'St. Lucia Landing' (excerpt 3)

St. Lucia Landing (excerpt 3)


Flower Man

Hurt Not the Trees

Environment Man

Father Earth

55-year-old Cyril Cherry

In blooming hat says,

"I can spend twenty minutes

Admiring a tree. Like a man

Looks at a woman, so

I look upon trees.

As long as it is a tree,

I am in love with it."



"People cut trees because

They have no more love

In their hearts. If you love,

You protect, and the more

You love, the more you

Want to protect. Trees enrich

The soil and help keep the

Water in it, which makes streams,

Rivers, and falls. Plant trees

For good health. I'm happy to

Wake up and sell trees."



Man Job,

The Rastafarian,

Tells us the land is us,

We come from the soil,

Everything in the universe

Is part of us, and

Food is basic, he says,

If you live right,

You won't fall sick.

If you are born healthy,

And you don't eat rubbish

And you live naturally,

You will live a long life.



Jamaican ackee, orange, grapefruit, okra,

Sweetsop, cashew, golden apple, lettuce,

Taiwanese plum, soya, melon, cucumber,

Sweet pepper, cabbage, broccoli, corn,

Mung beans, cauliflower, tomato---

At Roots Farm, Mabouya Valley.

'Dick Van Dyke'

On the Amtrak Acela Express heading for Penn Station a few days ago, I noticed, not for the first time, the repeated machinery of our electrical grid along the railway between Rhode Island and Manhattan. Instead of a paper notebook, I used the Notes feature on my smart phone to write phrases taking shape in my mind. Outside New York City is a sign for New Rochelle, fictional home of Rob and Laura Petrie of The Dick Van Dyke Show, the popular television program (1961-66) still in broadcast circulation. We wouldn't have those TV stories and all the other stories, news, and information without electricity and the grid, a scientific marvel easily taken for granted. Digital technology has made Dick Van Dyke endless in a way. I've had access to the characters here and there, now and then, for most of my life. The power generation sector gave me vivid words and robust terms, an industrial vocabulary, at times made up, that was fun to use even if not always accurately. I'm doing art here, not engineering, hoping the reader will "get a charge" out of the composition. Where does something like this fit? What type of poem? Wallace Stevens' "The Emperor of Ice-Cream" came to mind, the language in that piece, like this: "... and bid him whip/In kitchen cups concupiscent curds." 

Dick Van Dyke

Around New Rochelle and the Pelhams another Erector Set substation,

Knob and tube components with radial ceramic insulators atop juice boxes,

The wound-up wires fenced off with heavy-gauge chainlink, a compact operation

Shipping a jillion watts to the citizens who pay transmission fees every day,

The lot of these energizers along the railway on the back underside of Eastman's

Corridor. Laura Petrie in her black capri pants needed the plug, the county lineman,

The steel twist, and coal-fired plant amps to fill her shape in the face of cathode ray-

Bathed pre-Moon flag sectionals propping up 2.5 average kids. Mel Cooley's after-image

Is tattooed on the inside back walls of our skulls. Over the world web, re-runs at 4 a.m.

Sourced in Metro New York City, says the seat-back screen looping cooked data

Radiating from a signal tower, its sleek vectone inscribers pulsing fast. In a skinny

Suit, soft-peak hat worn by dads to church in 1963, Oh, Rob, don't trip the circuit. 


Long Purples

This piece is cross-posted from the RichardHowe.com blog, where I am a regular contributor. One of midsummer’s visual signals in the Merrimack Valley is purple loosestrife. While some people frown upon its spread as an invasive species, I’ve always enjoyed the distinctive color in the landscape at this time of year. This sketch also appears in my book What Is the City? (2006), which is out of print. There are used copies for sale on the web.— PM

Long Purples

People write letters to writers, and sometimes the mail is a gift. Not long ago, Bill Martin wrote to tell me that he’d read a poem of mine that begins with an image of purple loosestrife growing between the stones in the Merrimack riverbed. He described the genesis of purple loosestrife in the valley, the flashy plant that runs wild every summer.

A beekeeper who worked in a local mill learned that bees were drawn to purple loosestrife. “When a large shipment of wool bales came from Australia, he knew it would contain loosestrife seeds,” Bill explained, “Australia being the only place on earth that grew this wonderful plant. He swept the floors after the bales were opened and washed, took home bags of dirt and seeds from the floor, and piled it around his hives. That year, plenty of loosestrife grew, and he sold the seed around the world through a beekeeping magazine, becoming quite famous in those circles.” The farm was in Chelmsford, near the cloverleaf of routes 495 and 3.

That’s not the only story of the origin of the loud purple flowers. Historians say the seeds were embedded in wool shipped from England to Lowell’s textile mills. Long purples, as they are known there, grow in the English countryside. Shakespeare mentions the wildflower in one of his plays. A writer in the Merrimack Valley says her mother calls the plant “millweed” and seconds the Australian wool story. My oldest brother swears he was told the seeds had come east on the wings of airplanes flying across country from California during World War II.

The Latin words for the plant are Lythrum salicaria. Loosestrife itself is a translation of lysimachia, a genus of plants named for Lusimakhos, the Greek doctor credited with its discovery. The plant was used as a tranquilizer for animals and a nerve tonic for people—a remedy for stress. North American field guides call it an “alien plant” or an “imported European.” The sturdiest type thrives in southern Canada, the American Midwest, and throughout the Northeast. Local naturalists despise the invasive loosestrife for the way it crowds out native species.

When a friend of mine from Los Angeles visited Lowell in deep summer, she praised the strange, prolific plant. Seeing the rocky bed of the river streaked purple, she said the city should put loosestrife on its official seal. Some folks consider loosestrife a weed, not purple tuning forks vibrating with the memories of no-school seasons. I know a teacher who says the ugly color signals the end of vacation.

The flowers rise in July, just before native corn hits the stands. Patches decorate side roads. Purple veins trace a brook into the woods. Like dog-day torches of summer, loosestrife ignites the ditches and flares across fields of wild grass and brush. I almost expect to hear the sirens of fire engines rushing to extinguish the blazing color.

