II:Jsi.

de Invisible ~alls

by

Joanne

- - I

II~side Invisible ~alls

by

Joanne

Sel~zer

for the City of the Strait

Acknowledgements: Some of the poems in this book appeared in the following publications: The Browns Mill Review, "Playing Ball"; Glassworks, "The Memoirs of a Glassman's Daughter"; The Mickle Street Review, "Inside Invisible. Walls"; New Voices, "My Childhood Enemy Stanley Gaveme"; Packrat, "In Memory of Minton China"; Waterways, "Bus Ride," "The Girl on the Boat to Boblo," "My Father's Grave," "Of the Color Yellow," "Playing House with Cousin Alvin," "Rain."

Copyright 1989 Bard Press ISBN # 0-934776-08-3 price $3.50

typeset on an Atari 1040ST using PageStrearn Software

Inside Invisible Walls

1

sometimes i walk. again along those city streets

i say each name aloud as i cross at the intersection

glendale leslie fullerton sturtevant

i went too far home is fullerton corner of lawton

big brick building ap't B-6 overlooking the alley

garbage in the alley rats badmen danger

every block of my city is cut in half by an alley

i ani walking home from mccullogh elementary school

mccullogh ghetto elementary school

but in those days i didn't know i lived in the ghetto

to me it was the old neighborhood where i was born

where i belonged the dexter-davison section of the

jewish part of my city

15 minutes by bus + 1/2 hour walk from virginia park

2

i remember virginia park placename for a street

that ended at a gateway

a visitor from the outside would pass through an arch to penetrate the walls of a garden courtyard

stately elms cast shadows on the road & walkways of the boulevard that led to the core of the ghetto

my grandma & grandpa owned a big white 2-family house on virginia park near the business corner at 12th st

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3

& i remember 12th st asphalt mainline of the old

neighborhood

divided by streetcar tracks & the babble of tongues

yiddish english russian german

but hebrew was sacred for dialogue with the Lord skull-capped old men like grandpa wore long white

beards .

& prayed twice a day in storefront synagogues

the 12th st butcher shop was filled with sawdust

chicken feathers & pushy women

my tum next my next she budged ahead in line

bloodstains smeared across the butcher's white apron like big block letters stamped on the meat

at the next comer i crossed the streetcar tracks to avoid the stench from the fresh fish market

& the sight of dying carp that attempted to swim

within glass walls of captivity

a customer in the market points a finger to the tank

i'Il take that fat carp there bone please & fillet

the fishmonger leers at the victim who squirms in a

slimy net

murder on 12th st it must have been the purple gang

protecting jewish business from the bite of the mafia our dapper hoodlums looked like doctors with bulging

black satchels

as they made the morning rounds along 12th st after the weekly shakedown the gang met for lunch

compliments of the boss atboeskys restaurant

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my friend rosella's uncle owned the delicatessen that served the best hot corned beef in the city

my city detroit could have been any american city

chicago new york cincinnati boston

each had its own boeskys restaurant deep in the heart of the old neigh borhcod

near where 12th st crossed at virginia park

4

i think everyone has heard of 12th st & virginia park the detroit riots the riots of '67 erupted there started in a tavern at the bottom of the ghetto

a fistfight spread into fire ghetto buildings went

up in smoke

stores were looted & slums exploded the riots

lasted until the troopers came

the faces inside my ghetto were different by , 67 soul food was sold in the kosher butcher shop

the synagogue wore the sign of islam & an empty fish tank wore a sign For Rent

the elms along virginia park were bare from dutch disease

but. grandma & grandpa were shaded by willows out at clover hill cemetery

boeskys restaurant had moved to southfield

5

yet nothing really changes within my city of memory invisible walls are frreproof & i sometimes see a

child

walking home from mccullogh ghetto elementary school

past broken windows empty stores burnt-out houses

& the child repeats the names imprinted on city signs

glendale leslie fullerton sturtevant

go back kid you went too far daydreaming right

past your building

home is a 2nd floor apartment overlooking an alley

2740 fullerton i'li never forget your number

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In Memory of Minton China

withered old ladies

under hats with purple flowers sipped tea from china cups

in small formal parlors

while a buxom matron stood proud in the wind

next to waving white bedsheets stretched across the property line

young girls were free to unfasten their hair or spill tea on the table

if they stayed in the kitchen

but the grandmother clock

chimed away each quarter-hour when wound by a grandfather key hidden beneath an old mattress

