Election Day

I woke up at 6am. Very tired. I had gone to be at 2 or maybe 3 while Molly, Evan and an affable neighbor sat at the dining room table stickering and cutting papers like elves and manipulating spreadsheets. One of the elves left me a present at the bottom of the stairs- it was my assignment for which polling locations I needed to go to put down signs with my name on them. Temporary billboards.

The polls open at 7am and we wanted to have volunteers at every polling place with literature in hand, but there are over 30 locations and 13 hours of voting, so we had nowhere near total coverage. The signs would have to do.

I took a moment to sit on my front porch step and take it all in. It was dark and quiet still, I knew it would be a long day.

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Margo

Its a long way between can and do.
You’re at the strange age- not young but so new-
staring at the vastness of space from your mattress on the floor,
Praying for that small grace to rise once more.

Work another long day that ain’t working for you.
Bringing home that minimum wage is the least you can do.
Don’t you know that pain doesn’t pay-
check your baggage at the door.
Building up that small strength to smile once more

Hey Margo-o-o, its OK
you’re feeling low-low-low, so lonely.
Baby girl, you know that it happens
just sit tight till it passes.
And don’t forget its OK to be lonely.

It’s another shit date that you’re gritting through.
Hopes were high, but, no way- this cupid don’t shoot.
Can you jump your heart into beating?
Ain’t it feeling any more?
Holding out that small faith to love once more.

Hey Margo-o-o, its OK
you’re feeling low-low-low, so lonely.
Baby girl, you know that it happens
just sit tight till it passes.
And don’t forget its OK to be lonely.

(Courage my friend, you do not walk alone)

Garden at Night

My baby gardens at night,
She gets that midnight dirt inside of her fingernails.
I wonder what it feels like
To hear the secrets of the earth that she never tells.
And so what- maybe she’s crazy,
to spend her time creating beauty she’ll never see.
But when the moon hits the sky
I wanna find her, wanna flower, wanna garden at night.

My baby prays to the light,
She gets those noonday rays on back of her eyeball lids.
I wonder what it feels like
To see the majesty of god in the roy-g-biv.
And so what- maybe she’s crazy,
to give her sight to a divine that will make her blind.
But with the sun in my eye,
I wanna find her, wanna honor, wanna pray to the light.

My baby sings through the fright,
she’s got the note antidote for those salty tears.
I wonder what it feels like,
to know the lullaby that tucks in your deepest fears.
And so what- maybe she’s crazy,
to chose the serenade instead of the fight or flight
But when the terror runs high
I wanna find her, wanna tenor, wanna sing through the fright.

Mama Song

My mama knows when I am aching,
she can feel it in her soul.
My mama knows the smile I faking,
when I’ve got nowhere to go.

And in my older years, it’s hard to keep my pride up on the shelf.
But mama gives it when I ask her for some help.

(She tells me)
Show me where it hurts,
so I know exactly where to send my love.
Show me where it hurts,
so I know exactly where to send my love.

I wanna feel the peace awaken-
shadows fading from our eyes.
I wanna stop the earth from shaking-
separate the truth from lies.
But, with these recent fears, it’s hard enough to trust in my own self.
And so I seek her when I’ve got nobody else.

(She tells me)
Show me where it hurts,
so I know exactly where to send my love.
Show me where it hurts,
so I know exactly where to send my love.

Mama Mama Calling.
Mama Mama Crying .
Mama Mama Calling.
Bring Your Love To Me.

(And she’ll say)
Show me where it hurts,
so I know exactly where to send my love.
Show me where it hurts,
so I know exactly where to send my love.

All the Love is

All the love is stronger, now-
I call you sisters and brothers.
And, I’m not saying that it’s easy, somehow,
but I don’t believe there are others.

All the dark is softer, now-
I glide right over the ridges.
And I’m not saying that it’s easy, somehow,
but at least I’m not digging ditches.

All the love is stronger now
All the love is stronger now,
All the dark is softer now,
All the dark is softer now.

All the love is stronger, now-
I feel the beauty awaken
And, I’m not saying that it’s easy, somehow,
but it’s giving more than its taking.

All the dark is softer, now-
I stand up tall to bear witness
And I’m not saying that it’s easy, somehow,
but at least my skin’s got some thickness.

All the love is stronger now
All the love is stronger now,
All the dark is softer now,
All the dark is softer now.

All the love is stronger, now-
I feel it rising within me.
One day it will be easy, somehow,
If I just keep on believing…

Meantime

It’s funny how the what we do becomes the who we are-
a lifetime of tomorrows passes by.
And, flipping through my journal is like picking at a scar-
the pages thick with ink that just won’t dry.

Oh, I have tried a hundred ways to end this bitter journey.
And time can hide, but not erase, the truth that I’m still learning…

That wanting to change is not the same as being able to
And knowing what’s wrong is not enough to know what I should do.
Oh, but all that I can do is try, to take it each day at a time
and let it be enough
in the meantime.

I drew a line into the sand, but it all blew away.
Each promise to myself was just a lie.
And through those many years I never bothered once to pray
To buried in my fears to even try.

The free will I’ve been running with is feeling kinda costly.
In private moments, I’ll admit, the path has kinda lost me…
Cuz wanting to change is not the same as being able to
And knowing what’s wrong is not enough to know what I should do.
Oh, but all that I can do is try, to take it each day at a time
and let it be enough
in the meantime.