The mill that beekeeper worked in was the same mill in which my father worked as a wood grader for most of his life. The mill was a hot, stinking place in July. When I was eighteen, I tended machines in the basement for two days before quitting. My father brought home colorful foreign stamps torn from sample bags of wool shipped to the mill. Another man found the seeds of purple loosestrife.

St. Lucia Landing (excerpt 2)

Here's another excerpt from the long, multi-part poem "St. Lucia Landing." On visits there, it was a life lived outside. The hot weather in January and February, typically when my family would be there, drew us to the beach and sea. Inside, the house was airy and open with tropical trees and plants around and colorful birds landing on the kitchen table and window ledges when the shutters were pulled aside.  

St. Lucia Landing (excerpt 2)



Unbothered by foraging doves

And long-beaked tremblers and crows,

With their fierce feet, the long-tailed critter,

Size of a large chipmunk, dragged its ass

Uphill, jaws clamped on a hunk of bread,

Not moving like a standard rat.



In eleventh century-China, Wei T’ai told us,

“Poetry presents the thing in order to convey the feeling.

It should be precise about the thing and reticent

About the feeling, for as soon as the mind

Responds and connects with the thing, the feeling

Shows in the words; this is how poetry enters deeply

Into us. If the poet presents directly feelings which

Overwhelm him, and keeps nothing back to linger

As an aftertaste, he stirs us superficially; he cannot

Start the hands and feet involuntarily waving and

Tapping in time, far less strengthen morality

And refine culture, set heaven and earth

In motion and call up the spirits.”



Halfway into the bay

A wave rears like a white

Chess knight, mane flaring,

Or a pumped-up seahorse riding

Its back-fin or even a sky-blue skunk

With foamy stripe and bush-tail,

Parading just like that,

Then gone.

Leaving Zanesville (journal entry, 1984)

I drove across country, from Massachusetts to California, round-trip, in 1983 and 1984, on my way to and from the University of California, Irvine, where I studied in the Master of Fine Arts Program in Writing. I kept a journal going west and then east the next year. The cross-country trip is a particular rite of passage for an American. At 29, I was a bit older than a lot of people when they set out on this trip. I captured some of the experience in words, wanting to have a record to go back to years later. I can re-inhabit the car when I return to the notes. Some of the journey was spectacular, visually, and long parts of it were mundane highway scenes. As a whole the experience changed my sense of myself as a person in this country. I had been on jet planes to Los Angeles and Denver, but I had not driven farther south than Virginia and west to Vermont if that's even more west than Virginia by the map. The following is from May 1984 on the return trip to New England. Going west, I had a friend for company and shared driving, but on the route east I traveled alone.----PM

Hot pink sun and blue clouds in the Ohio sky at 6:30 in the morning.

I’ve been flashing across the states like a glass bullet, yesterday’s piece of the map being Columbia, Missouri, to Zanesville, birthplace of the author Zane Grey, one of my father’s favorites whose western stories were exotic to a young French-Canadian New Englander in a riverside mill city. “Riders of the Purple Sage.” Imagine the mind-pictures that triggered? Just like the movie serials downtown on Saturdays. Now there is Zanesville with frontier and cowboy bric-a-brac for sale. A lariat hangs over the motel's reception desk. Geronimo's portrait down the hall. In the rooms, framed prints of Tombstone, Dodge City, San Antonio, and Cheyenne. 

Rapid travel is dislocating, time and place getting jumbled. I feel the effort on the road, which is so different than plane travel. I’m alone, and paying attention is work of a sort even on smooth interstate lanes. Massive trucks in the rear view mirror keep me alert. These, too, shall pass. They always do.

I had driven through St. Louis close to the large shining silver arch (Gateway to the West), Indianapolis, and Columbus, Ohio, before stopping for the night in Z-ville. The terrain had changed from wide scenes of mid-America to the populated East, landscape greener, grassy, wooded, marked by clearings and buildings, highlands, more middle-sized communities. The Olympics torch run is crossing the country at the same time, but moving opposite my path, east to west.

Today’s route will see me leaving Ohio and pushing ahead to the narrow upper handle of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, then Maryland, another piece of West Virginia in the Allegheny Mountains, and the touchdown in south central Virginia, the piedmont region where one of my brothers teaches at a college.

I don’t think first of Virginia as a Confederate state, but rather as part of the Revolution, the Virginia uprisers in partnership with Massachusetts rebels. It’s Jefferson and Adams first in my mind, not Lee and Grant at Appomattox. I want to visit Monticello, not Richmond. All this national history packed into the eastern seaboard, so much more familiar to me than the roots of California I had been exploring for a year. Mission San Juan Capistrano, founded in 1776, year of the Declaration of Independence by Jefferson and company. Then, slightly north on the freeway, Mission Viejo, essentially a town as a residential project just 13 years old when I got there. Is there any place 13 years old in New England, in Virginia? Out west, America is still becoming itself.

May 1984

In Remembering the Impact of 1968, Keep in Mind Raymond Mungo

When I was at Dracut High School in the Merrimack River Valley of northeast Massachusetts in the early 1970s, one of the history teachers, Rita Jensen, told my friend Paul Brouillette and me that we should check out a writer she grew up with in nearby Lawrence, Raymond Mungo. We didn't know the name, but followed up. We found a young guy who had been busy, a kindred cultural spirit from a similar background who went from a mill city downriver to Boston University to the depths and heights of the swirling Sixties, putting himself in the flow of history. I see Raymond in the literary stream of the bioregion of the Merrimack and Concord rivers---in the company of Anne Bradstreet, Henry Thoreau, J. G. Whittier, Lucy Larcom, Robert Frost, and Jack Kerouac, to take the list up to the Sixties. He's not as well known as the familiar names above, but we know that what he did and what he wrote will endure. His memoirs are classics of their time. Today the area is full of writers, which would probably please Ray.  

