Kitchen Helper was inspired by a conversation I had with a woman in North Adams who was waiting for a bus. Things That Aren’t There was inspired by a number of conversations I had with people who told me personal stories about the effects of a huge urban renewal project in North Adams in the 1960s. Final Autumn was written while I watched workers remove a sign from the former J. J. Newberry’s on Main Street.
I work at a restaurant over in Williamstown.
I stuff the freakin’ lobsters…
five-fifty an hour.
Nadine waits on tables,
takes home seventy-five bucks a night
with tips and all.
I live on Eagle Street above the barber shop.
Sometimes my boy friend sleeps over
when he’s not workin’ nights at the factory.
He says he’s gettin’ laid off soon.
Someday I’m gonna get my GED
and then I’m outta here.
Things That Aren’t There
I grew up in the produce section at Big Y.
That’s where my house used to be.
My sister swears I slept
right where they keep the cantaloupes.
They tore everything down and took it away;
my parents couldn’t watch.
There was this man
who wouldn’t leave
till they shut off the power.
I rode my bike into town
and there was nothin’ but piles of junk.
I remember goin’ with my dad on Saturday
to the barber shop.
I’d hang around outside,
then we’d go have a mocha sundae.
My mom used to take me to that shoe store
with the flamingos on the wallpaper.
They had these big pink shoes
and I tried them on once.
She told me to wait a while
and my feet would grow into them.
my friend drove down from Boston
and we walked around town.
I showed her
all the things that aren’t there.
The gold letters,
faded as the fallen leaves of a Halloween oak,
And the red sign,
darkly brilliant as a Columbus Day maple,
Are carefully removed
from the weary façade of another time,
In this final autumn
of the five and dime.