Jack Sheridan cottage_sand_bury_painting
An elegy for Singapore, Michigan
by Cheryl Caesar

A city built on sand and metaphors,
as Petersburg was raised upon a swamp.

Your founding czar came also from the east:
Oshea Wilder tried to live his name.

Reaching peninsula, he called it island,
a hub to rival Asian Singapore,

and, more important, that big-shouldered burg,
the windy city built on mud, Chi-Town.

You had your little fifty years of fame.
At first you trapped small mammals for their fur.

And then you turned to trees, an endless fund.
Your wildcat bank made its own currency.

When bank inspectors came, you got them drunk:
brash as Tom Sawyer of St. Petersburg,

(Missouri) selling whitewash privileges.
And still folks came. They called you Ellis Island

of the Great Lakes.
                                                            And then Chicago won.
A brilliant sacrifice: by catching fire

she took your forests, leaving you the dunes.
You sold off every tree; thought they’d come back.

Or didn’t think at all, as people don’t.
Within ten years the sands had covered up

the last remaining building, though they say
one foolish Ozymandias stayed on,
acceding to his house by climbing through
a second-story window, while he could.

The literary ones called you Pompei,
though you had suffered no volcanic flow

but human greed.

                                                            But who are we to speak,
as we burn off the surface of our world,

as ice caps melt, and ocean waters rise
far past our second stories, and we stand
on rooftops and pretend it isn’t real?

Photo art of Singapore, Michigan, by Jack Sheridan, all rights reserved, used by permission.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Singapore, Michigan, was one of the casualties of the four great fires, including The Great Chicago Fire, that ravaged the northern Midwest on October 8, 1871. Its ruins now lie buried beneath the sand dunes of the Lake Michigan shoreline at the mouth of the Kalamazoo River in Saugatuck Township, near the city of Saugatuck. Singapore was founded in 1836 by New York land speculator Oshea Wilder, who was hoping to build a port town to rival Chicago and Milwaukee.

PHOTO: An 1869 photo of Singapore, Michigan, shows a lumber mill in the foreground and the schooner O.R. Johnson, which regularly hauled timber 150 miles from Singapore to Chicago via the Lake Michigan waterway. (Photo courtesy of the Saugatuck-Douglas Historical Society)

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NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: For my 60th birthday last year, my husband took me to visit parts of Michigan that I had never seen before, including the town of Saugatuck. After a morning of visiting shops and galleries, and lunch on a terrace, we spotted, just across the street, a marker commemorating the lost town of Singapore. We could not visit it, as there was nothing left but dunes. But we became fascinated and did some research into it. When we got home, I noticed in my news feed a call for poems with the name “Singapore” in them. It was fate! I wrote the poem above, which won third prize in the contest. It is also a favorite at readings: its theme of global destruction seems to resonate with everyone. Here is a link to me reading “An elegy for Singapore, Michigan.”

PHOTO:  Michigan Historical Commission sign about Singapore, located in Saugatuck, Michigan. Photo by rossograph, used by permission.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Cheryl Caesar lived in Paris (France), Tuscany (Italy), and Sligo (Ireland) for 25 years; she earned her doctorate in comparative literature at the Sorbonne (Paris) and taught literature and phonetics. She now teaches writing at Michigan State University. She gives poetry readings locally and serves on the board of the Lansing Poetry Club. Last year, she published over a hundred poems in the U.S., Germany, India, Bangladesh, Yemen and Zimbabwe, and won third prize in the Singapore Poetry Contest for “An elegy for Singapore, Michigan.” She also won a scholarship to the Social Justice workshop at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, awarded by Indolent Books. Her work is currently appearing in anthologies of Reo Town readers from Lansing and of the East Lansing Art Festival. She has gone swimming with wild dolphins, and it is one of the high points of her life. Her chapbook Flatman: Poems of Protest in the Trump Era is now available from Amazon and Goodreads. Visit her website, and find her on Facebook and Twitter.

PHOTO: The author and her husband while exploring new areas of Michigan (2019).