The first half of 2018 has been a non-stop "Time Tunnel" with people and the media revisiting the tumult and change 50 years ago. The Vietnam War blowing up, President Johnson declining to seek his party's nomination, Eugene McCarthy's political revolt, Black Power at Howard University and protests at Columbia University, Paris riots, Martin Luther King Jr.'s murder and Robert F. Kennedy's murder, then later in the year Juan Carlos and Tommie Smith raising their fists at the Olympics in Mexico City, The Beatles' "White Album," Nixon's election to the presidency, Apollo 8 orbiting the moon---and take a breath. In the midst of all this news and disruption, Raymond Mungo and his friends got their voices and their bodies in the way, as Congressman John Lewis says we all should do when the time calls for nothing less. 

Along the road, Raymond wrote memoirs ("Famous Long Ago," "Total Loss Farm"), novels, advice books, nonfiction volumes, and stayed true to his writing life. Years later he moved into counseling and social work, helping people with AIDS and mental health challenges. He has been living in California for a long time. I met Ray many years ago when I brought him to UMass Lowell as a guest speaker.  Out the blue this week I got an email message from him (sent to a list of folks) in which he recommended seeing the new film about Fred Rogers of "Mr Rogers' Neighborhood." Ray praised the humanity in the story.

Here's how the Raymond Mungo Papers page of the UMass Amherst Libraries website begins: "Born in a "howling blizzard" in February 1946, Raymond Mungo became one of the most evocative writers of the 1960s counterculture. Through more than fifteen books and hundreds of articles, Mungo has brought a wry sense of humor and radical sensibility to explorations of the minds and experiences of the generation that came of age against a backdrop of the struggles for civil rights and economic justice, of student revolts, Black Power, resistance to war, and experimentation in communal living. Raised in a working class family in Lawrence, Mass., and a product of Roman Catholic schools, Mungo emerged as a fully-fledged radical as an undergraduate at Boston University. . . ." (Visit the Libraries' website to see a complete list of the items in the Mungo Papers, including photographs).

Late last year when the Sixties look-back was in high gear, I asked Raymond's longtime friend Verandah Porche of Vermont if she had a piece of writing about Ray that I could integrate into something I was planning to write. Verandah is a poet and member of the select-board in Guilford, Vt. I met her years ago through a mutual friend. She sent me a poem that she had written for Ray's birthday and said I could share it. Here it is. 

Raymond A. Mungo


In my bland tan Clime I conjure you,

My old Gay Flame, mutable as Fire,

Starry as Frost, unforced as Narcissus

Who wants to rise. Sweet as Fruit

jarred for the Cold. I break the Seal

to salute you.


“The Universe is Discipline

Enough,” our dashing Stranger swore.


We'd flown, footloose Utopians,

Across an Ocean of Rapport


To Feast upon Antiquity

And Misbehave in borrowed beds.


The Mother of Necessity

Invented Life that broke like Bread


Now Decades jut between our arms

And Mountains elbow us apart.


My Hearth is still the Heirloom Farm--

The Metaphor we took to Heart.


The Monarch and the Hummingbird

Commute between our flowery Lots.


Migration is their Wingèd Word.

What Constellations call the Shots?


Let Night preserve our Souvenirs

As Stars shell out their Solitaires.


We'll catch their Drift in random Years,

To root and wander, Light on Air.

---Verandah Porche

"Sky Bar"

Here's a memory piece I wrote in 2000 when I was thinking about growing up in Dracut and Lowell, Mass., in the 1950s and early '60s. My ancestors on my mother's side (Roy) and father's side had migrated from Quebec to Lowell around 1880, in synch with the vast migration of French Canadians to the riverside mill cities of New England. By the 1950s, the family was Americanized but still integrated into the local French culture that would thin out substantially by the 1990s.--PM


The barbershop on upper Merrimack Street had a candy vending machine against the long side wall where customers waited in padded steel chairs. When I had a dime I'd slot the coin and pull the handle for a Sky Bar in a yellow wrapper with its four squares of flavor. I always felt I was getting a lot for my money with its variety: caramel, vanilla, peanut, and fudge encased in milk chocolate. You could break off one or two sections and save the untouched others in the wrapper for later. Yes, you could, technically, but I always ate the whole thing. The candy bar had premiered in 1938 with ads in skywriting. There's the name. 

My father would drive my brother David, five years older, and me to the Majestik Barbershop one block north of the public library. I don't know why my father chose that shop from among a couple of dozen others around the city. Maybe because it was on the edge of the historic French neighborhood, Little Canada. A gray-haired man and his son owned the business. My impression is that the father was from Greece or Syria. On Saturday mornings, which was our time for haircuts, sometimes there were three barbers working the swivel chairs facing a wall of mirrors. Wide black leather strops hung from the chair-backs like something out of a Wild West frontier town barbershop. On these strops barbers sharpened straight razors used for shaving or cleaning the backs of necks as the finishing touch of a haircut. Colorful bottles of hair lotion and after-shave arranged on the counter under the mirror wall resembled a line up of liquor bottles at a bar, yellow-green, amber, light blue, rose. 

It was the era of Brylcreem, whiffles, and regular boy's haircuts with a little turned-up wave in the front--no hair touching the ears and no curls falling over shirt collars. This was pre-Beatles America with military neatness as the norm. (Exhibit A was Elvis getting clipped in the U.S. Army.) And in our mostly Catholic network that neatness was reinforced by the cleanliness-is-next-to-Godliness doctrine, all intensified by the French-Canadian social chromosome that drove mothers and grandmothers into battle against dust and grime, determined to keep homes, clothes, and children safe from the dirty devil from hell-ville down below.

