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.