a unicorn. Every man in this factory has heard about the woman who manages one of the bumper lines at Ford. You're a legend," he replied. "Please accept my gift."

"Well, I guess it would be rude not to." She took the perfume and sure enough, Oberon was right. She fell for Nick.

They had a very brief affair. It only lasted as long as the small bottle he gave her.

In 1926, Oberon and Titania ended up getting married. They decided to join forces outside of Ford. They even had four babies, which shocked all of us because they didn't have the youngest undercarriages in the world, if you know what I'm saying. But Titania was great at defying the odds. They even gave all of their kids these weird nicknames: Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Moth, and Mustardseed.

It's now 1932 and there is a hunger strike. I'm laid off as most of us are right now. The Great Depression has not been kind. I hold onto the fact that I took a chance and came here. Something my father and his father never had a chance to do. I hold dear that there was once upon a midsummer when I lived my American Dream.

Samantha White is the Founder, artistic, and executive director of Shakespeare in Detroit.

We Do Mind Dying

By Sacramento Knoxx

We do mind dying,

Love Detroit.

Actually
Deep love from the rooted residential gutter,

and all the way to the homes with vegan hipster butter.

We do mind dying,

I do love my sisters and brothers,
my fathers and mothers,
the uncles and aunties
and the grandfathers and grandmothers
The cousins friends and family
The they, thems and all my siblings

Facing danger together with

All my relatives,
All my relations.

chii miigwetch zagidiwin nikaanaaganaa
(thank you, love to all my relations)

Wishing you good health and happiness,
Love Detroit.

Sacramento Knoxx is a musician and filmmaker from Southwest Detroit, cultural working from the hoods to the woods.

"Mask,” by Nicole Macdonald. - COURTESY OF THE ARTIST
  • Courtesy of the artist
  • "Mask,” by Nicole Macdonald.

Year of Hell

By ZZ Claybourne

Let's see if we can get this camera in focus.

Is anybody out there? Can anybody hear me?

Do we know where we are, what we're doing?

What have we done, where are we going?

The hell'd we do this year?

This year happened 20 years ago, right?

Only 4 months? Really? Stop playing. There've only been 4 months inside this year? Is that factoring in, like, temporal anomalies and stuff? No? Damn.

Damn.

Fucking damn.

Hugs to anyone else living a Year of Hell.

This year makes me feel my age. All kinds of gross shit's happeing. America's psychosis keeps playing out. Lots of people in danger of losing their houses. They know where they are: about to be in the bank's possession. Then speculators mainlining HGTV will swoop in and teach the houses to flip. Best dog show ever.

Oh, and family stuff. And friend stuff. And family friend stuff. Family and friends and a virus, which sort of sounds like a new sitcom on FOX, and kind of in a way it is, considering the (OK, there's no way I can say these words without using finger quotes) "national leadership" we've had, except — as with most sitcoms coming out of FOX — it's not funny at all.

Yeah, you know the drill. Year of Hell fist bump for you.

Wasn't all bad. I hear Schitt's Creek's finale was pretty good. Energized people, gave folks hope...then Trump tweeted a day later and we were all, like, oh, this is 2020. Sorry, forgot. Wait, there was another television event, something geeks have been squeeing for their whole lives: A NEW STAR TREK SHOW FEATURING OUR CAPTAIN PICARD AND THE RETURN OF SOME OF OUR FAVORITE FRANCHISE CHARACTERS AND — what's that? Who got killed off? Really? Spoiler alert? Fek you talking about?

Oh.

So, um, there was...there had to be...oh, wait, arts! Let's turn to the arts! Books. I hear there was a surge in interest about Mexican and Latinx culture, a really prominent —

Seriously? Barbed-wire centerpieces? The entire fuck???

Jeebus bake the saltines, is there nothing untouched by fuckery? Has the Year of Hell simply shat on everything? Where in hell is Linus van Pelt to step out and tell me just what living a hopeful life is all about, Charlie Brown???

I hear the soft footfalls. I hear the swish of a blanket.

Listen, listen.

Thank you, Jeebus. Thank you.

I await and I heed.

"This year," says Linus, "sucks the balls of a monkey with a urinary tract infection."

SONS A BITCH, LINUS!

