The Great Falls at Paterson - photo by Mark Hillringhouse

The Great Falls at Paterson - photo by Mark Hillringhouse

The Great Falls Anthology, published by the Poetry Center at PCCC in 2014, celebrates the Great Falls, the Passaic River and related environmental issues.

The anthology contains poetry rooted in the literary tradition that honors place, narrative, clarity and specificity.

A reading to launch the anthology was held in may 2014 with readings by many of the contributors to the Anthology reading their poems. 

Below are three poems from the Anthology.

 

Love is a Stone Endlessly in Flight
by Dante DiStefano


The Great Falls strike their silk upon bullheads
and trout my father never fished for there;
he was about other rivers and falls,
about other waters’ vagrant currents
calling him home, calling him Dominic,
telling stories of a man forever
a boy in photographs from the fifties,
wearing a cowboy hat with a cap gun
cocked in his hand.  The Passaic River
didn’t call him, but the Chenango did;
it cut like a glacier through the basalt
of millennia. Oh Paterson, Oh
Williams, what I mean to say is just this:
my father’s people made their way through trades,
as dishwashers and factory workers,
in a city that had no Passaic
to buttress it; they, and he, were always
skipping stones in elsewhere rushing eddies,
dreaming flocks they wouldn’t tend and orchards
full of apples they could never harvest.
Oh rivers of the world, my father died
in my arms as I carried him, almost
to the hospice bed. It was an honor
to stoop and cradle him on the threshold
of the afterlife, where he, I hope, skips
stones with the broken vowels of immigrant
angels. Holy green waters that roll on
forever, when I went to his fresh grave
I wanted to lay down on the flowers
and sleep there, or hug the dirt, but instead
I sifted through the packed soil and found
four flat pebbles to give to my mother
because the stone lives, the flesh dies, and we
know nothing of death or its mills that churn
into a place that is not home. Great Falls,
strike your silk upon the bullheads and guide
my father to a street lined with linden
where the difficult labor of living
is done. Oh spent shell from the final
volley, I hold you in my palm and I know
no metaphor can honor a father.
“A chance word,” Williams said, “upon paper,
may destroy the world.” Dear dad, I write you
exact words dictated by the whirlpool
that forms at the confluence of other rivers:
Yes, love is a stone endlessly in flight.

 

Dante Di Stefano's poetry and essays have appeared recently, or are forthcoming, in The Writer's Chronicle, Shenandoah, Brilliant Corners, The Hollins Critic, Bayou Magazine, and elsewhere. He was the winner of the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award and the Academy of American Poets College Prize. He currently serves as a poetry editor for Harpur Palate and he was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

 

 

My Women
by William Harry Harding 

 My grandmother:  even awake I can smell her kitchen,

      see steam from a pasta pot make her hair weep.

My step-grandmother:  making my favorite (peach pancakes)  

     despite hands arthritis had decayed into frozen claws.

My mother:  working desperately to escape being her mother,

     even after retiring, even as she lay dying in a hospital bed, 

     ripping a feeding tube out of her throat.

My sister: my opposite, but more caring than I could hope to be.

My aunts: one (my uncle-the-doctor's wife) so elegant

     few in my family dared to taste her intellect or wit,

     the other (my uncle-the-baby-of-the family's wife)

     a beauty queen who, now 91, still volunteers at St. Joseph's.

My wife: who somehow spots the decency in everyone,

     who needed only a safe place to bloom into someone dazzling.

My daughter: the only one who laughs at all my jokes,

     a sweet mess of brilliance.

My teachers: deprived of career options in the era of my youth,     

     many of the best, like my mother, went into the classroom.

My partner-in-song: who resurrected my music career,

     whose volcanic talent and verve make me look like a genius.

My new sister, the poet: who grew up just blocks from me,      

     a dynamo whose work reduces me to a little boy crying.

My river yes, the Passaic is a woman, coursing through my city,   

     Paterson, before vomiting its guts into Newark Bay.

     Some winters, when virgin ice dams the Great Falls,

     the Passaic stops dead for a few minutes, even hours.

     When the slightest rise in temperature splits that frigid fist, 

     ribbons of dark water foam in happy fury over a granite face.

My women are the current that pilots my life. They carry me.

They might belong to others husbands, fathers, brothers,

     sisters, children, grandchildren but they are mine, always.

That big-dreaming kid I once was, the aching relic I am now,

     whoever, whatever I may yet become

my women are to blame.

 

William Harry Harding has written three novels – Rainbow, Young Hart, Mill Song – and a children’s book – Alvin’s Famous No-Horse – all from Henry Holt.  The founder of Garden Oak Press, he publishes the San Diego Poetry Annual.     

 

 

THE ESSEX MILLS, PATERSON   
by Linda Hillringhouse

for Mark Hillringhouse

                                   I.

We finally met at the Roma Club on Cianci Street

when Angelo behind the coffee bar was king

and the old man in the black hat, a dead ringer

for Borges, smiled as if forgiving us for transgressions

still to come, when the soccer trophies stood like centurions

among the philodendron on the window sill

and, across the street, the blue metallic door

of the laundromat looked soldered shut.

 

                                  II.

 You lived around the corner in the Essex Mills,

the artists’ housing on Van Houten, when we sat

in your loft among the books piled on the floor

like pillars and out in the back the ruins

of the Colt Mill and the Allied Textile Plant

amid the weeds and bricks and old boards

with nails so big we could see them from

the third floor, and out in the dusk two

petrified tree stumps covered in dried vines,

standing side by side as if they’d missed

their wedding day.
 

And scattered everywhere curls of corroded

metal like burned-out seedpods, rocks,

rusted coil, branches, and bottle shards

like they’d been flung to the ground

by a petulant god trying to unbuild a world,

infuriated by the marvels that remained.
 

                                 III.

 Never had there been conscious will or hope

to disinfect the wounds so vast that we lived

along the edges; never had I looked into the eyes

of someone without seeing my diminished self

but that night in the loft, the doorknobs golden                                                                                                               

as the sun went down, we looked at each other

beyond the broken things and held each other

against the failed past.                                                                                                                                                       

                   IV.

 And afterwards we walked up the hill

to the Great Falls, past the hydroelectric plant,

the turbines twirling like prima ballerinas,

and past the gorgeous concrete steps leading

down to the river and when we stood on the bridge

and beheld the Falls we could see Hinchliffe Stadium

where our parents had watched the car races and fireworks,

and the Falls rushed forth over the cliff as if the earth

had just begun. 

 

Linda Hillringhouse is a painter and poet. A self-taught artist, she has shown her work at the Newark Museum, the Paterson Museum, and the Yale School of Art, among other venues, and is included in the 20th Century Self-Taught Artists Archive Collection at the American Folk Art Museum in New York.  She is a recipient of poetry fellowships from Yaddo and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and recently won second place for the Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry sponsored by Nimrod International Journal.