Tuesday, September 29, 2015

43rd Letter: Franconia

Willie and Tillie, my long-lived goldfish,
were put in the coffee tin
half filled with water
and lidded with plastic
for the 2-plus-hour drive
to northern New Hampshire.
I remember Route 3,
and a billboard
like a grim movie marquee
warning against drunk driving:
RIGOR MORTIS CAN SET IN
IF YOU MIX YOUR GAS WITH GIN.
George Benson was on the radio
singing "Give Me the Night"--
hybrid jazz/disco rhythms
delighting my eleven-year-old ears.

Between sixth and seventh grade, I was:
between the Joseph H. Barnes Middle School,
Marion Street, East Boston,
and venerable Boston Latin School
on Avenue Louis Pasteur.
I hadn't yet met Mr Halloran
or the poetry of Robert Frost.
I hadn't yet met Mrs Owens
or the second declension neuter.

But I had met the mountains of Franconia
with the Old Stone Face overlooking the Notch
and the dirt road of Lafayette Acres
and placid Route 18
winding its casual way
north to Littleton.
I had met August nights of forty-two degrees
and constellations of fireflies,
fitful bead-sized go-lights
in the deep North Country dark.

Willie and Tillie's limp little fish-corpses
have long ago been flushed to kingdom come.
Disco? Replaced by hip-hop, neo-soul,
emo, shoegazing, and alternative.
East Boston, praise Jesus,
is now just a memory to me.
But I hear they converted the old Barnes School
into elderly housing.

Mr Halloran's retired and writing books.
Mrs Owens is now Mrs Whittaker.
And no longer under compulsion,
I read Frost only rarely nowadays.
(I'd rather read Uncle Wystan.
In fact, I'd rather read you!)

Signs along Route 3
no longer carry cheerful rhymes
about deadly car crashes;
the Old Man of the Mountain
crumbled and fell to earth some years back,
but Route 18 still goes
from the upper end of the Notch
up to Littleton (the town of 6000
suburbanized and lately Walmarted)

--and the fireflies, still bright in memory,
lucent dots of nuclear green
against the thick nocturnal black,
doubtless have descendants
more numerous than the seed of Abraham,
bellies flashing and flickering
in the woods and valleys and clearings,
delighting the eyes of children
with an art transcending usefulness--
these fireflies, these tiny mutant stars.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

42nd Letter: Up Past Midnight

Up past midnight
because I slept for three hours
earlier in the evening.
Warm bright dry blue
Tuesday in Boston yesterday.
Lunch with an old friend.

Now, early Wednesday,
I sit and write to you,
who are probably asleep.
Here is coffee, lamplight,
air conditioning, boredom,
the compulsive cyberfidget.

John Ashbery's Flow Chart
gets peeked into
for inspiration, for amusement.
I'd be better off reading
Delights and Shadows
by former laureate Ted Kooser.

A mite sluggish now.
Should I try for more sleep
before sunrise?
Should I keep the lights on
and jot dozens of three-liners
in the deep quiet?

Should I revise old poems,
lopping off weak beginnings,
making the blurry clear?
O ghosts of Auden
and Roethke and Cummings,
talk to me! some input, please!

I share the double bed
with several books.
Nowhere else to put them.
My library borrowings
are due back on October 6th.
October--so close!

Household chores
ask to be done. I put them off
to write this letter to you.
I have friended the darkness.
We message each other
with words, with starlight.

Monday, September 14, 2015

41st Letter: Still Discovering

After a few years of correspondence,
we are still discovering each other--
through shared fragments of our lives
(your trip to the Botanic Garden;
my lunch at Grafton Street),
through mutual enthusiasms
(Mary Oliver; Henri Nouwen; autumn weather),
and through what distinguishes us
each from the other
(your rural upbringing near Spoon River;
my urban childhood near Logan Airport).

Our similarities are different.

*

All of us--you, me, the barber, the priest,
the lady in front of Starbucks asking for spare change,
the regulars at Gail Ann's Coffee Shop,
the intimate friend of several years,
the friend who holds me at arm's length--
we are all inexhaustible mysteries,
ordinary creatures of ineffable grandeur!
We each bring some gesture, some word
that serves as a cup of cold water to a weary traveller,
we each know the anguish and the joy
of this fleeting earthly life.

The old prayer speaks of
"mourning and weeping
in this vale of tears" ...
I'm grateful that the tears
aren't the whole story,
that there are kindnesses
along this Via Mysteriosa.

I'm grateful that there can be found,
along the road to every Calvary,
a Veronica with her napkin,
with her kind heart,
to help assuage the pain.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

40th Letter: Arlington Town Day

Arlington Town Day: annual street fair
From ten to two on a Saturday in September.
Arts and crafts, and food, and a big book sale!

Local office-holders smile and shake hands;
Dentists have booths where they give away toothbrushes;
Grocery stores hand out free tote bags.

First Unitarian offers tolerance and welcome;
St John's Episcopal offers welcome and tolerance,
And top-notch music at their liturgies.

Democrats bask in Arlington's kindness;
Republicans don't mind being outnumbered;
Do Libertarians know about Town Day?

A high-school band blares Brubeck and Ellington
To a grateful cluster of parents and jazz fans,
A small clot in the circulating throng.

Citizens Bank offers a green coffee mug
And minimal monthly service charges, of course.
Quiet white-haired ladies sell handmade scarves.

Tango gives us A Taste of Argentina;
The Sons of Italy sizzle mammoth sausages;
At a booth by Mill Street, you can get fried dough.

What can't you find at Arlington Town Day?
It's the surest sign that autumn's around the corner,
A rumor that this crowd tries hard to ignore.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

39th Letter: On Mary Oliver's 80th Birthday

On Mary Oliver's eightieth birthday,
I thought I'd jot you a note.

We will both likely celebrate this happy occasion
by immersing ourselves in dailiness:
you with your work at the school;
me with the Stop & Shop,
and joining the neighbors here at the Manor
for a Mass in the community room;
then, toward evening,
Miriam's workshop at the library.

Supposed to be stormy in Boston today.
My app on the iPhone tells me
that your weather, too, might be unsettled
toward evening.

A big lug like me can easily
walk between the raindrops.
Well, not quite!

Take care of yourself, stay dry,
and enjoy your Thursday!