These Foolish Dreams Must Stop

It was, not so long ago, a kaleidoscopic flood at three o’clock;

Waves of children in blues, greens, and golds set free from Margiotti Elementary,

The more subdued hues of the men of the Montmorenci Mills finishing first shift,

All filling the sidewalk like some great jigsaw puzzle in continual motion.

Now, the color seems to have left us for greener pastures

Only the faded, unevenly washed yellow buses

Which take the children to the central school over in St. Mary’s remain,

Solemn faces forlornly pressed to the windows

As they pass the ungainly and obsolete building

Now dark and silent, squat and hunched-over,

And further on the mill, gates padlocked, rusted pieces of chain-link

Pointing accusatorily downward, as if the fault for its closing

Lies with us and us alone.


Ah, but it was different, and not so long ago

That the memories remain sharp, clear, biting

And they come back in curious bits and pieces,

Like how the Market Basket stayed open twenty-four hours

So the third-shifters could shop for groceries

Without having to short-change themselves on sleep,

The lights in Carter’s Depatment Store,

Bright as Heaven itself to six-year old eyes

Fixed wonderingly on an electric football game

Or a toy bridge of the Enterprise, complete with a transporter

Which made Spock disappear As Seen on TV,

Or how, when we went to the Friday fish-fry at the Kinzua House,

We would stop at every table, fathers exchanging greetings, finishing those jokes

Which the noise along the line had left incomplete.


You left, just like everyone else, but not for good, of course;

It was just a temp job to make some money

Until you’d saved up enough to help out your mom.

Once you got settled, you’d come back home

To visit—by Christmas, at the very latest.

We waited outside of the old Rexall for the Trailways bus

That would take you to Erie, and after the shortest half-hour I’d ever known

We kissed at the curb and embrace until the driver intimated with his horn

That we either needed to say goodbye or get a room.

Still, I knew you’d be back, as, after all

There are bonds that time and distance cannot break.



That is all over now, and the dreams our parents clung to rosary-like

Where our lives being better than what they had known

Have moved south to Charlotte, or Houston, or Birmingham;

The Market Basket has long since closed;

Hell, you can’t buy a single gallon of milk between here and Ridgway,

And the Kinzua House long gone as well,

Save for the tattoo place that occupies the space where the bar once was, 

And once in a while, though less so every year,

You’ll catch one of the old-timers, frozen in time,

Staring at the smokestacks of the old mill

Ancient obelisks like those looming over the graves of the town’s founders

Tucked away in the old section of the cemetery up on Bootjack Hill,

The paths chock-full with weeds and briars,

The grass unmown for some three summers now.


When I got your card, it was postmarked from Denver;

The temp gig hadn’t lasted as long as it was supposed to,

And it’s not like Erie is a boom town, after all.

Still, you were there long enough to meet someone,

Someone, you noted who was looking ahead,

Not over his shoulder all the damn time;

Besides, you noted in your one and ultimately failed attempt at humor

You noted how our Geography teacher had once said

That all the land east of the Missisippi,

Even here in the foothills of the Endless Mountains,

Were simply mounds of dirt, old and dead,

While the Rockies were young, vibrant, still shifting and growing.

The card was one of those that come blank on the inside

So you can compose your own witty epithet,

As there are some sentiments so dreadful in their foolishness

That even Hallmark won’t touch them.


8 thoughts on “These Foolish Dreams Must Stop

  1. I read this poem a few months ago – a long period under the circumstances – and it was winter if I’m not mistaken. I’m not sure if I had heating then, a detail which would have helped me guess at which part of the winter I read it. It was towards the end, I’ll take a guess, end of February or the beginning of March. I’m still living in the same wreck of an old town – the only thing that keeps it alive is the increasing population – and thinking of the people from my childhood who left the place to have better lives in other cities. These sentiments, this nostalgia for fresher days from the past, this kaleidoscope of memories; sometimes it feels like an incurable case of madness, a mania that goes on and on without aging although I am no longer a boy with golden curls or a young lad with muscles willing hard to germinate. It is sad and stupid at the same time. Nevertheless, this poem moved something in me. Not as wry as you usually make your intentions open to your reader. Perhaps you put more heart in it than you would recommend. Wry or morose, the madman never fails to entertain. I’m enjoying reading these older poems. Thank you by the way for the John Gardner tip.

  2. This is Kortas at his very,very best. The crumbling of the boom town, the fragility of relationships, the nostalgic longing for ghosts of the past, all told with a compassionate eye to the barest detail.

  3. A powerful piece. You create a clear picture for your reader to be sucked into. I especially liked the line “the dreams our parents clung to rosary-like” and your Hallmark ending.

  4. oh my god, how this hurts, it’s like it’s taken residence inside my gut already. yeah, the Market Basket’s sure as hell closed. the Kinzua House? news to me, but i guess i ran away without looking over my shoulder, so i didn’t know. wow. i just. ah. hard to express. affinity, community, stuff like that is what i feel so intensely when i read your writing, and this one, markedly so. thank you. xo

  5. w.k., with this amazing write, you’re making me think of writing long form again, and of continuing the saga of my grandmother, a self-described “Polack” who lived in Philly’s Germantown, working a restaurant, who also raised five half-breeds in China during WW2.

  6. WK all the way! What a bittersweet journey this poem is. The remains of a shattered town; the memories of a shattered love. “otherwise we’d have to get a room” is a wonderful line, given the circumstances.

    I thought this would only be about the city and then the wonderful memories, but it turned into an equally sweet-and-sour tale of love lost. I truly loved this. Thanks for linking it up. Amy

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