©1997 A.D. Sullivan
At the Bus Stop
Legends of Early Paterson
Kramer for President?
The Land Ladies
In Search of the Sacred Heart of Paterson
A Place Like Paterson
Stop the World
Car alarm music echoes
off the walls of city hall,
a symphony of Paterson
thick in coke dealers and
of the street who hide
shyly under newspapers
and cardboard till someone
turns it off.
At the Bus Stop
I noticed the "closed" sign every morning as I waited for the Number 3 bus to downtown Paterson. Someone had tucked the upside down chunk of yellowed cardboard between the porcelain ducks and a ten piece silver tea setting. The error perpetually annoyed me, and every day I wanted to reach through the dusty glass and set the sign right.
Only God knew how anyone could make the same mistake every day though this disorientation fit with the general condition of the store. Dust decorated the collection of odds and ends, including the sign, and the building itself sagged, its roof missing a few red shingles, and several panes of its faceted bay window bore cracks. The faded gold letters above the door declared this a antique store. The store itself had become antique.
And every morning an old woman would hobble up the street, kerchief tied tightly around her head, shopping bags scraping the ground as she walked. She studied the window displays of the other shop before finally pausing before the door to hers, grinning at me as she fetched out her keys, exchanging a few words of greeting before pushing her way into the dim interior to settle behind the counter. Sometimes she chatted with me about her long dead husband, George, and the short sweet years after his retirement from the Post office when they had made a living here. George, she said, knew how to run a business, had a mind for those kind of details. And every morning she noticed the sidewalk and the dirt caked thickly between the cracks. She shook her head and said she'd have to sweep.
She never did.
Sometimes, she would talk about a time when she cleaned the shop twice a day, complaining about how the dust always settled again around her after each sweeping. And always, just behind her, George would come, straightening shelves of stock that her sweeping had put into disarray.
She said he liked things organized. He grew agitated when things got mislaid or disturbed. Once in a while, after George's death, she used to tip a picture frame or turn a piece of bric-a-brac just for fun, half wishing George would come and set it right.
He never did.
Then, I read her obituary in the local paper, three slim lines that mentioned nothing about George, or my daily coming to the bus stop. I felt the lack of her no more morning chit chat, no more talk about the dust or George. Yet, on the morning after the day of her death, I did notice someone had straightened the sign.
She stands silent,
a now mute chorister to the street,
her disco beat licked out with blistered flames,
upper bulk blackened
charcoal, flung into the air
a poor woman's confetti,
littering windshields and storefronts
her second story hung out over the dim
street lamps and broken bottles
where young gather at her feet,
half stunned, half laughing,
at this final change of face.
Her burning mascara pealing back
each layer of paint revealing the past,
mingling into puddles on the stairs,
vaudeville and coffee grinds spilling out the crackling sides.
Nothing is hidden,
each room opening like a tuna can,
slice of life, evaporating
bath, bedroom and kitchen,
and crumbling lives
huddled in blankets,
witnessing her death.
All shapes are dangerous,
the window squares shattered into four
equal parts, little girls dancing in each,
a mystery chant of play and song,
tugging at him like a cat with string,
leaning closer and closer to the glass,
or the man in the candy shop slipping him
lollipops for free, while eyeing
or the glories of
park stone around which he pranced,
stern faced Union Generals
stained with pigeon droppings and rain,
looking over the beer bottles and sleeping
old men on the benches facing Carol Street
mother shouting for him to cease his reckless
careening through the trees and leaves and
by Martin Schwalbaum
Sadly reduced in volume and general appearance
The drugged waters nevertheless maintain
Sufficient power to float the pitiful corpse
Once more to the ultimate brink where it comes to rest
Perched up against a dayglo popart rainbow.
Addressing the ragged group of poets below
It speaks straight ahead some anniversary remarks
Seamlessly adding to its voluminous effusions on the subject.
Studying the colorful establishments along the Latin street
He identifies the familiar signage comidas criollas
The barebulb row of electric lamps
Illuminating this week's butchered pig.
Adjusting the numerous gold necklaces and turquoise pieces Which inhibit his speech he shows his family
In highschool Spanish the insides of a homeless mind
Rigorously however concealing a positive HIV.
