Fog slid over Cape Ann like wool pulledOver our eyes. We left our whitewashed motelJust once, crunched barefoot hand in handDown a blind path of seashell gravelWhich gave way to the sinking feelingOf sand and the nearby hugging clashOf breakers and rocks, the shattering glassSound of invisible coastline, a brisk walkWhich resembled wading through a cloudOf dry ice in one of those movie simulationsOf heaven. A marriage, of course, can go onScene after scene without any script,Sometimes even without any pretenseOf dialogue, the point of it all long missed,And memory has no sequel although I rememberWe tried our best to make the best of thatMarred weekend, weathering a year which would proveOur brink. We caught just a glimpse now and thenOf brown grass headland, a flickeringLighthouse standing its ground like a fireFrom damp wood snuffed by its own smoke,Pilings and the waves’ staggering collapse,The gaze we had of each other insularAs cinema with its rolling obfuscation,Its tunnel vision. Back inside, we stayedQuiet, let groping under blankets and soft focusBless the raw which engulfed us, a fine rainWe heard like pins dropping against the glass.Tell me, what did the fog hide that we ever saw?


My breath blurred the cold historic airOf Massachusetts, of Braintree and its loading docks,Of railroad spurs sunk in cobblestones and the darkDusty backs of factories, the Spanish-tinged shoutsOf Puerto Ricans stooping boxes onto a flatbedNot far from the John Adams birthplace. A lifetimeHad passed since the robbery, the anarchyOf two men dead and a car squealing off, the ItaliansLong moved up into the North End, the oldQuestions about struggle giving way to the new.If a ponderous sadness lingered like spring snowScraped into piles along Washington StreetI didn’t recognize it, waiting to cross, trailingMy mother to the supermarket, the Stop & ShopJingly with pacifying music and a vast democracyOf products. But remembering those daysYears later, that boy now as much a ghostAs those young men in old grey photographsWho barely spoke English and talked of revolutionNot yet crushed under two centuries, I see myselfAs a witness of circumstance, in the neighborhoodWith the momentous. I know this moves meNo closer to knowing if Nicola earned by dyingAn afterlife in the second thoughts of the livingOr Bartolomeo, or if both deserved the amplitudeBetween doubt and adoration, between the red flagAnd back alley gunplay of their causeAnd punishment for no good reason. But having listenedTo the rumbling of trucks and felt the shudderOf presses behind broken chicken wired windows,I take the past there personally; I wonderWhat really happened more than someoneWho won’t go back, wherever they’re from,Who denies they’ve glimpsed in the facesOf dishwashers, of forklift drivers and garbage men,The shy fear of those who knew they never had a chance.Unskilled, but they still amount to more than the cannedAs Muzak facts, a few sentences in the Brittanica.How could I just stand there by the millsLike the old gas range on which my mother cooked,Heaps of grease and rust with the men as small parts,The garment shops where children once slaved,And not turn my collar like them, like anyoneGuilty or not, against the puritan blusterOf the state, that vindictive refusal to hearOr see or feel which vindicates by itself?

–David Moolten

David Nadal Moolten‘s first book, Plums & Ashes, won the Samuel French Morse Poetry Prize. He has published poems in New England Review and Southwest Review. Employed by the American Red Cross, Moolten lives in Philadelphia with his wife and daughter.

–Naomi Shihab Nye

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Published at 12:00 am CST