Because our dear Boston is a sadly undersung city, I recently stumbled across this 1959 poem about how Boston is a sadly undersung city. It’s by George Starbuck, a sadly undersung poet, a Popean, witty versifier at a time when Popean, witty verses were unsexy.

Anyway, I couldn’t find a transcription of this anywhere online, so I typed it out myself. Love his wordplay. Boston may not be New York or London, but it does damn well deserve its own dirge.

COMMUNICATION TO THE CITY FATHERS OF BOSTON
By George Starbuck

Dear Sirs: Is it not time we formed a Boston
Committee to Enact a Dirge for Boston?

When New York mushrooms into view, when Boston’s
townspeople, gathered solemnly in basements,
feel on their necks the spider webs of bombsights,
when subway stops grow ripe with fear like beesnests
making a honey-heavy moan, whose business
will it be then to mourn, to take a busman’s
holiday from his death, to weep for Boston’s?

When dust is scattered to her bones, when grieving
thunderheads add hot tears, when copper grapevines
clickety-clack their telegraphic ragtime
tongues at the pity of it, how in God’s name
will rhymesters frying in their skins in garden
bowers on Brattle Street concoct a grave-song
grave and austere enough for such a grieving?

Move we commit some song, now, to the HOLD files
of papers in romantic places. Helpful
of course to cram our scholars with hog’s headfuls
of Lowells, khaki-cap them, ship them wholesale
to Wake or Thule—some safe base, where heartfelt
terror may milk them of a tear. But hell’s fire,
what’ll they have on us in all those HOLD files?

You want some rewrite man to wrap up Boston
like garbage in old newsprint from dustbins?
The Statehouse en convivial at Blinstrub’s,
the Milk Street men, the men of subtler substance
squiring Ledaean ladies to the swan boats,
the dockers, truckers, teen-age hotrod bandits—
what could he make of them, to make them Boston?

Or even make of me, perched in these Park Street
offices playing Jonah like an upstart
pipsqueak in raven’s clothing—First Mate Starbuck
who thinks too much? Thinking of kids at bus stops
exchanging dirty footnotes to their Shakespeares,
while by my window the Archbishop’s upstairs
loudspeaker booms redemption over Park Street.

Thinking of up the hill the gilded Statehouse
where just this year I watched the plaster faces
of Sacco and Vanzetti waved on flannel
arms until duly banned from the empanelled
pain of a State’s relentlessly belated
questioning of itself. ( Last year, the Salem
witches; next year, if next year finds a Statehouse . . . ? )

Thinking of Thor, Zeus, Atlas. Thinking Boston.
thinking there must be words her weathered brownstone
could still rewhisper—words John Jay Chapman
scored on her singlehanded, words Sam Adams,
Garrison, Mott, Thoreau blazed in this has-been
Braintree-Jamaica-Concord-Cambridge-Boston.

There were such men. Or why remember Boston?
Strange how not one prepared a dirge for Boston.

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