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Goiter

a lump forms in my throat when i remember Michigan. faroff land of my childhood

flat fields extending to the limits of vision (flat flat flat fields)

flat soil lacking iodine needed for proper nutrition (flat flat flat soil)

the flat letter "a" that can never be untwanged (flat flat flat accent)

how to sound out a midwesterner resettled in a different region?

a few sentences reveal the flatness

Mary was merry.

Merry Mary married. Merry Mary married Harry. Merry Mary married Harry on a hoary night.

enough. enough! you've guessed my secret "r's" may change. "a's" endure forever

Michigan is caught in my throat like an oversized thyroid gland

(the land is flat but a goiter bulges)

Archetypes

my Daddy posed like Apollo in the wind

my Daddy borrowed a mustache from Clark Gable & also pop-out ears

when Daddy was an adventurer 15 years old he ran away to Windsor Canada

lied about his age

enlisted in the Jewish Legion served as a soldier in Palestine

my Daddy conquered the rocks of pharaohs under the hot Saharan sun

a bareheaded boy in British uniform stood at the face of the Sphinx

of course my Daddy came home to marry Detroit & lost his job in the great depression

my Daddy loved to bounce & kiss & cuddle me even though he was scolded

put her down Sam don't spoil the baby

& I was in the automobile spinning & turning upside down & a broken steering wheel & my Daddy's head broken & spinning

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my Daddy died before my 10th month birthday the head of a human was carved in stone but the lion's body sprouted flowers

no one knows the answer to Daddy's sad riddle about the ages of man

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1929

Admiral Byrd's first Antarctica visit The opening of MOMA

The start of the Depression

I am part of the Great Spirit I am the furore in embryo

I am born ugly with fingernail scratches

Herbert Hoover is president

My mother renounces flapperhood My father washes my diapers by hand

At half time between wars Men go blind from bootleg gin

My frilly dresses give me the itch Already I wear a pink bow in my hair I am feminine

Song of Undying Love

My father

sings a love song to my mother while I listen

to her pounding blood which is also mine.

The song is

by Richard Rogers-. don't remember

the name of it~~ couldn't sing it

in tried.

He finishes the song, puts his hand

on her belly.

N one of us know he'll soon be dead.

And the world

will continue singing songs of undying love

no matter how untrue the songs are.

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Bluegrass

You ask me why I write about Kentucky

and I say

in some mysterious way Kentucky

where I've never been is home.

My father spent his boyhood in Kentucky

learning to ride the American dream. He returned to Kentucky

a gallant bachelor

peddling his worthless wares door-to-door

but he would spur his roan horse of an evening

like the Earl of Surrey departing for the wars.

It wasn't a horse that tipped my father to his unready grave

and not the whim of a wanton king: the headsman was the American curse, a tin lizzie gone berserk.

And the dark complaint for the old Kentucky home

in some mysterious way has always been

my song~.

Crossing to Canada

Whichever way we went-by tunnel or by bridge-crossing to Canada

gave me panic attacks.

No one else seemed to choke when the darkness closed in and the air became thick with unbreathable gas.

Noone else thought about the wide, thirsty river

that would gulp any car

that tumbled from the heights.

Irrati on ality? Primordial instinct? Wild imagination? The fear oflife itself?

