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July 2016
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Poem of the Week: francine j. harris’s “gravity furnace” Explores Destruction in Modern-Day Detroit

francine harris
francine harris

Poety francine j. harris

“I feel like people have this impression that if you live in Detroit you might live in an abandoned house,” said poet francine j. harris. “This is the image. If you live in Detroit, you live in an abandoned house and you go to a school that’s on fire. That’s the Detroit story people want to hear.” Below, hear francine’s Detroit story and poem “gravity furnance” in an episode of Poetry Now, produced in partnership by the Poetry Foundation and WFMT.  Find the full text of the poem below.


gravity furnace


She wants to set the house on fire,
gas in both hands, gas on the wall.

It’d be like the sea torched from its floor. She’d run like light

from basement windows. or maybe
suck all arms to room ablaze, so housed

in gut piping. the copper hollowed, reaching to a
heated black rot at bottom. Like ants; maybe she crawl in the dark.

low on the belly maybe she thug out late, lay low
and ink eight walls. lay low like cold, she might

strip bare, black glass. sometimes strut, sometimes
hide late. she runs from house to ember,

a sum of sink. She breathes through flame
a room of spoons. one

bar brick, one black-eyed room splatter, one torch
spent for each arm, from coal to alley, she heaves

hue of concrete into each limb. A house of blue-ring flames
to mimic; someone better run.


(From Poetry: February 2016)
Read harris’s poems “enough food and a moon” and “first take a fistful of hair” on the Poetry Foundation’s website.

More About the Author

francine j. harris is originally from Detroit, Michigan, where she grew up in one of many neighborhoods operating in economic limbo in the aftermath of the motor industry collapse. After high school, harris moved to Arizona and attended several community colleges part-time before earning scholarship to attend Arizona State University, where she earned a BA in English. harris spent the next several years working with grassroots organizing projects for community radio, social justice, and queer performing arts, while facilitating poetry workshops for young people and practicing visual art. harris moved back to Detroit in 2002. In 2011, she earned an MFA in Poetry from University of Michigan, where she was awarded a Zell Fellowship.

harris is the author of allegiance (2012), a finalist for both the Kate Tufts Discovery Award and the PEN Open Book Award; and play dead (2016). Her poetry has appeared in many journals, including McSweeney’s, Ploughshares, Poetry, Meridian, Indiana Review, Callaloo, and Boston Review. A 2008 Cave Canem fellow, she has also won the 2014 Boston Review Annual Poetry Contest and was awarded a 2015 NEA fellowship.

harris has taught creative writing at University of Michigan and Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, and she is currently writer in residence at Washington University in St. Louis.

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