Three from AFFORDED PERMANENCE by Liam Day
In addition to the many things we do at apt, Randolph and I publish collections of stories and poems via Aforementioned. Last week, we released our first full-length collection of poetry, by a long-time contributor to apt, Liam Day. We’re really proud of the book—so proud, in fact, that we decided to excerpt three pieces from the collection this week.
For those of you who know Boston, you’ll recognize much in these lines. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Boston, I promise that Liam’s rendering is as faithful as it is eloquent.
111 – Emerald Cities
The gangrenous, double-decked, cantilevered bridge
whose twin highway came down almost a decade ago
rises from a tunnel by the monument of the battle
where they aimed for the whites of their eyes.
The rusting green metal infects the majesty
of everything it touches: stately brownstones
in the monument’s gentrified square,
the river it spans, the dilapidated piers where it lands,
our memory of an American dream.
Four years I taught children whose families
arrived in a square mile of writhing humanity
as seemingly far from the gleaming city across the water
as what they’d left behind. From the commuter rail overpass,
they can see steel and glass. For every point on a map
how many lie beyond, climbing with the terrain
from knoll to mountain?
This city that shall be as on a hill: will new colonists
gain election, the trappings that are its outward sign?
They’ll spend their lives at two jobs,
scratching in the yards of vinyl-sided homes
bought with what they saved by depriving themselves
of pleasure in the time that’s left. The ancient blessing
was more life, passed from generation to generation.
And what’s wrong with that, to labor for children
who will labor for theirs, who will labor for theirs?
The bus I took to teach runs up Washington.
Across Route 16 it turns, turns again, parallels the highway.
At odd stops, passengers hop on and off,
the terminus Woodlawn—mausoleum, columbarium,
acres of grass home to the tombs, urns, and coffins
of strangers and loved ones and strangers’ loved ones.
The cemetery, green, well tended, is open to the public.
51 – Tesseract
There’s a story my father tells about a driver
on the trolley line that quit running along
the last leg of the bus’s route forty years ago.
Joe Kelly stopped one night between stops,
invited passengers to a party at the Clancys’—
who lived next to Mount St. Joseph’s—and
had to leave a half-hour later at the clang of
the bell of the car stuck behind on the tracks.
There’s what happened, my father’s version
of what happened, my version of my father’s
version, your interpretation of my version
and, should you retell it, your audience’s
interpretation of your interpretation of my
version of my father’s version of the story.
When Amy and I lost track of time, we were
lucky to catch the last train out of Park Street,
got to Cleveland Circle too late for a bus.
We had to call for a ride. Standing where
I stand now, looking at me standing where
I stood then, wondering what I was thinking
imagining what Amy’s father, a man who
used silence, was thinking standing where he
stood eyeing his daughter and her laughably
thin date, trying to distinguish defiance
from a mistake, my present me wonders
if his present him remembers my memory.
Driving back and forth to college along
the route, trips accumulated, the car like
the neurons that inscribe pathways between
synapses. They create the means to remember:
the times of day, if the sun was out, if mist was
rising from the thawing reservoir, if I drove
with the window down, arm hanging in
the breeze flowing past my parents’ beat-up
Honda, plastic Mary glued to the dashboard.
But then I can’t hold it all in my head.
It’s too big, like one of those paintings
in a museum or the apse of a church.
To examine any one part of it, to notice tiny
cracks in the paint, saints’ elongated fingers,
is to ignore the top of the canvas where
otherworldly light breasts the heavens.
To remember any one stretch of route is
to climb the great pyramid of association—
the monument store, its model gravestones
littering the front lawn, and the caterer
where Bobby’s mother got us jobs after
he was fired from McDonald’s; we loaded
and unloaded trucks with serving pans
and boxes of boxed lunches too heavy
for weak arms. But to remember is to forget,
forget where the bus runs past the street
on which Amy grew up, the path where
I’d linger in hopes of pretending to
casually run into her because I was
too afraid to call and ask her out.
The bus is full. For each thought, an object:
me, the annoying couple talking
too loudly about their weekend plans,
the kid rapping under his breath to what’s
playing through his headphones,
the old woman with her shopping basket
(bundled, like Mrs. Whatsit, beyond
human recognition), three young women
I would have once felt the need to impress
with studied indifference, the girl reading
a textbook, her mother on the next seat
variously reprimanding her brother, who
won’t sit still, and watching a daughter
learning in a language she hasn’t learned.
28 – Gospel Music
Walk far enough now, my left knee gets sore;
it’s what buses are for, the roads they run on,
some planned—laid out in a grid—
some unplanned, worn by use, cobbled, then paved.
Farmers farm the farms they call home.
When they built factories, they built dorms to go with them.
Until horses drew trolleys, it never dawned on anyone
to live one place and work another.
The first farm needed no tending.
We named the livestock, but lacked restraint.
Funny how the mind fixates on what it can’t know.
The Torah tells it well: how we fell.
We’ve wandered since—
across continents, across oceans, across the sky
in winged cylinders that glint in a setting sun’s light.
Trickles become streams, streams rivers, rivers torrents.
Torrents flood cities, the floods collect in neighborhoods
like tidal pools as the surge recedes—
from Italy to the North End, from Poland to South Boston,
from the shtetl to Warren Street and Blue Hill Ave.
When waves roll in, sucking up the water in their paths,
they reveal, before they break, bare slopes of sand,
but even a tsunami must look from space
like a ripple on a pond’s surface and,
though the spirit departs, there’s flesh
to nourish the grass that grows on graves.
The minyans moved, their hulls remain.
Etched in stone, Stars of David adorn
the churches that were synagogues,
filled now by new waves of congregants, ceaseless,
ever rolling, ever washing up on these celestial shores
a person, a family, a village at a time.
On the 1200 block, the new Baptist church
overlooks the avenue. From it wafts
the choir’s voices, keyboard’s accompaniment.
Mechanics lounging in the garage’s shade
listen to merengue that to unversed ears sounds
like a record spun too fast. Dressed in Sunday best,
old women bend like the accordion buses
that ply the route to Dudley Square.
They lean on canes, press pamphlets in palms
as people pass. Travel agents, they mouth
hymn and prayer. A few more weary days, they say.
Hallelujah, by and by, I’ll fly away.
To order a copy of Afforded Permanence, click here.
Liam Day is the author of a collection of poetry, Afforded Permanence, recently published by Aforementioned Productions. He has been a youth worker, teacher, assistant principal, public health professional, campaign manager, political pundit, communications director, and professional basketball player. His poems have appeared at Slow Trains, apt, and Wilderness House Literary Review. His op-eds and essays have appeared in Annalemma, Stymie, The Boston Globe, Boston Herald, and The Good Men Project, where he is the Sports Editor.