In a Chinese laundry lost in queens
Which she inhabits with her family of five in a 10x14 room
She puts away the ironing which has occupied her since 5 AM
Steps in front of the white dividing curtain
With eyes that are not accustomed to making contact
Reaches mechanically for the correct stringtied package
And recites in a firmvoiced manner poems concerning
Her ancient home and the father's recent death by cancer.
Fresh from completing a new berlitz course in Afrikaan
He blows in from LA dreadlocks flying
Goodnaturedly tossing up angry words to the mixed audience.
He is just in time for the opening ceremonies
At the latest in a chain of 280 black bookstores
Which market research has placed in university malls
Across the country where the white majority patrons
Enjoy watching him tapdance on top of the checkout counter.
Sunning himself in the warmth of his accomplishments
At the bombedout rowhouse where his mom persists to this day
He contrives to make those interminably happy improvisations
Breaking yet another tooth on a longish poem.
To the question concerning candor in public speech
He drawls out some typically decorative statements
Simultaneously stroking the beard which appears to stimulate
The well known European facility with language.
Society for Useful Manufacture
In a surprise move the city planning commission
Establishes the very first supranational
Commercial zone of opportunity
on 32.4 underutilized square miles
Along the mid-passaic river and adjoining districts.
Condemnation proceedings having been completed the first project
A closed loop ozone regeneration unit on 250 acres
Is scheduled for startup operations in early 1993.
We made no efforts to conserve our energies
Opening wide the weekday intellect
To the adventure of the moment following a vacant path
Through individual turns of great variety
Ending in an upper meadow filled with unmowed grasses
In which we picnicked by an ancient orchard
Dreaming of its former inhabitants always with wine
Memorizing our nuclear family against an uncertain future.
The corpse rises from the seat of honor
Collects and conserves his most recent scribbles
And stepping into a garden which seems unseasonably warm
He breathes a measured sample of the local atmosphere.
Anxious that his expected further disintegrations
Should not embarrass the fledgling poetic community
He sets the date for his forthcoming burial with open readings
Sponsored by the Chaucer Guild a support group.
4/4/92 Paterson NJ: "William Carlos Williams and the Poetry of Urban Experience," a Homestyle conference, part of the celebrations of Paterson's 200th anniversary, commenced with an outdoor invocation to Williams' spirit at Great Falls, featuring readings by poets from several different American tribes. In "Paterson" Williams inserts a newspaper report which tells of the discovery and removal of a corpse from the falls, probably an accident victim. Home of America's first planned industrial community, with a real English castle and gardens and occasional cultural flowerings in its past, Paterson today is home to 150,000 people of color, an urban blight surrounded by a network of fastmoving interstate highways.
Legends of Early Paterson
Well before Alexander Hamilton got his greedy little hands on Paterson, it was the center of rumor. White men heard tales of "Totowa Falls" up river from Newark, which exaggeration made seem as great as Victoria Falls in Africa. The Indians revered it as sacred and white men later settled at its feet. Though the first white settlement was farther south on the Island of Dundee where the great fire of 1985 destroyed Passaic. The Indian name for the island was "Menechenicke." And while it was not the financial killing Manhattan became, its sale became the issue of flood of land speculators into North Jersey, who came with coats, blankets, kettles, powder and trinkets, purchasing every bit of land between Newark and the Great Falls.
A group of powerful investors called the East Jersey Proprietors found themselves in control of nearly 10,000 acres of land encompassing what is now called Clifton, Little Falls and Paterson, though the first name was Haquequeunck.
Fourteen partners formed the basis of what would become the most powerful families in the region for over a hundred years. Names like Van Winkle, Van Houten, Vreeland are preserved in street names throughout local communities, though few now remember their significance.
By the end of the American Revolution there were ten dwellings in the City of Paterson including one church, though it lacked a pastor. Although Alexander Hamilton had already come and helped develop the Society for the Establishing of Useful Manufactures, no lawyer, constable, or justice of the peace could be found within three miles.
Of the original ten structures, only three or four remained as late as 1856. But one structure, partly destroyed in the great flood of 1810 remained as a landmark to the Revolution itself. George Washington and General Lafayette were frequent guests at the Passaic Hotel, which was famous at the time for its fishing and hospitality. It sat on the banks of the Passaic River below the Great Falls about where West Broadway crosses over.