But he goes on: "But so did last year, and you're still here. So did the year before, and you're still here. We're all here. We're all creating something somewhere, one way or another. We met new people. We helped familiar people. We rekindled passions. We tasted because we'd never tasted before. We smiled and flirted and laughed. We were honest. We acted with integrity. We defended those who needed defending, and we asked for help for ourselves from those we knew would rescue us without price. We said no to the ghosts and demons that refuse to go quietly. We tried, Charlie Brown, to be more human than we were the day before. We tried to be kind and we tried to be not so scared."

That last one stuck.

Being scared holds everything back from so much. During this long year I published in venues I hadn't attempted to publish in before. Goddamned soloist that I am, I tried my hand at a shared-worlds effort. I started a new job doing more physical labor than I've done in years. I had Vietnamese food and movie nights with a goddess, weekend trips with family and friends wherever the wind blew us, helped random strangers, had oddball health issues straight out of Monty Python, thought so much less about where I was and each of varied troubles, thought a whole lot more about who I was that day. I said yes to possibilities and opportunities more than I ever did. On several occasions I damn near joined the Whos in freaking Whoville to cut up some glorious and divine Who roast beast. Tried to not be so scared.

As for being kind, that's just basic, innit? "Don't go forth in dickishness." That's in the Bible. Know what I've found? A lot of the time, being kind is you telling yourself to shut the hell up. It starts with that inner self-edit. Shut off the inner monologue and actually be a part of the world. Connect with it.

So I'm going to be kind and shut the hell up soon. The camera doesn't need to be in focus. Doesn't have to record. It's good enough that you and I are still here, even if you're way over there in your room and I'm in mine. The connections we need blast through space and time. The connections we need connect the dots that become people, smiles, experiences, and encounters. A year in a few moods, invisibly etched across what we know will come, but we call it hope anyway. Linus has spoken, so let's end quite sincerely with this dedication from one of my favorite books: Me Write Book: It Bigfoot Memoir, by Graham Roumieu:

"Bigfoot want thank friends. You like a rainbow in hell."

To that I say amen; I sit back, close my eyes, and let the sun splay across my face.

ZZ Claybourne writes from Detroit because that's the best way to get the universe's attention.

“If I Get to Heaven,” by Carl Wilson. Courtesy of the artist - COURTESY OF THE ARTIST
  • Courtesy of the artist
  • “If I Get to Heaven,” by Carl Wilson. Courtesy of the artist

Well Who Are You

By Toby Barlow

My neighbor left a card. "Are you voting?"

I watched Beth from my Nest camera as she approached my mailbox and then I waited until she was gone. Beth is a total pain, and she has a cat who I hate almost more than I hate anything. The cat is orange, and I know its name is Woody because my neighbor Beth talks to Woody all the time. Our walls are thin.

I can hear her quite clearly when I'm not wearing my headphones. Beth coos to the cat in a voice you would use with a 2-year-old child. But I know the cat is at least 6, which is basically 40 in human years. If I were Woody, I would say "Beth, please. Use a grown-up voice with me. I'm not an idiot." But the cat doesn't say anything. This is one reason why I hate the cat. Woody indulges Beth.

We've all been in our homes for a month now because of this whatever thing. I don't care. I go down into the basement, log on, slip my headphones over my ears, and turn it up. Then it's all dance moves until I am completely bathed in hot sweat and collapsed on the mat. I've upped my internet service so the resolution on the videos is sharper. I probably didn't need to do that. I have already learned every step in every video. And I mostly dance with my eyes closed.

I take a two-hour break, hydrate, maybe eat a power bar, and then dance again. Then it's another two-hour break. Then more dance. Then more dance. Then more.

My favorite song in the world is "What a Feeling" from Flashdance. I dance to that at least seven, eight times a day. I fell in love with the singer Irene Cara when I was little. I remember her smile when I was a kid and she was on The Electric Company, and I remember her tears in that terrible scene in the movie Fame and then, of course, I remember this song, because I just played it like 10 minutes ago.

Now I have my headphones off, I'm looking at this note the neighbor left. Am I voting? Of course I'm voting. Who doesn't vote? What does the question even mean? Does she need a ride to the polls or something? I'm having a hard time even thinking right now over the sound of stupid Woody meowing through the wall.