Those were the days of fashion shaped by Dick Clark's American Bandstand on TV, the at-first clean-cut Philadelphia region kids who wore sports coats and dresses when they gyrated to songs with "a good beat." The days before the Great Denim Revolution of the late '60s, days when my friends and I still called such pants dungarees, never thinking for a second that the word begins with "dung," or sometimes called them overalls even though in my neighborhood no self-respecting kid over nine years old would be caught wearing farmer-style bib overalls. The bib bluejeans would show up in force in the 1970s, after Woodstock and the first cultural shock wave of back-to-the-land hippiedom. In high school the freaks, guys in this case, did the bib jeans look with shoulder-length hair when the idea of any haircut became foreign. I knew young women in college who liked to wear farmer jeans because it was a comfortable way to skip a bra. With a t-shirt and the bib they were all freedom-loving country stars, and had my vote. I didn't go down the rural working-class hero route, keeping to the middle of the rock-and-roll road in fashion. Back in the eighth grade I had a polyester blue Nehru jacket a-la India-period Beatles (from Stuart's Department Store) that mostly stayed in my closet except for a couple of school dances and one Sunday Mass at St. Therese's Church. In the bedroom mirror, checking my longer hair and snug mod jacket, I desperately hoped the look said, cool. 

I graduated from whiffles (crew cuts, buzz cuts) after the first grade, so that meant biweekly trips to the barber. Before the Majestik Barbershop routine, my father would take my brothers and me to the cellar of a house on Martin Street in the Rosemont section of Lowell, a sub-neighborhood that forms a border between the Centralville and Pawtucketville neighborhoods, along the meandering Beaver Brook that flows south from the New Hampshire state line on its last leg before washing in to the Merrimack River. The area was a mix of single family homes and tenements with a few small businesses tucked in. For a time in his youth, my father had lived in the Rosemont, heavy-duty French Canadian-American breeding ground. Almost every family had a yard full of kids, five or seven being common. The Marions were one of the big clans in the Rosemont, as were the Lachapelles and Brunelles. One Mr. Lachapelle cut hair on the side to make a few extra dollars. When you have a raft of kids this do-it-yourself solution makes sense. Pretty soon he was taking customers from the parish and extended family. A dad could get his kid a whiffle for fifty cents or possibly a quarter, no complaints allowed. 

Down in the Rosemont they tell stories of "The Flood," the great Merrimack River flood of 1936. My grandfather would talk about an old guy who raised pigs. He herded his pigs up to the first, second, and finally third level of the three-decker tenement he lived in as the water engulfed each floor of the block. This story was told in French, with grandad (pepere) Marion laughing hard as he imitated the man who owned the pigs, Francais, as he was called, trying to save his animals, which he did. This is the same Francais who had the horse-drawn "honey wagon" that he used to collect pig swill at small farms and even from backyard pens in the area. I've seen photographs of people in rowboats on the inundated streets, checking houses for anyone stranded inside.

One time I asked the family genealogist, Florence Y. Marion, about the name "Rosemont," meaning maybe "rose hill" or "rose mountain," but she didn't know the origin other than to say it was perhaps the name of a farm that had once filled the area before houses were built on the property. I thought there may have been a swath of wild roses there at one time or that the farmer, if there was one, had cultivated special rose bushes on his land. In his true-story novel Doctor Sax, set in 1930s Lowell and which includes mention of "The Flood," Jack Kerouac, who lived close by for many years, names the area "Rosemont the Mysterious."

For me, the Rosemont is a place of origins and psychic power. It's a place of beginnings and myths even, from the riverside natives and colonists to immigrants turned rooted occupants, citizens, and storytellers, the people who achieved a stable enough life to have time to cut each other's hair and buy candy bars for their kids. For about 100 years, people attached by thick or thin strands to French Canada had a saturated presence in the immediate area. I can unwind from that cultural spool, but the thread will never give out completely. 





"St. Lucia Landing" (excerpt)

These are sections from a poem I wrote in the moment on location during a family vacation in St. Lucia in the West Indies. It was the year 2000. We were fortunate enough to spend time there during the winter for several years returning each time to Windjammer Landing on Labrelotte Bay on the northwest coast. One year I tried to write a long, connected poem in short bursts with as little revision as possible, although I did go back and tweak lines and sections. The composition as a whole remains unpublished, however, parts have been refashioned as stand-alone poems and appeared in print.--PM


Been trying to paint 

palm trees for days--

not so easy---as much

as I look, I'm not

getting the gist--

my fronds look askew,

the trunks not as lean,

my copy not so true


Morning shower,

rain falls in a heap

as if from the unzipped

hold of a fire-fight plane,

sky tankers in Wyoming

releasing a pond's worth--

racketing splashes on 

the torn elephant ears

of banana trees


Reading Josephine Herbst's 

The Starched Blue Sky of Spain

on the terrace till noon--

sky downy, pale,

sharp light coming--

blue atmosphere over

riffled blue sea, translucent

blueberry Popsicle-blue--

liquid blue detergent-blue


Birds ricocheted 

like crazy at breakfast,

word out about our

crumby soup line

causing spats and 

all kinds of chippiness

as feeders jockeyed

for spots on railings


Two yellow-bellied 

small guys popped in

for the treat--got into

it right off, one jabbing

the other with needle-beak--

the brassy red-chested

dark types put up a fuss

when smooth tan fliers cut in


Gray working ship

noses toward Castries

as sun intensifies--

gray clouds sprung,

the beating temp

frying an oiled layer

off all northern spines



Maine Road Notes (Sept. 1978)

When I was in my 20s, I traveled a lot around northern New England--Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. I wrote more about Maine than the other places I went. Going through old notebooks, I found this piled-up report about what I had seen on a trip in September 1978. I was in between relationships, which must explain the women-women-women section about halfway through. This piece is a time capsule of sorts from the days of back-to-the-land, back country thinking and acting by the Woodstock generation. People were creating progressive pockets of settlement in the rural northeast, exploring self-sufficiency, and reinventing themselves after childhoods in the suburbs for many of them.---PM

Blueberry fields turn red, scarlet, crimson, rusty, the low-riding hills, low plants, scrubby Down East terrain rolling to the ocean, new-hayed fields, hay balers, tractors, roadside sign $20 per bushel of clams hosed clean for steaming

Inlet sardine factory punched-out front splinters split beams broken teeth collapsed in back sagging roof gray rotten sills busted down and beside it a half-sunk old sardine boat white peeling hull gray boards decayed thru-out calm blue water in the cove

