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Imagine

            after the news of the dead 
            whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you 
			—W. S. Merwin


A blanket of fresh snow
makes any neighborhood idyllic.
Dearborn Heights indistinguishable from Baldwin Hills,
South Central even—
until a thawing happens and residents emerge
into the light.  But it almost never snows in L.A.,
and snows often in this part of Michigan—
a declining wonderland, a place not to stand out
or be stranded like Renisha was.

Imagine a blonde daughter with a busted car
in a suburb where a brown homeowner
(not taking any chances)  
blasts through a locked door first, 
checks things out after—
around the clock coverage and the country beside itself
instead of the way it is now, 
so quiet like a snowy night 
and only the grief of a brown family (again)
around the Christmas tree, recalling 
memories of Renisha playing
on the front porch, or catching flakes
as they fall and disappear 
on her tongue.

They are left to imagine 
what her life might have been.
We are left to imagine the day
it won't require imagination 
to care about all of the others.

Sleeping Bear

                                   1.

The backstory’s always of hardship, isn’t it?
                       No-other-choices and hoping-for-better
            on foreign shores. A minute ago, as measured

by the sand dunes here, the shipping lanes were thick
                       with them, from Hamburg, Limerick, towns
            along the Oslofjord, and lucky to have found

the work. The Michigan woodlands hadn’t been denuded yet
                       (a minute ago) so one of the routes was
            lumber and the other was a prairie’s wealth

of corn. There’s a sort of cushioned ignorance that comes
                       of being born-and-then-allowed-to-live-in-
            safety so I used to think it must have been more

forgiving here, less brutal than the brutal North Atlantic
                       with its fathoms and its ice. But no.
            The winds, the reefs, the something-to-do-with-

narrower-troughs-between-the-waves and lakes like this
                       are deadlier than oceans: in
            a single year the losses were one in every

four. We come for the scale of it: waters without
                       a limit the eye can apprehend and—could
             there be some mistake?—aren’t salt. Dunes

that make us little which if falsely consoling is right and
                       good. Where commerce lifts its sleeping head.
             If I had the lungs for diving I expect I’d be there too

among the lovely broken ribs and keels. Visitors need
                       a place to sleep and something to fill up the
             evenings, it’s natural, the people in town

need jobs. Calamity-turned-profit in tranquility. My
                       father’s father’s father was among the ones
             who did not drown. Who sold his ship
 
and bought a farm.

                                      2. 

What is it about the likes of us? Who cannot take it in
                       until the body of a single Syrian three-
             year-old is face down on the water’s edge? Or this

week’s child who, pulled from the rubble, wipes
                       with the back and then the heel of his small
             left hand (this time we have a video too) the blood

congealing near his eye then wipes (this is a problem,
                       you can see him thinking Where?) the hand
             on the chair where the medic has put him.

So many children, so little space in our rubble-strewn
                       hearts. In alternative newsfeeds I am
             cautioned (there is history, there is such a thing

as bias) that to see is not to understand. Which (yes, I know,
                       the poster child, the ad space, my consent-
             to-be-governed by traffic in arms) is true and quite

beside the point. The boy on the beach, foreshortened
                       in the photograph, looks smaller than
             his nearly three years would make him, which

contributes to the poignancy. The waves have combed his
                       dark hair smooth. The water on the shingle, in-
            different to aftermath, shines.

                                     3.

There was once, says the legend, a terrible fire or as
                       some will recount it a famine and
            a mother bear with her two cubs was driven

into the lake. They swam for many hours until the
                       smaller of the cubs began to weaken and,
            despite all the mother could do, was drowned,

then the second cub also, so when the mother reached
                       the shore which then as now belonged
           to a land of plenty she lay down with her face

to the shimmering span whose other side was quite
                       beyond her powers of return. The islands
           we call Manitou, the one and then the other, are

her cubs, she can see them, we go to them now by ferry.
                       And maybe that’s what we mean by
           recreation, not that everything lost—remember

the people to whom the legend belonged—shall be
                       restored but that it does us good
           to contemplate the evidence. The lake,

the dunes, the broken ships, the larger-than-we-are
                       skeins of time and substance in which
           change might be—we’ll think of it so—not

hostile but a kindness..