Fairytale Of New York Mills

This most silent of silent nights was no different

From any which had come before it,

Nothing to mark it as extraordinary or sacrosanct:

The village had long since stopped putting up decorations,

(Plastic renditions of jolly snowmen and steadfast wooden soldiers,

Faded, cracked, with ancient and capricious wiring

Impossible to replace and impractical to repair)

Those old enough to harbor warm memories of caroling

Having long since wintered in some southern locale

Bearing Spanish names of dubious authenticity,

Those left behind by circumstance or stubbornness

Very likely still at work, the Wal-Marts, Kinneys, and Price Choppers,

In a shotgun marriage of customer service and rank capitalism,

Opening a bit earlier, staying open a touch later every year,

At least providing the unanticipated benefit

Of one less hour to fret over things unbought,

One less hour to dwell upon promises unmet.

 

There is some solace, perhaps, in the notion

That the good times were only so good, after all

(It’s been said when the great ditch connecting Albany and Buffalo

Was finally completed, you could already hear train whistles,

Shrill and of ominous portent, in the distance),

And as Barbara Van Borland, thrice-married and eternally hopeful,

Opined from her customary perch at the Dewitt Clinton House,

If you’re gonna fall, better offa stool than a ladder.

Perhaps there is a certain mercy in laboring under the yoke

(Allegorical, but securely fastened all the same) of the knowledge

That we should expect little and prepare to make do with even less,

That these hard times are the only times we can expect to know.

 

How, then, do we carry on?

Follow Pope’s dictum, one supposes,

And say your lines and hit your marks

With as much conviction as can be mustered

As we walk through this land of shuttered consolidated country schools,

This forest of plywooded windows and huge red-X’d houses,

Where shoots of grasses and patches of weeds

Rise up through crevices and faults in the neglected blacktop

(But take a ride on the back roads of the other side of river,

Out toward Cherry Valley, say, or Sharon Springs,

And see the wide panorama of the valley below,

Quilted fields of maizes and greens,

The hills gently, gradually sloping upward toward the Adirondacks,

Creating a vista which would make Norman Rockwell blush,

And you would say My God, how beautiful

If it didn’t seem foolish to give voice

To something so patently obvious)

Until that time we are carried gently, grimly

To that plot where we shall lie next to our parents

In a newer section of some cemetery hard by the edge of the sluggish Mohawk

Where the remnants of by-products of dormant farms and long-closed tanneries

Mix with the remains of hasty abortions

And the bones of forgotten and un-mourned canal mules.

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29 thoughts on “Fairytale Of New York Mills

  1. This does hit hard. This may sound silly, but it puts me in mind of Dickens’ writing about the hard life of the poor in industrial Victorian England.

  2. good lord this one hits you and then keeps hitting. i thought my mind would get stuck on the houses marked with red X but then you gave us remains of hasty abortions and now all i can do is sigh about all of this.

  3. Lots of strong images in this that I enjoyed reading. Makes me feel chilly to read it–seems like the mood of it is cold.

  4. A fine, misanthropic journey through the suburbs of Blake’s Satanic mills, capitalism’s Xmas card where everything is snowy on the cover for the two priviledged figures sledding by. The last two lines of the first stanza were perfect. The sweep had a bit of “Howl” in it, pure post-laspsarian America. History’s dungheap, our miserable future. Scathing stuff.

  5. A mark of successful writing is that it remains relevant. Reading this again, your lines seem never more apt than for the year 2016 in the sense of a way of life falling into ruins while we watch, and count the days to our own graves.

  6. You’re missing a “c” in this line:

    “Impossible to replace and impra[c]tical to repair”

    I really like this section:

    “(It’s been said when the great ditch connecting Albany and Buffalo

    Was finally completed, you could already hear train whistles,

    Shrill and of ominous portent, in the distance),

    And as Barbara Van Borland, thrice-married and eternally hopeful,

    Opined from her customary perch at the Dewitt Clinton House,

    If you’re gonna fall, better offa stool than a ladder.”

    But my goodness, the last several lines left me breathless and in complete awe!

  7. there’s practical and impractical. motivated and demotivated. where’s the solate to the desolate? and what is up with flammable and inflammable?

    sorry, working long hours and a bit goofy…

    as Kerry observed, this piece is, if anything, sharper today, particularly with the Secty of Education designate coming to close the schools. Pope on, I suppose… ~

  8. I was about to comment about the proliferation of houses with red X and then realized I had comment on that imagine before. Well then, I suppose that means it’s an arresting image. This poem is incredible, and feels more so today than several years ago. For sure.

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