Early in the final industrial century


on the street where I was born lived


a doctor who smoked black shag


and walked his dog each morning


as he muttered to himself in a language


only the dog knew. The doctor had saved


my brother's life, the story went, reached


two stained fingers down his throat


to extract a chicken bone and then


bowed to kiss the ring-encrusted hand


of my beautiful mother, a young widow


on the lookout for a professional.


Years before, before the invention of smog,


before Fluid Drive, the eight-hour day,


the iron lung, I'd come into the world


in a shower of industrial filth raining


from the bruised sky above Detroit.


Time did not stop. Mother married


a bland wizard in clutch plates


and drive shafts. My uncles went off


to their world wars, and I began a career


in root vegetables. Each morning,


just as the dark expired, the corner church


tolled its bells. Beyond the church


an oily river ran both day and night


and there along its banks I first conversed


with the doctor and Waldo, his dog.


"Young man," he said in words


resembling English, "you would dress


heavy for autumn, scarf, hat, gloves.


Not to smoke," he added, "as I do."

Eleven, small for my age but ambitious,


I took whatever good advice I got,


though I knew then what I know


now: the past, not the future, was mine.


If I told you he and I became pals


even though I barely understood him


would you doubt me? Wakened before dawn


by the Catholic bells, I would dress


in the dark—remembering scarf, hat, gloves—


to make my way into the deserted streets


to where Waldo and his master ambled


the riverbank. Sixty-four years ago,


and each morning is frozen in memory,


each a lesson in what was to come.


What was to come? you ask. This world


as we have it, utterly unknowable,


utterly unacceptable, utterly unlovable,


the world we waken to each day


with or without bells. The lesson was


in his hands, one holding a cigarette,


the other buried in blond dog fur, and in


his words thick with laughter, hushed,


incomprehensible, words that were sound


only without sense, just as these must be.


Staring into the moist eyes of my maestro,


I heard the lost voices of creation running


over stones as the last darkness sifted upward,


voices saddened by the milky residue


of machine shops and spangled with first light,


discordant, harsh, but voices nonetheless.