“Here in a State of Tectonic Tension,” A Poem by Lawrence Joseph
The Decay Apparently / Has Frightened the Smart Money Away
Tonight, join Lawrence Joseph for a reading and conversation with Joyce Carol Oates to launch Tales of Two Americas at Barnes & Noble at 2289 Broadway (82nd Street), 7:30 PM.
Here in a State of Tectonic Tension
Its geography similar to Istanbul’s—
read for Lake Huron, the Black Sea,
for the St. Clair River, the Bosporus,
for Lake St. Clair, the Sea of Marmara,
for the Detroit River, the Dardanelles,
and for Lake Erie, the Mediterranean—
a natural place for Ford and Olds to open factories,
strategically near the Pittsburgh steel mills, Akron
rubber plants, Mesabi iron ore range.
Here, in ultimate concentration, is industrial
America—Chrysler, Continental, Budd, Hudson,
in an area not much larger than two square miles,
ninety to one hundred thousand employed on two
or three shifts—the capital of a new planet, the one
on wheels. Whacked-out, stamped-out connecting rods,
the steady blown-out flare of furnaces, hammer-die
brought down on anvil-die, oil-holes drilled and oil-
grooves cut—Fordism was Gramsci’s word to describe
mass assembly based on systems of specialized
machines operating within organizational domains
of vertically integrated conglomerates fed by small
and medium-sized units coordinated by methods
of marketing exchange—an epical, systemic violence.
Anonymous’s eyes pop as he laughs and says
“dragged the old coon from his car, kicked him till
he shit himself, and then we set the auto on fire—God
Jesus was it a show!” How many summers after that
the Motor City burned to the ground? Soon several new
regimes of redistributed wealth would alter the way
capitalism proceeded, a squad of police breaks down
the union hall door, swinging crow-bars and tossing canisters
of Mace—around the time the long depression started.
There are stalks of weeds in sunlit snow, an abandoned
house surrounded by acres of snow. The decay apparently
has frightened the smart money away. Metaphorically
underwater—more is owed on properties in Detroit than
they’re worth. His hands and feet were bound, found
beaten in a field near Post and Fort, he’s in intensive
care at Receiving Hospital, says Sergeant Ollie L. Atkins,
investigators yet to ask him who he is or what happened.
Notice that on the high school baseball diamond is a herd
of goats—attended by whom? Notice, a few doors down,
the stucco plastered house painted baby blue, walking in front
in a red stocking cap, green specks on his shoes—what
do you think he is thinking? Drive Woodward to Seven Mile,
west on Seven Mile to Hamilton, Hamilton south to the Lodge
Freeway, then the Lodge downtown, and measure the chaos,
drive Mack Avenue east to Seminole, south on Seminole
to Charlevoix, then west on Charlevoix to Van Dyke, south
on Van Dyke to East Jefferson, and remember what isn’t.
Ionic pillars carved with grapes and vine leaves no longer
there, deserted houses of gigantic bulk, in which it seems
incredible anyone could ever have lived, no longer there,
Dodge Main’s nocturnal gold vapors no longer there,
the constellated bright lights reflected on the Rouge River’s
surface no longer there. Narco-capital techno-compressed,
gone viral, spread into a state of tectonic tension and freaky
abstractions—it’ll scare the fuck out of you, is what it’ll do,
anthropomorphically scaled down by the ferocity of its own
obsolescence. Which of an infinity of reasons explain it?
Which of an infinity of conflagrations implode its destruction?
From Tales of Two Americas: Stories of Inequality in a Divided Nation, edited by John Freeman. Used with permission of Penguin Books. Copyright © 2017 by Lawrence Joseph.