Yet bridges do fall down

and tunnels have been known to smother or to choke innocent travelers

and a mother may put

a Band-Aid on a cut

but healing a hurt soul takes about one lifetime.

Playing Honse with Cousin Alvin

We hid in the new-dug basement of an unbuilt house until

dusk brought mercy for frantic' parents. Waifs of the city, handholding cousins-like Punch and Judy we finally quit

our magic domicile. Dirt-

stained, sunburnt, hungry, thirsty,

weary from digging to China, we

said we didn't remember why

we hid instead of coming home

(which was partly true but partly

a lie). Scolded, spanked, not Un-

like puppets--comic and yet sad--

we took jeers instead of applause.

Rain

In the seventh year of my bare feet the summer grass smelled sweet.

I danced in the rain for an hour Indian hair hanging wet

until I was caught by spanking arms, patted dry with a towel,

and scolded off to bed.

I cried myself a runny nose, chills, aches, fever,

a deep chest rattle.

The doctor came with his vial of pink housecall pills--

no sulfa drugs

no penicillin

in that seventh year.

A gaunt nurse sat by my side waiting for the crisis.

She wore a crispy uniform, washed my face with soft water never smiling

until I said I was sorry.

She told me not to worry now:

I'd grow to be a big girL

I cried myself a broken sleep

in the seventh year of my bare feet ..

Janet Grenadier

In third grade, in distress

you created a new Detroit River.

What began as a trickle

turned into a torrent

while the rest of the class nudged one another and laughed

and the teacher

pretending nothing had happened continued her discourse

on the inviolable rules of grammar.

Pretty girl with faint freckles, best friend of Marcia Lasky, would I remember you

if you hadn't wet your pants?

JoJo

The tiny zoo train

which chugged and tooted its way from addax. to zebra

was almost as much fun

as the great cat display

or the ape house that stank but featured JoIo, favorite of every city child,

a clever humanoid,

the unofficial Detroit mascot.

The sign said DO NOT FEED THE APES. Given a peanut once for a joke,

1010 ate, shell and all, and choked.

Or did he die

of an obstructed bowel? Was he a chimp or a gorilla?

Half a life span ago

when I saw IoJo at the zoo I thought I saw an ape; recently I was told

that I had witnessed only the outer shell of an ape whose essence was removed on behalf of humankind.

My name is also JnIo.

And I enjoy eating peanuts too.

But I know enough to strip the shell before stuffing a legume

into my system.

As for the question of freedom, a modem woman can hardly tell the reality from the illusion.

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The Girl on the Boat to Boblo

The smile on her face the sweet voice

made all the kids

that rode the boat flock around her

each one teasing

to push her chair which she could do

with her own strong arms but let us take turns because it would

give us pleasure ..

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What was her name? Where is she now? Does she remember that day long ago and that trip to Boblo?

If she should read this pastorale would she think

was Joanne the shy one? and would she grunt little did she know?

o enchanted isle ofBoblo

I have been to you since and before but never such sweet cotton candy and the rides

were never such fun as they were the day I met the girl

and envied the girl who had had polio.

Of the Color Yellow

the only pets

I had as a kid were a canary named Dickey and two

five-and-dime goldfish

Dickey sang

when he was new but turned silent long before he died

the goldfish weresilent

from the beginning and did nothing

till they floated

my mother flushed them down the toilet

My Childhood Enemy Stanley Gaverne

he would bite me torment me

once he dropped me on my head

for revenge

I locked him in

his grandmother's garage

after a couple of hours of yelling

crying

and being

hungry

he broke the lock of the garage door

after that he left me alone

Father Coughlin of Dearborn

At The Shrine of the Little Flowers

he preached the overthrow of the Jews, a cleric, an American Hitler.

Even the Vatican couldn't control his weekly sermon on the radio

which put the Jews in league with the devil.

Bigotry ... diatribe ... ethnic slurs ... he advertised God in his corner .. _

but we Jews, however frightened, knew God can't be restricted to one comer

of a world about to go crazy.

