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Poetry At Greenville

Laurence J. Sasso, Jr.

 

GREENVILLE, A POEM

 

In this dream of Greenville,
at Burgess Field
thousands of softballs and baseballs
hang suspended in flight
until the low sky
is like a picture taken of hail.
Forever, players with names
a boy thought magic
run out their hits, leap after brilliance
with catches in the night smelling air.
My father, the Leaches, twin Averills,
Tony, Tom and Vic Rathier, the Batteys,
a Brown, Jimmy Boyle, a catcher from out of town,
knock dirt from their cleats and curse joyfully.
Loosening up arms, taking their swings,
they get better with each recollection,
never older.

 

But the village does age.
Even the memories of Applebys
and the eldest Winsor or Steere
can't summon the image
of the early forge, the first mill,
Slack's ingenious impoundment
of water for the use of
what our age has come to call
industry.
The past, too obscure for easy retrieving
nonetheless is there, buried,
in the talk of fire chiefs, old families,
the wise blind uncle and the few
who farm.

Arcane knowledge of what burned when
and where the cistern near the Baptist Church
is hidden underneath the lawn,
of how the wreckers of the old Library,
(by St. Thomas Church) found beer cans
by the dozens under the foundation
and just which local boys drained and
placed them there, mingles together
with the names of men who built the mills
and what they left or left behind.
Local recall is more chronic
than chronologic.
What sticks in mind recurs
attached to what has just taken place.
Living politicians sometimes
are made a twin of someone
whose last stiff
now rings only shrunken bone,
whose vest has sagged away
from a proud substantial belly
to flat tatters below a tilting stone.

 

Our sense of who we are and where we've come
is only partly conscious, mostly tic.
The past rides on our neck like a dark tie,
its function not at first apparent.
Who among'a dozen standing at the dented can display
at the Village IGA
knows why they call it Greenville?
Would it clarify things to explain
the Revolutionary role of General Greene?
The one published history tells
of three mills, two churches, two banks, one hotel.
And there is this further note:
"Here was the pest house,
in which were placed the small pox patients
at the time inoculation was introduced,
prior to the Revolutionary War."
Where precisely did those pox-ridden,
panicked ancestors flock, hoping for yet more life?
Whose children bicycle by the spot today,
oblivious, their sleeves rolled up,
headbands knotted perfectly behind?

 

The river still flows but the mills are closed.
Time like the water and the wind
carries off the echo of the distant echoes
long ago crowds sent up
cheering on the Winsor Oval,
a swamp first, then ball field, landing space
once for a faltering biplane, then - a
slower stage of evolution - houselots
for the town's first prefabs.
Change, the white snake in snow,
writhes even as we sleep, eat, read.
What is kept is not kept in
records in cabinets, ledger books, printouts,
tapes, computer disks, or hard statistics.
What is felt is what the world's Greenvilles recall.
Look for it in the letters in desk corners,
the ell closets, the halls,
shoebox collections in the attics,
suitcases under beds
and albums in the back of the garage.

 

In this village,
where looking for the center of things
can be like peeling an onion
to discover a heart,
where the Common is tucked
to the side of the road
which fifty years back bored
a swath through the old
cutting away trees and trust,
taking colonial artistry
and proportion to the dump with the dust,
it is essential to seek substance
in the instinct of savers.
For them,
Greenville grows on a crooked
but continuous root .
The future leaf
starts with a previous shoot.
What will grow must reach for air,
yet what survives
is that which something dying,
dies to fertilize.
There is really nothing different here.
Last year's pageant, Harvest Dance or Jamboree,
Disco, meatball supper and Las Vegas Night
are done with, evanescent as the apple petals
that broke like storms of moths in Matteo's field
and fell into the loam to melt.

 

Already dimming is the youthful picture
of the boy's first trip
to Thornton's for vanilla ice cream,
the sight of Cora Burlingame
doling books out at the Library
from an oak chairby the iron stove,
Howard Hopkins touching his greasy cap
when Miss Lamb drove up,
and Lucius Whipple nodding briskly
left and right
on the way to preside over things
at the state college.

But could the boy imagine
that the truths of his own
young manhood's time
would next begin to fade?
Wouldn't the fire company always
have their summer carnivals, St. Philip's Church
stay put on Snake Hill Road
and hold bazaars forever?
Wouldn't the Payette women always
be laughing and running the sodality's food concession
while Rosella Lynch told stories?
Couldn't Norman Bedard sing well enough
to leave the notes reverberating in the nave
even yet?
Will just one May basket get made up
ever again in town?
Will anyone know how well
Kenny Segee could handle trucks and tractors
the way a boy who watched him
from his farmhouse window knows?
Who, just two decades later,
thinks once of how George Jaswell,
took Tanker One around the corner
by the river
and made the tires howl
for the cameraman
filming firefighters for the city news?
Even Elwood Kelly's pictures
in the department log
tell but fractions of the whole.
When John Tucker, John Rowley
and I and sometimes Joan Steere
and cousin Ed swung from the bell rope
to ring the big-voiced Baptist angelus
in the always white and proper church
you might have thought
we were puppets jerked by God.
I rode the rope,
lifted by the pause,
dropped by the peal,
until it seemed to me
Imight be like a piston
marking time, making it cease
by moving in place.

 

It was illusion.
Everything must pass.
Greenville is the home I've known
but what remains for anyone
is what remains within the bones.
Everyone's town ultimately is Our Town.
For some of us, Greenville, then or now,
simply is the path that has been chosen to go down.

Copyright © Laurence J. Sasso, Jr.
Used by permission of the author.