MARGE PIERCY – Made in Detroit


Made in Detroit

Knopf, 2015. $27.95

Poetry is rarely celebrated for its bluntness, but Marge Piercy’s obsessions over the socioeconomic destruction of her childhood Detroit speak directly to an audience not of other poets, but of working-class citizens. The language is direct and clear, as Piercy catalogues the missing stores and businesses, schools and playgrounds, that have been wiped off the face of the earth. In Detroit’s ravaged bankruptcy, so also have disappeared her parents:

“Our neverending entanglement”

How long do we mourn our mothers?

Unfinished business. Unspoken

sentences that burn on the night.

Tangled thickets of stymied

love. Steps worn smooth

with scrubbing, never to be

climbed again.

We mourn our mothers till

we ourselves are out

of breath. That umbilical

cord between us, never

really cut no matter how

hard we tried in adolescence

to sever it…. [pg 27]

Piercy is now the caretaker of her generational memories, and, with tribal honor, owns the land by being buried in it:

“Ashes in their places”

I put my mother into the garden.

I put my father into the sea…. [pg. 29]

This forthright approach leads directly to political satire. Within “The poor are no longer with us,” for example, Piercy addresses significant political hypocrisies that few liberals could disagree with:

No one’s poor any longer. Listen

to politicians. They mourn the middle

class which is shrinking as we watch

in the mirror. The poor have been

discarded already into the oblivion

pail of not to be spoken words.

They are as lepers were treated once,

to be shipped off to fortified islands

of the mind to rot quietly. If

poverty is a disease, quarantine

its victims. If it’s a social problem

imprison them behind high walls.

Give them schools that teach

them how stupid they are. But

always pretend they don’t exist

because they don’t buy enough,

spend enough, give you bribes

or contributions. No ads target

their feeble credit. They are not

real people like corporations. [pp. 63—64]

At her most comic, she gives expression to the limitations that define the religious right in this country:

“Ethics for Republicans”

An embryo is precious;

a woman is a vessel.

A fertilized egg is a person;

a woman is indentured to it.

An embryo is sacred until birth.

After that, he/she is on their own.

Abortion is murder. Rape,

incest are means to an end:

that precious fertilized egg

housed in an expendable body.

Let us make babies and babies

and babies; children are something

else, probably future criminals,

probably welfare cheats whose

education hikes taxes, You

can freely dispose of them. [pg. 69]

The whole first half of this collection of poems is overwhelming in Piercy’s contempt for the destruction of middle-Western values and cities, but fortunately the last portion of this book centers on her Jewish faith and its familial values. In “N’eilah,” Piercy writes, “I kneel before what I love/imploring that it may live….//We must/forgive our failed promises–/their broken glass in our hands” [pg.100]. This religious base provides the ethical grounding for Piercy’s contempt toward contemporary American political indifference. Our current social losses occur in relation to much greater losses from the Jewish past. In “How she learned,” Piercy reminds us,

…Anna had a sister.

A sister vanished into smoke.

A sister torn from her mother,

murdered, burnt. Anna sat numb.

She was the replacement for

a girl whose name her mother

could not speak…. [pg.104]

No generation is free of the heritage of violence, even though that collective forgetfulness – the desire to move beyond race, for example – defines American exceptionalism as that need to be innocent by rejecting any lineage that connects to the old country from which immigrants have fled to reinvent themselves.

Purchase a copy of “Made In Detroit” here.

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