Was he misinformed? Mentally ill? Or was he victim to an idea

that turned into a cancer of the soul?

Playing Ball

I heard a rumor once about a baby who was killed at a city park while its mother ate an ice-cream cone and watched a baseball game, cradling the soon-to-be-dead baby against the warmth of her breast. This happened in the Hitler days, when baseball was hot stuff in Detroit. And the weather that summer was hot enough to fry an egg on the pavement without butter. And Hank Greenberg was having a hot streak, so that no one was. mad anymore about having a Jew on the Tiger team-except those Jews who complained that Greenberg played ball on Saturdays and also on Jewish High Holidays. The day the baby died, a crowd stood in the hot sun to watch a black sandlot team field a team of whites. A white batter wharnmed a line drive through the burnt-butter fingers of the first baseman just as the baby lifted its towhead above the mother's shoulder. Ball collided with tender skull. The mother shrieked, "Jesus, they killed my baby!" White trash in the crowd blamed that black first baseman for allowing the ball to slip by. A bloody fight broke out, mostly because the first baseman was black while the dead baby and its mother were white. There was even some talk of a lynching. But then some wise-guy fielder thought to blame the mother for not shielding the baby with her own milky body. Police appeared on the scene to clobber the crowd with billy clubs. Everyone went home in the end to tune the radio to Jack Benny---except the dead baby and the dead baby's mother.

A West Indian Woman of Color

Her white father of noble descent,

her mother a black slave, Felicia speaks and writes the impeccable French she learned at a convent in Guadeloupe

and once did fancywork like the nuns taught her. But when Florence,

her only daughter,

died while birthing Wilfred, Felicia lost her laugh

and with it the talent

for embroidery.

2 Felicia crouches on the floor

of the back seat of my stepfather's Buick. It's summer

'43, Detroit. The war is going badly. Since the race riot started on Belle Isle bridge, crossing

the border is worse than ever. But Felicia must get back tonight

to Windsor. Because 'of her skin, she gets hassled by black and white and by the two examining sides

at customs. Not black, not white, her working papers not in order, Felicia prays as she crouches

for invisibility.

Two Puppets

Mickey and Minnie. That big red bow she wears between the ears

describes the difference. Otherwise both are the same-v-sweet and small-»the way they were when I was a girl and first learned to love them.

Which did I favor, Minnie or Mickey? I don't remember ever caring

about the gender of my toys.

One was trashed and one fell apart. These mice, the fourth generation, add to the chitter on my desk. Their candid faces laugh at me

as I write that we are born

not once or twice but many times and that a woman and a man through the enslavement of love can hope for immortality.

The Memoirs of a Glassman's Daughter 1

most people think glass is fragile

i know its brutal strength

cutting crushing

shattering the men-

a windstorm was either good or bad

it depended on the business climate

when the telephone rang in the night the glass doctor hurried

to board up a storefront break

pittsburgh plate was number one but benz

gave personal service

2

his jacket pocket always bulged from an accordion-

pleated folding ruler

(the kind that breaks unexpectedly

with the snap of sudden death)

& every time i happen to see

the shiny side of a plateglass truck i look again at my stepfather

cut crushed

shattered from life

most people thought

the glassman was strong he was really very fragile

The Season of Lights

Christmas lay beyond the pale of my ghetto

but 0 those distant lights attracted me

along with angels, tinsel, Santa Clauses,

stockings by the chimney, Scrooge turning jolly. One Christmas Eve

I hung a stocking up, found it empty

in the morning

and was told

every day is Christmas day for Jewish kids.

*

I never had a chance

to light Hanukkah candles at my grandparents' house because the men came first then the boys

then the women

then my big cousin Betty. Once my little cousin Dan acting out of charity offered me his candle

but Grandpa said no ... so I had to grow up

to earn my own light

and I had to grow old

to value candles

that authenticate the past by burning out.

