Elections & Results
See historic Lowell election results and candidate biographies.
Never has our capacity for patience been so frighteningly tested as in the pursuit of vaccines. I have written about finally connecting and getting my first shot. (Fingers crossed for the second shot.) Examples abound of others still being thwarted, especially in Charlie Baker’s Massachusetts. Consider my friend Tony. Having failed repeatedly to get an appointment online, he tried by phone, without success. On the morning his cohort became eligible for an appointment, a recorded message put him on hold and said his wait time was 33 minutes. After 33 minutes, another recorded message came on to tell him his wait time was 33 minutes (again), and then, for a third time, a recorded message said his wait was 33 minutes. About ten minutes later, a recorded voice came on to say his wait was one and a half hours. He hung up. I can only begin to imagine the impact on his blood pressure.
And then there were the computerized messages on the Massachusetts website, sweetly telling the would-be applicant “your wait time is 65,640 minutes.” The pandemic could be over by then! That website has been a disaster, as I have written before. To give Charlie Baker a little sympathy, he finally explained that every week the demand by health care providers and the state mass vaccination sites is for 450,000 vaccinations. Yet, every week, the feds are providing just 130,000 doses. Demand is outstripping supply nearly four to one. Despite that lack of vaccine, there’s no forgiving the administration’s failure adequately to communicate the facts or to rationalize the process for signing up for appointments, even if it takes a while actually to get vaccine into arms.
Baker’s experience as a health care executive, most recently as CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, coupled with his managerial experience as former Secretary of Administration and Finance and also Secretary of Health and Human Services, surely should have put dealing with this vaccine distribution challenge right in his wheel house. Despite the state’s somewhat improved performance in the last ten days, that presumed sweet spot for our Governor was chimerical.
During the pandemic, many of us have relied on the internet for purchasing food, medical supplies, and other necessities. When I needed to replace my printer last fall, I had to wait months due to increased demand from home offices. Trying to identify providers and equipment availability and successfully place an order was an exasperating experience shared by millions during this pandemic. Getting the printer and getting it to function properly with uneven tech support were further tests of my patience.
Obtaining replacement toner cartridges proved an equally epic challenge. My printer said I had ink left for just 50 pages. Amazon had none in stock. On January 12, I ordered a package of toner cartridges directly from HP, which they promised would be delivered by January 25. When the cartridges didn’t come as promised, on the 29th I called HP again, only to be told they would come the following week. They didn’t, so I called again on February 8th, when they could no longer provide any date when they would be available. Each time I called, of course, it took up to an hour and being routed from one department to another, and back again. On February 9th, with my print capacity rapidly reaching zero, I found out the cartridges were in shipment, and I’d be receiving a tracking number within three days. The tracking number let me learn that the cartridges had arrived in the Fedex hub in Memphis, but the ice storm was delaying shipment from there. Compared to the existential importance of vaccine distribution similarly disrupted by the weather, my printer/cartridge concerns are trivial. I can accept the vagaries of Mother Nature.
Then, on February 19th, even though no cartridges had arrived, I discovered duplicate payments charged to my credit card on two successive days. This error was worth heading off, so I plunged back into the nightmare of HP’s customer support. I was transferred from one department, the Laser Ink Jet Team, to the billing department to Customer Service (which disconnected) to another “dedicated team” back to Laser Jet Team (who didn’t know why I was transferred there for the second or third time) to another “special dedicated team,” who said, “thank you for patiently waiting.” Each of the many calls was at least an hour. I was bounced from one department to another, each requiring me to go back to Square One in providing the case (or transaction) number and to recount the entire saga – step by step by step. The final department tried to persuade me that the second charge was pending and would be removed when the cartridges arrived. The cartridges arrived on the 22nd, but the extra charge didn’t go away. So now I’ve engaged my credit card company in the dispute process. So it goes…
Now, I know that this isn’t the life-and-death urgency of lining up an appointment for a COVID vaccine. But I find myself wondering why the pursuit of immunization is as frustrating as garden variety failed Customer Service, why the Commonwealth of Massachusetts should treat its “customers” with the same cavalier attitude of HP or your local cable or phone company. Do state officials assume that they can treat groups eligible for vaccine with the same disdain as a Microsoft or Verizon? Must they disrespect people’s time, disregard people’s stress level, discount their humanity?
It’s now almost exactly a year since we went into virtual lock-down. The quality of our patience is sorely strained, and we are among the lucky ones. I think often of the others.
Poet, publisher, and bookstore owner Lawrence Ferlinghetti passed away this week at the age of 101. A friend and publisher of Jack Kerouac’s, Ferlinghetti in the late 1980s visited Lowell at least twice as a guest of the Lowell Celebrates Kerouac! group. He began writing the poem below on a visit in 1987.
Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti in front of his City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco (web photo courtesy of sfexaminer)
The Canticle of Jack Kerouac
I wrote this appreciation of Roger Brunelle at the request of Dave Moore in England, all-around Kerouac wiseman and founder of a Kerouac Group on Facebook with thousands of members worldwide.–PM
Au Revoir, Roger Brunelle (1934-2021)
By Paul Marion
Au revoir, Roger. Let’s hope we do see you again in some other cosmic zone or time-travel hotel. Across Lowell in Massachusetts, New England, in America, and within countries afar, Canada, France, the UK, Italy, and others, people heard the news that Roger Brunelle has passed and felt sad.