The building itself was built about a quarter century before the revolution, and during the revolution was owned and occupied by Jacob Van Winkle. His family would be one of the fourteen to dominate Paterson politics until the rise and fall of the Silk Barons late in the next century. By 1824, it was known as the Godwin after General Abraham Godwin who had taken over ownership. Throughout the years it was famous for good cheer and excellent, but basic food, and a notorious resort for fisherman. It attracted sportsman from everywhere. The fish, according the legend where large and plentiful with sunfish particularly favored. The sign which hung from it showed a rough free hand drawing to two monster fish. Many of the gaping yokels regarded it as a work of art. The bridge was important for local transportation and the hotel benefited from its traffic. During the flood of 1810, a newly constructed bridge was washed away despite efforts of local residents to secure it with stones. One poor fool named Uriah Van Riper, whose farm was right across the river from the hotel, had to travel all the way to Belleville to get across. Old York Road ran Southeast from the foot of the bridge, while Hamburg Turnpike started on its north.
During the revolution, the hotel was a gathering place of rebel leaders. Indeed Lafayette returned to the hotel may years later as an old man, looking for the son of the owner with whom he and Washington had talked frequently.
"Peter the Helpless", as the boy was generally known, may have been suffering from what is now called Elephantiasis. Lafayette simply referred to him as the "the big headed man."
Peter had an enormous head, as large as a "half bushel measure," and was a helpless cripple who could not move around except by means of chair with wheels which had been invented for his use. But his mind was considered very sharp and during the war, Washington, Lafayette and other revolutionary leaders often came to Paterson to talk with him. Peter lived to the age of forty and was cared for by a slave woman. At twenty seven, Peter was described by one soldier as a monster in human form.
"His face, from the upper part of his forehead to the end of his chin measures twenty seven inches, and around the upper part of his head is twenty one inches; his eyes and nose are remarkably large and prominent; his chin long and pointed."
This same soldier described Peter's voice as coarse and his features irregular, and his total body about the same size as his head. When not moving around in his wheeled chair, he was supported by many pillows and visited by many people, notably clergymen, from whom he eagerly took religious instruction.
Washington once asked Peter if he was a `Whig' or a `Tory.' Peter said he didn't take sides.
Like the Passaic Hotel, Peter was one of the early Paterson legends which has been lost in the shuffle of history overshadowed by silk barons and the later rise of Paterson as an industrial capital.
Kramer for President?
July 8, 1980
That's what the sign says anyway, as if we hadn't had enough of him years ago. His run for governor peaking a sordid career which helped ruin Paterson, as if he could do the same for the state, creating more poverty programs out from which liberals could get rich. There are more little empires of wealth in Paterson than wealthy people in Wayne, smooth talking grant writers through whom federal money gets funneled. Little of it seems to trickle down anywhere (though that seems to be someone's else's campaign). Paterson has the highest rate of reported VD in the state, to note an example.
The name Kramer does that, drawing out the worst in me the way Lindsay does in New York. And on such a fine sunny day like this. Our luck he'll get to be president, too or governor and the newspapers'll have to write his name daily as having said "this" or "that", and with each I'll see a dying Paterson in my head and have no one to blame it on.
The Land Ladies
Her eyes went cold when she saw us through the screen door. After a low, uncomfortable cough, a moment more of silence, and a wavering smile, she stirred to life.
"Oh God! It's you," she said and swung the screen door out with one hand, grabbing Cher's hand with the other. She squeezed hard and drew her in while I remained just outside, her neck tight with tendons and blue surfacing veins. I was surprised she could speak at all. "I told Carey you two would come back around sooner or later."
"Didn't you get our note?" I asked. "I pinned it to your door."
Belle glanced up at me, her eyes full of caution and alarm. "Carey got it," she said. "But she didn't tell me she had it until yesterday. Otherwise I would have given you a call and set up a time."
"Is this inconvenient?" Cher asked, giving me a stare of warning not to make trouble. I tried to look innocent. Cher seemed unconvinced.
"Well," Belle said. "With as busy as we have been lately we..."
"We tried to call you," I said. "But your number's unlisted." "Is it?" Belle said, looking surprised, in everything but her eyes, which shimmer with all the warmth of polished ice cubes. Of our two former landladies, Belle had always seemed hard to me, her chiseled face and bony frame as amicable as a vampire bat. "Don't stand out there in the cold," she said. "You know the way inside."
