A long way to run

Sometimes I want to say, oh my god, it’s such a small world. And I do. I say this after running into people I never expected to. But then it seems, this is not really true. The world, as it is, is not particularly small.

*

Since traveling over the past month, visiting London, Bologna, and now Detroit (my hometown), I have bumped into the following people:

1. Bhanu Kapil, a poet who lives in Colorado, at the Tate Britain in London

2. Dave Zohrob, someone who used to be a DJ at WCBN-FM Ann Arbor, at a coffee shop in Detroit (he lives in New York)

3. Casey Girardin, one of my very best friends from childhood, at Sinbad’s, a restaurant on the water in Detroit (well, my parents ran into her, but same difference)

4. Lewis, a person I used to be a bus driver with for Ann Arbor Public Schools, who is a security guard at the Whole Foods in Detroit

 

 

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[Me and Bhanu with a Francis Bacon triptych far in the background. The class I took with her at Naropa was about triptychs and Bacon’s in particular. We were stormed by the magic of our encounter.]

*

I realized that another way to understand these run-ins, rather than saying “it’s such a small world!”, is as the consequence of having moved a lot and, I think, having jumped from one class to another. Or, if I haven’t jumped, these run-ins can be thought of as one outcome of having lived at the intersection of working-class neighborhoods, jobs, and public education on the one hand, and relatively elite education and artistic communities on the other. (Understanding these scenes as distinct produces a number of problems, especially since most poets I know do not understand themselves as part of an elite anything, but it’s important to understand that I take the time and pleasure to make this blog post. I can take the time and pleasure to write and read poems and I have the education to know what that is, how that might happen, and that there are conversations about poetry that go far beyond my own intervention. I am not isolated. In this way, I am not an outsider.) I also “ran into” several people I went to high school with when I went to my 15-year high school reunion for Roeper, an undoubtedly elite private high school, which was the third high school I went to, after attending Renaissance in Detroit and Stevenson in Livonia. Basically, it should be clear, that I have covered some serious Metro-Detroit ground.

Expansive and strange, strained and dispersed, on the heels of having spent weeks in such an extraordinarily different city, London, I have many, sometimes too many, places and people to compare to one another; many worlds to understand in relation; many landscapes and habits, methods and sites of exposure to measure, fuel, and digest.

The experience of the so-called uncontainable is ubiquitous. I mean, what cannot be contained is something we (and now I’m talking about us as academics) talk about a lot. Most folks (many kinds of folks) would not deny that they have encountered something that they couldn’t swallow or take in; something they couldn’t properly or desirably hold in their minds or bodies.

When I skate across the surface of these highways, I pass any number of exits I’ve taken to arrive somewhere that used to belong to me. I return to see if I can hold it again, but if I slow down, if I pause for too long, say, in front of the house I grew up in on Longacre, I make the people that live there nervous. What am I doing here? I don’t belong here. It’s not mine; or, it’s not exactly mine.

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[6425 Longacre, a still from a video of driving down the street]

 

And as my friend so brilliantly suggested regarding Detroit in general, there’s no here here. It’s cut up by highways, spread out, most of the city is ignored. They’re shutting off people’s water. And, as the clerk at Rite Aid said, “it’s Detroit. People’d steal air if it wasn’t free.” (He’d said much more than he meant, we decided. It’s not that people steal just to steal, but that Detroit is the kind of place where you might have to steal air because they might start charging for it and folks here, meaning many Black folks, would not be able to pay for it.) (The comment about there being no here here needs a bit more context, but it has something to do with the desire to signify Detroit to itself. I sit in a coffee shop and the conversation beside me includes “Detroit City of Lights” or something like this. There are plans on the tables for spaces in Detroit.)

The surge of pleasure that capital metes out, and which we (the class of mostly white artists here) squeeze out despite and/ or because of capital, thrives in the tiniest parts of this behemoth city.

Wherever I go, Detroit is being symbolized, both outside and within the city. The place we go for our high intensity workout tonight is decorated with photographs of the Train Station, which is only up the street from our workout. The instructor wears a Detroit City shirt. I have my Detroit Detroit tattoo.

When there is a Tiger’s game, everyone is wearing Detroit schwag. People have old English Ds on their cars. A Whole Foods truck indicates something like “we’re in Detroit now” or “we’re happy to be in Detroit now.” Their sandwiches are listed as “Detroit favorites.” I have a drink at Rock City that is made with Faygo Rock n Rye and I get it because of that, because Faygo symbolizes Detroit. Motor City Brewery has a beer called Ghettoblaster. Shinola’s advertisement on a downtown building reads: “Before Detroit Made Watches and Bicycles We Made Nice hashtag saynicethings.”

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[Billboard pic taken from the car]

 

The city, perhaps in a unique way, perhaps not, needs to symbolize itself within its own borders. But a city can’t signify itself. I don’t know how to understand this. Does this affirm its boundaries or express the desire to expand? “Me, a name, I call myself; Fa, a long long way to run”??? I get that that it’s part of selling stuff. People want to buy the brand Detroit. But it also feels bigger than that. Or the desire to make the brand and buy the brand and trade the brand involves the circulation of feelings that are not always clear to me, especially as I see that I am someone who, unwittingly, participated in the reproduction of this symbol by attaching it to myself. I thought I was saying, I am attached, too attached, let me put this symbol there to objectify it. Let me objectify my attachment to Detroit in some way to lift it off its surface; let me make this desire to make concrete and solid the word “Detroit” an object of knowledge that is more external. This poetics frightens me. A fantasy of liberation hinges on how the freeway asks us to skate through, allows me to collect images from my car, which I try to slow down to live inside, briefly.

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[Bankruptcy pic taken from the car]

 

 

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