Born twelve years after John L. Kerouac, Roger was the last linguistic link, informed by deep knowledge of Kerouac’s writing, to the author’s generation in his hometown. Roger’s special understanding of the French portion of Kerouac’s soul and mind gave him an advantage in presenting the essence of the author to curious pilgrims or well-read scholars. Formally educated in languages, Roger honored the distinct French shaped by the Quebec immigrants and their descendants making their way in a new nation. He was the last witness from his time to testify. Now, we take what we learned from him and carry it forward, spreading the word to new readers.
Kerouac had something to say about geniuses, born or made. The difference was about invention. Roger looked around his city in the mid-1980s and decided it was time to take Kerouac to the streets. He joined other local activists in creating an organization to promote the author. He named the organization: Lowell Celebrates Kerouac! He wanted a celebratory quality in the remembering.
Roger invented the guided tour to Kerouac places in Lowell, and through decades led hundreds of walking and bus tours for thousands of people of all ages. He researched carefully in designing his tours. What one got on a tour was enthusiasm. Spiritual inspiration. He had the facts and the stories. Passages and paragraphs carefully matched to the streets, houses, churches, riverside, and open spaces. Roger was deeply spiritual while being thoroughly of the Earth. He understood the innate spirituality of Jack Kerouac. He conveyed it.
And Roger loved his city, for all its small glories and stubborn imperfections. He was not going to let Lowell get away with not claiming Kerouac. He preached the word in his own earthy way. He might surprise his tour members by reading from Visions of Gerard in the pulpit of St Louis de France church of Kerouac’s boyhood parish after getting the key from the pastor. Or he might take them into the back room of the Rainbow Café on Cabot Street with its makeshift shrine to Jack behind the pool table.
Roger Brunelle stood up for French Canadian-American culture in Lowell, the ocean in which the SS Kerouac sailed. He was a memory worker as one woman in Little Canada called herself when interviewed about the songs she knew from her youth in the city. He was a cultural conservationist, preserving what was known about his people. But he was a thoroughly modern man, freed from the ropes of superstition and cold heartedness. He shared the Beat vibe.
As a teacher he encouraged countless students in his French and Latin classes (48 years). Roman history was living history for Roger. He held a master’s degree in Linguistics from Middlebury College in Vermont. He studied French literature in Paris. He served in the US Army and had tattoos long before body art went mass-culture. He was happy to meet a breakfast pal for beans, toast, and coffee at Vic’s diner near his house close to Beaver Brook.
We will miss him, but his wife, Alyce, and children and grand-kids will miss him more. I’ll miss him as a friend and co-conspirator. The international Kerouac community lost a passionate member on February 10. All hail, Roger. We are grateful for all the good you brought to this life.
Moira Linehan has produced four collections of poetry, two of them in 2020: Toward from Slant Books and & Company from Dos Madres Press. Many of the poems the award-winning poet shares with Trasna were begun during her residencies at the Cill Rialaig Project in Co. Kerry and the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Co. Monaghan. In these poems we witness a speaker embracing the connections between nature and place, language and art. They stir her soul. She senses them in the “language lost'” and the “something that remains,” as she says in the title poem “Toward.” Immersed in the country, she feels the calling that inspired the artists of Ireland to illuminate manuscripts, to raise the stones, to fish the wild sea, and to sing the tales that belong to the people.
The Tyrone Guthrie Center (photo credit Res Artis)
Tyrone Guthrie Centre
I walk a mile down the road to Newbliss,
walk a mile away, walk the wooded path
along the lake and out onto the lane
winding between muddy green hills. I’m nowhere
but among mournful cows, their eyes bottomless
wells that know a soul’s dark nights. All their lives
cows stay put. One foot to the next I keep
moving, an end point always in mind: village,
next hillock, rounding the lake’s loop. On I walk
without being able to say why I must.
The language here has been lost, words like woods
cut down, hauled off or abandoned. Yet
something remains of those who spoke it. What
has always been beyond words, even when
they had their own. That’s where I’m headed.
BENEATH AN IRISH SKY
Having just arrived, I can’t say if it were days
of showers or just one storm—maybe no longer
than a fierce hour—left the ditches this slurry
of mud, slick and red-brown. A thick brush has spread
watery clouds, a gradient of black to rain-
grey, blurring in their hurry. These clouds, shrouds
unwinding over hillocks, or rising sky-
filled washes. Are they coming? Going? I worry
I’ll be caught without an umbrella so I turn
back to the house, though in my turning, turn
already from my purpose, having just arrived,
here for two weeks to be beneath a sky so vast
I can do nothing but be emptied—or is it
filled?—all my purposeful striding, stopped in its tracks.
When I look back at where I was, there’s a cloud
of a profile, its mouth a crescent moon’s
open gape. Bright light radiates from behind
its other cheek, no sun visible but no doubt
there. Sunday’s Gospel about the Prodigal Son
or, depending how you read it, the Prodigal
Father. No need to walk any farther. Just look up—
north, west, south, east—there’s your inheritance.
