Home » Poetry » URBAN FORTRESSES (sonnets on gentrification)

URBAN FORTRESSES (sonnets on gentrification)

The Prequel

Hidden in the shadows of skyscrapers

Erected phallic insecurities

Bolster get-rich-quick real-estate capers

In underutilized territories.

Ghettos called “home” by noble “savages”

Provide safe havens and hunting grounds for

Suburban expatriates with baggage.

Ignored is gentrification’s “soft-edge”

Starving artist types seizing fire sales.

Urban farming “hood-billys” squat their claims

With backyard chicken coops, goat herds, and kale

Meanwhile the hood will never be the same.

These twenty-first century “pioneers”

Build their forts because natives are still here.



The Natives

To move bravely into blighted ghettoes

Where the property value’s sunk lower

Than the speculators thought it could go.

Justice is blind to how much is owed her.

Policies decreed from Iv’ry towers

Keep society’s expectations low.

The fortress secures the settlers power.

So where, pray tell, are the natives to go?

I don’t know. Ask Captain John Smith’s penis.

But intrepid settlers have no problem

With all the still present indigenous,

Missionaries claim they want to help them.

The trusting natives accept them… as “cool”

Not knowing they’re exceptions, not the rule.



Man’s Best Friend

Man’s best friend doubles as security

For the urban strong-hold he calls home

He barks from fear and anxiety.

He becomes anxious when he’s left alone.

With snarls and snaps he guards his master’s house

Through the wrought-iron fence he’s locked behind

His noble mission is, “to keep them out.”

“Them” being everyone, both mean and kind.

These dogs and the natives share history

From plantations to gentrification.

The natives’ fear is not a mystery

Any more than mass incarceration.

Settlers demand their dogs have their own parks.

Their just rewards for barking away the dark.



Urban Renewal

Meanwhile the cool urban colonizers

Look at all the broken-windowed blight

As urban renewal fertilizer.

It’s a great neighborhood- just not at night.

After surviving the brutal winter

They’ll invite their friends to garden parties,

Encourage immigration, and mentor

People who look like them or are artsy.

They all just need to survive long enough

For the neighborhood to finish changing.

Sure, the first few years might be kind of rough,

And some districts might need rearranging.

They will revere the native history

From hollowed shells of long-gone industry.


Broken Windows

Repairing broken windows costs money!

Money that poor people often don’t have.

Shopping with food stamps for milk and honey.

Can barely keep the lights on. Can’t rehab,

And don’t have the credit to get a loan.

Poverty shattered dreams before windows

Were broken on foreclosed family homes.

Blight is like cancer. It festers and grows

Metastasizing through the neighborhood.

Home improvement programs that treat symptoms

Rarely get the results they thought they would.

Poor people’s poverty’s used to pimp them!

Looks may be deceiving although it seems

True with broken windows and shattered dreams.




Nothing comes free in the land of the brave.

When neighborhood businesses get facelifts,

And the hood’s arterial streets are repaved

It is quid pro quo not a well-timed gift.

Bribe the people with their own money, damn!

Pre-payments for acquiescence and votes,

Sadly, ev’ryone is hip to the scam,

But still play along- hoping shit won’t float.

Old schools have new brightly-colored playgrounds

Installed in spite of their closures looming.

They’re retrieved like uncontested rebounds

Because privatization is booming.

Infrastructure’s rebuilt for those to come

To neighborhoods formerly known as slums.



Business Corridors

Invisible red lines surround the hood

Prospects beneath graffiti and litter.

“Business as usual” has not been good

To be honest, it’s been in the shitter!

This revitalization of “the strip”

Is a paradoxical endeavor.

It’s like speculating on a stock tip

Or betting on a slot machine’s lever.

The economic redevelopment

Of uptown, courtesy of friends downtown

Highlights a familiar predicament

Making the most green-backs from black and brown

Communities and business, they transact

With a minimal amount of contact.


The Old Neighborhood (a white man remembers)

He leads with, “This neighborhood used to be…”

Followed by stories of mansions and wealth

Back when his neighbors didn’t look like me,

Or self-medicate for their mental health.

