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Alyss

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From Motor City Mulch

If you take I-75 north from Toledo, you can smell Detroit’s aroma—
rendered fat next to funeral pyres of slag and smokestacks
sprouting from Motor City mulch. When asked what suburb I come from,
I say Detroit where children play in oil slicks like little bruises
in the shadows. Where else could you live as a troll
along a Rouge River? The gift that place gave me in never having to grieve
leaving it. A place where I once stood waiting for a lift
after my car battery was stolen and pimps lined up for me. I learned to
waterski on the Detroit River and still pick amoebas from my ear canals
Something in the water there killed humans and alewives
our side of the Ambassador Bridge. My father, a police lieutenant,
said bodies would float because of the gases (they were never Canadians:
riparian rights separated us from a country where they didn’t hunt humans).
On clear nights, the Big Dipper ladled goodness over there,
and only badness on our side. On I-94, a huge billboard loomed
with the Marlboro man trying to ride his horse out of Detroit.
That’s when I knew the auto industry was in for it, though
my old boyfriend played Russian roulette badly, racing onto Woodward
in his Ford Fairlane past 8 Mile where the drunks routinely rammed
cars into phone poles. In our closet at home hid the ‘67 riots gear,
helmet, and billy club we were never supposed to touch. Switchblades
my father confiscated: we devised stories about children who flipped them
open in the air, catching them closed without a knick.
My old house is officially in the ghetto now and this reminds me of
the Buddha who says we are all part of the present and the past. I know
I carry the ghetto in me. The Henry Ford Museum got Lincoln’s chair,
the one Booth shot him in, next to pieces of the first factory lines—
I always thought this was a coup for Detroit, where you sit down on the job,
you lose. Henry Ford was our man, though.
They named half of Detroit after him including the hospital
where I learned to put breathing tubes in the ones who didn’t make it:
the ones still warm and pliable, the ones who jumped
off overpasses, those finished off by rival gangs: my teachers
said it was for practice. Outside the hospital, I saw
rats large enough to lift manhole covers.
We all have to come from somewhere.

Renee Rossi