“When I went back, I found I was the enemy”
Philip Levine: Introducing his poem, They Feed They Lion
Not love but celebration
sexual and luscious
our tongues winding round
our wet bodies
yours black mine white
our smiles bright
that August afternoon
across the bridge in Windsor
before the night Detroit went down.
One month before
my friend Felton boarded up his bottle club on South Michigan Avenue
a club where we’d spent many a Friday night
cracking set-ups for the crowd and downing Johnny Black
while DJ’s spun 78’s and 45’s from the fifties.
Phil Levine found he was the enemy and so had I.
No more dropping by McKee’s to hear Horace
Laverne’s where Howlin Wolf held court
The Stage, Robert’s, The Crown
without an escort.
No more goofing off on 63rd drinking outta paper bags and eating Bar-B-Q
at 4 AM with friends
No more just walking around Marquette park with Connie on my arm
No more cruising the old neighborhood
As if in sepia and in slow motion:
5’10” Paxton Lumpkin dribbles past the entire Dunbar High defense
for a light-fingered lay-up;
Big Ben Smith, 6’5 and 250 if he’s a pound, lumbers-jabs-lurches lunges
10 yards for the score against South Shore;
Antoinette George whose skin was only slightly darker then mine and got burnt
leaves for PreMed at Johns Hopkins
and never looks back
Connie moved to Canada.
When the fires started on west Madison and west Washington and
west Monroe and west…you could read your daily paper by the
light from a million TV’s engulfed in flames from end to end
from end to end and top to bottom
from where we came
to where we went
from Danville and Portsmouth and St Pete and Boone and Newport
uprooted and cut
dissected, severed, split.
I’ve never been back to Windsor and Connie never came home.
I heard she married a Manitoba Lawyer who stole her money and the MGA
she’d treasured since college.
Her sister left Chicago too and lives in San Diego where she teaches Karate
to teenage prostitutes.
The country? Ah, the country.
The country slides in the mist shrouding the end of the century
as divided as ever and as blind.