Through the door and to the left, three short steps took us into her kitchen, which we had visited several times during our two year stint upstairs as her tenants. On every visit, the same smell struck me not the wholesome smell of cooking, but the stark scent of cleanser. I never saw a broom or mop, or caught sight of a bucket full of suds, yet it seemed as if Belle perpetually scrubbed this room, trying to sanitize from it any remotely human odor.
The room, however, did seems smaller than I remembered it, and altered. Belle and Carey had installed a new wooden floor as well as lighter kitchen cabinets, all of a sandy colored oak that should have brightened the room but didn't, despite the matching table and chairs. We sat, the ill fitting chair knifing at the back of my knees. Cher seemed equally uncomfortable, but put her enduring face on as she put her purse on her lap and folded her hands over it. "Why don't I go find Cary," Belle said. "I'm sure she's in the middle of something or other, but she won't mind being interrupted when she finds out it's you."
Belle, however, sought Carey for herself, not us, as moral support. While she was the tougher of the two, she was also a coward. During our first winter in the upstairs apartment, she and I went to war over hot water rights. She believed we ran up her gas bill with unnecessary daily bathes, and turned town the water heater to a point at which the pipes nearly froze. She also believed we needed far less heat upstairs than she did on the ground floor since heat rises and we got the benefit of her heat through the floor boards and turned down our thermostat accordingly.
Her lie about intending to call us, galled me, just one more reflection of her cowardice. She and her partner had owed us a $750 security deposit for three months now. I suspected from their lack of communication, they intended to keep it, part of that ongoing game between tenants and landlords that goes back to primitive cave dwellings. One cracked stone or piece of plaster, and a landlord felt it his or her right to keep the money. Tenants had a way around this, of course. When living in Manhattan I had often used my deposit as my last month's rent, to keep those greedy landlords from stealing me blind. We had chosen not to play that game here, despite Belle's militancy.
Cher liked both women, and we'd fought over the issue of coming back to beg for the deposit. Cher wanted to help the women out, knowing just how tight their finances were.
"They're going to have trouble making their mortgage until they rent the rooms again," she told me.
"So?" I asked. "Is it our problem they didn't plan ahead? We gave them more than enough notice. We should have gotten the check in the mail."
I wasn't being mean. Our move had entailed debts, too, mortgage payments as well as payments on a new car, and I had lived long enough in poverty to resist giving money away; in Passaic, $750 paid three months rent, as well as the utilities.
"Kenny! Cher!" Carey called, charging into the room from the double doorway, her clothing and hands covered with top soil from her dealings in the garden. Cher hugged her despite the filth, and then drew back to look at her.
"You look much better than you did," Cher said, surveying the nearly six foot tall woman with great satisfaction. Indeed, Carey had grown less pale, her sunken cheeks and hollowed eyes filled out again.
"I should," she said. "I've been worrying a lot less lately since I found work."
"You found a job!" Cher said with delight. "That's great!" "Oh, it has its drawbacks," Carey admitted with a laugh. "It's not in my field and I had to take a paycut. But it's a job. After being unemployed for so long, I began to feel well, like a leech."
She glanced at Belle; Belle frowned as if warning Carey against saying too much about what went on between them behind closed doors. Carey blushed, sighed, then looked over Cher.
"But how are you two doing?" she asked. "We hadn't heard much from you since you moved out. I was beginning to wonder if you had forgotten us."
"We could never do that," Cher said. "After two years living here, we come to regard you both as friends."
"Us, too," Carey said with another cautious glance at Belle. "I was delighted to see your note the other day, but puzzled, too. I couldn't figure out what brought on your visit all of a sudden." I choked and glared at Carey, then Belle, and finally Cher, who warned me with a jabbing hand motion to keep still.
"We came to say hello," Cher told Carey. "And collect our mail."
And money, I thought, the added words hanging at the end of Cher's sentence unsaid, but loud in their absence.
Belle nodded coldly at Cher, eyes sparking with something that might have been anger, as if our mentioning money would have been in the poorest of taste.
"Go get their mail, Carey," she said. "I'll make coffee." I wanted to tell Belle to forget the coffee, but knew we could not broach the subject of our coming without some ceremony. Even when we paid rent, it was over coffee and pointless conversation, the issue of money something that made everyone uncomfortable. While Cher always liked the idea of a friendship growing between us, I despised it. Landlords or ladies did not live in the same world as I did, their view always possessed by their ownership. No matter how close we came, the house, rooms and monthly rent always stood between us, an impenetrable object that would not go away until we did, and even now, three months out of their rooms, the question of security kept us from liking each other.
