Newport, The Fifties

I was raised in the decade of the death of the elms
with the sight of Sputnik twinkling in the night sky
where one could walk the last of the driftwood beaches
and see weathered cottages beyond the dunes.
Before the rise of condos, before the presidency was for sale
when you could still ride a horse up Harrison
and knew most of the cops by name.

On red and orange Novembers where the tang
of burning maple and oak leaves filled the crisp air
Goelets and the Vanderbilts were real though outsized
and we watched from the statue of Rochambeau
naval destroyers perched off King's Park
like gray scavengers among twelve meter racers
manly crewed by tanned Australians.

The great swing of winter hurled snow in mid-December
to drift above our porch to second-story windows
and the washed sheets on backyard clotheslines
cracked and snapped in my mother's red-knuckled hands.
Cold sun blinded young sledders on ice-covered snow
and reckless boys skated past the Lilly Pond where
saltwater marsh met the fresh spring.

Then Easter with tulips and jonquils
and women walking out with white dresses and straw hats
and corsages and carnations and the Hallelujah Chorus.
Nuns at Salve Regina escorted not-quite-convented girls
as the first buds appeared on the trees
and the March breeze tossed the stars and stripes
over the courthouse memorial of war dead.

We walked over the dead each day then and knew it.
From colonial sabers under the lawn of Trinity
to the Spanish graybeards at Touro
the ground was full of ghosts, and trees with angels.
In the damp tunnels of Fort Adams catarrhal soldiers roamed,
and in the foam of the waves on Narragansett Bay
floated the light souls of young seamen.

When summer at last lacquered the seaside canvas
it became a town least like itself.
Then all the damp regiments retreated underground;
the sailors were chased from the Thames Street bars
and the cobblestone streets swept cleaned and gentrified.
All the shops were preening and pretentious
with inflated prices foreshadowing what we'd all become.

"Newport, The Fifties" © 2008 copyright by Michael Hogan.
Reprinted from the Innisfree Poetry Journal, Winter 2008.