Center of the Universe

Jim Daniels

Image of Jim Daniels

Jim Daniels

Center of the Universe was selected as part of MSU Library Short Edition's call for submissions on the theme of "Home," in coordination with the MSU Broad Art Museum's exhibition "Where We Dwell." Jim Daniels’ latest book of poems is Gun/Shy, Wayne State University Press, 2021. Other recent books include his fiction collection, The Perp Walk, and his anthology, RESPECT: The Poetry of Detroit Music, co-edited with M. L. Liebler, both published by Michigan State University Press). A native of Detroit, he lives in Pittsburgh and teaches in the Alma College low-residency MFA program.

Detroit recession, 1979-82

I dreamed I lived on Rome Street again
and touched the streetlight pole, safe at last.
The goal for hide-and-seek and all other games.
Safe again. My palm against splintered creosote

and rusty staples or thumb tacks of ancient
announcements of yard sales and lost dogs
and Jesus visitations. Wizened. Like the face
of my unshaven father who planted three trees

out near the curb, one after another. They all died
but the pole remained upright, its own branch
of light keeping us safe under its close, constant
moon. That branch was not olive.

Hands on the tree overlapping each other,
skin brushing skin without slivering.
Grown, we scattered like kids scatter, ants
on the globe searching for melted ice cream.

We didn't get far, landing at the dead end
in the constant distant haze: the factory
that never closed until it did. And so
left to our own devices, we searched

for new devices, reverse-raptured into
cracked concrete street slabs, imaginary
sinking, sinking into the general we
of the identical cars we built.

I left when the retraining funds
and unemployment ran out. Crashed
into mirages of security at half the pay
and naked mannequins with no genitals

and made it as far as Ohio where Jesus
had retired to a farm off the turnpike.
He waved as I passed. I know I'm off
track in my ancient gas-guzzling

transportation special. I can blame it
on dead trees or the telephone pole
or the lack of adequate recreational facilities,
or my tolerance of alcohol and funny pills,

but the truth is embedded in that light pole
of my dreams, turned into a large pine chain-
sawed down. Timber! It fell in the forest
of abandoned three-bedroom ranches

and no one heard it. Our stories—my story—
hijacked by ancient terrorists
from the old naïve days of D.B. Cooper
parachuting to safety, getting away

with it—the communal dream
we shared, with slightly different referents
for it. I awoke holding up my hand
bitten by the lost dog, finally come home

to claim its bowl of nothing.

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