Carey yanked open one of the counter drawers, and dragged out a variety of objects, spools of thread, lockless keys, screwdrivers with no handles or heads. From under these, she pulled an assortment of envelopes, from large manila envelopes to advertising circulars. She dumped the lot on the table in front of Cher.
"There you go," Carey said cheerfully. "Three months worth of mail."
"Maybe you two should have put in a change of address card with the post office," Belle said, moving around the small alcove where she dumped whole coffee beans into a grinder and then turned the small machine on. The gnashing sound filled the room like static. With this finished, she took up the kettle, filled it with water, and set it to boil. Then, she removed a filter from the cabinet above the counter, and set it into a funnel like contraptions, poured the ground beans into this, put the contraption and beans into the top of a glass coffee pot, then leaned against the counter, waiting on the water.
"We did leave notice at the post office," I said. "They are as obviously competent at sending our mail on as they have been in delivering it."
"Well it doesn't matter now," Carey said. "We did save it all for you."
"Yes, you did," I said, noting one or two overdue bills among the collection, which explained the angry notes the credit card companies had sent which the post office had passed on. Then, the silence ensued. All four of us had run out of words, and listened as the kettle worked it magic, slowly growing more and more violent as the water steamed inside and the heat grew more furious. By the time it hooted, I was ready to hoot, ready to scream out what we had really come for.
But I already knew the answer to my request, for having imagined the conversation here after we had moved out.
"Did you see the way they left the apartment?" Belle likely said. "So dirty I needed hipboots to wade through the dust. And the woodwork! God! I didn't think a pair of cats could do so much damage, and all they did was paint the kitchen. Why should they get their security payment back?"
I had painted the kitchen. Cher had scrubbed the floors in every room, on her hands and knees with brush and bucket. But dirt? The apartment when we came and when we left always had a worn look, a lived in sensibility that paint or scrub brush wouldn't erase. The old building had been constructed oddly, handing over the street like a glass jaw. The wind hit it hard in winter, leaving two rooms frigid. In Summer, the accumulation of windows make it feel like a hot house, and without air conditioning, the cross ventilation was all we had to lower the temperature. But the combination of hot and cold did damaged to the building, too, cracking plaster, shimming up shingles. Rain water dripped down even to the first floor, where it ruined rugs, paintings and stereo equipment. More than once Belle accused us of leaving a window open during a rain shower. I believe she thought it a deliberate act of vengeance for the lack of hot water.
Belle returned, bearing a full pot of coffee and several glass coffee cups.
"The new tenants are in," she said as she poured out steaming brown liquid into each cup. "Boy, are they a pleasure. No problems. No complaints. They're students from the college. They hardly know any English. We hardly hear from them."
It wasn't winter yet, I thought, but even foreigners would learn the word for heat quickly enough when they didn't get any, or the words demanding hot water when they turned on their faucet and found that wanting as well. But then, maybe they needed less bathes than I did, having only to worry over dusty books, not crap from my baking job which left me stinking of sugar and flour, or my arms flecked with bits of hardened dough.
Cher begged for me not to make trouble, knowing we had to meet these people coming in and out everyday, unlike the multi unit apartment buildings where she grew up in New York, where the landlord was some faceless board of directors the sole contact with whom came in the mail monthly in the form of a bill. Half the reason for buying a place of our own came as a result of these conflicts, Cher unable to face Belle or Carey the morning after a battle over heat or hot water.
"Maybe you should go and see if your tenants are still alive," I quipped, drawing such a look of hatred from Belle that I actually sat back in my chair fearing she would hit me, though I found a glint of expectation in her eyes, too. She wanted me to come right out and ask for our money back so she could refuse, so she could bring out the series bills she had gathered as judgment of our character.
But I would not ask and Cher was too ashamed to ask; so we sat there, sipping coffee, the clatter of cup against saucer echoing in place of words.
"Well," I said putting down my cup while drawing a sharp and panicked glance from Cher. "I suppose if we got our mail, we should be going?"
Cher blinked at me in sheer disbelief.
