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Poetic First Ward For Sale Signs: What's the Story?

Poetic First Ward For Sale Signs: What's the Story?
John Nova Lomax

A couple of weeks ago while on staycation, I took a daylong bike ride from the northwest corner of the Inner Loop to the southeast, from just west of the Heights to and through the godforsaken little Manchester neighborhood.

Along the way, I saw some strange and wonderful things, like the scattered remnants of a Winnie the Pooh costume displayed on stanchions, a huge model of the USS Roosevelt in a Magnolia Park front yard, and a handmade memorial to a guy named Leroy in a First Ward vacant lot frequented by alcoholic codgers.

And somewhere north of 225 and south of Lawndale, seconds apart in the span of two barrio backstreet blocks, a black cat crossed my path and a loose pit bull bit my ankle. Such is cycling on the East Side.

Poetic First Ward For Sale Signs: What's the Story?
John Nova Lomax

But perhaps the strangest thing I encountered were these "For Sale" signs just west of vaulting I-45 on the Heights/MKT bike trail.

I'd ridden by them several times a week for about six months, but never stopped to read them until now.

One reads:

For Sale: houses like halved pears stripped skinless on a small plot -- memorial lawn where scattered stones, where Joseph's bones buried in weeds and sunflowers -- sparking wires twist toward heaven from abandoned soil

And the other:

For Sale: Steps to no porch, door to no room

The First Ward this sunken ground, this muddy yard between bayous, this basin beneath Houston's heights, collecting bones since the Civil War

Dead soldiers, dead dogs -- skeleton strays -- guard these vacant lots, these unmarked graves waiting to be built over.

Nearby a third sign ditches the "for sale" theme and nods to Langston Hughes:

Having heard of rivers, I went out looking I found a bayou slowly stepping over algae a heron toeing the murk.

Turns out they are the work of the Mission Year Arts Project. It's an installation in something called "the Vacancies project," which is explained thusly on the Mission Year Arts Project blog:

The Vacancies project started with observation (seeing the landscape, listening to stories) and with play (writing and painting, putting poetry where it "doesn't belong," ie, a for sale sign). This poem underwent an interesting transformation from three stanzas about undeveloped land in my hometown (Rancho Cucamonga, California) to a six-stanza meditation on the vacant, abandoned lots in the First Ward, and the wave of new construction, where new lofts are being built for and purchased by young, wealthy urban professionals. After this piece, the next few move away from the real estate sign mimicry -- although I may return to it. New directions are coming. Stay tuned.

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