Sunday, April 5, 2015

Somersville Mill Pond

This is the second of two poems about Somersville, Connecticut, a village a few miles from where I lived as a child.

Scales of whitewashed asphalt
shingle the worker tenements
shading a few gray scabs of snow.
Wandering to the mill pond where
I fished half a century ago
I feel my tracks smack the mud
with a tiny inaudible lisp.
The silver wind on the water
hacks long herringbones of wave.
It’s too cold to stand here staring
at places too shy to resist the wry
nostalgia I doubt more than death.
The mill burned two years ago.
A cage of girders remains where
the more modern building stood.
Brick walls of the older complex
retain something Classical,
impersonal with great age.
I’d like to prowl along the edge
of the pond to find that distant view
of the Hubbard farm. I admired it
for the litter of farm equipment
that ornamented the barnyard
with Farmall red, John Deere green,
and rust in a hundred subtle hues.
I’d walk all the way to the bridge
where the town constable chased
four drunk teenagers who crashed
into the steel girders and burned
to death, one of them his son.
No one had the heart to concoct
the usual ghost story, and now
it’s too late, a modern concrete bridge
replacing the aged truss-work.
Retracing my tracks to the car
I’m sure the wind will remember
sculpting around me. It’ll leave
a hole in the atmosphere
that will shimmer in my absence
like the ghosts of those teenagers
scarred into the mid-spring dark.

Somersville Mill Fire


A splay of heat-warped girders,
a tumble of brick. The mill burned
so abruptly firefighters arrived
as it tipped into the river

to fry a few dozen fish.
The whole village turned out
to bask in the glare. The ghost
of my Uncle Chet must have been there.

For decades he mended looms,
scuttling between angry machines
with tool kit and powerful thirst.
Drinking repeatedly killed him,

but he rose from his grave, returned
to work, again and again
until the mill closed forever.
Behind the brick complex a slew

of tenements where the sister
of a kid I knew in high school
took on all the boys, including
her brother. Her flesh lay warm

in summer light, warm as the wreck
of the mill as firefighters rolled
their hoses. The river churns
over a dam and through a trough

half-choked with debris. The mill pond
mirrors a featureless sky.
Fishing that still water bored me,
but my father liked the silence

and poise of watching his bobber
red and white on green-gray slick.
He must have wondered why Chet,
younger sibling, drank so deeply    

that he drowned his memory
of island war, a water-cooled
machine gun heavy on his shoulder.
I kick a few bricks and turn my back

on the wreck of the mill. No use
clearing the rubble for parking lots—
no reason to park here, nothing
to the village but a few houses,

a brown brick school, wooden church.
The pond shivers. Early spring
and the smell of fire two years ago
still brisk and bitter on the tongue.