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.