Michigan Essay

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Written by Sufjan Stevens

Welcome to Michigan! The waterways and waterfalls! Sac locks, state parks, and Walloon lake. The apple farms and cherry blossoms and two striking peninsulas bordering four Great lakes! The sandy shorelines, the spring-fed rivers, the Mackinac Bridge! Blissfest! Henry Ford! Tulip Time! Motown music! Bring a set of clubs, try your swing at Harbor Point. Wear the tan pants with pockets on the hips. Carry the things in them that matter most: the paper matchbook from Petoskey, your sister’s postcards from Marquette, a turkey feather, a rabbit’s foot. Sip lemonade and listen for the biplanes overhead making figures eights in the sky. Carry a canoe around St. Mary’s Rapids, like the Ojibway. Overhead, sixteen geese cast their shadow V over the straits of Mackinac. There is the smell of leaves burning, wood stoves, cigar smoke, and compost.

The people are generous, warm, outgoing, helpful, industrious, always willing to lend a hand. They give clear directions to the interstate. Have you been to Frankenmuth? Christmas in July? The Renaissance Festival? The Renaissance Center? Have you harvested baby’s breath in abandoned lots? Have you been on a three-wheeler, a snowmobile, a ferry to Beaver Island? There are rainbow trout and catfish, beaver dams, curious raccoons, and mourning doves moaning overhead, balanced on power lines.

Follow I-75 downstate to Detroit. Listen for the lonely echo in Tiger Stadium, traffic on Grand River Avenue, the empty aisles at Hudson’s, long abandoned. look around and spend the day in mourning. Oh Detroit, you complicated old man, nearly dead, with your shoulders arched over the river, polluted and gray, the threads of your shirt worn down with disease and car exhaust. You have grown thin with industry, car factories, riots, raids, transportation nightmares. You have eaten Coney dogs with relish and onion. You have built magnificent buildings only to burn them. Your children’s children have squandered their dowry. They strut on the streets. They throw trash in the trees and hang their laundry on ropes fit for hanging.

Oh Detroit, what have you done to man, his wife and kids, his cousins, his music, his hairstyles, his shoes with white tips, his pleated pants, his elbow slung out the car window, his basketball courts, his officers downtown, his nightclubs, his shirtsleeve tucked over a pack of cigarettes, his imagination, his industry, his sense of humor, his home? Oh Detroit, what have you done to city hall, the public trains, the workers’ union, the Eastern Market, Boblo Island, the Ambassador Bridge? Where have you put your riches, where have you hid your treasure? Your concrete overpasses, your avenues as wide as rivers, your suburbs bloated with brick homes and strip malls and discount liquor stores and resale shops. When you are dead and gone, who will care for your children’s children. They have run wild with the bastard boys around the streets, reckless car rides downtown, rigorous dancing, drug taking, knife-stabbing, pillow-stuffing, tail wagging restlessness. They have been drunk with this for years. They have been out of their minds. They have been left with nothing.

Even still, here and now, there is a renaissance of hope. The streets will take up horns and play free jazz, the buses will clang their bells in time, the buildings once burned out will be home to the homeless. Living rooms will be filled with furniture. Broken families will reconcile. Women will be honored with lilac wreaths. Men will begin to lower their voices. Children will fill playgrounds and parks with the sounds of their playing.

Who can call us father, or who can call us son? If we have regarded ourselves abandoned by whatever thing (a person, a lover, a parent, a false prophet, ourselves, then we have lost touch with the great family, ourselves, all of us together, in this great place called Michigan). Who is your neighbor? He is your brother. Who is that stranger? She is your mother. The man downstairs hammering on the wall, the woman blow-drying her hair in the bathroom – these people are your family. Have you lost your mother to death? Have you lost your father to disease, to war, alcohol, drugs, a car accident? Nothing can replace them. They have been made known completely in death, to whatever supernatural landscape (who can say for sure?). Until then, it is our hard task to welcome the widows, the children, the orphans, the fatherless into our family. What little effort it takes – a friendly nod at the stranger on the street, giving change to the man who asks, saying hello or goodbye, opening doors, keeping our mouths shut. In the small things, the day-to-day gestures, the normal business of the day, we do the great work of the kingdom, which is to welcome each unlikely individual into the fold, one person at a time.

We do these things, not because we are Michiganders, but because we have been called to participate in the world’s creation from the very beginning. Making music. Baking cakes. Sewing curtains. These things mean something greater: that we have been known from the very start. Our eye color, our hairline, our jawline, the shape of our big toe, the tone of our voice. These things have been designed from the very beginning. What kind of music we listen to. The sort of skirt that looks good. The baseball cap, the tennis shoe, the orange bandana. We have been made to find these things for ourselves and take them in as ours, like adopted children: habits, hobbies, idiosyncrasies, gestures, moods, tastes, tendencies, worries. They have been put in us for good measure.

Perhaps we don’t like what we see: our hips, our loss of hair, our shoe size, our dimples, our knuckles too big, our eating habits, our disposition. We have disclosed these things in secret, likes and dislikes, behind doors with locks, our lonely rooms, our messy desks, our empty hearts, our sudden bursts of energy, our sudden bouts of depression. Don’t worry. Put away your mirrors and your beauty magazines and your books on tape. There is someone right here who knows you more than you do, who is making room on the couch, who is fixing a meal, who is putting on your favorite record, who is listening intently to what you have to say, who is standing there with you, face to face, hand to hand, eye to eye, mouth to mouth. There is no space left uncovered. This is where you belong.

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