Looking downhill the sun breaks into mirrors on the water blue pools blue ocean notched into this coastal section land slopes down to the sea a one-lane wooden bridge crosses low over shallow water orange maples by shiny red trees and golden-yellow leaves daub the partly green woods on all sides creamy tan grass in every field freshly cut acres sprout green whiskers Indian Summer

Quart jars of maple syrup enormous pumpkins dulse bread whole-wheat bagels w/cream cheese mung bean salad country fiddlers Common Ground Fair Litchfield Maine south of Augusta goats w/snipped ears giant draft horses pole-climbing horse-pulling solar collectors solar cells windmills wind-power fruit smoothies lemonade w/honey women country women young rural women t-shirt women blue-denim women farm-dress women boots & braids women suntanned lean-cheeked women full-hipped clean-lined women shiny-haired women clear-eyed women young healthy women women fiddlers & cooks & clowns & artists women women women and their men in dusty thirsty boots thick-haired pony-bound hat-topped strong-armed sunburnt arms reddened cheekbones dirty bare feet pressed painter's white pants vest-wearing worn boots sheep-shearing book-selling alternative energy systems and structure designers all ages people 1 to 100 at the fair carrots potatoes cukes zukes squash tomatoes all hung with blue prize ribbons families many young families w/babies in papoose pouches & carry sacks & strollers or held by hand led around the grounds animal auction nifty little goat kids small faces taller milk goats clean-washed goats some w/ears cut off beefalo beef cattle grass-fed cattle buffalo hybrids large brown cattle Shetland ponies long-maned crowds and crowds storytellers puppet shows weathermen girl w/long skirt walking around on stilts like normal strolling

Tents with exhibits books paintings pottery stained glass weaving macrame rugs etchings prints cane-work jewelry t-shirts literature & pamphlets natural food land reform childbirth info birth control info anti-nuke booth shelter institute insulation wood-splitting organic farming MOFGA Maine Organic Farmers & Growers Association organic seeds compost improvement beefalo semen rabbit cages pigeon cages sheep-shearing wool-carding wool-spinning thread-making yarn-spinning cloth-weaving spinners' circle spinning wheels pedal power ox teams pony sled rides human jukebox food stands hot dogs lamb-burgers tacos egg rolls o.j. vegetable Syrian bread sandwiches rice dish ice cream power tools farm machinery chainsaws lobster cart balloon man lost children announcements exhibition halls guest speakers Wendell Berry in the horse-pulling ring w/grandstand Helen & Scott Nearing yesterday talking about "Living the Good Life" Berry's "The Unsettling of America" the New Alchemists the American Friends Service Committee H.O.M.E. the Heifer Project Hunger International solar tents films slide-shows postcards wood stoves R-factor log-houses broad axe-hewn beams notched beams cordwood houses blacksmith Clivus Multrum ecological toilet hand-knit mittens w/red price tags shawls leather goods leather & lather show thermo-pane farmers police officers jammed parking lot people streaming in

---from Workbook "C" (Sept. 23-24, 1978)  

Journal Notes on Boston Globe Book Festival, 11-20-82

This journal excerpt is a snapshot from my early journey on the writer's path. I would go to where the action was to learn more about how writing and publishing are done. In this case it was a chance to see authors only familiar to me from their books or media appearances. I wanted to get into the living stream and soak it up. In those days, '70s and '80s, I often went to events in Boston, Cambridge, and Worcester, Mass.---readings, book fairs, literary conferences, author talks with book-signings at bookstores. Experience by experience, I found my way and began to feel like I belonged in the community of writers.---PM

Today at the Globe Book Festival, I met Paul Mariani after he gave a talk about his biography of William Carlos Williams. He read from the book with a lot of power, like a poetry reading (he is a poet). Good stuff. Nice guy. I told him I had seen the feature on him on CBS morning news about six months ago. He said, "You saw that?" I said it was a good piece of TV work on a living breathing American poet. In his talk he compared the Paterson/Rutherford, New Jersey, area to Lowell and other Massachusetts factory towns. I bought a paperback copy of the biography and had him sign it. He looked at me intently when I said my name. "Are we related?" he asked. "Some part of my family dropped the 'i' a few generations back." I said, "No, my name is spelled 'ion,' not 'ian.'" When I saw him later at the book-signing counter, I told him I probably would not be writing poetry if in college I hadn't read Williams's talking bibliography, "I Wanted to Write a Poem." Mariani said Kerouac really liked Williams, too, when I told him I was from Lowell. 

Other sidelights of the festival:

Kurt Vonnegut hanging around the back of a hall where his wife, Jill Krementz, had just finished talking about her new photography book. He had a tan raincoat over his arm and was smoking a cigarette.

Francesco Scavullo, fashion photographer, surrounded by people waiting for him to autograph books, looked just like he did on the Today Show recently.

Maxine Kumin giving a poetry reading in Poe Hall. I was not impressed by her reading style. She had a big crowd of women and women's college-looking students. Kumin is taller and thinner than I expected from having seen pictures of her. She has an easygoing manner at the podium.

Famous Amos, the chocolate cookie magnate, doing his celebrity thing at one booth. He was there on behalf of a literacy volunteers project. Amos handed out cookies and sold kazoos.

I met a few small publishers, Phil Zuckerman of Applewood Books and Sam Cornish of Fiction, Literature Bookstore, as well as the distribution manager for Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance and the publisher of "Stories," a fiction periodical in Boston. She had 1300 mss. the first year, and published about 10 stories. I spoke with two people from the local chapter of the Writers Union. Later, I listened to a panel discussion about the state of publishing in which nothing unusual was said. There are big and small publishers, period. 

'Other People's Postcards' -- new poem

New poem for a snow day. For decades, my mother and father saved postcards and kept them in scrapbooks. I recycled some of the sincere writing to make a kind of collage of messages from people on the move. These date from 1930s to 1960s. There's a hint of haiku in the simplicity and observations. Time is scrambled in the sequence.