In the old neighborhood, back in the day

When neighbors looked out for one another

And everyone knew in which place to stay,

On which block to walk, in which church to pray

Back then, “diversity” was unheard of,

“LGBTQ” were just consonants,

Economics trickled down from above,

And Africa was the “dark continent”

He says that, times have changed to “bad” from “good”

Thanks to new folks in the old neighborhood.



Urban Archeology

From ruins rise civilizations

Cities rebuilt from out of the ashes

Much like neighborhoods’ gentrification

The soaring eagle fatally crashes

But remnants of pastime glories remain

Providing their silent testimonies

To just how much the neighborhood has changed.

Roll outs and ground-breaking ceremonies

Try to rebrand landmarks with brand new names.

New buildings built upon old foundations

Have the same footprints, but don’t feel the same.

This circle of life’s gentrification

Urban archeologists will appear

To unearth those who used to live here.



White Flight

Black folks moved into where they could afford,

And then white people fled to the suburbs.

Good Christian white folks, who prayed to the lord

What made sense for them, to us seemed absurd.

They scuttled their urban amenities,

Lied about lower property values,

And then fled to gated communities.

Systemic neglect in lieu of abuse.

Most 0f them would claim that they’re not racist,

But if they see blacks, they’re gonna call cops.

All they wanted was “homeostasis.”

So, they packed up their homes, and closed up shops.

Just hearing that, “the niggers were coming”

Triggered white flight and sent white folks running.


The Native Buy-In

“Hangers around the fort” are always there

Fulfilling the colonizers’ wishes.

Shining Mister’s boots, brushing Missy’s hair,

Cooking their meals, and washing their dishes.

Accepting promises made by forked-tongues

Always proves to be a fatal mistake.

Swatting at tsetse flies after they’re stung,

What native don’t give; colonizers take.

The indigenous believe they’ve “bought-in”

Assumed equal footing with the white man

Unaware of the snare they’ve been caught in

Accomplices to usurping the land.

Can remedies be found in pale-faced courts

For foolish natives who hang around forts?



Refugees of American Terror

Many years have passed since the migrations

Of the emancipated who fled north

First encountered northern segregation.

Their jubilee was not on July fourth.

Refugees of American terror

Sought sanctuary in northern cities.

This influx proved more than the north could bear

Which brought up their racist proclivities.

“Separate but equal” the lie white folks told

To rationalize the segregation,

Just made the black folks’ “promised land” feel cold.

They’d become “wage slaves” without plantations.

And while many of them lived from hand to mouth,

This racism was better than down south.


Wight Construction

The construction site at Kedzie and Lake

Hatched plans of which the developers spoke

To not-for-profits, and holders of stakes.

The signage almost seemed like a “bad joke.”

“Wight Construction” made the black cynic scoff.

The white-wash cycle had moved on to “rinse.”

Three-point-five acres roughly cordoned off

By a quickly erected chain-link fence.

These strange optics of gentrification-

Oops, “community development”

Bespoke the de facto segregation

Sans community benefits agreement.

Sometimes things are exactly what they seem,

When the priv’ledged say what they really mean.



The Right People

This talented tenth pays mortgage, not rent,

Adopts the values of the middle class,

Makes judgements on how the poor’s money’s spent,

And thinks ‘cause they wear suits, they can’t show ass!

Articulate, well-spoken, good diction,

And a college-educated swagger

Adds spread sheet “cred” to their presentation.

They’re Allen Greenspan with “moves like Jagger!”

Change is a large, bitter pill to swallow

But they’re well-informed, thanks to their research.

The untalented masses should follow

Their directions, or else be left in a lurch.

“The right people” is code for folk like them:

Prone to altruistic elitism.


Conversation at a Community Meeting

The white woman asked, “Don’t you want me here?”

I politely shrugged, then mustered a smile.

She implied that she was nothing to fear

In her opinion, she’d been here a while.

Long enough to earn “resident” status.

She moved to African-America

Then proclaimed, “We all live here” back at us.

But things ain’t equal in America.

“Diversity” is quite relative

Depending on to whom you are talking

Based on their color, class, and where they live

Disparity is like social caulking.

American pie was made with strange fruit.

She could be my friend, or my foe’s recruit.

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