Reflections on my journey to stay in one place
I never imagined I would be washing his dishes: the remains of some crusty casserole, six or eight months old, a mystery Tupperware, a rimmed teacup. I’m sure that if he had could have known that I, a woman he met only once, would be cleaning up after him, he may have taken care of the mess himself. Or maybe not. Maybe a century-old man only needs one plate and one cup, and maybe he relishes in leaving the rest of them dirty. Maybe he feels he’s cleaned enough dishes in his life and gets a kick out of the idea of some family member, some hired worker, some stranger doing it for him. I don’t really know what he thought or what kind of man he was because our time only barely intersected. Ben Jaros lived in one home each of his 98 years and I have now passed one of mine in that same house. His house. My house. Home.
I moved here scared and reluctant after finding out that my apartment was turning into a condo and that my work-for-rent gig was over. I had bought a $500 home in the tax auction but it had no windows, electricity, plumbing, or heat and it was still winter. I had not signed a lease since my divorce and, after moving twelve times in three and a half years, I seemed to know less about where I belonged than where I didn’t.
These frequent moves gave me a strong sense of respect for the idea of “home” so I think that’s why I was so stunned when I met Mr. Ben Jaros in front of his Hamtramck house that he proudly told me had never moved from. I asked if I could take his picture and he agreed. I immediately decided this picture would be the olive branch in our friendship. I planned to offer the photo as a gift and take him out to Coney Island to hear his stories over a greasy breakfast. I wanted to know what he had lived through and, even more than that, I wanted to know what it was like to feel satisfied with that you already had.
My intentions were good but I didn’t exactly prioritize this little project. Nine months passed until I finally printed the photo, found a little frame for it, isolated a time in my schedule and summoned up the nerve to drop by this little home in Hamtramck. Nobody home. On my next visit, I saw a neighbor walking his big goldendoodle down the sidewalk and learned that the old man had done what took most people less time to do: he died.
I went home feeling disappointed and inexplicably sad about my failure to anticipate this inevitable event. It seemed to matter that I’d never have the chance to hear those stories. Continue reading
Not for Sale
Originally published by Metro Times
At the time of this writing, Detroit is in the midst of yet another round of the staged cage-fight that is the tax foreclosure auction. In many ways this feels like an individual fight — one home at a time fighting to mitigate the harshest consequences such as eviction, homelessness, and permanent property damage. Yet this issue affects the city as a whole, and it’s important that we do not become desensitized to the routine social violence that it represents. The truth is that Detroit is for sale by our own local government, and it is time to challenge the convenient notions that help us fall asleep at night.
In its barest terms, here is how the tax foreclosure process functions in Detroit:
When you own a home, you have to pay taxes. Every year, the city of Detroit assesses the property value and issues two tax bills accordingly. Property taxes help pay for infrastructure, libraries, the zoo, schools, garbage pickup, and so on. If the city taxes are not paid, the debt gets passed on to the Wayne County Treasurer, which acts as a collections agency, tacking on 18 percent interest per each year if the taxes go unpaid. After three years, state law requires that the Wayne County Treasurer foreclose on the property and put it up for sale in an auction, where it is sold to the highest bidder.
Under this system, one out of every three Detroit properties has been put up for auction by the Wayne County Treasurer since 2002.
Understandably, the consequences of such massive forced turnover in property ownership are severe. The system provides a harsh penalty for violating the social contract: pay your taxes or lose your house. However, it fails to address the underlying reasons for tax delinquency or adequately recoup lost revenue, and leads to deep and enduring consequences that devastate the city as a whole.
Myth 1: The system is fair Continue reading
Outside my office window-
a flat patch of land
where a home once stood
no shadow, fresh dirt,
I cant remember it, exactly.
Outside my office window-
two police cars
lights flashing, sirens off
black tarp, solid form
still body-shaped, but still.
Outside my office window-
a big semi truck
from the deconstruction site
that rolled over that woman-
with blind spots
now she’s gone,-
but not buried yet.
I can still see her form there
right where I biked to work last Friday
singing loud enough to hear-
if you rolled your windows down-
riding fast enough to see-
if you checked your mirrors-
but soft enough to fall-
if you won’t, or don’t-
and small enough to be forgotten,
once they lay that pavement down.
The moment is…
a kiss and not a word,
a what and not a why,
you without your Story,
The moment is
the drop of water on your tongue as you dive to the sea- you in the ocean, the ocean in you;
is a flash rainstorm percussing off a dozen rooftops- straining your ears to the impossible task of isolating a single sound;
is you in your car freeing the key from the ignition before you open the door- safe between the speed of the drive and the softness of your unshielded body in the open air;
is the space between waking and sleeping before you have said you first words of the day, or scheduled your first tasks, or woven your first fables- when your fading dreams still hover over you in wisps of color and light;
is the experience of connection with another expression of Life, or to a unbodied element of god’s infrastructure;
is a place not rooted in geography,
that follows wherever you go;
is time that is free from time,
that disappears as soon as you name it;
The moment is
Is a dance and not a worry
Is a breath and not sigh
Is a kiss and not a story
Is a kiss and not a sorry
Is a kiss and not a word.