Other People’s Postcards

Vic met me at the train. Having a swell time. 
Seeing you people traveling the globe, I decided to try it!
If you don’t write soon, I won’t write anymore.
I’m at Salisbury Beach. Water is grand. You should be here. 
The food really stinks in Berlin. Don’t worry about me. 
I’m having the trip of my life. Creation is full of wonders.
Well, some fun in the army. Will be a man when I get out. 
We have one more day before going to Yugoslavia.
Montreal is nice, but I will be glad to be back home.
Every piece of ginger you sent was enjoyed.
Lorraine remarried 30 days ago, Junior living with me. 
This trip is as close to paradise as I will ever get.
I’m fenced in with heat, rain, and Democrats in Providence.
This is the kid brother dropping a line to say I’m O.K.
Rio is huge, modern, and clean, and the beaches gorgeous.
Tell Dick we saw the Navy’s Blue Angels stunt pilots.
Sent you a card to put in your scrapbook. I’m alive. 
I just hate to go back to cold New England. 
I was in Venice last year, too. Next stop is Trieste.
Arrived in Carolina Friday. Wish you were here.

---Paul Marion, 2018

'Letter to Charlie' (June 2004)

Cross-posting this from the RichardHowe.com blog several weeks ago. Dick Howe, Jr., encouraged me to mine my files for writing that can be posted on the blog as a way to look back on recent history. Over the years, Charles Nikitopoulos and I have exchanged hundreds of email messages about all kinds of things. Charlie is a retired professor of psychology who taught at UMass Lowell for many years. He guided me through the master’s program in community social psychology as an “older” student, for which I will always be grateful. The two of us have had a thousand discussions about community life in the city. Sometimes I send him letters by email about what I’ve been doing and thinking. Here’s one letter from June 2004, which I realized after writing it sounded a little like Charles Sampas’s legendary daily columns in the SUN newspaper, “Sampascoopies.” I’ve always enjoyed walking around the city to see what is going on. Here’s one bulletin from the Time Machine.—PM

Letter to Charlie, June 2004

Dear Charlie:

Just back from one of my routine hikes around the city. Quick route is downtown and back, about three miles. I’m always surprised at how few people in a city of 100,000-plus are on the street when I walk around early in the day.

Small scenes sting my nostalgia nerves and lead to feelings of goofy affection for humble community life, like the uniformed delivery man returning to his Drake’s Cakes truck after dropping off fresh treats at Ray Robinson’s luncheonette at the corner of Central and Jackson streets, where a few early birds stare at their coffees. Luncheonette is one of those Lowell yokel words, wouldn’t you say? And, speaking of coffee, the business-suited young woman entering the Pollard Exchange Building with her extra large cup of Dunkin Donuts java.

The up-early teenagers heading for Kirk Street and Lowell High School, counting in their brains the school days remaining in June. The sun-brightened dimpled surfaces (accomplished with pneumatic hammers) of Carlos Dorrien’s massive granite art monument to human builders set on old foundations mid-Pawtucket Canal just upstream of the Lower Locks canal plaza. And the sun-washed gray stone of the old Post Office, former School Department office, that Nick Sarris did such a fine job of reclaiming for future generations. The scaffold-less towers of the 19th-century train station on Central Street that gave its name to Towers Corner, a long stone’s throw from Danas’s vintage corner market, meal counter, and confectionery, same one featured in the 1980s movie School Ties, which made room for a few Lowellians as extras—the fight scene was staged in the alley aside the market. And next to the market is a distinctive small building, a miniature of the famous Flatiron Building, a wedge-shaped structure across the street from the restaurant supply store.

The unusually quiet Revolving Museum whose young people made bold creative statements about what’s important to them in tall windows on Merrimack Street. Manager Manya Callahan has a display of Father’s Day gift books at the Barnes & Noble. An offer for Dave Matthews tickets taped to the door of the Old Court pub, the name of which pays tribute to a favorite spot in co-owner Finbarr Sheehan’s old-country home, Sheehan being a host, barkeep, writer, and UMass Lowell graduate who may have a pile of short stories or even a novel in the back room. Banging hammers in the left-hand storefront of the rehabbed Moeller’s Building on Middle Street with its spacious lofts and street-level curio shop judiciously packed with Cambodian paintings, slightly aboriginal ceramic heads, a pair of seats from a Brooklyn ballpark, and more vintage treasures.

Back at the South Common, a couple of diligent souls pacing around the oval track at the base of the park, the field in the center worn to dirt from goal cage to goal cage. Wouldn’t new grass or a composite material turf like the beautiful Cushing Field at UMass Lowell be a bonus in this active park? Paving machines ran all night on Thorndike Street, applying a thick coat of asphalt on one of the gateway routes into the city, the scraping and leveling going on for two weeks. Outside the Bishop Markham public housing, whose mid-rise buildings are the color of Cheerios cereal, a woman walking her small dog says to her pet, “Be polite, stay on your side, that’s right,” as she passes a man in an Astros baseball cap outside the courthouse.

All for now. More later. — PM

'What's Past Is Prologue' (Shakespeare)

Here’s another entry about politics from my 1992 personal journal. I had been volunteering in Paul Tsongas’s presidential campaign for about a year when he suspended his campaign for the Democratic nomination on March 19 for lack of capacity to keep battling Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas. Paul had won eight primaries and caucuses in the process, including New Hampshire. (Former California governor Jerry Brown hung on through the later primary elections, eventually winning six against Clinton.) But Clinton surged in Super Tuesday states and had prevailed in the money primary and among the media analysts. However, for the general election there was another candidate in the running: billionaire businessman Ross Perot of Texas, who campaigned as an independent. Opinion polls in early summer showed him ahead when pitted against Clinton and Pres. George H. W. Bush. He would win nearly 20 percent of the vote (but no electoral college votes) in the November election. Clinton in the end gained only 43 percent of the popular vote and 370 electoral votes to G. H W. Bush’s 37.5 percent of the popular vote and 168 electoral votes. Wondering about Perot, I wrote the following in June, 1992. Looking at the entry now, Perot seems to be a forecast of Trump, 24 years later. — PM

