The Hidden Beauty of Warren, Michigan

If you have a map, eat it.
The old man wedging curb-dirt under his nails
will give you directions for getting lost.
Getting off the grid involves talking in tongues
with other tongues. Follow the sidewalks
up to front doors and offer coupons
for eternal life. Faith involves
expiration dates and post-dated checks.
Take two stray dogs and call me in the morning.
I will not answer. I will be adjusting
the antenna on my personal savior. 


 Do not fear that large square cinder block building
into which we disappear. We call it
the fact-tree. Make sure you have
Hearing Protection, Eye Protection,
Sammich Protection, Automatic Flush Protection,
Steel Toe Protection, Skin Protection –
scrub away your life or hope for a buyout.
Or a callback, depending. Echo Protection.
Obscene-Gesture Protection.
Tattoo Protection. Snow-Job protection.
Ass-kicking? You’re on your own.
Smoking is good for you.
Jesus got stitches and is back
welding axle housings. C’mon,
welcome him back,
give him a man-hug. 


Chrysler Star: five thin points
of the splayed Jesus, the legs-spread
Jesus, the pagan Jesus itching
to get a word in edgewise
before someone else buys the company
just to turn it all into scrap metal
or a theme park for those nostalgic
for benefits and decent wages. 


Okay, I’ve led you around blind-
folded long enough. The beauty
of Warren, Michigan, lies under
the raised sidewalk square tilted
by underground shifting. Lift it up.
It’s a door to Upsidedownville.
Someone will offer you a beer. Take it.
Someone will offer you a lawn chair
a Cuban cigar from Canada
and a million dollars. Ask them
about the weather. Ask them
working hard, or hardly working?


It’s time to take down one seasonal
display and put up another. And catch
that punk who egged your house on Devil’s Night.
It’s your turn to be the Avenging Angel
of All Saints’ Day and stone the villagers
for forgetting all the lies they’d memorized.
Take off your Upward Mobility mascot costume.
Take all your pennies to the bank.
Forget your pin number.
Stick a pin it in. Pull out the pin.
Ho ho ho Halloween bunny! 


We can be holy when called upon.
Holier than thou and thou’s monkey’s uncle
and thou’s you-and-what-army.
Once this guy took out his snowblower
and cleared everyone’s sidewalk on the street.
He turned the corner, and we never saw him again
until he emerged on a new stamp
when the rates went up again. 


I almost forgot the ode to lawn fertilizer.
It goes something like this:
poison is good for me
poison will set me free
poison will reduce irony and age spots
God bless poison and all its many useless antidotes
God bless lurid artificial green. 

Nothing vague about it. Benefits visible.
Drawbacks slow-moving and inevitable
and almost as good as the mirages
of overtime and COL adjustments
and spinal adjustments and bitter
pills claiming good intentions.


The Bible contradicts itself,
which is the best truth imaginable.
The Unwanted Pregnancy
of religious texts. Shotgun
conversions and deathbed blasphemies.
The one Good Christian has abandoned
the Candy Store for the 2-for-1 special
at the One-Stop Brothel next to the Tire Store,
the Shocks and Struts Store. 


This won’t hurt. It’ll just
kill you. On this church
I shall build my rock.
Upsidedownville is conducting
a recount, demanding the beer
and the chair, offering only
the Elusive Smirk in exchange.
We’d all be sitting here naked
if it wasn’t so damn cold. 

Maybe it’s three stray dogs
and call me a motherfucker. 


Take a deep breath and count
to ten. Subtract the number
of years to retirement minus
the big layoff around the corner
and add your blood pressure and cholesterol.
If you have a will, eat it.
Tell the old man collecting curb dirt
you’ll see him in hell.
Tell him to keep an eye on your family
while you’re gone. The good eye,
not that other one. Scatter
your spare change to the wind
just to get a laugh from the neighbors
while the eight-year-old boy
hired specially for the occasion
gathers the coins, then shoots you
in the back so you free-fall directly
into the darkness beneath the sidewalk square
and it closes above you like a coffin,
the old man smoothening out the new cement
so we can carve in the initials of the living
in the futile gesture of permanence
passed down by our fathers that, with a dollar,
might get us a cup of coffee
while we wait our turn
to name our poison.

Jim Daniels’s new book, Birth Marks, was published by BOA Editions in 2013. Other recent books include Trigger Man: More Tales of the Motor City (fiction), Having a Little Talk with Capital P Poetry, and All of the Above, all published in 2011. His poem “Factory Love” is displayed on the roof of a race car. A native of Detroit, Daniels teaches at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.