Tag Archives: worcester


Stanley Kunitz, one time
Poet Laureate of the United States,

born and bred in Worcester, MA,
once said this city provoked him to poetry.

I met him only once
and then only for a moment,

would never say I think
we might have gotten along, yet

I will lay odds that on this point
we would have agreed

and from there something like respect and
affable conversation 

might have developed, as I am
easily irked to poetry in the Parkway diner here

over strong coffee, provoked
into meter by watching the rhythm

of a short-order cook working hash
and eggs into perfect harmony, lured to verse

on Harding Street, that paved over secret canal;
into forms by the voices of those

who live here and work here
whether they want the town to be

itself or some other town, whether they
love its worn, durable face

or want to cover it by spending
Boston level money on a Boston mask.

Not too far from my house is the home
where Stanley Kunitz grew up, in a city

called Worcester that had
an honest if rough face. I know that face

well. It’s my face, it’s the face
of my next door neighbor from Ghana,

the face of Angel on the third floor
whose mother is staying with him till they rebuild

her storm wrecked home in Puerto Rico,
the face of the old Polish man

across the street who talks to no one, the faces
of all the street people and all the rich ones too.

Worcester’s face is not a face you’d forget,
or want to forget.  Even if it’s covered

one day by a fraud,
a shroud of silk and gold,

it will not die. It will do what Worcester does.
It will say what it means

even if only with its eyes —
pleading, quoting Stanley:

touch me,
remind me who I am.

Gentrification Comes To The Hill

Each unit in this building has a clothesline outside
the back porch window.
On the clothesline at the far top left
hangs a white rayon shirt.
On the shirt, a majolica-styled rooster,
embroidered or screened on — hard to say from here.

I feel like I’m on deadline
to come up with a point here
about a cheap shirt and a tacky design
bellied out like a landlocked sail
over the backyard of a tenement
in my scarred and scrappy town,

like I should say “stop the presses!”
and insist that this is a story
that must be told, one of beauty
in the heart of ordinary, in the face
of what gets called “ugly” too often
by those who like their beauty

caged in an archival box, penned into
the richest part of the Cultural District
that was snatched out
from under the noses of those
who gave it culture
in the first place.

We aren’t far from there right now;
we’re miles from there right now
up on 
the Hill that hasn’t changed much
and won’t unless some folks decide
they like the view from up here,
and pass an ordinance to steal that view

and free it of rayon
and roosters 
and backyard chickens
and on-street parking and the wrong people. 
It feels like I’m on deadline to say all this
and it’s coming fast, if indeed
it hasn’t already passed.

If anything’s going to happen,
anything at all to keep that sail of a shirt
from billowing toward 
a good and lovely life
on our own terms, it feels like
we are almost out of time.

House To House

Not one of the fifteen cops on this street
suggests I go inside
when they walk by me
with their shotguns and dogs.

I’m not the man they’re looking for
but they are in my backyard
with shotguns and dogs
looking for a man with a gun.

I’m incidental to the search.
They ask me if I’ve seen anyone
and how long I’ve been out here
in the rain under the hood of my car.

Have I seen anyone? They are in
my backyard with shotguns and dogs
and a news crew’s interviewing one of them
down at the corner while I watch.

They haven’t seen anyone either,
not catching any of us on tape
as they watch the cops look for
the man they’re looking for

under porches and in our backyards.
We’re incidental to the search
for a man who shot a woman through the neck
in her car one block from here.

We’re just cannon fodder.  We’re not the people
anyone is looking for or speaking to
except to ask if we’ve seen anyone,
anyone at all, in connection to the incident

that none of them will confirm or deny has happened
no matter how often we ask them to tell us
what happened.  What happened?  On the Web they say
a woman was shot, police are seeking the assailant,

her identity is not being released,
she’s in critical condition, the suspect’s description
just says he’s a black male of unknown age
with a gun in his waistband,

but no one in our backyards
will tell us that as they rush past us
talking only to themselves
with their shotguns and dogs and cameras and radios,

as I work on my car in the rain,
as if nothing that could possibly interest me
or anyone living here
has happened today.

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Gentrifying Worcester

Cute boys and girls
used to being seen
form into a tornado
and blow down the hill
past my house,
twisting heads
behind them, glass
falling out of frames beside them,
and the stoops and porches
ahead of them
fill with the eager populace
who hope what’s coming
will strangle and demolish
their boredom.  Everyone’s drunk
and this city is beginning to spin
around the cute squad, thinking
that cute’s the answer to the grit,
opening bars for the cute,
cleaning up streets ahead of the cute,
renaming old squares for the cute
until no one remembers that this city
was never built for cute, that cute has always
been swallowed and transformed
or spit out and sent back to where cute
comes from, and what we have left
once it’s gone is storm drains
full of glitter and rubble
we squabble over, trying to decide
how to make it cute until it bores us
and we go back to the porches, repair our windows
and flex our rueful necks back into their normal
ramrod straightness, their focused glare
at the simple ugly nature we were born from
and which has kept us pure and stony
all these years, proof against the transitory
and the shiny, brave as dull-armored soldiers
in the mud and the winter rain.

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Our Colorful Characters: A Bedtime Story

Once upon a time
there was a man who sat all day
on the corner of Belmont Street
and the crosstown highway.  He
was named Nathan and had no legs.