First Cousins Once Removed

I wonder what became of Cousin Red? He's a Rochester relative. I haven't seen him

in over twenty years. Last time

he looked me up, I already had two kids. Proper and formal he sat upon my sofa telling old jokes=Rochester jokes-dike, Why did the chicken cross the street?

That day I almost called him Cousin Gray.

Red is the one who took credit

for saving my life. He boasted of his feat saying I should be grateful,

It was Cousin Red who found me a basket and fastened the basket between the seats of my parents' secondhand Ford.

I was hardly hurt the day my father died. My scar from babyhood is healed now.

Though I felt grateful to Cousin Red for roping a tight cradle

I didn't think that gave him the right when I was an overripe girl of twelve to pull me down on his lap

and hold me so hard I couldn't break away and pinch the white flab of my thighs.

He grabbed me several times that summer.

One day I put up a fight, slapping

the smile off his face. Then I felt sorry that I had shamed my mother's cousin. After all, he saved my life once.

And he was quite obviously drunk

or he would never have handled

his cousin's daughter that way.

When I hit him his face turned red.

BnsRide

it was late afternoon I had been downtown

with my girlfriend Marilyn who was my best friend

in high school

& we had nothing left to say to each other & I felt sick

to my stomach like I often felt

coming home on the bus from shopping

so I tried not to vomit & listened

to the talk of two women both looking tired

& gone to middle age

& the fat one began to cry as she told her troubles

to her friend

I don't know what happened he isn't

the man I married the friend said what a pity

so softly

I could hardly hear

but I wanted to stand up & shout

why don't you stop whining & pull the buzzer

& get off the bus

which finally arrived

at my stop

& I pulled the buzzer & got off

& didn't understand

that my girlfriend Marilyn & I would both become two women

My Father's Grave

I never go there anymore

but every year in May

I order flowers

like another

would send flowers to Valentino

2

My Father's Mother

1 her children brought her back to Detroit

in 1951

thinking her too o'ld too feeble

for Jerusalem

where for twenty years

she shared what she could beg with the Jewish poor

she is buried beside my father in Detroit

but her soul which never left Jerusalem

still picks through the rubble of bombed-out buildings looking for survivors

3

invisible walls in Detroit divide the city

and walls that crumble in Jerusalem

are targets, not shields

making some people ask why walls exist

while others ignore them

Belle Isle Park

The years lose their acridity

when friends who have traveled far come back to the fountains

and the drives through public land.

We saw deer munching garbargelike peaches from a brown paper bag

and I begged my friend to stop his car, to linger on the shoulder.

From several different lands they seemed awkwardly herded together

but sharing a taste for the overripe fruit thrown upon the island from a car.

The deer had lost their wild grace, the instinct for stampede.

If somebody shot an arrow

into one docile heart

the rest would have gone on chewing whatever was left in the bag,

Once this place was a wilderness. And I once had a crush onniy friend. And the city of the strait

has matured into Motown.

Detroit

1

You are an old trading fort, a frontier town,

a foundry.

You are a race riot, a baseball team,

a river.

You are civilization in all its barbarism.

2

Female city. you are a womb

which is another name for a factory

but lacking a vagina

you offer men your river.

Images of Home

Home:

walking up my ghetto steps my legs drag

A while ago

I threatened to run away packed my toy suitcase

My mother

gave me some food, kissed me goodbye

And I walked

round and round the block four times

Afraid

to cross the street or talk to strangers

My toy suitcase

heavy with stuffed animals and books

No place to go,

a hot summer day, dry sandlots

Soon I will hear

"0 did you change your mind, Joanne?"

Home: if only

I could imagine

One day

I would climb up upon a boulder

near a waterfall

and be comforted by wild roses

If only

I could visualize picking wild berries

I would be walking more lightly

up my ghetto steps

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$3_5@

1's'lBN 0-934776-08-3