I dream that I’m trapped under the cloverleaf, without a car. You don’t get far without a car in Detroit, but I never learned to drive. Not even in my dreams. So I huddle there, waiting for my opportunity to cross the live lanes, holding my breath as the monsters roar past belching their noxious fumes. Running away, trying to find my way home.
I dream I’m Ferdinand the bull, just wanting to smell the flowers, the lone red tulip that grew in the backyard of our house near W 7 Mile Road and Livernois. Or the magnolia tree in front, the one that amazed me with its pink and white tulip blooms bursting off their woody stems. It was a little tree, just the right height for me.
I dream of quiet streets paved in silver gray, and emerald lawns with red brick houses, hopscotch chalked on sidewalk stones, and stones piled into libraries and art galleries. And windowless cinderblock stores selling liquor and lottery tickets, and blue sky flying above the verdant trees.
Sometimes my dreams are black and white and gray, soft like a page from the Detroit News or the Free Press, simple, sweet, or sad like a Motown tune on the radio. In my dreams I search, ambling, stumbling, up another street, down another block, looking for a child. Maybe she’s gone up to Baker’s Keyboard Lounge to listen to some jazz. Maybe she’s getting sticky with blueberry pie and ice cream at the little diner that stands like a one-room cabin along the barren stretch of the main thoroughfare, the one that leads downtown. The one that eventually leads to the Detroit River, and south across the river into Canada.
It’s the only place where Canada is south of the US, and it only happens for a brief moment, like those scenes that live in my dreams. But it flickers on long enough that I can keep going back there, to those streets. I can still climb the stairs inside the old skyscrapers, walk by the drugstores and movie theaters. In my dreams I can still flow along with the other Detroiters, moving like blood through arteries, milling like wheat and falling like chaff and rising again.
Detroit, my hometown, taught me how to find the beauty behind the ugliness. The tastiest fruit often has the grungiest rind, like a papaya or a kiwi. And even now, from a distance, I can taste the sweetness the city hides behind its walls. I can hear the music playing in the next room. I can feel the rhythm of its heart.