Morning

IMG_1837Some days I wake up to the alarm-
groggy and irritated,
I crack my mind open just enough to unsheath the eraser end of my consciousness,
gruffly scrub out one or two or three of the items on the to-do list that my optimistic prior self had assigned,
and press “snooze.”

Some days I wake up restored-
I turn on all my senses before I lift my head
to the soft filtered light curtaining into the room
on the back of a cucumber breeze sprinkled with birdsong,
to the feel of my hands nested between my thighs, soft-on-soft,
to the awareness of my self,
with gratitude, with peace.

Some days I wake up afraid-
to leave my very bed, the prospect scares me.
I don’t trust myself to get through the day
without bringing harm.
In bed I am safe, out there, I dash my earnest hopes time and time again
with a thoughtless moment that drives others to follow, bringing me deeper underground.
Impulse, indulgence, waste, despair:
it happens to me like the weather,
though it is I who forms the clouds.
I know I can do without it
But I don’t know how.

On these days, I regard the ground warily,
still until..
the inevitable rise.
And face whatever the day may bring

Small Claims: A Slow Journey to Justice in the 36th District Court

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Originally published by ModelD Media

In the early morning light, a line of people slowly builds at the front doors of the 36th District Court. A bail bondsman in parachute pants stands patiently beside the line, waiting for the grinding gears of justice inside the building to churn out some clients for him.

The 36th District Courthouse is near the hub of Gratiot’s spoke, in an area that hosts an unlikely mix of functions: large-scale entertainment and criminal justice. Comerica Park and Ford Field are blocks away, and so is the unfinished jail, which is the possible site of a possible arena for a possible MLS team. The court itself is the subject of rumors about being turned into a hotel. Perfect. The sports-and-justice district brings an interesting variety of people here at different times of week and day. Sprinkled throughout are parking lots and hotdog vendors that are surprisingly well suited to both client bases.

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Birthday Dad

IMG_4701I was born on July 13th, a day that also happens to be my dad’s birthday. This incidental event has created a small but special bond between my dad and I, and it is reinforced every year. Dad isn’t one for nicknames but he calls me “birthday girl” (which I absolutely love) and in return, I usually make a bad joke about how I didn’t get him anything because how could I possibly outdo the best gift he’s ever received?

Even before I was born, my dad and I had a special connection, according to family lore. When mom first got pregnant, she and dad decided not to find out the gender of the baby in advance so they had to come up with two sets of names. It was easy to agree on a choice for a boy– Danny– but they couldn’t settle on what to name the baby if it was a little girl. Finally, they turned to the most reliable of arbiters and flipped a coin toss. Mom won. The baby came, it was a girl and my older sister was named Jessica. When the coin landed, the story goes, Dad said “I hope we have another girl so I can name her Michele!” This story is a family favorite in the “Careful What you Wish For” category, since my parents now have a total of five daughters, but in my view, the most important part of the story is that my dad picked my name, that I was special to him even before my birth, and especially so when I entered the world on his birthday.

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Mother-to-be, to be

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I was the first patient to arrive, but not the first person. The lights were on inside the dull concrete block building illuminating a receptionist, nurses, counselors and doctors as they set about their day. Those other cars were apparently for the protesters who positioned themselves along the road and beside the entrance, waiting for people like me to arrive. Apparently their conviction hadn’t quite hardened yet so I walked a weak gauntlet as they halfheartedly make the case that I’m going to hell.

I waited 19 years to lose my virginity and 4 years to have sex without a condom and 1 month to take a pregnancy test and 3 weeks to get this appointment scheduled. All things considered, the wait wasn’t long but the weight of this secret on my conscience these 21 days has been like a migraine of the soul, or maybe something like what it feels to be pregnant past the due date– skin stretched and streaked, back bowed and aching, kicked at from within but helpless to meet the implicit demand of the one inside knocking to be let out. I’ll let you out, far before you asked. I almost wish for the physical manifestation of this feeling to make itself apparent because the feelings are so much yet I have nowhere to place them. This is the lump that has been bearing down on my mind since the day the stick silently shouted at me like this feeble line of picketers who share many of my feelings but none of the context. Fuck them. Fuck me.

Inside, I sign in and take a seat, setting the wheels in motion for what will be a strange mixture of medical and social services. First is the ultrasound, a process I’ve never experienced but have witnessed 1,000 times in the fantasy realm of television. Hollywood seems taken with the symbolic poignancy of glimpsing a grainy sight and a muffled sound of The Future personified. I am making small talk with the nurse about her daughter’s summer camp activities in an effort to focus my attention and to portray myself as more than this experience alone might suggest me to be.