"That's all there is," Belle said coldly. "But if any more comes, we'll be sure to let you know."
"Yes, yes," said Carey. "And next time maybe you can stay a little longer."
I nodded, pushed back my chair and stood up slowly, knowing there would be no next time, knowing that their phone number would always be unlisted, knowing that every time we knocked at the door, Belle would be unpleasantly surprised.
"Now that didn't go too badly," Cher said as we returned to the car.
"No," I said, climbing behind the wheel. "At least they gave us our mail."
The Beatles song "Fool on a Hill" may appear to sum up Catholina Lambert, but in truth he was no fool. Lambert came to American from Scotland with less than 5 English pounds and built himself an empire that rivaled the most brutal of 19th century robber barons. This label disturbed him. Despite his wealth, he paid his employees well, giving them the highest wage paid in any of Paterson's silk mills and they were last to leave during 1913 strikes.
Lambert began life in a tiny English Village in Yorkshire and came to America at age 17, after serving the lords of his own nation as an errand boy. In Boston, he worked his way up from an office assistant in a silk manufacturing firm to eventual become a partner in the mid 1850s. He moved to New York, married, and became a US Citizen in 1870. During the next 15 years, Lambert rose to power and watched eight of his children die. Flavia Alaya, former president of the Paterson Historical Society said Lambert buried his grief in a "burst of capitalism."
His castle bothered people. But for him, building it was part of the pleasure of living in Paterson. He liked for his workers to see where he lived, so he built his home on the side of a mountain. Most of the other silk barons lived on the East side of town. At first, Lambert did as well, but found that his vast collection of paintings needed more room than those houses could provide. He'd always envisioned himself living in a castle like a Scottish lord. He built the basic part of the castle in 1893, and added an extension three years later to accommodate his art (this was valued at $1.5 million when later sold). When the strikes came, this apparent opulence made it difficult for people to separate him from the other barons. His shops fell with others, ruining Paterson as the world's silk capital, and broke Lambert's spirit. He retired to the castle where he died ten years later.
He leaped from the Great Falls Bridge for Love,
Silk City's ancient mills dark with dusk,
bobbing in the water like a beer can,
another poem for Williams Carlos Williams'
collection, pockets stuffed with vials
of unsold crack, mother's reflection
thick in his eyes, and the parade of men,
each claiming title of father
above, silhouetted cops haloed by clouds
of billowing blue gun smoke, saying
"He must be dead. No one could have
survived that!" And he, crawling out
of the mud three miles downstream,
leaving a trail of wet
back to his mother.
The sounds start at four
when the pipes gurgle
like someone strangling
and sometimes the clock radio
turns itself on to a station
I do no like and I think
the garage doors open and close
by themselves though I never can
catch them, and I keep finding dimes
wherever I go, at the supermarket,
in the bank, and especially
in my own driveway. I look down
and see President Roosevelt's face
shining up, so I pick them up fast
and put them in my pocket till
all my pockets are filled,
but I do not believe
any of this is out
of the ordinary.
-- Arlene L. Mandell
Rich girls wearing tie dyed shirts
come this way, Paterson's City Hall,
a backdrop of bird shit, bullshit and
metal politicians, a last stand alamo
with no Davey Crockett, only faces
breathing heavy from benches under
"People" magazine, giggling, rolling
bus change in the palms of their hands,
waiting for the number three
to pull in and take them
back to the suburbs.
In Search of the Sacred Heart of Paterson
Paterson. The city that inspired Industrial America, Silk City & the IWA. The Locomotive Factory & the Great Falls. William Carlos Williams & Allen Ginsberg. No poet or artist has passed through it untouched by at least the desire to express it. For as long as I can remember there's been talk of a Paterson Renaissance, of awakening the slumbering giant, of bringing its multicultural voice to the surface instigating thereby a grassroots American art movement such as the world has never seen.
Many have been the prophets. Few the messiahs. This Second Coming has yet to manifest itself but one front, an offshot of the Artist's Housing project, continues to insist in its legitimacy, & the publication of A PLACE LIKE PATERSON (1992 Lincoln Springs Press) takes yet another step in validating that claim.
Editor June Avignone, once on the staff of the Paterson News, has persistently put out a small paper called The Mill Street Forward. For years, she has been digging up the neglected issues housing, arson, Paterson's poor & presenting them with a judicious portion of local poetry & arts. A PLACE LIKE PATERSON focuses mostly on that cultural element, though Avignone never abandons political context.
