By Ron Slate
My life began with the fire,
glimmering in the birthwaters.
Beyond my bedroom wall
voices murmured a memory.
My father's mother died
with her sister in the ladies' room.
He said -- if she had escaped to Shawmut Street,
been saved, nothing would be the way it is.
How is it? drifted over my route to school.
I stared at a wire service photo
fixed with brutal light, a fire hose
snaking through soaked debris,
faces slack with shock, bodies
laid out on the sidewalk.
How compelling for a family
to have such a story to relate.
Nothing would be the way it is.
To speak of a desirable world,
the listening boy leaning in.
November in Boston, women
collapsed waiting for their coats,
the ceiling's satinette billows
crackled and melted and were drawn
into their throats. A shoe
wedged in the revolving door.
A face pressed against glass.
The fireball -- bright orange,
or bluish with a yellow cast,
or a blistering white.
The nightclub burned in minutes,
in 1942, with a sibilant exhalation.
My grandfather, sworn in, testified,
but a single night evades judgment,
bloated with unassignable blame.
Corrosive worm of remembrance,
allure of the lurid past,
the nozzle's snout regressing
down the smoldering street.
Adoring the damaged world,
we abused it, we refused
to let the sea wind clear the smoke.
So now it's time to decide how to move
within spaces on the sites of catastrophe,
how to regard the atria and the lobbies,
even as the alarms sound,
evacuations rehearsed, the streets
filling with imaginary survivors,
just as the boy, surviving boyhood,
said So that's how it is, just before
sleep settled on him like asbestos.
"The story of the Cocoanut Grove Fire of 1942 in Boston is part of my family's lore," writes Slate in Poet's Choice. "I found a reason to return to the story after reading Adam Zagajewski's essential poem 'Try to Praise the Mutilated World'...Adam's poem not only provoked me to answer, but pointed to something not yet articulated. I wrote my poem as if in dialogue with his, and also as if my daughters were listening in. The Cocoanut Grove Fire took 492 lives." The poem appears in The Great Wave.
I had a quiet morning putting away laundry and goofing off with Adam, who was trying to design something in Microsoft Paint that I tried to help with in Photoshop. Then, after Daniel got home from volunteering at Hebrew school, we ate lunch and went to Frying Pan Farm Park in Virginia, which was having a spring farm festival to show off the new baby animals as well as some of the farm tasks like sheep shearing, corn husking, and recycling water (a relatively modernized operation at this facility where the blacksmith and dairy barn still use methods from more than a hundred years ago). There were lots of young kids in the festival area making sheep magnets and driving toy tractors, but the barns weren't crowded and we got to see dozens of animals:
Finn ewe Muppet had quadruplet lambs on April 4th...
...who evidently still like to nurse, since this one sucked Adam's fingers for as long as he would let him.
Nubian goat Carolina had a single kid in April, so these can't be hers, but the web site doesn't say which other goats had babies.
Three calves were born at the farm in January, but this one doesn't appear yet on the new arrivals page.
This big litter of little piggies was born on April 20th to York sow Andie. Their father is a Hampshire, and the combination supposedly produces "blue butts."
I'm not sure whether this chicken is a mother yet, but she was not happy about having people near her eggs.
And there were lots of other small critters in evidence.
I received Boston Legal's fifth season box set in the mail today -- as well as Crusoe, yay, which comes with a copy of the book, hee -- so just to make sure the DVDs worked right, I put on Alan and Denny and Shirley and Carl's wedding, which improved my mood immeasurably. (If Antonin Scalia would actually perform a wedding like that, it would improve my mood far more.) After dinner and homework, we watched the second half of last night's Hornblower two-parter, Retribution, which is possibly my very favorite but also by far the saddest. I love how much Kennedy and Bush both adore Hornblower but it's Pellew who has my favorite line: "You will not hang a man so dear to me as my...as one of my very own." Was he going to say "son" or "wife"?