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The God Side

DSC_0732I was halfheartedly listening to the radio a few days ago when a woman, finishing up her interview, declared flatly: “God is on my side.” I punched the radio off and sat in the silence wondering why those words provoked such a powerful irritation in me.

I used to be vehemently atheist and outspoken about it, but now the word “God” doesn’t offend me the way it used to. Now I allow myself the luxury of faith and the gift of prayer. But I still cringe with the irritation of the atheist at the incredible hubris of someone who dares to declare that they know God and hot his endorsement. It feels like the worst sort of name-dropping. It feels like a secret that loses its power as soon as the words hit the air. It makes me sad and angry at the same time.

A “side” is a terrestrial thing it is a construct of the physical world, it does not apply to the divine interconnectedness of life. God has no side, it is deep and round and dimensionless. It is incapable of choosing one person or one concept at the exclusion of another.

God– whatever that means to you– does not confine itself to a single person or even a single idea. God is not binary, God is not the winning team of a rivalry, God is not the big brother that can beat up your enemy’s big brother. If there is any “side” of God, it is Truth, and truth exists in all of us. God is on your side only in that there is only one side. There is no Point and Counterpoint, there is only baseline. Continue reading

Bring Forth

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I love to read. There are many books that have changed my life through inspiration or escapism or a new way of seeing the world.

I love to write. Poems and songs and essays and stories fill my computer and many journals.

And yet. I never take the time to write to my favorite authors. I ascribe some sort of Otherness to those special people. There is some perceived inaccessibility based on a unilateral relationship wherein they are the source and I am consumer.  There is the buffer of the text that separates the author with the reader. A new book exists silently on a shelf and I pick it up. It’s true that many of my favorite authors are long passed- Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson, Earnest Hemingway, Jerzy Kosinski- but there are many others whose time on earth overlaps mine. my time on earth overlaps theirs.

It many ways it is totally normal not to write to a famous figurehead, but some part of me finds it practically immoral to coexist with someone who has literally changed my life and not tell them so. 

So, this year, on Valentine’s Day, I offered back words to those who had moved me with theirs and wrote to some of my favorite authors. It felt heady and surreal to address these titans by name: Joan Didion, Barbera Kingsolver, Cheryl Strayed, Amy Leach, Davis Sedaris, Thomas Lynch, and, Jim Harrison. “Dear Joan” I wrote, with a grin.

The little exercise was immediately gratifying in the act of writing alone, but it became every more rewarding when I got a letter back from Barbera Kingsolver (a form letter, but nonetheless very nice) and a postcard from David Sedaris (hand-written, very very nice).

Then there was this:  Jim Harrison died today. When I saw the news, my first reaction was sadness for his passing, quickly followed by a wave of relief that I didn’t let my words of gratitude go unspoken. I was so glad that I got the chance to tell him how his words kept me company on the trail while I hiked the most remote stretch of the Upper Peninsula, how the dead mosquito bodies decorated the pages of Dalva, how I read while walking along straightaways because I was so engrossed, how I began to imitate the writing in my own dairy because he was my sole external influence during those solitary days. I’ll never know if he read those words, but then I’m in the same position he was when I read his.

If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”

RIP Jim Harrison

Manhole

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Here you are right at my feet
you’re unassuming solid sweet
You fit so tight and so complete
That I forget the void beneath

From where I stand I can’t quite peek
to get a glimpse of  underneath
the better then, to paint you with
an easel to support my myth

You lay there still but still I slip
We met and then I lost my grip
You look like someplace I could trip
Look out below. Manhole. I flip.

I’d like to take your picture  and then put it in a frame
I’ll like to show my mother and imagine our last name
I’ll smooth out all your edges like a giant lucky dime.
you’re nice in two dimensions and I’d like to make you mine

Here you are right at my feet
you’re unassuming solid sweet
You fit so tight and so complete
that I forget the void beneath-
oh what is the unknown degree
to which you twist your depths to reach?
what sewer line or power cord are
you designed to feed the world?

You make me nervous
shiny surface hidden purpose
Look out below. Manhole. I flip.

