The songs of gentrification and capitalism and ghosts and loss

This is a poem I’ve been working on for a couple of months. It names a number of Asheville, N.C.-based landmarks, characters, and artists, but my hope is there’s something of the universal. So many of us are witnessing the loss of our communities to the juggernaut of development and wealth, neither of which ever do much to forward the arts or the creative culture.

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The Merle performing at Vincent’s Ear.


The man took the temperature
of this neighborhood and decided
in his boardroom that, yes, it’s time
to capitalize on what the artists

built. The ambiance of ingenuity mined
from the rubble. Construct a hotel
to tower over the coffee shops and dive
bars, over the thrift stores and book stores, over

the murals, over the graffiti tags, over the sharpie
love notes scrawled hurriedly
in bathroom stalls. The man wants to drink
the blood of the cash cow like milk

money. This is how capitalism feeds
itself. For that unquenchable thirst
I invoke the gutters of Water Street, which was
the name of this street before this town

was a tourist destination and just after the road
was cut through an indigenous graveyard,
the bones of the ancestors mingled
with foundation stones, the ghosts left to wander

with the working girls and the stable boys. Gutters
running with wash water and corn liquor
and animal waste and the heaving rains
of late summer, all running downhill

toward the river. I invoke the barred doors
of speakeasies where life went on in smoke
and jazz, out of earshot of Prohibitionists. I invoke
the rooftop that broadcast Appalachian country

music to the cities beyond the Blue
Ridge, and the road toward Beaucatcher Mountain
that might as well have marked the end of the world
because the bowl of the valley was its own nourishment

and its own famine. I invoke the courtyard
of Vincent’s Ear where everyone was sitting
while Jack White played inside because really
was he even that good? And wasn’t it better

to be together under a blanket of stars? I invoke
the ghost of Gavra Lynn, may she be not dead
but also may she not know how the places
she graced with her guitar and her warble

have been desecrated by the khaki-wearing
masses, by the herds of bros and bridesmaids
who could not hear her songs over their shrill,
stale merriment. May the khaki masses

receive the vision of heart to know the music
of this street. Its metallic buzz, its raw
yowl, its electric melee. And if they can’t hear it,
may they move on toward Charlotte

or Atlanta, some place large enough
to swallow them because it’s eat
or be eaten: The man who builds monuments
would say as much. I invoke the ghosts

of Cowboy and of Ramshead, misfits
sometimes troubled by this place but still
walking its broken pavements to find some sense
of self. I invoke the ghost of Perri Crutcher

gardening the alley where a building once
stood and where, in its absence, he made flourish
a strange Eden. I invoke the ghost of Eric
Legge whose studio was once

where Lazy Diamond is now, and where,
at some future date, Lazy Diamond will no longer
stand, but the breath and pulse of Eric Legge’s paintings
will go on and so, too, will the breath and pulse

of Lazy Diamond and all the tattoo shops
and record stores because sound
is a boomerang. Did the man who came to construct
another statue think of this? That he can lay

brick and mortar over bones and dreams
but what remains is an energetic stamp, a soul
relentless in its vinelike climbing, its insistent
song. The man will build his boutique hotel

on a curse that is also a promise. A banishment
that is also a love spell. An evil eye
that protects its wearer and turns all others
away. Paint your transoms and your sashes Plateye

blue, man, because the haint that haunts
this neighborhood is a living ghost. A story
in motion, in the act of telling itself, a story
that wants to go on adding characters

and voices and the passing of time. It’s
not a commodity to be bought and sold, not
a resource to be exploited. It’s a thoroughfare
and a handful of cross-streets hemming

in a history that wends and snags
and spools itself outward and more
outward. A mending, a seam, a flannel patch
over worn denim, a knot that holds

like a choke sometimes and,
other times, an embrace.

6 thoughts on “The songs of gentrification and capitalism and ghosts and loss

  1. Thank you for this, Alli. Again you’ve captured the heart and emotion of the old haunts, the history, the lifeblood of this city that we love and that we are losing to capitalism and expansion. Thank you for preserving the memories for us all as we watch it shift and change so quickly before our eyes.

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