Beth works at a retirement home in Northville. I made the mistake of asking about her work once, when I saw her out on the porch. I thought she was a nurse because of the way she was dressed — she was totally dressed in nurse clothes! She went on about how important and rewarding her job was, taking care of the elderly. Beth told me a story about one woman, Mrs. Needham. I remember Mrs. Needham's name because I'm like that. She said Mrs. Needham has dementia and greets Beth every morning by batting her eyes and saying, "Well who are you!?"

After Beth told me that story, I started a thing in my bathroom mirror in the morning where I would bat my eyes and say, "Well who are you?" like I was Mrs Needham. Then it became the thing I would say before I danced, I would have my finger on the computer keyboard and I would say, "Well, who are you?" and then I would hit play and thump, thump, thump, let's go.

My moves are good. I don't think about the world's problems. I'm probably one of the best dancers ever.

I keep one of the windows upstairs open a crack. I don't worry about crime because with all my exercise I really need the fresh air. So that's how Woody got in. Into my house. My. House. That's another reason I hate that cat.

I'm down in the basement dancing and, in one one of my big spins, I see it, just a flash of orange. Then it's gone. But I know it's Woody. I hate that cat so much!

I don't know what Beth feeds Woody, but I get some canned tuna and leave it in a bowl along with a bowl of fresh water and then I go back down and dance. Close my eyes, I am rhythm.

When I come back upstairs, the bowl is empty, no thank-you note, no nothing. I have not been in any kind of relationship, not with a woman, not with a man. I don't need one. I'm not asexual or anything, I'm just busy. I'm dancing. But I read about "lovers" and watch TV of course and so I can tell when I'm being used. Woody is totally using me. Ugh. It just makes me so mad at that cat!

So I get one of those scratching posts. I order it from Amazon. I sent the first one back. It was inexpensive, and you get what you pay for. The second one had five stars and over two hundred reviews. People sure waste their time on crazy stuff, but everyone clearly loved this product. I assemble it and put it by the food. Woody comes in and scratches at it and then has some tuna and leaves. Every. Single. Day. I don't see any of it, I just inspect the territory when I'm on my break from dancing. There are lots of telltale signs of Woody's presence. For instance, if you investigate the scratching post there are signs that a cat has been pawing at it, the felt is slightly matted. It's subtle, but noticeable. Also, if you look closely in the seams of the couch, there are some orange hairs stuck in there. I really hope I'm not allergic to that dumb cat.

I set up the Nest cameras so that I could record any motion in the yard. I'll spend my cool down time between dances watching the neighborhood. Some days Woody sits on the stairs or lies out in the yard. I've seen Woody stalk birds and squirrels, but I know it's a waste of time because stupid Woody has been declawed.

I can hear you saying now, "Why would you get a scratching post for a declawed cat?" Well, dummy, every kind of cat loves to paw playfully at things, even if they don't have claws. I can hear you snap back — 'cause now I imagine we're arguing, you and me — so you come back with "Well, okay but how do you even know Woody is declawed?"

The answer is that at night Woody comes in through my window, hops down, crosses the room and then jumps up onto the bed. Lying next to me, he purrs these deep soulful sounds while I rub him behind the ears, pet his belly, massage his paws, and scratch his back. Even when I'm done, he's resting right there beside me, purring. He never stays very long. Just until I fall asleep.

Toby Barlow is the author of Sharp Teeth and Babayaga.

The Night Brittany Howard Built Us a New Home in the Middle of a Marshall's Parking Lot Using Nothing But Her Voice & We Never Got to Say Thank You

By Chace "Mic Write" Morris

"Your body shows the past just has no meaning"
-Brittany Howard, "Darkness & Light"


There will always be that one year

     made entirely of wind when it was hard

     to breathe & all the teeth got knocked

     out & either spit to heaven or swallowed

     back to us & I complained to Sherina

     about how trash the entire bloody-mouthed

     thing was


until we discovered the storm was just

     the accumulated breath of 246 dodged bullets

     and we celebrated by playing Darkness & Light

     shrunk the entire world down to two carseats and an aux cord

     when Brittany opened her Alabama & vaulted a high

     note that exploded into a roof bombed its octave down

     brick by wolfproof brick until it flashed and cooked


the tar down into bourbon

according to myth if you lean back

like a small pill into the river of her alto

& not fear drowning you're well

     within your rights to call it home


and damn if we ain't get sovereign in the bayou

in front of Marshall's in what used to be

      a parking lot before Brittany irradiated

      the Black & raised the swamp singing

      [who was I before I don't know] a crocodile

      low in the murk hunting a memory

      ours and yet not as if telepathy —

our name/who we still owe debt/what tightens

our blood some nights — all teeth


falling out of our mouths making space for more

      efficient weapons [don't stop/my heart/ oh lord]

