Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Asked by an editor to offer an example of the New England, Maine, culture behind my poetry I offered a description of my surprise when my Aunt Lila hugged me as family and friends gathered for my mother's funeral. When the account was published an illustration was added. Obviously the artist belonged to a different culture, or a more recent one, and I was depicted as a small boy. The poem , written later, was a response to the illustration. The poem was published, in a slightly different version, in a journal with the unlikely title of The League of Laboring Poets. As a current non-event I should add that , in  Poland Spring, as far as we could sense, the only earthquake was on the six o'clock news.

  Aunt Lila
They asked for an example
of that Down East Yankee reticence
they’d heard about, some incident —
Well, I said, you could do worse
than hearing what Aunt Lila did
at mother’s funeral: Lila, the youngest,
the last survivor of grandmother
Chute’s five ,children.
I can see her waiting, thin, fragile, 
outside the church: stepping up 
to give me a sudden brief hug,
ππmumbling a few words, then
releasing me. I can’t recall
any family member, mother, sister, 
aunt or uncle ever making such 
a display before.
A shy boy, a taciturn, loving aunt?
The boy, born long before
the dawn of this hug-hug, kiss-kiss age,
was a grown man with children
of his own and that embrace is
what he remembers best from a sad day 
half a century away. 

            [much later I remembered}

I remember Aunt Lilla as a woman,
tall, thin, brittle, not as father did, as
his young sister who helped him care for
grandfather's milk cows, pigs, chickens.
She had married Everett Bean whose
summer business was speedboat rides for tourists,
his Chris-Crafts all varnish, polish, and shine.

I was given a wind-up, painted model
of his boats. His were shark slim, cedar,
mahogany, and brass. A ten minute
one dollar ride always ended with
a sharp high speed turn, a shock of spray
and shrieks of surprise. Then the boat
wallowing, the engine's deep throated chuckle.

Uncle Everett must have had more to offer
than the thrill of a fast boat ride. Women,
specially the young pretty ones, sat up front
with him. Then, one summer, he took up
with one of our guests, a single lady
from Philadelphia who rented a cabin
for the summer. That fall they left together. 

One morning Everett dropped by for coffee.
"Some storm last night", he said. "Lightning
hit a big pine behind the camp. Both Martha
and me sat right up in bed." We were in
the hotel kitchen. My mother was there.
It was about then that "the lady from
Philadelphia" became just "that woman".

If I'd payed more attention I'd have learned sooner
women as well as men enjoy sex. The paint
on my model boat peeled. Then the spring broke.

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