The photographs (by Ellen Denuto), & the poems & prose pieces chosen here refer repeatedly to economic realities. Industry's Demand on the Falls and the Dye House Strike, 1933, are addressed. The Paterson Family Shelter, in a piece entitled "Kevin" is visited by Avignone herself, and "The Man Who Crossed the Border" explores racial barriers in Latino neighborhoods. The tone in these pieces, though, is wistful, almost loving of the social difficulties breached.
A photo of a fire at the ATP complex, however, shows the problem with no ambiguity. Its caption proclaims that "Renaissance" developers neglected functioning mills, leaving them unprotected from arson, in order to open space in which to build. Another photo captures the pathos of homeless children on Market Street. Not that Paterson's mystery & grandeur are absent from the book. Denuto's "Interior of the Masonic Temple, Broadway 1990," a dark corridor occupied by luminous white curtains, recalls something of Coctaeu's "La Belle et La Bete," in its black & white fairytale dreaminess. While the cover photo, a menagerie of Christs & Madonnas in color, brings home the attempt of this collection to represent the diverse voices of an old city, voices speaking of their dearest hopes & deepest disappointments.
Avignone, at the Family Shelter, says she wants "to stop being amazed once & for all, when I know there are no mysteries here at all, only reasons." But Allen Ginsberg, included here in a poem explaining "The Terms in Which I think of Reality," avows that "everyone's an angel," & warns against the worst misery of ignoring "a difference in the heart," the amazement itself. "As to what/is left," says poet Michael Reardon, "This is our only way home...the warmth on this window/just heating up before a road to St. Michael's church/the screens of the jail and a star a thousand/years above Paterson."
-- M. Alexander
A Place Like Paterson
I expected to hate this book, having heard the sentimental clap trap about Paterson over the year someone always trying to capture the spirit of the place in cheap imitation of Williams Carlos Williams. But there is little of that talk in this book and just enough history to give it a sense of place and time. Paterson Councilman Thomas Rooney once complained that too many people come to the city for its history and write little about what the place really is.
While the book is not a history, it has history, poetry, photographs, and essays which give a sampling of past and present Paterson. Nor is it brilliantly written. Poems by Michael Reardon and Mark Hillringhouse overshadow the rest, making reading the book somewhat uneven.
But it is a fair representation of Paterson itself, snapshots of life as it has been and is, drawing out of its various cultures and predominating images, sad sometimes, sentimental other times, but with a flavor which makes the book feel honest.
Reardon's "Mass Cards #17" provides a symbolic metaphor for the past and present Paterson: "As to what/is left/this is our only/way home over what is already gone." It is a haunting poem for those of us who walk the streets and remember things that were there and feelings we had spending our youths having faith in places and things we thought would never vanish. The ghost of old Paterson is forever haunting those of us who remember it.
Hillringhouse's "In Paterson" is that ghost, bringing back the images of those early days. While it is a poem dedicated and directed to a single human being, for me, it talk to the ghost of the city: "And I know there is meaning to all this/now that you have gone,/ even the buildings looked tired/ and the streets a little sadder,/even as I blend into this background/of weirdoes & strangers."
The layout of the book is outstanding, with photographs that present images of a changing Paterson, from a photo of the Hamilton Club where democratic political bosses used to plan out the future of the city and state to the images of homeless people on Market St. I paid five bucks for the book at the Montclair used book store. It may be available through its publisher, Lincoln Springs Press in Franklin Lakes, or through its editor at the Mill Street Forward in Paterson.
Stop the World
Blacklight mania plagues old city shop
Paterson's hip in sixty eight with own
head place, pipes and filters and scales,
and long haired kids of sixteen looking
for thrills, their mothers' skirts
still crushed on their faces,
crying about war and dying,
thinking like dumb white niggers,
uniform graves and body bags and the
half masted flags flying over city hall,
getting high over the great falls
with their Vietcong flags
and lack of courage.
For those interested in more fiction about the city of Paterson, the on-going novel "Dancer on the Sand" is a mystery that is both framed in the history of the town and those struggling with the declining city of the 1980s.
c/o A.D. Sullivan
271 Terrace Avenue
Jersey City, NJ 07307