"89 Elm Street" was included in the series Keyhole Poems, a sequence that combines the history of specific urban places with the present. The series was accompanied by historic and current photographs.
1 Weather Is Language Found
Cracker Factory, 1865
Every day I flour and roll
and press the metal rings into
the flat dough. Across the table
he peels my circles off the wooden board,
sets them 30x40 on the wide sheet.
When he opens the oven door
the song he sings lingers
in the damp forest of his beard.
In his country he hid in a roofless shed
muting his daughter's hacking cough
with the heavy press of his hand.
I can smell the storm of his escape,
see the rising barometer of safety
plummet into mourning.
His words are a hurricane bellow.
His language is not mine.
Weather is our language found,
a dialect of signals:
a sudden shiver, a clenched collar
an exaggerated glance at the threatening sky.
2 "There's a Hole in the Bucket"
A wave of xylophone notes
pours from the music room
ripples the flat surface of the day.
Early, right after the morning bell
each first, second, third grader
will taste the sweet sharps, the mellow flats.
Remember "Kukaberra" last winter?
Red brick school walls swelling with half-notes,
the children's narrow shoulders bouncing
a tireless week-long beat down the halls
bones bending, spirits
reined to the rhythm of the day.
A hundred-fifty years ago,
where dear Liza dear Liza now rings off-key,
the cuffs of the workers' long white sleeves
swept a floured table, every day
their hands rolled wooden pins
back and forth
pressed the cracker dough flat.
Shoulder muscles, stretched at dawn
lifted laughing babies high overhead,
retracted into tight gnarls.
Flour dusted the factory floor
where schoolchildren tapdance
the hours long.
3 The Factory, the School
Day in day out side by side
the baker bent his ear: his son said this,
his brother's wife said that.
Day in day out yes sir yes ma'am
never adding the right amount of yeast.
One more disruption and the principal's office.
But she kicked me hard under the desk.
Workers hung up their aprons,
washed the dough from their hands,
slid onto long pine benches
around tables under leafless trees.
The ground was speckled with cracker crumbs
or leftover yesterday's snow.
Schoolchildren pour out the doors
like flour from a toppled bag.
Lunch trays are squeezed between sandwiches
and boxed juice and small cartons of milk.
A bag of chips passes hand to hand.
A cookie wrapper flies across the room.
Who makes ginger snaps, anyway?
Published in Comstock Review
Back to Selected poems