Approach to Seattle’s March - April - May (for B.)

Matthew Howland

In twelve hours we returned to Seattle, the city of our birth. The air grey-green, damp but not wet, it was March. We spent our time in rooms, moving between rooms, studying the position of doors and windows in relation to the spring light. We knew there was something to fear, but we hoped it would dissipate through small, practical movements.

For the uprising, the race riot, we went downtown. The city was shuttered and we looked through bus windows. We looked at the scene of central exchange, the site of our youth, and prayed the city would crack at its edges. We remarked: this corpus used to be part of us, we were familiar with its frame, even as we willfully departed, left a city unaffordable and unlikable, stamped with the overwhelming marks of ambivalent money. A city that scratches itself, trying to escape a fate worse than the monument.

Seattle was in need of a vent, a vast ecological manhole for the containment of big and small tech, intergenerational racism, a city segregated in spite of the cynical urbanist doctrine of the up-and-coming metropolis. We willed the tech apparatus to break into thousands of uneven shards. We wished the city to be marked. In a glimpse — a burning cop car and broken concrete edifice — the architecture would fold up, a form of listening. The buildings would adjust to our desired futures.

We desire a life unknown to us, lives poorly preserved in cultural histories and the photograph collections of unwanted museums; figures who continue to live and speak, sight failing, who insist that this geography was once something else.

The frames cooled. We watched through bus windows, unable to drive, while the city sat empty, the downtown boarded and left to the unhoused. Tech retreated to its towers, the comfort of its many claimed neighborhoods, but for weeks, now months, the visual of downtown confirmed the fantasy that Seattle had been mercifully abandoned; the tech sector had fled, pursued by fire, replaced by the irreducible poverty that indexes Seattle’s ascent. We remarked how the surface was lying to us, but could not fix our vision on anything that resembled a cohesive point.

How much hope was held in the ruined glass of a burning cop car, the smell and sonics of industry’s collapse, the insistence of Black life, the repetition that sticks onto a street corner, the memory of the crowd, the technology capturing the crowd, the belief that Seattle’s ornament must bend to our political desires and smash without elegance.