Third annual WCW poetry Festival


May 17, 1980


The mayor speaks.

Oh my God!

He promises brevity, which I’ll believe only when it actually happens. Even his short speeches are so full of a hot air they would elevate dirigible for a week.

This must be intentional. He must know that he makes even the poorest poet look brilliant.

College President Hyman speaks next. (I learned only later of his connection to mob gambling interests in the Meadowlands and his close affiliation with national Republicans with whom he would work to root out us leftists on campus).

I could hardly bring myself to clap.

What is he really thinking? He’s a polished liar. His tongue weaves and wiggles, always managing to escape making any concrete statement – yet still sounds impressive.

He slouches to the side of the podium with his hands thrust in his pockets while his eye glasses flicker in the video camera lights.

Terry (Ripmaster) are radical professor who serves as MC, clutched his notes – oops, a hand finds his pocket, searching for keys to jingle. He gulps, he mentions William Carlos Wills, and leave the podium go to Sally Hand.

God! I talked to this woman earlier without realizing that she is my advisor. I remember mumbling at her, “I’ve seen you before,” and only as she stands up to speak do I remember she’d signed my schedule for next semester.

Please, don’t laugh at my little mistake

Oh silly, silly me who will have to face this silly situation later with poor Dr. Hand.

What does she take of me? I may never know, even as my pen flows and my brain ponders the endless possibilities, my pen often making up for my lack of memory.

I have the vague hope that her memory might be as bad as mine is, and that she may remember none of it either.

I also take comfort in the open window of the Rogers Train factory and the roar of the not so distant falls, and the river that runs through me and my life as readily as blood through veins, a smiling, giggling river that has been my friend since nearly my first day on this mortal coil, which reaches out to me regardless of where I am, what I am doing, or how foolish I have been, a river filled with William Carlos Williams’ words, and so filling me up with them as well, and it is not Hand or Ripmaster, Hyman or even the mayor, who utters them, but the river, its voice filled with the rising and falling inflections that the great poet heard here when he stood near this place.

I glance around at all the people who are in this place with me, and some seem to notice me and my wandering mind, their gaze warning me to pay attention, and I try, but drift off like a piece of driftwood seeking some other shore upon which to land.

I hear the roaring thunder and feel the cold foam of the walls washing over me, a gush over and through me, simulating every nerve, drowning me in its polluted water.

This is Paterson. This is real. It is the coughed up mucus of a flawed civilization falling over falls that speakers at the podium keep calling “great.”

It is great, just as the fires that consume me inside are great, and ruthless, and unyielding, as we all sacrifice something here to the gods, ourselves maybe, a merciless god we cannot ever come to know in any real way, mere shadows of His (or perhaps Her) existence, and as I look out the window of this place for signs, I see only the sputtering neon advertising Texas Wieners (later to become a McDonalds) at the shore of the water causeway and the ruins of the silk mills they powered.

You cannot see the falls from this far down Spruce Street, or the face that Williams Carlos Williams said he saw in the falls when he stared down into them. I have searched them for that face and have seen many things other than what he saw.

This is that time of money, my life is that time of month, when the muck of a rough winter stains the falls’ water brown, and we gather here in search of inspiration, amid the turmoil not of the water’s rush, but the bump of trucks, gas-driven lawn mowers, and street gang bullets we can see in the glass of the abandoned mills, where machineguns read the poetry, and poets seek cheap metaphors to some how come to an understanding as to what it all means – this Great Falls Festival.

Where are the falls, Leroy? Leroi? How do you spell your name anyway, and why are you changing it?

Give me this lesson.

Who will remember? Who will know what “nix’em” means when the day ends with the world.

Where are the falls?

Why are they falling down?


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