Residencies at Cill Rialaig Arts Center (photo credit Residencies at Cill Rialaig Arts Center)
THE ART OF MANUSCRIPT ILLUMINATION
Before they were monks, they were fishermen,
they were sailors, they knew the knotting of ropes,
how to tighten, how to loosen, eyes closed,
could interlock knots into nets, hands moving
over and under, around and back. Twisting
and turning, that rhythm flowing in and out
through their hands, illuminating the texts
they copied, margins set off with fretwork
and lacework, letters entwined with tendrils
and vines, grapes for the picking. I am the Vine,
they wrote, wrapping serpents around chalices.
… So must the Son of Man be lifted up.
Their homeland’s art—roadside crosses and pendants,
sweaters and bowls—in metal, enamel,
stitchwork and stone. Spirals and cables, left
twist and right. Art they made, art they wore.
Down through the ages, art at their fingertips,
eyes closed, these monks who knew the knotting of ropes.
WHERE THERE’S A HISTORY OF FAMINE
They’re always eating the grass.
One or two look up, startled, when I walk near.
They go on chewing.
Four o’clock one afternoon I hear a herder whistle.
His sheep come panting.
What does he have that they want?
Locals said it was coming,
the hurricane off Bermuda, turned this way.
All week winds had moaned.
Now screeching, they huddle round the cauldron of this cottage.
Through the night they howl.
The surf’s pounding’s drowned out.
Next day, the winds come off the cliffs.
They swell the waves, march them toward the West Cork hills.
The waves spume white froth.
Heavy, black-brimmed clouds follow after in endless parade.
I climb toward land’s end.
Winds won’t let me walk straight.
The sky’s clearing. I chance it.
I’ve not yet walked down to the abbey’s ruins.
Crows raise a ruckus,
flush a feather-thin pheasant with its hurrying trail of tail.
Only the well-fed
could find meat on those bones.
A Famine’s reach—like this land.
Where the heavens lower their weight on dark clouds.
The bay and rain blur.
The horizon, a vast front for thousands of miles of sea.
Where those left built cairns
at the backs of their mouths.
In memory of Honora Buckley Linehan
July 19th, 1860,
the census for Easton, Massachusetts.
The fourth child of Daniel and Catherine Buckley,
a month old. Add four boarders—John Haydan,
Dan Rierdon, Pat Connell, Ed Sweeney. All
born in Ireland. All in their twenties. Labourers
says the record. Honora’s father, too.
On that same day in the dwelling next door—
three families, thirteen names, the youngest
John Linehan, new-born son of Margaret and James.
- The Buckleys still have four boarders,
though the names have changed and they’re much younger.
There’s more detail of their work: works on hinges
this census says of Honora’s father.
Works on railroad, of three of the boarders
while the fourth one farms. Home for Honora,
where so many would come and go. Imagine
the stories of longing she’s hearing, all
in a language with no word for emigrate. Exile,
the closest they have. Each night at dinner,
Honora coming through that swinging door,
carrying bowls of potatoes boiled with cabbage
out from the kitchen into those stories
about the land they’d left, the mothers.
- Now Honora’s father sells milk.
Eleven boarders work in the shovel shop,
the stories, now multiplied three-fold.
Now the Linehans own the place next door.
James and his oldest, John, work in the hinge shop.
I know what I want next and there it is
in the state archives: July 7th, 1885—
Honora marries John, the boy next door,
which is where I wish this story could pause
so my grandmother could speak, say what home meant
when hers stood next door for the rest of her life
while inside she carried twenty-five years
of exile, the longing of who knows how many
for the ones they’d never see again.
After hearing those stories, what mother
would ever let go of her child? Or worse,
ever let her child get too close?
1910. Number of children born this mother:
10. Number of children living: 8. My father,
now a name on the census, my father
who grew up her youngest, though not her last.
She died the summer before I was born.
But hadn’t I been there all along,
for what story ever starts fresh and clean?
Straight and clear the path through the archives
back to Honora. And back to those boarders,
the stories that exiled her, as she’d tell them
again and again in the ways she did,
and did not, hold my father. He held me.
Moira Linehan is the author of four collections of poetry: IF NO MOON (2007) and INCARNATE GRACE (2015), both published by Southern Illinois University Press. IF NO MOON won the 2006 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry open competition. Both books were named Honor Books in Poetry in the Massachusetts Book Awards. In 2020 she had two other collections published: TOWARD from Slant Books and & COMPANY from Dos Madres Press. In addition to being awarded residencies at the Cill Rialaig Project in Co. Kerry and the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Co. Monaghan, Linehan has also been given residencies at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and the Whiteley Center on San Juan Island, WA.
Credits: From Toward, Slant, 2020: “Toward,” originally in Crab Orchard Rev.;” “Beneath an Irish Sky”; “Where There’s a History of Famine,” Nimrod International Journal; “Genealogy,” Notre Dame Rev. From Incarnate Grace, Southern Illinois University Press, 2015, “The Art of Manuscript Illumination.“ Toward is available at Slant Books’ website