Between the freeway
               and the gray conning towers
of the ballpark, miles
               of mostly vacant lots, once
a neighborhood of small
               two-storey wooden houses—
dwellings for immigrants
               from Ireland, Germany,
Poland, West Virginia,
               Mexico, Dodge Main.
A little world with only
               three seasons, or so we said—
one to get tired, one to get
               old, one to die.
No one puts in irises,
               and yet before March passes
the hard green blades push
               their way through
where firm lawns once were.
               The trunks of beech and locust
darken, the light new branches
               take the air. You can
smell the sticky sap rising
               in the maples, smell it
even over the wet stink
               of burned houses.
On this block seven houses
               are still here to be counted,
and if you count the shacks
               housing illegal chickens, 
the pens for dogs, the tiny
               pig sty that is half cave...
and if you count them you can
               count the crows’ nest
in the high beech tree
               at the corner, and you can
regard the beech tree itself
               bronzing in mid–morning light
as the mast of the great ship
               sailing us all back
into the 16th century
               or into the present age’s
final discovery. (Better
               perhaps not to speak
of final anything, for
               this place was finally retired
the books thrown away
               when after the town exploded
in ‘67 these houses
               were plundered for whatever
they had. Some burned
               to the ground, some
hung open, doorless, wide-eyed
               until hauled off
by the otherwise unemployable
               citizens of the county
to make room for the triumphant
               return of Mad Anthony Wayne
Pere Marquette, Cadillac,
               the badger, the wolverine,
the meadow lark, the benign
               long toothed bi-ped
with nothing on his mind.)
               During baseball season
the neighborhood’s thriving
               business for anyone 
who can make change
               and a cardboard sign
that reads “Parking $3.”
               He can stand on the curb
directing traffic and pretend
               the land is his.
On mid-August nights I come
               out here after ten
and watch the light rise
               from the great gray bowl
of the stadium, watch it catch
               a scrap of candy wrapper
in the wind, a soiled napkin
               or a peanut shell and turn
it into fire or the sound
               of fire as the whole world
holds its breath. In the last
               inning 50,000
pulling at the night
               air for one last scream.
They can drain the stars
               of light. No one
owns any of this.
               It’s condemned,
but the money for the execution
               ran out three years ago.
Money is a dream, part
               of the lost past.
Joe Louis grew up a few miles
               east of here and attended
Bishop Elementary.
               No one recalls
a slender, dumbfounded
               boy afraid of his fifth grade
home room teacher. Tom Jefferson
               —“Same name as the other one”—
remembers Joe at seventeen
               all one sweltering summer 
unloading bales of rags
               effortlessly from the trucks
that parked in the alley
               behind Wolfe Sanitary Wiping Cloth.
“Joe was beautiful,”
               is all he says, and we two
go dumb replaying Joe’s
               glide across the ring
as he corners Schmeling
               and prepares to win
World War II. Like Joe
               Tom was up from Alabama,
like Joe he didn’t talk
               much then, and even now
he passes a hand across
               his mouth when speaking
of the $5 day that lured
               his father from the cotton fields
and a one room shack the old folks
               talked about until
they went home first
               to visit and later to die.