Believe me I quit my job, I quit my life.
I quit my love- I’m nobody’s wife.
I cleansed my soul in the Jordan River Valley.
I climbed the highest mountain, and then I flew a kite.
But I’m still on, the same damn page of life.

Cuz wanting to change is not the same as being able to
And knowing myself is not enough to know what I should do.
Oh, but all that I can do is try, to take it each day at a time
and let it be enough
in the meantime.

Honest John’s

Well, we met down there at PJ’s on a lonely Sunday night
and right away, my dear, it seemed to come quite natural.
Then I braided you a bracelet, but I tied it on too tight,
that’s when I knew that you and me was something actual.

Then, there was that time at Cece’s by the lazy firelight,
and don’t you know, I did my best to keep it casual.
But in your gaze I started burning like my clothes were on too tight,
Oh, you could melt my heart, my dear, that’s matter factual.

And sure we said “just friends’ but I was tremblin’
when you looked me in the eye.
That’s when I said I had to go- it was an honest sort of lie.

So when you, kissed me, on the cheek at Honest Johns,
Oh, I could hardly speak, my knees were getting weak
When you, kissed me, honestly I saw the stars
So tell the truth, now, does this mean, that I’m yours?

Oh what about the Old Miami? Boy, I had you in my sights.
And, at least to me, it seemed to be quite magical.
But you were missing in action like you fell without a fight.
You were too two-hearted dear, to be romantical.

And sure, you kissed me then, but I’ve been suffering
when for months you acted shy.
If you’d’ve asked, I’d tell you so, across my heart and hope to die.

But if you, kiss me, on the cheek at Honest John’s
Oh, I won’t hardly speak, my knees will get so weak.
If you, kiss me, honestly I’ll see the stars,
and I’ll make damn sure it means, that I’m yours.

Wire Nuts

Sometimes, I think my dad is an accidental feminist. What choice is there when you have five daughters? With that gender distribution, it’s inevitable that you will witness your female progeny carry out multiple acts of intelligence and feats of competency. Practicality alone will lead you to avoid “traditional” paths wherein each daughter must find a man to provide for her before she can leave your care.

Maybe that’s why we were building rockets to launch in the park at age 6, and driving the riding lawnmower around the yard at age 10, and filling out the bubbles of standardized tests in the middle of summer in order to go to “nerd camp” at age 12. Dad, like any good parent, felt good when his kids did well, and he and mom gave us lots of settings to achieve in.

Often times, though, this meant that spending time with dad felt a lot like completing a chore. Sure, it was nice to finally solve the physics problem, and I was so lucky I had someone to ask for help, but that doesn’t mean it was fun. My butt left the chair as soon as I made my last pencil stroke. Thanks and byeeeeeee! Continue reading

Check-Save-Buy

Previously published in the Free Press with minor unapproved edits. Original below:

It started with a Facebook post “77-year old women needs help immediately!” The woman was a renter of a tax foreclosed home, and a stream of well-meaning friends offered their advice about what she should do. There was fear that she would face eviction, rumors about who owned it, and a lot of other well-intentioned misinformation. I was sad that, even after a decade where one in four properties in Detroit have gone through tax foreclosure, there is still a serious lack of information about what to do when your landlord doesn’t pay the taxes and the government becomes the owner of your home.

If you happen to live in any of the 15,000 occupied homes across Detroit that face tax foreclosure by the Wayne County Treasurer this year, you might have some questions about where your property stands and what to do next. I finally joined the conversation to try to clarify some of the confusion, and I will try to do so here in my capacity as a housing counselor.
So, if you’re a renter in a home that was foreclosed by the Wayne County Treasurer, here are your stop-drop-and-roll techniques for what to do when the government becomes the owner of your home: CHECK, SAVE, & BUY. Continue reading

Beneath The Steam

Originally published in Hour Detroit

An iconic image of winter in Detroit is the columns of smoke spewing from sidewalks. Steaming streets are part of the landscape, but few know the answers that lie beneath this mystery in plain sight.

Below our sidewalks, there’s a vast infrastructure that includes electricity, water, sewer, and fiber optics. In a portion of the city, there’s also a network for what’s known as superheated “district steam.”

Most buildings and homes have their own furnace or boiler, but properties on the district steam system connect to a grid that delivers steam directly to their pipes. It’s not so different from the way that most buildings receive electricity from a utility grid rather than having their own internal generator.

District steam is common in dense urban areas with large buildings because a central plant can be more efficient than individual boilers. The current system serves more than 100 buildings in greater downtown, including the GM Renaissance Center, Cobo Hall, the Fox Theater, and Ford Field.

But this type of system is limited for a reason: Heat escapes rapidly as the steam pipes pass by cold external air, so it is not suited for long distances.

Detroit’s system is notable because it is so extensive — with over 50 miles of steam mains — and because it is so old. The system dates to 1903, when it was opened by Detroit Edison Electric Company. It’s also very leaky, as evidenced by all the steam seen rising from city sidewalks and streets.

The leaks are more than a systemic inefficiency. They also bring their own quirky hazards. The thick columns of steam can create blind spots that are dangerous to both drivers and pedestrians. And apparently, enough passers-by have burned themselves on scalding steam, that one local law firm has a dedicated website for personal injury suits from “Detroit manhole cover steam burns.”

Minor perils aside, the steam itself is not all that scary. It is just hot water — not swampy sewer gas or exhaust from the forgotten Detroit salt mines.

One Man’s Trash … Continue reading