Why Ross Perot Has Taken Root. Pick a Reason. (6/9/1992)

  1. Reasonable people don’t want a president who arrives damaged in a campaign marked by sex, lies, and videotaped attack ads.
  2. The Reagan-Bush administrations stretched to the snapping point people’s willingness to accept bad judgement by their leaders.
  3. Most people don’t understand the Savings & Loan scandal beyond feeling they were robbed.
  4. Political leaders did not guide the nation to any intellectual and emotional resolution when the Cold War with Russia was declared ended. There has been no public expression of victory, no grief for the suffering since the late 1940s, no recognition of the anxiety from living on the brink of nuclear annihilation for decades, and no call to action resulting from this enormous result. The all-encompassing threat of the USSR seemed to melt away.
  5. People are looking for a third way, any way other than the one offered by two tired, overweight, atrophied creatures called the Republican and Democratic parties.
  6. Public argument on all issues, as structured by the electronic media, is presented in two extremes, leaving a large portion of the public angry, confused, or turned off.
  7. Most people simply want a job that provides enough money for them to live a happy but not extravagant life.
  8. Cynics in each of the main parties have manipulated voters’ worst fears and most selfish appetites to win their approval and gain power. Simple answers to complicated questions are often popular.
  9. The 50 percent of voters who opt out of national elections may run to the polls to vent their frustration and anger.
  10. A faction of extreme anti-government political thinkers and religious radicals have wielded disproportionate influence over public policy for the past 12 years.
  11. The election of a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency (George H. W. Bush) to the presidency was the last straw in shady power politics for some voters. Picture how Americans would respond if the head of the KGB spy agency became the top political figure in Russia.
  12. Millions of Americans are out of hope and don’t believe their government as now organized can help them fulfill their dreams. Pre-revolutionary conditions exist in the USA due to an extreme imbalance in income distribution.

—Paul Marion, 1992

'Patterns of a Prayer Town'

Patterns of a Prayer Town


Our Lady of the Bathtub shines white.

A flagpole becomes a stack of gold eggs.

The small dogwood vanishes—in its place a floating rosary.

There’s a chain-link gate festooned with gaudy bulbs,

shrubs lassoed blue, dormers lined in radiant jelly beans—

every other house turns into a birthday cake.

City folk do it for you and me, for their kids and kids of passing strangers.

But what do the Martians think,

gazing at us through super-powered telescopes?

What do they make of this season

when it looks like a carnival has spread like flu through the neighborhoods?


—Paul Marion (c) 2006, from “What Is the City?”


Wrote the first draft of this poem in 1976, and worked on it on-and-off for a long time. I had in mind the extensive outdoor lighting displays in the town of Dracut and city of Lowell, especially, as the composition evolved, the dense array of Christmas decorations in the Pawtucketville neighborhood, between Mammoth Road and University Avenue (formerly Textile Ave/Moody St). I lived for a time on the top floor of a sea-green three-decker on Sixth Ave. (Artist Patrick Healey memorialized the building for a recent Portsmouth, N.H., exhibition with paintings of the homes of writers he knows.) The image of the Martians came in a late revision and seemed to be just what the poem needed to knock it a little off kilter.

'Paris Glass'

Paris Glass


Near Sainte-Chapelle, a seated old woman with short black hair shows us two fluffy rabbits, white-and-brown, on leashes at her spot of sidewalk mid-bridge where she has a pile of greens, two cups of pellets, and water in a shiny silver bowl. 


On a black iron church fence on Blvd. St.-Germain a poet-painter offers a line of monotypes, colored abstractions, stylized landmarks accented with words by Apollinaire, Neruda, Rimbaud, Rilke, lyric slivers of emotion and insight, his pop-up gallery in the boundless market.


Making our way down the guidebook trail past the Voltaire statue, house of George Sand, and then the toy store linked to Le Petit Prince and Babar the Elephant, the hand-written notice: "Ferme' Lundi," dark interior, select playthings on the inside window ledge, plastic city figures like fire fighters and soccer stars.


Palace de Justice surrounding virtuoso stained-glass, and the gendarmerie forces all about the wide and high courthouse steps close to St. Louis chapel with its high windows as bright as diced fruit at mid-morning.


See-through boats as long as trains filled with white cloth-covered tables for four going north on the Seine, greenish brown, sliding past the bookstalls where casual tenders hawk vintage film magazines, fugitive pop culture posters, tiers of paperbacks in French and Euro languages, the stalls like big lidded tea tins mounted on cement walls above the river, the shelves, racks, and spinners dense with Marlon Brando, Picasso, Led Zeppelin, Camus, Baudelaire, and Monet prints, portraits of Princess Di, limited-edition Simone de Beauvoirs, cat postcards, Napoleon pennants, and stained cookbooks.


Icy green-glass bottles of Coca-Cola delivered two and four at a time by waiters to smoking models, lunch loafers, and graybeards in jeans and leather waist-jackets, sitting side-by-side touching shoulders like a man in Omaha, Nebraska, would never do, all the citizens tucked into their Cafe Palette tables filled with plates of sumptuous roasted whole legs of chicken on rice beds, the couscous special, yolked ham-and-cheese croque-madames, baby spinach with a mustard-honey dollop, and sparkling water, not still, this fizzy afternoon on the Left Bank.


Nine hundred years, Notre Dame de Paris, in a land where eight of ten churches are tributes to Mary Mother of Catholic-God's Son; the hard gargoyle, hands a-ears, won't hear St. Denis's severed head scream to warn about the devil's movement on Mary's shoulder; a fair sample of the world lined up outside, Swedish and Chinese guests doing the selfie thing at Point Zero, brass disk from which radiate concentric cultural waves.