      the names of what we are not prepared to lose

      sharp around our tongue eager to chew this

      new year into flesh Brittany still ascending

      her voice sunfire like the left eye of God

      each new couplet climbing atop the last


dragging us by our collar to our maker

      who today I imagine as Viola Davis gunpowder & silk

      her posture a loaded gun her bible a little war

      of a girl from Athens — Bama goddess not Greek —

      wailing like a banshee


     No longer alone / my will become gone / we melt into one


Brittany personally invites us to move into her voice

      So we change our address & make a pitcher of Kool-Aid

      the floors sang into velvet the walls honeycomb

      us sang back into our bodies our bodies sang

      into a swarm bees protecting their hive stress dies

      a wasp's death


sometimes the world is small as a housewarming —

      A skylight made of bullet-holes [nothing can stop this

      love] this fitted sheet of new distance

      ordered between us [never gone get enough]

      fold messy but keep folding my love

      [nothing can stop us]


      closer closer
this is the year we catch our breath.

Chace Morris (aka Mic Write) is an award-winning poet/emcee/educator, born on the Eastside, raised on the Westside, probably ya cousin, & would love for you to listen to ONUS Chain.

“Moon Phases and Peacocks,” by Stephanie Sucaet-Felczak. - COURTESY OF THE ARTIST
  • Courtesy of the artist
  • “Moon Phases and Peacocks,” by Stephanie Sucaet-Felczak.

Common Law

By Aaron Foley

If one were to go on Pornhub right now, this very moment, and type in "Checker Bar," you'll come across a vertical video of a voluptuous woman getting her back blown out by a well-endowed, dreadlocked man over the bathroom sink at, well, Checker Bar — not a fictional place made up for purposes of uploading amateur pornography to the internet, but because two people were actually raw fucking in the bathroom in Checker Bar on Larned, wood paneling and all.

"So much for gentrification downtown," Jason chuckled to himself after watching the video sent to him by a friend, realizing that at any moment he'd visited Checker, whether it was drinks after work or drinks before a function, there could've been someone making porn. Though if it had been done during one of his visits, he'd definitely would want to have congratulated the valiant couple for taking one hell of a stand against all the changes going on downtown.

When's the last time I had sex in public, Jason asked himself. The fact that there actually was a last time still astounded him. But the last time was when he was sucked off at The Eagle on Six Mile, but it was so dark no one could see. There was that time in the basement of Menjo's, so empty hardly anyone saw. Hmm, did the boys' trip to Puerto Vallarta count? So far from Detroit, probably not.

Sex in public, sex at all, has been in the past tense since Detroit and the state that contains it — a necessary distinction, the two are never in lockstep — have been on lockdown. He was just about to break up with his boyfriend, Greg. They hadn't slept together in weeks. He had been cheating on Greg with Ricky, and sometimes Eddie. Not that Greg hadn't been cheating on him with Cortez, and sometimes Adam. They both knew they had jumped too early into a relationship, and they both knew they moved in together into Jason's place in Lafayette Park too soon after dating. But now, neither one of them can leave.

They're stuck together, sharing the same bed but sleeping as far away from each other as they can each night. Barely greeting each other with "good morning," unlike the morning sex that sometimes predicated each day when they first started shacking up. It's typical of gay men in Detroit to get bored with each other fast. They just happened to reach their peak just when moving, apparently, became "non-essential."

And why is that, Jason asked himself, that gay men in this town can't seem to stay together? By Detroit gay standards, Jason and Greg were a power couple. Greg worked in admissions counseling at Wayne State. Jason worked in IT at GM. They didn't meet on an app, which was rare for any queer couple in the city, nor did they meet through exes of exes — another rarity in Detroit. No, they met attending the same house party of a mutual friend, was surprised they hadn't crossed paths before, exchanged numbers, went on a date at Chartreuse, fucked, spent the night, and got into a habit of repetition over the next four months, substituting other restaurants, movie dates, and trips to the DIA along the way.