Parking Lot Gerry

Originally published by ModelD

IMG_6252From where he sits in his tiny booth on the north side of the Fisher Building, Gerry can see about half of a city block. Gerry is the attendant for Tony’s Parking on Lothrop Street. He has spent at least 60 hours a week here for the past 30 years, and he knows this place and its people with an alarming intimacy, though he is oblivious to what occurs just around the next corner. When I moved into the apartment building adjacent to the lot that is Gerry’s province, I had no idea that this outspoken parking attendant would have such a persistent, if minor, role in my life.

Above all else, Gerry is a witness to this neighborhood. His official territory includes only the parking lot, but his domain extends as far as his vision. He is the type of figure that Jane Jacobs would herald as the best kind of “eyes on the street,” with mutual trust, if not affection, on the part of the observer and its subjects.

Gerry arrives to work every day before 7 a.m. He calls “information” to make sure the time on his clock is perfect so no one can say he overcharged. He surveys the area, shoveling snow away from the sidewalk or sweeping puddled rainwater into the sewer. As people arrive, he files cars in rows according to the duration of their stay to maximize capacity and minimize block-ins. It’s an endless game of horizontal tetris.

“How long you gonna stay?” he says in his faintly antagonistic way. Gerry is so severely gruff that it’s almost endearing because he seems to care so little about what others think of him. In Gerry’s eyes, everyone has an agenda and he’s not in it. He preempts others’ dismissal with casual conspiracies about people who look at him the wrong way “I know what she’s about.” Gerry knows that the people who visit his lot aren’t there for him; they are there for a service. After a brief exchange of money and words, Gerry is left to watch people’s prized possessions, alone, like an underappreciated nanny.

Gerry is famous for his non sequiturs: “Good morning!” might be answered with “My life is more complicated than yours” or “Ain’t nobody else could do this job.” Sometimes he just repeats himself by way of extending a conversation that lacks momentum: “You gotta go? You gotta go now? Where ya going? You gotta go?”  This elementary form of interrogation actually works to the point that Gerry is the keystone of gossip in the surrounding social landscape. (You’d be surprised how much personal information you give away when everything you say is answered with “what else?” five consecutive times.)
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Policy ideas to fix Flint’s water crisis (and help avoid another)

Originally published by ModelD

Flint water

Gov. Rick Snyder has apologized for the inexcusable failures of leadership that led to the current situation in Flint, where tens of thousands of individuals, including children, have been poisoned, dismissed, neglected, and lied to. What’s clear at this stage is that great harm has been done to both people and the city’s infrastructure.

Now that state and local government have acknowledged the truth, they will have to do something about it. Any good nerd knows that “I’m sorry” doesn’t de-corrode miles of water piping or detoxify children – we need money to pay for that. But how will we find it? Here are some policy suggestions that could help ameliorate the water crisis in Flint and buttress the rest of our state’s deteriorating infrastructure.

Top it off

In the midst of ongoing financial and social instability in many of Michigan’s cities, the price of oil happens to be at a 10-year low. The current approach to this happy circumstance seems to be to just enjoy the break at the pump, but we are missing a real opportunity. The fact is that Michigan is facing grotesque infrastructure disinvestment, with aging roads and water infrastructure that our governments have proven to be either unwilling or incapable of addressing. We need to take collective action to take advantage of the opportunity that low oil rates present. What Michigan needs is a “Top Off” law that would set a price floor on gas prices.

Under this law, any time market rates of gas fall below $2.00/gallon, the gas station would become a savings account for state and local infrastructure fund. The differential between market rates and that indexed value (which could grow gradually over time) would provide funding for projects from road repairs to water pipeline modernization. If market rates exceed $2.00/gal, then we pay nothing. If prices stay above that index, well, we’re no worse off than we are now. The law would create a fund to address infrastructure issues that aren’t getting paid for now, and certainly won’t be when gas rates hike back up again. Continue reading

It Takes a Flint

When it started hard to say

Couple hundred yesterdays

Simple system growing cracks

Auto business, off the tracks

 

Getting mine means getting gone

White flight from the red line zone

Money tighter, feel the strain

Pull the plug and fill the drain

 

Safety net becomes swiss cheese

“poor” is spreading like disease

Trickle down aint spreading shit

When they shut off the faucet

 

Do you want a drink today

Or would you prefer to stay?

Pauper’s prison, in your home

Only choice is move along

 

In the country, people know

How to build a fire, slow

Let the wood get nice and dry

Kindling on the underside

Stack it up, support the beams

Maybe squirt some gasoline

But if flame’s what you desire-

It takes a Flint to start a fire

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