People used to smile at Nathan
as they made the turn from the exit ramp
by his corner and he waved at every car.
Then, after a while,
he wasn’t there. 

Once upon a time
there was a man named the Whistler
who walked all around town
and into the surrounding suburbs.
When you drove by him and honked

he’d whistle back, the loudest whistle
anyone had ever heard, and never
the same whistle twice.  Never stuck his hands
in his mouth either, never broke stride,
and then he vanished.

Once upon a time
there was a very old woman in Main South
who always dressed in white and always wore
thick white makeup on her face.
Everyone thought she was a hooker

but she used to minister to the working girls
instead, giving them food and money
when they needed it, first aid when they
needed it as they seemed to so often,
and then she disappeared.

Once upon a time
we used to know all our vagabonds.
We figured they had homes somewhere
and came out to keep the city colorful.
Now we see so many

it’s harder to keep track of them.
They wear signs that say “Homeless Vet”
or “God Bless You,” but we don’t know their stories
or rather we don’t make them up
the way we used to make up stories

about Nathan and The Whistler
and the White Lady, stories
we assumed had a beginning
that started with “Once upon a time,”
included the phrase

“there but for the grace of God,”
and we didn’t bother to create much more
background or development
for any of them, preferring to simply say,
“and they lived happily ever after.”

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Scenes From Geppetto Town

A day starts,
almost always,
with sirens before dawn.

Citizens can tell what’s what:

the ambulance variation
someone’s sick, wounded, or dead;

the fire truck clang blare rumble
trouble bigger than personal trauma;

the police oscillation
any or all of the above,
means someone’s getting a little visit
from the Blue.

I know enough of crown tags and colored beads
to know the Latin Kings
hold some neighborhoods
close.   Elsewhere there are crews
who run their own blocks;
I don’t know who they claim to honor,

mostly it seems like
there are a lot of guns out there
going off
with no direction.

“Worcester” is the formal name.
“Wormtown” is what ex-punks of a certain age call it.
I’ve heard it called “Wartown” once or twice,
but it’s never caught on.

Whenever I light
another far-too-expensive cigarette
I want to call it
“Geppetto Town,”
full of cold wooden boys
wishing they were real men.

There’s a stone circle downtown
that commemorates World War I.
It’s got this highbacked granite bench
running around the circumference.
If you sit on one end and whisper,

a person sitting on the other end of it
can hear you as if you weren’t
fifty feet away. 
Like the rest of the city,
I don’t know
exactly how it works
but it does, and very few people
even know about it.

The city’s voice: dissonance
and fairy dust
hissing down, filling potholes.
Crinkled fenders
rattling with imaginary grandeur,
and the stretching sound a nose makes
when it’s growing out of all proportion
as it speaks with equal passion
of its faults
and its glories.

Oh, more about the Blue:

shaves and crew cuts
who ask “are they white or black?”
about the people they’ll be seeing
before coming out
to the frantic domestic violence call.

We have lovely
turn of the century lamps
on our street.
Half work and half don’t
on any given night. 
We don’t complain:
at least there’s some light
to run by.

shares the belly of the Great Fish
with Jonah and my cousin Tony,
all of them writing feverishly
in the dark.  Outside
there’s a monster storm.  No one
mentions it, they’re pining so hard
for home
that the thought that this might be
as good as it ever gets,
or that the journey to a better place might be
doesn’t come up.

Over in the far corner
by the duodenum,
another false boy’s doing
unspeakable things to a turtle
who looks either thrilled or terrified
but because he’s not real,
we can’t ask him.  Everyone is upset
that he’s so brazen.  No one
looks away.

Worcester.  Say them soft,
it’s almost like praying:

dearest Fairy Godmother,

want to be real.

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Pronouncing Worcester


it’s spelled weird

You pronounce it

Easier to say

with a cigarette in your mouth
and a chip on your shoulder

Give it the strongest grit you can offer
in the face of the unrelenting


the “Wist”
is for

a wish for it to be
something else

the “Ah” is for
it is what it is”

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A Labor Day Prayer For Worcester

Scared, lonely,
a little too close to death,
I leave the apartment
on a Labor Day for a ride
to anywhere, elsewhere,
somewhere not here.

A sign outside a church on Greenwood Street


I drive to Elm Park.

I choose a bench
and sprawl there, arms outstretched
along the back, legs crossed before me.

Round, brown teenage girls
stroll by arm in arm, giggling
(I suspect) at my belly.  A Frisbee
clips my leg, grinds into the gravel
at my feet, and a shaggy blond boy rushes up,
stops just before plowing into me,
apologizes; I acknowledge him
from behind my shades.

I walk up Highland
to the Boynton for a beer
and a slice.  The Red Sox
are playing the White Sox
and losing, but the beer is cold
and the pizza is warm enough;

one regular throws up his hands
at a lost opportunity, bases loaded
and no one scores.  Starts talking about
the early season, “remember that first sweep
of the Yanks? These guys always
break my heart, but I always come back,”
talking to no one, for everyone,
and we all nod, me still in my shades
as I finish and go back to the car.

I take the long way home, pass
that sign again:


and from somewhere,
maybe from the torn-up blacktop
under my protesting tires,
maybe from inside me,
comes The Voice:

round and amused as a brown girl laughing at a fat man,
smooth and amazed as Jacoby Ellsbury stealing home in April
while Andy Petitte isn’t looking,
clocking me as hard as an errant Frisbee:


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