The First Time I Rode on Blue Hill Avenue
We were heading back to Boston. You drove.
Monday I’d give my notice to the nursing home.
I watched for streets I knew from people at work:
the residents on the floors I brought mail to,
people not quite the age I am now,
about twice the age I was then.
On long afternoons that smelled of Lysol, lotion,
and cigarettes, boiled greens and bitter, sugary coffee,
men spoke to me of smoking weed at the Hi-Hat,
dropped names and songs I didn’t know. Women spoke
of quiet mothers who wore white gloves in August to shop
for cloth they’d sew into school dresses without patterns,
their new sewing machines shaking house walls as thin as paper.
Men spoke of quarries whose ghosts you could almost glimpse.
Women spoke of elm trees that once shaded their streets. Of
lost children raised by strangers. Of lost years in Mattapan.
Note: Mattapan refers to Boston State Hospital, a facility for individuals with mental illness, which closed in 1987.
I thought of the desert we drove through that fall.
We could have been happy in a cinderblock
house at sunset, the fat, black cat our child.
We were visiting New York, so I did not
mind the hubbub and crowd in these narrow rooms
an upright piano pushed up against the wall.
I didn’t mind drinking tap water, talking
to that short man, watching you flirt with that girl.
We were tourists. None of this was real. Not to me.
But I thought of the ice-green river, Douglas fir
we sat beneath, metal-blue sky without words
for once, another place we could not belong.
Marianne Szlyk is a professor at Montgomery College. Her poems have appeared in Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Verse-Virtual, Poetry X Hunger, and One Art. Her books Why We Never Visited the Elms, On the Other Side of the Window, and I Dream of Empathy are available from Amazon and Bookshop. She and her husband, the writer Ethan Goffman, now live with their black cat Tyler.