Located at the foot of West Grand Boulevard, Riverside Park is a narrow green rectangle along an industrial southwest Detroit waterfront. Michael Lauchlan uses it as the name of one poem, and it is the unnamed setting for Mary Minock' s poem "Down by the Boulevard Dock." It has long been a fairly simple park-just an expanse of grass bordered on its west end by railroad tracks whose busyness reflects the fortunes of the surrounding industry and on its east end with benches landscaping a cement seawall pedestrian walkway. Both Minock and Lauchlan describe it as a setting for the simple pleasures, such as fishing, kite flying, napping after work, and running children. To Minock, it is a place
where old black ladies
and my old white mama
fish off the dock
and never catch anything....(51)
Laughlan describes "a flame" pouring "from the sky like a serpent" which "at the last / jerks its kite face from the river's teeth."
For generations the park has provided for children the excitement of boats, trucks, and trains that compete with the modest collection of children's playground equipment. Here the river is at its narrowest between Detroit and Windsor so the details of passing freighters and pleasure craft are easily visible. The north end of the park houses both the Detroit Fire Department's fire boat and the "mail boat"-a boat with its own zip code. The J. W. Westcott delivers mail and sundry supplies to passing Great Lakes freighters.
the boy must go too near the water
drags me shivering
to where the concrete drops
"What is an undertow?"
wiggling the toes in his sandals
and so I pull him back to sit
on the benches where we lick good humors;
the freighters drag heavy
the mail boat rides high.... (Minock 53)
The Ambassador Bridge soars above the Westcott company offices, and trucks thunder across in both directions, looking like matchbox miniatures.
The bridge towers over him, over the caught
iron river on the spreading shadow
and hums with crawling taillights
flickering behind cables. (Laughlan)
Riverside Park is part of a Riverfront Greenway Initiative, so it has received modest physical improvement. But it is a park currently without picnic tables or restroom facilities, although a governmental report notes that they will be added in future stages of the Initiative (Detroit's Riverside Park). Plain and unkempt as the park is, its lure is its glorious view. Looking upriver, the Ambassador Bridge frames a panorama of the Detroit and Windsor downtown skylines
I gaze against the wind upriver:
the bridge to Canada and freedom--
the skyscrapers against afternoon sun.(Minock 51)
Jane Hammang-Buhl is Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dean of the Professional Studies Division,and Associate Professor of Business at Marygrove College. As a child, she played with her cousins at Riverside Park. Photos by Anna Fedor.
"Detroit's Riverside Park Promenade in Building the Riverfront Greenway: The State of Greenway Investments along the Detroit River. " Metrpolitan Affairs Coalition: Regional Solutions for Regional Issues. 2001. Web. 9 March 2011.
Laughlan, Michael. And the Business Goes to Pieces. Highland Park, MI: Fallen Angel, 1981.
Minock, Mary. Love in the Upstairs Flat. Lewiston, NY: Mellen, 1995.
Updated 14 March 2011