Because it is an uninhabited place, because it makes me hollow, I pried open the pages of Detroit: the houses blanked out, factories absorbed back into ghetto palms and scrub-oak, piles of tires, heaps of cement block. Vines knock and enter through shattered drop-ceilings, glassless windows. Ragwort cracks the street’s asphalt to unsolvable puzzles. What lives upon its own substance and dies when it devours itself? The question shrinks and sticks between my ribs with toughness. The plaster flowers I collect in my pocket don’t travel well, crumble to dust. Even the rigid balustrades splinter and cave in. What shall come to pass? Chaos of lathe and plaster, of baseboards and mold. The wood that framed rooms is bulldozed is cited is picked clean is abandoned is a prairie where a neighborhood once stood. Fire is a force for good in this place; the later it is put out the better; there will always be something left over. Trees grow thirty feet up through a gaping hole left by skylights that collapsed in the heat of flames. The burn scars on cement where the scrappers torched the last bits of plastic off copper wire spell out the code that reveals what the world will look like when we’re gone. I have been unoccupied I have been foreclosed I have been vacant for a long time. Everything of any real value has been looted: my pulse, my breath, my hereafter. The most intimate place of all in this city of sadness is the distance between sounds: testifying of pheasants and wild dogs, amens of saws, amens of sledgehammers. I am a house waiting to fall in on itself or burn while a homeless man walks down the middle of the street pushing a baby stroller full of sheet metal ductwork. An enclosure is the most difficult thing to steal so I’ll follow him and then I’ll know where to go from here.
Erika Meitner is the author of Inventory at the All-Night Drugstore (Anhinga Press, 2003) and Ideal Cities (Harper Perennial, 2010), which was selected as a 2009 National Poetry Series winner. She is assistant professor of English at Virginia Tech, where she teaches in the MFA program. (updated 1/2010)