The Innisfree Poetry Journal
by Michael F. Hogan
NEWPORT, THE FIFTIES
I was raised in the decade of the death of the elms
with the sight of Sputnik twinkling in the night sky
where one could walk the last of the driftwood beaches
and see weathered cottages beyond the dunes.
Before the rise of condos, before the presidency was for sale
when you could still ride a horse up Harrison
and knew most of the cops by name.
On red and orange Novembers where the tang
of burning maple and oak leaves filled the crisp air
Goelets and the Vanderbilts were real though outsized
and we watched from the statue of Rochambeau
naval destroyers perched off King's Park
like gray scavengers among twelve meter racers
manly crewed by tanned Australians.
The great swing of winter hurled snow in mid-December
to drift above our porch to second-story windows
and the washed sheets on backyard clotheslines
cracked and snapped in my mother’s red-knuckled hands.
Cold sun blinded young sledders on ice-covered snow
and reckless boys skated past the Lilly Pond where
saltwater marsh met the fresh spring.
Then Easter with tulips and jonquils
and women walking out with white dresses and straw hats
and corsages and carnations and the Hallelujah Chorus.
Nuns at Salve Regina escorted not-quite-convented girls
as the first buds appeared on the trees
and the March breeze tossed the stars and stripes
over the courthouse memorial of war dead.
We walked over the dead each day then and knew it.
From colonial sabers under the lawn of Trinity
to the Spanish graybeards at Touro
the ground was full of ghosts, and trees with angels.
In the damp tunnels of Fort Adams catarrhal soldiers roamed,
and in the foam of the waves on Narragansett Bay
floated the light souls of young seamen.
When summer at last lacquered the seaside canvas
it became a town least like itself.
Then all the damp regiments retreated underground;
the sailors were chased from the Thames Street bars
and the cobblestone streets swept cleaned and gentrified.
All the shops were preening and pretentious
with inflated prices foreshadowing what we'd all become.
The historian forgets what century he's in.
This is not a bad thing.
The bridge he walks across at twilight is devoid of cars
and he can hear the dark water flowing below.
No house is more than two stories
and the streets wide enough for only one carriage to pass.
At nightfall the lamplighter comes
and there is no glare beyond the small flare of the gas
so that stars in their myriad brilliance shine as if over Sonora.
The only satellite is a pale moon which follows him dimly
as he passes the church (still open at this hour!)
when a drunken penitent inches his way to the altar on ragged knees
and a lonely widow prays at the side altar to the Virgin of Sorrows.
There are rumors of wars to the north
but the citizens here are untroubled in their dreams:
this life and the life hereafter is one seamless pageant.
Soon it will be morning and then evening again
the constellations wheeling across the sky
the cobblestone streets holding the heat of the day
as the historian makes his return down the vacant street
across the bridgeand lamplight flickers on the dark waters below.
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