the strait is not straight

In a paper he delivered at the AMBS Rooted & Grounded Conference last month, the Ecumenical Theological Seminary professor Jim Perkinson reflected on the deep meaning found in the renaming of his beloved Detroit River Watershed in 1701:

“Wawiatonong” the Ojibwa say, the place “where the river goes around,” a name conveying at once respect and locale and abundance. I, however, write from a Detroit become the epitome of thirst and lack. Three centuries ago, the Jesuits came around the bend and re-named the Ojibwa curve a “strait,” “de-troit,” the link between Lakes Erie and Huron, shifting its orientation toward the priority of trade and commodities, a mere conduit in the circuits of global capital, and now the country’s most heavily trafficked “commercial” border.

This is our second post on Watershed Discipleship in a series of Fridays leading up to Advent. This spoken word poem from J-Perk was recently published in Critical Moment, a Detroit-based “publication that believes media is most effective when it takes you off guard:”

here where the river goes round
a new thing, wages impounded
grounded, compounded into an
interest rate take and a fate of
being crated into bottles bound
for gated communities alone
entire blocks triple-rated
yielding swap payments to banking mavens
water department enslavement
to emergency manager craving
for private investor raving over
public assets put up for cheap
like an ilitch-clan reaping of
land for a single dollar hand-over
of the prime sands of a downtown plan
for a new home stand for red-winged ice fans
clamoring for more beer on less borrowing
more wallowing in fear of whatever percentage of dark-skinned captives
to white leering jeers remain
inside the boulevard enclave
core city assets re-tooled as the corset
of a middle class dream of an urban re-set
returning the streets to cleats of the kids
of soccer-moms beating a retreat to the door
of city hall if the mall or charter
begins to find its pallor hallowed
with color and rhyme
calling out the continuing crime of theft
of a rind of people cleft from the
mother home of afrique, bereft of hope
and repeatedly zoned into profit-yielding
schemes cloned from the middle passage model
of labor granting working-fodder
for a nation built on the slaughter
of its indigenous daughters and sons
now the run is on the stock of water
a soldered meter marking the soft spot
where a key-turn locks the door on
the spoor of tubman and martin
landing children of the poor inside the door
of social service kings binging on receipts
from the state to keep
their own checks rolling
families wrecked or hiding
elders crying in order to have fluid to wash
patients dying, literally,
without a changed dressing
toilets unflushed gushing with stench
and the true word on the decision:
this is ethnic-cleansing by way of derision
collusion between a future city vision
a private investor coalition with
an emergency manager resolution to
serve a governor his final solution
and a koch-brothers revolution
in reverse
as a dying messiah on an instrument of torture
and cursing once rehearsed
i thirst.
will you give me a drink?

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