La Tour Eiffel, tan as a desert rat and peeling on the sun side from a bad and outsourced paint job, the surface muted in daylight, matching neighborhood architecture, sand, earth, stone, olive, gray, a blend of neutrals almost like a trick in the City of Light, as subtle as the Sahel peddlers with dozens of small twinkling towers spread on sheets which get hauled up by four corners and slung over shoulders in two seconds when the police pull up, the vendors all of sudden just St. Nicks in Nikes, "Nothing to see here, move along, nobody selling, displays only, no problem, everybody wants a tower, everyone needs a light."


Figs and mushrooms and strawberries displayed like museum pieces that can be touched. Brilliant oranges from South Africa piled up for squeezing, orange oil perfuming the intersection. Baguette sandwiches in hashtag stacks. The cheeses sit by their names, waiting to be called on and not saying a word to the salamis.    


Hemingway's favorite writing place in Saint-Germain-des-Pres. There. No, over there. No, no, it's across the street for sure. He drank there all the time. 







Stephen King Responds to a Critic

Thirty years ago, on May 26, 1987, I copied this comment by Stephen King from an article in a past issue of Playboy magazine (June 1983). I filed the handwritten note to myself in a folder with other writings, which I opened recently when I was sorting through old materials. 

Here's the comment:

". . . the criticism in the TIME piece was a bit different. It basically attacked me for relying on imagery drawn from the movies and television, contending that that was somehow demeaning to literature and perhaps even heralded its imminent demise. But the fact is, I'm writing about a generation of people who have grown up under the influence of the icons of American popular culture, from Hollywood to McDonalds, and it would be ridiculous to pretend that such people sit around contemplating Proust all day. The TIME critic should have addressed his complaint to Henry James, who observed 80 years ago that "a good ghost story must be connected at a hundred different points with the common objects of life."


Kerouac's Death Day in Lowell, a Brilliant October 21

I happened to be at the Kerouac Commemorative in Kerouac Park at Bridge and French streets yesterday, Jack's Death Day, where I stopped while guiding a group of 17 arts administration master's program students from Boston University around Lowell's historic and cultural district. The flawless blue sky played off the millions of red bricks in the downtown core in the most appealing way. The historic district never looks better than on such days when the sky is the color of blue cat's-eye glass marbles. We encountered other pilgrims including a couple of thirty-something thin bearded guys from Quebec who were excitedly pulling each other's arms, saying, Look at this, look at this. After a few minutes I was surprised to see a Marion cousin of mine from central Mass. walk into the sculpture plaza with her poet-husband who was in a college writing workshop with me 42 years ago. It was great to see Robin Marion and Bill O'Connell. They had a younger couple with them, no doubt seeing the polished granite portrait-in-language for the first time. Extending my tour group a courtesy, a half dozen scrappy guys who had been chatting on the stone benches in the middle of the sculpture plaza moved over to the park benches when we showed up so we could make our short visit and talk a little on our own. Everybody was cool. The BU students knew the Kerouac name, and several had read On the Road, but not more than that. I was not thinking that the day was Oct. 21 when we stopped by. Only the flurry of remembrances on Facebook reminded me how much the "wheel" had turned since the grim day in Florida, 1969. The Kerouac Commemorative will be 30 years old next year. The author's presence in the community is stronger than ever. A multi-day literary festival named for him drew hundreds of people earlier in the month, as occurs annually. The planners are already brainstorming for 2018, talking about a special poetry event as a feature.

I'm recently back from 12 days in France---Paris, where bookstores and Left Bank book-stall vendors carry French translations of Kerouac and where English versions are available at Shakespeare and Company, which honors JK and all the Beats with a front-of-the-store bookcase crammed with their titles---and then on the Seine River through Normandy, the jumping off point for so many of the French who emigrated to New France/Quebec in the 1600s, the ancestors of the French-Canadian Americans of New England, many of them from Brittany as well. I don't think I experienced "satori" with my wife in France, but we enjoyed the trip immensely. None of the people or places felt foreign at all, and it was homecoming for me since all my people begin in that place, the DNA showing Viking, Visigoth, and Roman traces---all the rampagers who swung through northwest coastal France, but no mark from the actual Franks of King Clovis days, fifth century. Kings. In Lowell, we tend not to call Kerouac the King of the Beats because we understand that he didn't favor that label.

Leaving the sculpture site, my group headed left to Kearney Square still dominated by the former newspaper main office high-rise building with the big SUN sign on the roof. One of the students asked, That's where he had his first writing job, isn't it?

'Picking Mushrooms in Gdansk'

I wrote this poem in 1983, but this is its first publication. At the time I sent it out to several magazines without success. With so much media talk about "fake news" in the days of the Trump White House, I was reminded of the poem and my attempt to get at the nub of what to believe in popularly reported accounts of life in the world. What's more, when my friend Kate Hanson Foster posted on Facebook about the white supremacist rally in Virginia on August 11 and 12 of this year, I was struck by the mundane detail she included about a local department store and its supply of tiki torches used for evening yard parties. We know, of course, that the "Unite the Right" fanatics with their racist and hate chants chose those mass-manufactured torches for their dark march in Charlottesville. It's a cliche, but some facts defy invention. The maker of tiki torches and the Walmart company afterward both condemned the hate-mongers. After Kate's post, I thought the poem may have found its moment 34 years later. Please excuse the note being longer than the poem. I felt that I owed readers the background.--- PM

Picking Mushrooms in Gdansk

"The Charlottesville Walmart ran out of tiki torches." -- KHF on Facebook, 8/17

Above the flares of border guards a balloon of stitched raincoats

Drifted over the ripped Curtain into Austria. In the basket was a Czech hero,

His racing bike broken down and packed. The same night two sentries

Scaled a high fence in East Berlin after waiting a year for the army to pair them.

Assault rifles and all, the men raised beers in a U.S. Zone bar.

CBS, AP, BBC, NPR, all the outlets produce reports like instant coffee,

The latest bit from Poland, where "labor leader Lech Walesa"

Told sniffing hounds of his surprise while driving with friends

To pick mushrooms in the forest when radio news announced

He had won the Nobel Peace Prize. If the irreducible act,

Immediately broadcast, registers like a tuned string, I take it for truth,

Weighed against news I've proofed in a mix of first-hand views and faith.