Men, Prayer, Politics, Horses, Detroit
March 18, 2011
Last week I hit a wall of sorts. As with each and every morning, I awoke in the 3 a.m. hour, known as the Hour of Mercy. I have learned to be quiet, never complain of the sleep interruption, say my prayers and return slowly to my dreaming. I went on line in this hour only to find the horror that had just struck Japan as it appeared as a USGS email alert. Thinking 8.9 was an error, I double checked. Upon seeing the aftershocks occurring one every 5, 10, 15 minutes, I knew something very dark was occurring on the other side of the world. Something so strong as to shift the very axis of the earth itself 4 inches, not so easy.
By Friday I needed to find a center somewhere other than the tundras of Ohio. At the suggestion of a friend, I headed north to my home city Detroit for the weekend. I am probably one of very few who would seek a weekend of peace and rejuvination in a place like Detroit. But that is exactly what I set out to do.
Holed up at the far eastern edge of the city in a lovely 1920’s summer place situated in a garden like setting bordered by a deep canal on two sides, leading out to the river and the Great Lakes beyond, I awoke to the morning sun glistening over the distant view of Canada. Pheasants, cardinals and morning doves greeted my little dog and I as we walked out into the frost. This little oasis sits just a few short blocks off Jefferson Avenue complete with its fortress like gas stations, burned out apartment bldgs, homeless wandering, children held firm by a mothers hand as they walked to the market. Along this grand avenue later that day I would watch as a gentleman stood guard over 3 dozen leaf bags neatly lined up at the base of a stunning 1920’s building. A glance up at the roof revealed approximately 1/3 of the rare blue slate had just been removed. Detroit.
The late afternoon found me seated and engaged in a lively political conversation with three of my heroes/friends in the front lobby-cafe of a little black box theatre known as 1515 Broadway. This pure Detroit moment remains the artesian well for emerging art and music in the city. Tap it next time you are in town. After hearing all about the Electronic Music Festival plans for 2011, commiserating with others over the new neo-fascist Governor, the privatization of the school system and that nights social event of the year, The Buck Dinner, I rolled on and headed out into the neighborhoods to check out the demolished vs. occupied ratios. Surreal is not the word. Orwellian? perhaps. MadMax-esque might work but I settled on applying the term ‘Efficient Urban’ to describe the world of contrast that is Detroit these days.
Dodging potholes, odd assortments of metal and a few mysterious clumps of undefined marginalia in the back streets, I wandered the hoods, marveling at the cleanliness of the mowed vacant lots. Once the grammatical punctuation that strung the city blocks into cohesive sentences of urban prose, the shift had happened in the ten years since I had last executed such a survey. Now, it was the houses that appeared as a coma here, a semi-colon there, a terminating period at blocks end. Most stripped and burned out, others occupied with warm lights peeking through curtains, some accompanied by gardens in winters rest. One stood proud, newly painted in historically correct color tones, ignoring the carnage in the lots to either side.
As the afternoon sun faded I found myself coming beneath the rails of Michigan Central Station, the city’s current poster child building, coming from Mexican Town and emerging on the other side to observe first hand the gardens put in place recently to mirror the grand dame in her haunting glory. Across the way was a sea of people in green spilling out of pubs and bars serenaded by a few ragged drunks with bag pipes: Detroiters getting a jump on the Irish Holiday. Smiling at the revelry, I turned away, my eyes falling on yet another ghost.
The last time I had been in Detroit, Tiger Stadium still stood tall. Several years prior I had worked on a plan that had called for the adaptive reuse of the stadium, recycling the structure for new uses long after the team had moved to its new facility. Years of wrangling had buried that idea and eventually it came down, leaving a barren field. Surrounded by a tall but supremely penetrable fence, the footprint of the historic Tiger Stadium remained. In the shadow of the bases rose a small red mound of sand, the old pitchers mound.
There in the middle of that field of memories I laid my eyes on the very reason I return again and again and again to Detroit to renew my soul: after all the years, the ghosts, the greats, there they stood in the field of weeds: a rag tag team of children of various ages and seniority.
Ignoring the parties, the traffic and the world itself beyond that fence line, there stood the players. No need for a stadium. No need for tickets, or bat boys or hot dog stands. Crisp uniforms did not delineate the identity of the teams, community did.
I could see heads being thrown back in laughter, some arms-a-gimbo in impatience and others striking the pose of a big leaguer. Nobody could come up with a bat so a split of old rafter from a nearby ghost house made do. Somebody showed up with the ball.
And there they played.
Knowing nothing of the carnage in Japan, or the rape of workers in Wisconsin, or even the odes to Ireland happening across the street, they played.
In a city, a country, a world caught in a supernatural war made so very real,
I reached the crest of the overpass and looked east to the Rouge, her smoke stacks puffing amid the miles and miles of steel and stack. I smiled, thankful for such a place, a place that could touch me, piece me back together, ground me in its never-ending currents of hope in a world torn.
© 2011, 2012 Nancy Kotting All Rights Reserved Reproduction by Permission Only