It was Jason's suggestion that they share his space. "You wouldn't have to commute so far," he said. Greg was coming down the Lodge every day from Southfield to Wayne State. When Greg's lease ended, he packed up a Penske truck and was settled into Jason's apartment by that sundown. The next day, they parsed through each other's things and donated duplicate items; no one needs two Crate & Barrel lemon zesters, after all. They posted each other on Instagram. They spent a weekend in Saugatuck. They learned how to make scented candles together.

They got bored with the monotony of monogamy.

Two black men together isn't a relationship. It's a partnership. It is strategic. Heterosexual relationships may be gauche and predicated on the saccharine, but it's undeniable when a man and a woman are in love. They say things at weddings about completion; "you complete me." Two becoming one, making a whole. And it would suggest that there was something incomplete about both parties, doesn't it? Love, the love that enables a person to strive for more and do better for the ones that receive this love, wouldn't catalyze until the two are brought together.

Work is what drives the gay black relationship, because both parties are expected to be complete upon meeting. They don't look for lovers; they look for partners. It is not "how do you complete me" in a gay relationship. It is "how do you advance me?" It is work, because gay men — of a certain kind, I suppose, Jason thought — do not have time to fill holes. (The metaphorical holes, at least.) The trajectory of gay men is upward. To move up at General Motors, to move up from IKEA to Crate & Barrel, to move up from casual encounters in the dark rooms of gay bars to … this. There is no time to slow down. There is no room for risk of falling. 

"Have you thought about the spare bedroom in your parents' house?" Greg asked Jason.

For a brief moment, Jason entertained the idea of sex with Greg in his childhood bedroom. Instead, he turned to him and asked what he wanted for dinner.

"We don't have to keep on like this. I still love you, no matter what," Greg said.

"Then why are you so desperate to push me out of my own house?"

"We need to figure out something until all this ends."

"It's clearly not ending anytime soon."

"Well do you have any suggestions?"

Jason took a deep breath, staring out the living room window and over the Dequindre Cut. The cover of trees, the empty trail, the darkness under the overpass. "Put your jacket on. Let's take a walk."

Aaron Foley is a journalist, writer, and author currently living in Northern California and working on his third book. He is a Detroit native.

“Reclamation,” by Sydney James.  - COURTESY OF THE ARTIST
  • Courtesy of the artist
  • “Reclamation,” by Sydney James. 

Homemade Utopias

By Liza Bielby

What if this moment of shutdown is a kind of practice space?

In 2016, my performance company The Hinterlands began a communal dining project called Utopian Dinners: all-age events that used the structure of a meal to examine and reimagine U.S. culture.

The premise of the project was that each of us constantly reinforces social values through the tiniest of encounters; so consciously shifting our behavior in small encounters can ultimately ripple out into larger social change.

Utopian Dinners were our playful ways to consider some of these minuscule moments. Radically re-approaching how we cook, eat, serve, sit at and clean up the table became opportunities to practice care, unity, respect, and more.

The dinner table shifted to laboratory. Some dinners were silly, some were revelatory, and all were filled with powerful evidence that we have the capacity to make changes to ourselves, our families, and our community.

And now, this moment of isolation at home — which maybe you're also spending reflecting on how old ways of doing things aren't working but not quite sure what the future might bring – feels like the perfect time to experiment with individual change.

Below is a five-step guide to make your dining room into a culture-laboratory through your own Utopian Dinner with family, roommates, or by yourself.

1. How do we eat now?

Before you fill your plate — before you even bring the food out of the kitchen and maybe even before you even make the food, take a moment to talk through the flow of an average dinner in your home.

Do housemates/family members cook together? Do people serve themselves or make plates for others, or do you pass serving dishes around the table?

Is there a hard start to the meal, like a blessing or grace or moment of gratitude? Is there a hard end to the meal? How do you clean up?

2. What values are reinforced through those actions?

Turn the conversation to analysis: what do each of those moments in a meal say about the principles your household embraces?

For example, passing dishes around for people to serve themselves indicates a belief in autonomy. Conversation at the table might highlight the importance of the meal as a time for connection. Leaving the table together strengthens your sense of unity.

