The Unemployed Automobile Workers of Detroit
Prepare To Spend Christmas Standing In Line
It’s December, nearly Christmas. Nineteen Eighty–three.
The Detroit River is choked with ice. Woodward Avenue
is empty of cars and flowing with a foot of snow.
The snow drifts under doors and into the taverns
along Highland Park. This is the spine of Detroit
where the snow turns grey as it nears the factories.
It’s nine a.m. as I enter a bar near Grand Boulevard,
the jukebox is dark, a woman drinking leans into it.
The bar is long and empty, the bartender hands me a glass,
saying he’s been waiting months for GM to call him back.
A black man comes in to cash his unemployment check.
He’s at my right elbow, looking down, signing his name.
He has four children to feed, today. He turns to ask
if I want to shoot pool. We flip a coin
to see who breaks. He wins. I was born around here,
forty–two years ago today, just before Pearl Harbor.
The last of five children from parents who never sang,
they broke their lives over each other until they ended.
The snow never stoops looking for men in Detroit.
It spreads out through the suburbs and small towns
to the farms up north looking for men, closing roads.
It hires them in the spring and summer delivers them
to a landlord, a woman, their children. Fall is whiskey.
The oil drains to the bottom of the machinery. Gears lock.
This is December. I lift up a glass. So does he. Here is
to the five horses grazing at the end of your wrist.