Did you miss our latest spectacle? And the outcome—urban renewal so bright it’s visible from satellites buzzing overhead? Look now, toward construction ticking like clockwork at every downtown corner, cranes hanging like kites at our choppy skyline. See the buildings still standing. The earthmovers shoveling remnants of those that tumbled to the pavement. See Woodward Avenue gutted like a silver trout as commuter trains aim from suburbs to city for the first time ever, while church choirs in every nook and crook of Motown proclaim Hallelujah to packed houses and God in His heaven!
Come this way. We won’t sting or pinch, won’t give you a second glance—these days most of us are wary as turtles, heads crammed in shells. Weary as sloths beneath the weight of everyone’s attention, the any moment now when it swings like a trapeze to the next calamity. So by the time you read this, we’ll already be forgotten.
I promise—my own neighbors barely shoot their guns anymore, and then only on holidays, only into the sky—which clearly had it coming! We’re grounded as century oaks. Check our brick foundations, how firmly they’re jammed into the dirt. We’ve stood through decades of hail and sleet and funnel clouds all. We’re so airtight our basements sometimes burst into flame, even as fire hydrants trickle 24/7.
Look how ivy climbs arm over fist across our roofs. How every spring the day lilies shove headfirst through our crusty soil. See how high our roses grow in summer, how the squirrels eat the pumpkins every Halloween and nobody begrudges them. How Christmas lights go on twinkling all through the long winter and into the thaw—it’s our civic duty and we take it damn seriously. And down the street in neon red, Jesus Saves! shines all year long from someone’s bedroom window.
So what if a little litter loiters at our crosswalks, the band flyers riding the wind, some crinkled Kit Kat wrappers because who doesn’t love those? The empty MD 20/20 bottle rolling like a puppy into a lonely pothole that’s only swallowed one VW Bus. That one time. We know of.
So breathe easy, my dears. These days nature mostly keeps to itself. And what doesn’t, we work around because we’re slippery that way. No one bothers when packs of unloved, spotty mutts come shuffling and snuffling at our garbage bins. And if you ignore the wild turkey lording over the golf course behind my house, she’ll leave you be.
Where I live, raccoons and possums only go about their errands at dusk. Disregard reports of fox, of gray wolves near the river, their midnight songs blending with sirens, so we only moan along in our deepest dreams.
It’s true—somewhere across the city, families of hawks circle the clouds, plummeting to Earth like glossy missiles to pick off unlucky bunnies or rats—quicksnap and it’s done. Feral cats squat like hobos in abandoned storefronts, pheasants disappear into grasslands where blocks of houses are right this moment sinking beneath the press of rain. But you’ll never see this. No one comes here anymore. Not like my good neighborhood.So pack your girls, point your car toward the incinerator, and drive.
Never mind the factory fire at our northern border, how it’s smoldered three days now—only watch your direction in the smoke plume! Look for landmarks—Praise Him Beauty Salon here, The Booby Trap over there, a hundred little pot shops all in a row, their ubiquitous green crosses sprung like saplings from naked ground. Hand-painted signs declaring Club Medz and House of Dank and Puff Detroit so we’re all kind of embarrassed. Shut your windows to avoid the contact high, and just keep driving.
Corner of 8 Mile and Woodward, pass Face-Tattoo-Guy looking rougher by the week. Beside the bridge, see Old-Lady-With-Snaggletooth who keeps an eye on Toothless-Guy. There’s Young-Guy spelled by Other-Young-Guy, their cluttered patch of landscape like a refugee camp. There’s Crazy-Guy who’ll point at you and laugh—just fair warning. Give him a buck, or not. Offer a nod. Or not.
It changes nothing. But come anyhow. I’m serving brownies from scratch, and chamomile tea with honey from city bees. You’re so close, your mouth waters.
Or not. Don’t fret, we’ll be fine either way. My daughter will shrug like teenagers do. Whatever, she’ll say. She’s used to it by now. And you’re nestled like shiny pennies in your houses, your green-as-a-dollar-bill lawns edged in perfect squares, cars snug as ponies in every garage. All of which makes me want to tell you something important, something about our stars and how they’re misaligned.
Or that a butterfly flap flap flapped its wings fifty-some years ago and the weather shifted, the storm rose between us—then faded from Technicolor to gray, to ghost.
But that doesn’t matter. We are here. Come if you like.
The Spy is pleased to reprint Ms. Bernstein-Machlay’s creative nonfiction from The Delmarva Review, Volume 9. The literary journal is published by the Eastern Shore Writers Association with support from private contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. For information, visit: www.delmarvareview.com.
Laura Bernstein-Machlay is an instructor of literature and creative writing at The College for Creative Studies, in Detroit, Michigan. Her poems and creative nonfiction have appeared in numerous journals including Michigan Quarterly Review, New Madrid, Concho River Review, Oyez, Redivider, and upstreet. She has work forthcoming in The American Scholar, Soundings East, and Moon City Review.