Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Holy Waterbury

His eminence in white reads the eucharist
like an auctioneer - it may as well be Latin
in the cavernous cathedral lined with gold.
Giant granite columns exalt the dome of gold-leaf Jesus
while the red glow of candles haunts the marble floor.
A handful with beads are on their knees, to echo
illegible prayers, as late sun slants
through stained glass windows like brass...

Outside the gates, beneath the gargoyles
a thousand gainfully unemployed wander the streets
in a zombie procession between handouts
—the sweatpants and the ponytails,
the white beards and missing teeth,
colorless poverty from Waterville to Hillside,
dingy laundromats, rincon carnicerias,
purple carpets out on the sidewalk for sale,
snack food and lotto kept behind bars along with
"the lowest prices for cigarettes in the state."
The red brick Georgian mansion is a soup kitchen.
The slate-roofed Mansard with lace eaves and huge bay window
is a haven for physical and sexual abuse.
Beyond that, it's a horror movie set:
the purple Victorian crack mansion,
the turrets boarded up, the wrap-around stairs turned to chutes,
the wood frills hanging down like broken fangs.
Even the Halloween tarantulas are swallowed up in this,
as if the rich folk suddenly disappeared one day,
not the slow decline of duplexes and vinyl,
these mansions on the hill were gutted clean...

By the Mad River, the smelters lie in ruins,
the tar of parking lots still mingles with the weeds,
the brass mills have their black hole eyes forever open,
a broken precious beauty that we all will one day tour
as we do the castles of Europe, but for now
there's nary a brewery or local crafts for tourist trade
there's only boys in hoodies tossing spirals
through the rusty sumac fields...

The ghost of Rosalind Russell
throws brass tacks and firing pins
like dice into the wind -
"it takes a licking and keeps on ticking" -
but Waterbury surrendered after the war.
It lives on, but not here,
in the polished surfaces of deco offices,
for "what lasts better than brass?" (the city's motto)
on a statue with a laurel wreath in bronze,
not far from the final HoJo's in the country,
its orange roof like a sunset that never ends.