Talk about the positives and the negatives you might see.

3. What is missing from this ritual?

Have a discussion about what values are most important to you. Can you see those values reflected in the way you are dealing with mealtime?

4. What is our experiment for bringing this value in to the way we eat?

Work together to hatch a radical plan for how one of the principles missing in your meal can be put into action. Then, try it!

For example, people at Utopian Dinners past have coordinated each bite across everyone at the table to build a sense of collectivity, filled one another's plates to practice service and attentiveness, and loudly and enthusiastically described the tastes of each morsel to strengthen empathy and gratitude.

Be bold, don't be afraid to get weird or uncomfortable, and make sure that your experiment can be carried out within the course of the session.

5. What can we apply from this experiment in our next meal?

After the meal, assess what worked and didn't work within your experiment.

What was too much? What might need to be tweaked by has sparked a new idea for a mealtime ritual? Does this point to any dinnertime habits you can discard?

And what questions does this experiment spark about how you habitually carry out other elements of your day?

Let us know about your Utopian Dinner discoveries. The guide above focused on the act of eating, but you can adapt it to explore how you cook, how you procure food, how you clean up, or even to other moments in your day... the possibilities and opportunities to open up little platforms for change are endless.

Liza Bielby, along with Richard Newman, is the co-director of The Hinterlands, a Detroit-based company making experimental performances and public events.

The Vine

By Lolita Hernandez

The lady hangs a vine
from her window
I think to see
if from its frail stalk
she could reach the street
and escape
to an easier time inside her.
I watch with her

and pace a bit,
as if each step
could hasten the growth
of a new leaf,
lengthen the stalk.

We both lose ourselves
in the green.
I imagine tropics
and blue blue sky,
warmth with no haze.

She may not know
there is warmth without haze,
but when her vine reaches bottom
she'll see clear.

Lolita Hernandez, a lifelong Detroiter, now writes fiction and poetry from Las Vegas after retiring from General Motors and the University of Michigan.

Nice Day

By Michael Zadoorian

She was looking out the front window. He was sitting in a chair in the other room, reading. She couldn't see him, but she knew that was what he was doing. She turned away from the window, walked over to the room where he was and stopped in the doorway. The curtains were drawn and the room was dim except for the light over the chair where he sat. She saw the book he was reading. It was The Plague by Albert Camus. She stood there in the doorway until he finally looked up at her.

"Really?" she said. "I'm not sure that's the best book to be reading right now."

He tented the book over his chest and held it there. "I think it's the perfect book to be reading right now."

"It's a nice day. Do you want to go for a walk?"

He shook his head.

"Do you want to go sit in the back yard?"

"No."

"Just to get a little fresh air?"

"Is there such a thing anymore?"

"Come on. It's a nice day. I think it would be good for you."

She had noticed that he'd been waking up almost every night at around 4 or 4:30. He would toss in bed for a while, sighing and flipping his pillow, eventually getting up to go watch episodes of Grey's Anatomy on his iPad in the living room.

He shook his head again. "No thank you. I just want to stay here inside."

"It's okay to walk around."

"I know."

"It's such a nice day."

He exhaled loudly and she knew she was pushing him.

"I don't want to see people," he said. "I don't want to be around them, even from afar."

"Okay." She saw that she was not helping. "I understand."

"I can't relax. Just seeing other people reminds me of what's going on."

"Okay. I just thought — "

"I know. It's a nice day."

They were both quiet for a moment. He pulled the book off his chest and started to read again. It was her cue to leave, but she still wanted to talk.

"It's so weird," she said. "Spring coming on now, when this is happening. It's getting warmer. The trees are starting to bud, everything's getting greener."

He took a shallow breath that may have been a sigh and continued to look at the page. "The irony is not lost on me."

"I hadn't really thought of it that way."

"Well it is."

"I suppose so."

She was going to head back to the living room, but he kept talking, while still looking at the book. "Is anything ever going to be the same?"

"No," she said. "I mean, yes." It was her turn to sigh or whatever it was. "It will, but it won't."

His eyes left the page, but they didn't look at her. "I'm scared."

"I know. We're all scared."

"I know."

"All we have to do is stay inside. We're the lucky ones. Think of the others."

He looked up at her now. "I know. I'm sorry."

