Thursday, November 28, 2013


Cold night...
Main Street, Cambridge…
As I walk to my hotel after dinner,
a guy about my age, thin jacket, walking toward me—
more than a shuffle, but not much—
whiskeyed eyes, half a cigarette in hand.
Our gazes meet—mutual nods of hello.
Perhaps he sensed that I thought he would speak to me,
so he says “I’m not going to ask you for money,
but, I do want to talk.”

He said he was homeless, and that he’d been hurt.
“I’m on my way to my parents’ house south of Boston—
 it’s okay, I got money for the T—
just need someone to talk to first.
They’re gonna give me a hard time cuz of how I live,
and I’m just gonna have to take it,
cuz I need a place to stay while I get better.
I don’t want to argue and make them mad.
And, then, my mom’s gonna fix
all the foods I ate when I was growin’ up,
but, you know, I can’t eat them cooked that way anymore…
peppers bother me now,
and anything fried,
and when I say something, it’ll only upset her.”
I said “I know what you mean,”
and we talked about getting older,
and the intestinal troubles that hit you after forty,
and how our mothers just want to take care of us,
like when we were boys.
And we go along with it, but only for so long,
and then we feel like the worst goddamned sons in the world.

We shook our heads, saying what can you do?
then shook hands and told each other
we’re lucky to have mothers
who still want to cook for us.


Asphalt and concrete,
rutted, cracked, pot-holed, patched,
curbed and uncurbed,
planned and unplanned,
junkyards, repair shops,
used car dealers, new car dealers,
warehouses, truck stop, rail yard,
gritty bars that open at six when the night shift ends,
gas stations, liquor stores,
shopping centers, restaurants,
motels for travelers passing through,
motels for the suburban poor,
travelers’ cabins whose residents never leave,
trailer parks, apartments,
new homes, old homes,

You proclaim your presence
with a cacophony of signs,
disorderly and non-compliant.
You do not celebrate your diversity,
which arose from the dull practicality of life.

You are not sexy like I-95,
fast moving, designed for speed from city to city.
You are not beautiful like the Parkway,
stone bridges and tree-lined;
nor are you efficient like Route 29,
moving the outer suburban elites
to work and play without wasting time.
You are the step-sister—
once first, now least.
You are the old hag,
coughing and wheezing
through diesel fumed days,
from Elkridge to Laurel,
carrying the burdens.

You have no pretense to beauty;
no tree-lined verges;
no manicured medians.
You are rough-edged, ugly, and stained.
Your open spaces are empty lots
and forest tracts waiting to be bulldozed
and opened for business.

Now we are changing you,
like we changed ourselves.
We are making you orderly and neat,
sweeping away the dross,
like we swept it from elsewhere in the county.
The tide of suburban conformity
is rising over you,
parcel by parcel;

When the transformation is complete—
the removal of the old,
the decrepit,
the unwanted,
the nonconforming—
what will you be?
What will we be?