Poem to the Detroit River
Detroit—where the weak are killed and eaten.
—T-shirt slogan, circa 1990
. . . the 33 year old woman . . . leapt to her death . . .
from a crowded bridge that . . . connects Detroit . . . with its
famous island park, Belle Isle. She was trying to escape the
300-pound man whose car she had accidentally bumped into.
According to police, the man had smashed her car windows
with a tire iron, dragged her from the vehicle – stripping off
most of her clothes in the process – slammed her against the
hood of her car and pounded her with his fists. Deletha Word
. . . could not swim . . . She jumped into the water 40 feet below.
—James Ricci, Los Angeles Times [August 31, 1995]
The road to the afterlife—There was . . . a river that had only
one bridge across it . . . This bridge was guarded by a dog that
jumped at souls and made many of them fall into the river and drown.
—Bruce G. Trigger, The Huron: Farmers of the North
Not really a river at all,
but a handshake between two Great
Lakes, Huron stretching to embrace
Erie in its green-gray grasp. You
stitch the liquid boundary of
a city dismantling itself,
bricks unmortared, spires sagging, burnt
out structures razed to open field.
Prairies returning here, foxtails
and chicory, Queen Anne’s lace sways;
tumbleweeds amble down Woodward
Avenue, blow past fire hydrants,
storefronts and rusted Cadillacs.
You are the mirror into which
we plunge. Towers of a stillborn
renaissance bend to admire their
vacant beauty; automobiles
built in Mexico catch the chrome
reflection of your waves. They speed
across the bridge to the island
whose willows spill their tears against
your breast. Darkness closes our eyes;
the park empties, bridge bears a chain
of headlights. Perfume of exhaust
drifts over your blackened currents;
cars jostle for their place in line.
Not the fist of one man but
the sucker punch of a city
taking scrappy pride in its bruised
countenance. One bumper kisses
another like gunshot; the town
explodes. You swallow the blood of
a woman’s shattered cheekbone, pressed
to metal hood, scorched by engine’s
heat. Who wanna buy some of dis
bitch—she got to pay fo’ my car.
So naked in our headlights. Her
manicure rakes bridge’s edge—some
bystanders yell, Jump!—she lets go.
You catch the women who plummet
from the sky, seeking safety in
your watery clutches. They root
inside your skin; lungs swell with your
essence. Arms wrestle the eddies
but finally surrender, give
themselves fully. Guardian dog
of the bridge leans muzzle over
the rail, slavering. The whole pack
looks down, red eyes gleaming. She’s lost
to us, but we hear her singing
forever in our dreams, gurgled
lullaby for this drowned city.
From Embers (Red Hen Press, 2003) by Terry Wolverton. Copyright © 2003 by Terry Wolverton. Used with permission of the author.