My Town

Where it belongs on the state
tourist map, well above the red lobster
on the coast and in between the man
skiing down the slope and the shining dome
of the capitol building, you’ll find nothing
except a moose standing in the grass.
But who would come to this place

to see the three-foot-long spotted
yellow butterflies faithfully displayed
on the side of LaFlamme’s house, or gather
with the others in the Grange Hall to hear
old Ethel Chadwick recite with a lisp
and the dazed, oddly beautiful look
in her eye “The Cremation of Sam McGee”

in its entirety on Old Home Day?
Anyway, what (as people from the city
might say after straying off Route 2
to find our few houses thrown downhill
among the trees) do they do here
for work? Nothing important, as you might
guess from how early in the morning

they start up the hill to do it, driving
to the shoe shop two towns over,
or the paper mill, or just down the road
to the store, where Betty DeCarlo stands all
day at the counter asking the same question:
“Can I help you?” I’m the one waiting
in line behind the couple with the skis

on their minivan who don’t even notice her alert,
genuine eyes, on their way through Eyeblink,
Maine, to someplace they’ve heard of,
and I’m the one lying awake listening
to the cars struggling up our hill in the darkness
of 5 o’clock a.m. to start their long day,
and at twilight sitting down in the old parlor

with the Redlevskis, that’s me, with a bag
of rhubarb I’ve just picked from my garden
for the two of them. On the television
in the corner a frowning man, on mute,
mimes all the news of concern to the nation.
Meanwhile, they are talking about how good
it is to eat fresh sticks of rhubarb raw, a concern

so small you wouldn’t care much about it
unless you could be there to see the face
she makes for the taste, a mixture of sorrow
and pleasure that seems to have her whole life
in it, and to hear, in the lamplight, the intimate
twang of their voices telling me this news
at evening in my town, as I’m telling it

to you now, in this only other place I know
where unexpected things can happen, off the map.

:: Wesley McNair, in Green Mountains Review (18:2, 2005)

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