By Julia Morris Paul,
Manchester’s Inaugural Poet Laureate 2014-2018
The boy’s eyes dart around a room
thick with knick-knacks: ceramic poodles,
flowerless vases, harlequin clown figurines,
arranged on dust-free shelves.
Sepia-toned portraits of whiskered men
and laced-up women stare down
from walls papered in a faded cabbage rose pattern.
He twitches in the horse-hair stuffed chair.
The woman time has shrunken
to his size sits opposite. The boy
with darting eyes is here for an assignment –
interview someone in your town; write an essay.
A town is shaped by its ghosts,
Thelma Woodbridge begins.
The darting eyes open wide, then settle.
Oh yes, ghosts! All around us,
the spirits of those who walked this ground,
worked this soil, whose bones are buried here.
Deep in this soil: arrowheads, broken bits
of carved and shaped stone –
tools of the Podunks.
Deep in this soil, shards of glass
from the Pitkin Glass Factory –
imperfect and grainy as memory.
Deep in this soil, the sweat of farmers,
tobacco pickers, factory workers, smithies and soldiers.
In the air we breathe in this house,
the ghost of Electa Woodbridge,
who fetched a cup of water
for George Washington when he stopped
at her daddy’s tavern, over there,
where the Shell station is now.
Electa went on to marry George Cheney;
their eight sons revolutionized the silk industry.
Their spirits are everywhere –
in the schools they built, the mills,
houses for workers, the mansions on the hill.
These buildings hold their stories.
Miss Mary, the daughter of the youngest
brother – you can almost still see her
riding down Main Street in her ancient car,
her driver deaf to the honking.
If you listen with your eyes closed,
you can hear the children in Miss Mary’s
garden – how they laugh and clap
and clamor for another story! Can you
see Miss Mary seated before them
with a picture book on her lap?
Her spirit is in the children and their
children’s children. When Miss Mary’s
paperboy was hit by a car, she paid
for his care, gave him, a poor immigrant,
money for college. He became a doctor.
Her spirit lived in him and in the lives he touched.
So you see, young man,
this town is shaped by its ghosts,
Dig deep in this soil.
Close your eyes to better see the sachems,
settlers, selectmen, silk workers.
Like the crooked tree in my yard
with its hungry roots, feast on the rich layers
of the past. Let the ghosts gather in you.
Listen well to their stories.