At the event when I couldn’t help but stand up and talk too much,
I opened myself up to judgment in order to speak the burning necessity that was bubbling up my throat, determined to be shared.
Taking my seat for the forth or fifth last time, a woman two rows back lifted her head and her hand to get my attention. “Hey”, she said. “We need to talk”, she said. “We’ve met before”, she said. Continue reading
I climbed the mountain not to reach the top, but to cross over,
marking each morning with a new little bracelet on my wrist,
with colors of ascending frequency to note the mounting chakras,
simulating an elevated state in the thinning air.
I love me, I want to be me…. but not this way.
This me can’t be alone with herself, this me is flipping through her hair, her phone, a box of cookies to avoid that awkward small-talk with the ignored inner self.
I didn’t listen to her, but I did dress her up, one braided bangle at a time,
with all the attributes of a happy soul,
if not a body to put them in.
Wasn’t it one year ago the stranger gave me that kite?
A symbol of my freedom, she said.
But she didn’t give me the wind, or the way.
And the girl I was rose with the sun in the place where the horizon flexed acute,
lifted her childish pennant and begged the coldest winds of Africa to do for her what that year had not.
And when the flag had failed her, she replaced it with another sorry charm.
From a man to a mountain- the talisman shifts shape
but is always rooted in the same hope: change me, heal me, make me whole.
They have all failed and they always will
unless or until the hope can become the desire to be me, even as I already am
clutching a soggy bracelet of sincere hopes faded in chlorine and concessions.
I don’t feel like swimming any more.
Maybe I want to write-
first draft, fuck it-
and to go nowhere that I am not already.
[Originally published by ModelD. All photos depict homes that were occupied when they were acquired by Detroit Land Bank Authority but are now vacant.]
Detroit’s greatest paradox is its abundance of space and its scarcity of quality housing.
The massive stock of single family homes once sustained double the current population. Yet each year, more Detroit homeowners become renters, squatters or altogether homeless. The problem is complex but the solutions do not have to be: what is needed is an immediate, scalable solution that will create stability and an upward trajectory for people, property, and the city at large.
It’s time for Detroit to reinvent urban homesteading by selling homes to their current residents. Continue reading
Yesterday I took a trip to my small local grocery store and got a call from my best friend about her amazing time at the Women’s march in DC. She was giddy with excitement and we shared about our hopes and ideas and experiences participating in the actions of the day. As I left the store, a man who was checking out looked up at me and said “You’re so cute, so beautiful, what’s your name?” I looked at him but made no reaction and continued my phone call. He followed me out of the store and repeated the same line. I turned and said “I’m on the phone” and he said- loudly- “Oh, she’s too loud though, that’s too bad.” I was livid. I was almost to my car at that point but I turned back and approached him and said loudly: “You are incredibly rude. You are being extremely offensive.” His provocation had worked in getting me to talk to him so he went back to trying to be charming “You are so beautiful, so cute, what’s your name?” I repeated that he was being offensive and he said “No I’m not! I’m not offensive.” to which I shouted “It’s offensive if I’m offended!” Continue reading
Above the land, exposed and hard
they’re aching just for touch.
They chase a thousand beaded dreams
but never have enough.
When aching grows, it overflows-
a sharp and biting cuss,
In our eyes, their reflection,
so, they tried to bury us
Inverted dome, we made it home-
a womb beneath the crust.
We bore so deep, in waking sleep,
like seeds with waterlust.
And when the river didn’t sate
We dug still lower wells,
unbudded branches lay in wait-
those fallow patient cells.
From depth restrained, and dark contained-
no count of nights gone by-
until that time, again we rise
roots first, and then the sky.
This poem is written as a message of solidarity from Detroit to Standing Rock, with particular recognition for the Pueblo Camp who taught me the significance of building shelter underground in the womb of the earth.
“The battle has just begun. I will stand to protect the water, the land. I am asking each of you to come stand with us.” -LaDonna Brave Bull Allard
what it was like
I came to Standing Rock in answer to this call. I wanted to lend my energy to the beautiful movement that is being borne out of the glaring act of violence which is the Dakota Access Pipeline. I wanted to learn from those who were standing up to the environmental status quo. I wanted to spend my Thanksgiving in honor of native people rather than over a full plate of willful avoidance back home. The trip was less than a week, with two full days’ driving time, and yet it was a transformative experience. I have the tendency to romanticize and I don’t want to create the idea that it was some sort of fairy tale but in so many ways the place and the movement that is Standing Rock is entirely beautiful. The people, the attitude of work and service, the prayers, the songs, the hope, the solidarity, the reverence to the natural elements- it was all beautiful. I and many others came by choice but, at its heart, this movement is an obligatory act of self-preservation for the Dakota/Lacota/Natoka people. The camp and the movement that drives it is borne out of the very real threat that is the Dakota Access Pipeline. What follows are my observations from my short time at Oceti Sakowin camp. Continue reading