Four Poems by Paul Marion
All of the following poems can be found in Paul Marion’s What is the City?, copies of which may be purchased from Loom Press.
The place yours for once, or again,
you walk down Merrimack,
past Jordan’s minimalist window dressing,
one black torso filling a yellow sweater,
and the CVS, door open, scent of candy and medicine;
past Cherry’s, the manikins severe;
past Prince’s books and the shoe store,
all those objects behind plate glass
creating a museum of the ordinary.
The entire street is the Mundane Institute,
commerce having surrendered at five P.M.,
when the human push changed direction.
There’s no ambition in things.
This is the moment to look.
With no merchant presenting it,
the shoe is like a flower, a stone.
Farther on, the landmark clock in the Square
and SUN building, for years
the closest thing to a skyscraper–
across the street Meehan Tours, C.S. Reading Room,
then the murky canal under the bridge
and hissing pipe by the railing.
The Auditorium and Massachusetts Mills over there,
and to the right, beyond the parking lot,
what’s left of the Strand, which featured
A Hard Day’s Night almost twenty years ago.
At this hour I know the meaning of familiar,
know this is where I am, and know some of what was,
what is, and where Bridge Street goes,
yet know so little, not knowing the other stories.
A Hundred Nights of Winter
It’s been so cold and bad
that it took until last week
to dismantle the public manger.
From my office window, through flurries,
I saw an orange dump truck
pull away in traffic
with Joseph, Mary, shepherds, and angels
standing crowded in the back
like a bunch of refugees.
After a hundred nights of winter,
I’m ready to get out.
In a subterranean room roaring like a jet,
Sunday workers feed or unload machines,
busy in twos and threes at their stations.
Plain as old-time mill operatives, they handle cloth by the mile:
nursing home pillow cases, dinner napkins, green scrubs from the ER,
loved sheet, double-bleached butchers’ aprons, hotel towels,
well-fed tablecloths from a club luncheon.
The linen workers take it in and send it on–their canvases unsigned.
A young woman catches my face in the window.
Instead of giving her a wave, any kind of nod,
I freeze like a common eavesdropper.
She turns back to her work, what most of us won’t see
unless we’re in the Flats at the hour of the early Mass,
following the drone of automatic washers
to a sunrise service recognized worldwide.
Their names are in the phone book with ours.
We get the job done. We know the drill by heart.
We press and fold the linen before it is loaded onto trucks,
bound for back doors across the city.
Green windows in the red-brick mills
Green syllables in a red sentence
Green lights on a dark street,
Green mouths in the open air,
Green eyes all in a row.
Windows tinted green from handprints
Of loom fixers, bobbin boys, mill girls–
Ex-farmers who walked to work
And bent by the roadside
To rip out a fistful of grass.
And the same hands
Wiped dust off mill windows
To make a view,
Smearing green ink onto glass,
Leaving a trace that built up.
Green signs painted by country folk
Who entered factories to make a living wage,
Who enlisted in the industrial army,
Who changed old ways to earn meal money,
Who left poor soil for dependable machines,
Who took inside jobs but left handprints
So somebody might imagine the windows green
For the grassy dreams behind them.