PLEASANTVILLE, NEW JERSEY, 1955 by ELLEN BASS

I saw a link to this poem on Twitter last week and I really liked it and  as it a ‘hot summer poem’ I thought I’d share it.
Pleasantville, New Jersey, 1955

I’d never seen a rainbow or picked
a tomato off the vine. Never walked in an orchard
or a forest. The only tree I knew
grew in the square of dirt hacked
out of the asphalt, the mulberry
my father was killing slowly, pounding
copper nails into its trunk.
But one hot summer afternoon
my mother let me drag the cot onto the roof.
Bed sheets drying on the lines,
the cat’s cardboard box of dirt in the corner,
I lay in an expanse of blueness. Sun rippled
over my skin like a breeze over water.
My eyelids closed. I could hear the ripe berries
splatting onto the alley, the footsteps
of customers tracking in the sticky, purple mash.
I heard the winos on the wooden crates,
brown bags rustling at the throats of Thunderbird.
Car engines stuttered, came to life and died
in the A&P parking lot and I smelled grease and coffee
from the diner where Stella, the dyke, washed dishes
with a pack of Camel’s tucked
in the rolled-up sleeve of her t-shirt.
Next door, Helen Schmerling leaned on the glass case
slipping her fist into seamed and seamless stockings,
nails tucked in, to display the shade, while Sol
sucked the marrow from his stubby cigar,
smoke settling into the tweed skirts and mohair sweaters.
And under me something muscular swarmed
in the liquor store, something alive
in the stained wooden counter and the pungent dregs
of beer in the empties, my mother
greeting everyone, her frequent laughter,
the shorn pale necks of the delivery men,
their hairy forearms. The cash register ringing
as my parents pushed their way, crumpled dollar
by dollar, into the middle class.
The sun was delicious, lapping my skin.
I felt that newly arrived in a body.
The city wheeled around me—
the Rialto movie, Allen’s shoe store, Stecher’s Jewelry,
the whole downtown three blocks long.
And I was at the center of our tiny
solar system flung out on the edge
of a minor arm, a spur of one spiraling galaxy,
drenched in the light.

ELLEN BASS

Poetry Northwest
Spring & Summer 2013

Parade, Hoboken, New Jersey, 1955, from ‘The Americans’, by Robert Frank © Robert Frank

Parade, Hoboken, New Jersey, 1955, from ‘The Americans’, by Robert Frank
© Robert Frank

 

The photo is by Robert Frank http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Frank  I hope I am not crossing any copyright lines posting it here. 

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2 responses to “PLEASANTVILLE, NEW JERSEY, 1955 by ELLEN BASS

  1. The reality of summer in the city – not everyone got an annual holiday in the 50s. My childhood summer memories are of blinding light and stifling heat from the Birmingham streets, cars and buildings. And it was fine, but I treasure even more life in Jersey when I think back. Nice find Clare.

    Like

    • Thanks Roy. When I was young we didn’t have holidays, well two, in caravans, but then we lived by the sea. I have lived in cities and remember the yearning for water in the heat…find this poem wonderfully evocative. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

      Like

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