She hadn't meant to shame him. "You don't have to be sorry. I'm sorry."

"No, I'm sorry."

She turned around and went back into the living room. She walked over to the window again and looked out. She didn't really want to go for a walk by herself. She knew what he had meant about fresh air and people. The week before, she had walked a half block behind someone smoking a cigarette and realized that she could smell the smoke the man had expelled from his lungs. What did that mean?

She heard him get up from the chair in the other room. He came up behind her at the window and put his hand on her shoulder. She reached up and placed her hand on his. Outside, a couple passed by walking a small dog.

"God, that dog looks happy," she said. "Look at him. He's so prance-y."

"Are you kidding? It's probably the fifth time he's been walked today. He's gonna hate it when all this is over."

It was the first time she'd heard him say anything about all of it ending. "Yeah. That dog will look back on this time fondly, like, remember when they would take me for a walk when I didn't even have to poop? Dude, that was awesome. That was the best spring ever!"

He laughed and it was so good to hear. There was a long moment where they didn't say anything. Finally, he said, "It really is a nice day."

Without thinking, she said, "You sure you don't want to go for a walk?"

He took a breath. "Not yet. But soon."

"Thus each of us had to be content to live only for the day, alone under the vast indifference of the sky." — Albert Camus

Michael Zadoorian's new novel The Narcissism of Small Differences is released May 5 by Akashic Books.

“Mindful,” by Carl Wilson.  - COURTESY OF THE ARTIST
  • Courtesy of the artist
  • “Mindful,” by Carl Wilson. 

The Call to Prayer Is Louder Than the Death Toll or Ramadan 20 VS COVID-19

By jessica Care moore

On the first day of Ramadan
April 23, 2020. There are millions
Of reasons to fast.

Three of my girlfriends are expecting.

The Jesus children
wearing rosaries` round their necks
Praying death will leave salt city

News repeats itself, therefore, is
No longer news.

We are not people of color
In Detroit, we are black

Up/south people.
not for sale or consumption.

We live across the street from Lebanon.
touting the biggest masjid in the country.

We have always removed shoes
Before entering our sacred homes.
Wujud our bodies clean beyond 20 seconds.

Detroit hijab wrapped covered beauties
Watching them all rocking burkas, now.

The projects remain the cleanest kitchens.
Smells of Clorox Bleach and metal ironing boards
Creased into our daily routines

Cleanliness is next to Godliness
Sunday best. Friday is Jumah.

We all praying to any ancestor
Still listening.

The food that fed us, will kill us
In the new world.

They are trying to kill the vegetarians
Dick Gregory whispered in King's ear.
When he was 8.

Tell your mother...

Smiles taste like tears
Songbirds begin at 4am

My friend has lost her mother
grandmother
& Aunt. My best friend, her sister.
Maria.

I am brushing off the dust of my red prayer mat
Listening to Jon McReynolds and Kirk Franklin
I need everyone.

Even black Jesus
to help get us all through this.

Yes, race still matters.

Ma Sha Allah
Ma Sha Allah

The call to prayer is louder
Than the death toll

The call to prayer never silenced

We never die anyway.
Abiodun Oyewole reminded us.
We return, we move on, we become.

Psalms 23 won't finish the day
The clocks are flying across the room

Which day is it. Whatever day you feel
Is necessary for the right now. Pick one.

Which day do you feel the most beautiful

When he sends me music, I fall in love
With writing. When I write I hear music.

What else to do with this time
Cept tell somebody it happened.

We were alive when the world stood still.

Music never pauses.
Mahogany, Ryan and Randi
Are all pregnant during a pandemic.

These resilient babies won't stop
For outbreaks. Wait for it to end.

Life continues

Even when we decide it is over.
When humanity is finally white flagged
& all the oxygen from the Amazon
Is bottled and taxed like new shoes.

The magnolia tree will still blossom
he same time every year in the backyard

All those thick colossal roots laughing
At our fragile bones

How we climb, how we dream
To be so bold as you.

How are arms shadow your branches
How we wish to be song birds worthy
Of your protection.

The playing field is not playing.
Nature is calling. Science is searching.

But spirit has this all figured out.
And it's not in any of those books
Made from dead trees.

Faith is not a word.

It's a knowing.

Belief that there is something absolutely
Beyond this place.

