Here’s Blair’s poem “Detroit (While I Was Away)”, a loving paean to his city. Any errors in the transcription are mine.
Even though I know the air hangs like a dead dog’s ass over River Rouge,
I still miss you.
Your fenced-in gardens filled with sustenance and Saturday evening blue
draped over a back alley porch,
the September stench that creeps slow as a Woodward bus on Sunday,
black tires crawling in summer heat,
your acoustic guitars and amplified hair,
your rows of long, thin buildings arranged on a young man’s head.
The last time I saw you, a woman stood
on a corner conducting traffic, her own sunken opera,
a crack pipe baton. Car horns joined in like a bad man cruising a dream.
She stood on the stage of Cass and Mack, dying to reach Joy Road.
The moon left its spotlight on a backdrop of burnt buildings,
yellow police tape posed like velvet rope:
Do Not Cross.
A picket line of teens careened down Cass
past broken glass that spread like urban sprawl
or a Diego Rivera mural painted across the whole damn D. I. A. wall.
Another time I saw you,
steam barrelled out of your manhole covers like you were about to explode,
a soul imbibed forty ounces of courage so that it could head back down to the Axle Plant
on Lynch Road or Jefferson or some other conveyor belt street
that gets everyone movin’ in step like a temptation line dance.
Twenty-two ounces of sweat and iron hidden in a bathroom stall
away from the plant tours and fat cats,
the shop stewards and snitches,
I remember you, old friend.
I’m in another city now, but Martin Luther King Street always looks the same.
It just doesn’t intersect with Rosa Parks, Twelfth Street, where ’67 fires started,
named for a woman who chose you beyond a boycott Montgomery and then rode the front of that big ol’ dog
straight on home to you.
Detroit, I love you.
From your basketball sun that hangs in the sky, then falls only to bounce back up again tomorrow,
down to your alligator shoes, I’ll kiss you on the river,
meet you in the middle of a suitcase and wonder:
Do you ever think of me this way?
Do you even know I’ve gone?
Say my name, Detroit,
I pray you claim me,
a small-town boy born in New Jersey but made in Detroit.
My heart beats like tool and die for you,
like horsepower and pistons for you,
while mechanized-lumpenized-robot-zombies haunt Mack Avenue—
here they come! a gang of buildings in tank tops,
Mack trucks in do-rags, marching down to Hastings Street
and I never got to know you back when you wore your onyx necklace like a tire around your neck,
but I get to witness the aftermath.
Dipping your blue-black hands in the electronic currents of music and art,
the circumference of Outer Drive, Moross, and Joy,
Paris of the Midwest, they called you,
and every time ’67 fires or Hallowe’en came around,
you lived up to it.
The year I was born you blew up. I heard it. I came when I could.
I never left. I stay even when I go.
Chosen heart, adopted town!
From Belle Isle to Eight Mile,
Chocolate City where the mothership landed,
late night downtown and the peacocks are out, on Fourth Street,
calling to billboards that hover over highways,
telling stories to streetlamps.
The moon is a plate full of soul food, Mexican food, perogies and paczkies,
kofta and curry we mix and separate,
mix and separate,
each [*] stoop is a garage rock chord strummed and banged like a car mechanic’s sledge,
a man screams beneath the Ambassador Bridge,
another drums on plastic tubs for tourists,
“Will Work For Food” is a piece of poetry written on an art-house wall,
festival wizards, Saunderson, Atkins and May, the Big Three!
Dee-troit. Détroit, “Of Three”,
Black Panthers, White Panthers, and Lions, oh my!
Tight boys in rock pants,
the hustlers in Palmer Park,
lovers, thugs, and bluesmen with axes
sharp enough to cut down another forced overtime shift—
these are the sundresses, the beautiful ball gowns flowing like the Detroit River,
supremely turning, bending with the weight of the city, Detroit,
your beautiful hair woven women, putting on gloves and grabbing tools next to me on the assembly line,
teaching me what perseverance and being a brother is all about.
These are the overtime fists clocking.
These are the hands that braid hair and lock dread and cook meat that falls right off the bone
into fat, black pots of collards,
working harder and harder and harder still, so…
step on, Detroit,
dribble and shoot, pass and play,
struggle and fight, darken and light,
drive and impel, riot and quell,
pick the steel burrs off the cross-members at the front of the Jeep Cherokee,
look what we have made you
steam and steel, still
that’s how hard
I love you.