this man, this town, this time

It had come all in-between, neither nuisance nor quite memorable,

The kind of snow that, had they not been on break already,

Would have the school children on pins-and-needles,

Seeking some augury in the street lights, or Doppler images,

Or in a certain set of their father’s jaw,

Perhaps something in the twist of the corners of their mother’s mouth

That would signal the need to find someone, anyone, to watch over her babies

As she trudged off to another shift down at the Market Basket or Kwik-Fill.

He was well past all that, of course, his children long since gone,

Having ascertained before they’d walked out of the high school gymnasium

That they should take that diploma and just keep walking to somewhere,

Be that Pittsburgh or Charlotte or Tucson or Hong goddamned Kong.

Now it was just something that was, something you accepted

As part and parcel of being in this place,

And if the wind blew across Lake Erie just so,

Well, you shoveled, and if it didn’t you didn’t

And that was that and so it goes.

 

He’d stayed, despite the prevailing wisdom that the place

Would be damn fortunate to even last another generation;

The mills long gone, of course (he’d been lucky enough

To get a goodly number of years in, and he’d made damn sure

To get his pension up front in cash money)

And they’d already shut the post office up in Kersey

Not to mention the one up in Wilcox slated to close as well,

And most of the folks he’d been on the line with

Had long since put this place in the rear-view mirror,

The lucky ones to some trailer court in Lakeland or Pensacola,

(Placid enough, even with ninety-degree dawns and huge, crunchy palmetto bugs)

The less fortunate deferring any notion of peaceful porch-swing retirement,

Walking hat in hand into some personnel office,

All metal-filing cabinets and reams of applications

Flapping on desktops courtesy of some inadequate ceiling fan,

In some mill down Gastonia or Kannapolis way,

Hoping against hope for an opportunity to clog lungs and risk pinkies

For five, six, maybe eight more years.

 

He could have left himself, if he’d been of a mind to do so;

It might be a spell before he could sell the old two-story on Sixth,

(More house than he’d needed for some years, truth be told)

But he’d owned the place outright for a couple of decades,

So he could weather the tax bill on the place for a couple years if need be,

And anything else that might necessitate his presence in these parts

Had moved to the Sun Belt or under the sod of the cemetery on Bootjack Hill

(His kin and kind all buried in the old section, rarely mowed nowadays,

The crumbling old tarmac likely not even plowed out this time of year.)

He’d allow that going elsewhere was feasible, indeed logical in the extreme

(As was pointed out by his daughter, who was exasperated

To the point of near madness by his insistence on sticking around

Though that was likely due to the notion that Hannibal’s trip across the Alps

Was easier than the sojourn from Phoenix to her dad’s place)

But he’d learned full well that common sense only took a man so far,

And, what’s more, those things that were once mysteries

(But not frightening—bewitching, beguiling, tantalizing all right,

Yet comforting, all but whispering Consider us, consult us,

But never fear us, child)

Had metamorphosized, transformed themselves,

Not becoming a part of him, certainly, but standing with him,

(Be it the burbling, bustling Kinzua Creek, strolling in its own time

From the reservoir up by the state line on down, it’s course

Having changed in a hundred little ways since his childhood,

The great thick pine forests, creeping toward the borough limits

An inch here, a foot there, year upon year,

Or the mills themselves, silent and dark,

The windows, alternately whole and broken in a pattern

Forming some crossword puzzle requiring a cipher

Which Webster did not have in his possession)

As unintentional co-conspirators, and perhaps such a notion

Constitutes some rustic mortar-and-mountain mysticism,

And perhaps nothing more than sheer sentimental foolishness,

But such discussions were the province of preachers and professors,

And, in his cosmology, they were welcome to it.

 

The snow itself was fairly easy to deal with, more wind that lake water,

And shoveled easily enough, though the stuff at the end of the drive

Proved a bit more problematic, with the salt and cinders

Providing some unwelcome weight, but more than manageable

All things considered (the occasional newcomer

Would take the borough council about the salt,

Chirping about the effects on the groundwater,

But a few trips down the hill in their boxy old Volvos and Saabs

Softened their opposition, and they consoled themselves

By noting the birds seemed to like it.)

 

 

 

 

 

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8 thoughts on “this man, this town, this time

  1. Damn, man. Fine stuff. You conjure the modern bleak, dead landscape of so much of forgotten America so remarkably well. Almost hurts to read it. There’s a writer named Daniel Woodrell whose work I think you’d appreciate. Also, Philipp Meyer’s “American Rust” comes to mind.
    Happy New Year,
    Bill

  2. It’s amazing to find a prose written against the the normal verses of poetry. It’s most refreshing! The background of places that invoke memories is an added bonus. Wonderfully done Wkk!

    Hank

  3. “Hoping against hope for an opportunity to clog lungs and risk pinkies

    For five, six, maybe eight more years.”

    That’s a great line.

    What Bill said was so true; he hit the nail on the head. ” You conjure the modern bleak, dead landscape of so much of forgotten America so remarkably well. Almost hurts to read it.” I couldn’t have put it better.

    So now, the $100,000 question, W.K.—-

    When you were writing this, what did you have in mind? Binghamton or Johnson City? Or BOTH?

    Glen

    1. While I didn’t have the Binghamton/Johnson City/Endicott metroplex specifically in mind, the Montmorenci Falls tagged herein is a fictional place which incorporates a lot of the seen-better-days mill-and-manufacturing towns I’ve known in my days–and that certainly includes Bingo and JC.

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