Something that will heal the wounds
Inflicted on a continent.

Sami Allahu liman hamidah

Praying 5 times a day
May not be enough

To purge the sins against the
womb of the earth
against the hungry bellies of
The chosen people

The unshackled reality of hope
Will not eat away the truth

Balancing itself
between dusk and dawn

Fasting may be the only way
To clear out the noise

The sirens the gunshots the lies

No distance
Between faiths anymore
Pick a book, any holy book

We all die in the same position
Legs spread open, mothers pushing out
the next tomorrow

It doesn't matter
how we die

Or at what speed.

Fasting

or Slowly

It only matters
what we are willing to die for.

Let it be for the first cries
Let it be so the world is made

anew

jessica Care moore is an interdisciplinary poet, the founder of Moore Black Press among many other ventures, and her latest book of poems is titled We Want Our Bodies Back (Harper Collins, '20).

Detroit Is Another Word for Hope

By Marsha Music

In 2016, I was a Fellow in a residency program dedicated to re-imagining Detroit neighborhoods. A group of Urban scholars and artists came from all over the country — and several world cities — to imagine new realities for designated places.

After a week of activities and discussions, there was a culminating event at the Jam Handy, where several panelists and presenters spoke of the need to restore hope to Detroit.

But something about this talk of hopelessness rankled my soul. For even though this sentiment came from a place of engagement and care, it was apparent to me that they had not really understood our profound complexity.

I rose from the audience — quite inappropriately, in the middle of someone's Q&A — and spoke from my heart. About hopelessness, about hope.

Since then, I've thought more about what I said that day, and days since. The COVID-19 crisis has given me pause to ponder Hope, again.

I asked the question then, and I ask it now — didn't you know that Detroit is the City of Hope?

How could it not be? On frayed and worn blocks, with all semblance of community torn asunder, Hope makes a elder sweep her porch and plant roses, houses crumbling all around.

In an area of several square blocks, only one remaining house. Hope inspires the family that lives there to create a shangri la — ponds, waterfalls and banks of hydrangeas — in the "middle of nowhere."

In our affluent, historic neighborhoods of Detroit's well-to-do classes, Hope dwells there too, and affirms their decision to stay, despite the challenges and troubles of city life.

Hope is as woven into the fabric of Detroit as our famed creativity.

Hope rode the ocean waves with immigrants from Europe, leaving starvation and pogroms for new lives in Detroit.

Hope came here with the enslaved, up from South, lived here with the enslaved of Detroit, too. Hope flew 'cross the river with those who fled to Canada, returned to run an underground train.

Hope fueled the busses, trains and flatbed trucks; hopped on and rode with those leaving old Jim Crow. Hope was in Black Bottom, making our way out of no way.

When we arrived in new neighborhoods, Hope beat back despair, as the neighbors took up and left us there.

We've seen TB, Polio, scourges of despair, Hope was bedside and in quarantines with thousands who were there.

Hope worked on fast assembly lines and foundries like hell, Hope toiled with us, Whites and Blacks, we bore the country on our backs.

Hope is embedded in Detroit, high Hope, new Hope, Hope against all Hope.

Hope is in the very sinews of Detroit; muscle cars, Joe Louis — and his giant fist for show. Hope was in the music of Motown, and Techno of the new, young folks. They now move here buoyed by Hope (though dollars help even more).

Hope lives with those with shutoff water, washing in facebowls and rainy days.

Hope moves with those foreclosed upon, trying to start anew another day.

Now the death lion stalks Detroit, seeking lives to devour. Hope heeds its roar, walks by its side, pushes us forward, regardless.

The bereaved trust Hope for celebrations of life in a future, saner time.

Families, robbed of matriarchs, patriarchs, aunts, uncles, children — bear the unbearable, yet keep Hope alive.

Detroiters stay inside with Hope, grateful each day death passes our door. Some walk 'round the city, unmasked and up close — full of foolish Hope.

Survivors testify, of the horrors they fight and win; they wrestled the COVID demon and bear witness to Hope, that the rest of us Stay The Heck IN.

We are the people of Hope, in the city of Hope; we held onto Hope — for such a time as this.

Marsha Music, author of The Detroitist, is a 2012 Kresge Literary Arts Fellow; she has appeared in numerous anthologies and films on Detroit.

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