1986 Lowell Sesquicentennial Poem

With the celebration of the city’s 175th anniversary coming up next week, I was asked to share on this blog the poem I was commissioned to write by the city’s Sesquicentennial Committee in 1986. I read the poem at the opening ceremony on the plaza at the JFK Civic Center. I was also honored to be asked in 2008 to read this poem at Lowell Memorial Auditorium for the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the establishment of Lowell National Historical Park. The title comes from a statement by an education scholar whose words were often used by Dr. Patrick J. Mogan, “Father of the Park.” Pat would say, quoting Jerome Bruner perhaps not word-for-word, “True learning occurs only when you take your own experience to a higher level of notation and recording.”—PM


A Higher Level of Notation


On Sunday morning the streets are wider, quiet, like the sky-colored river.

There’s a rest in the song, a pause in the working rhythm.

It’s a chance to look hard, to see what can be seen, to find what can be found.

Rolling down Salem and Market streets, radio tuned to Greek Melodies,

I feel the layers of occupation. The matching weights of St. Patrick’s

and gold-capped Holy Trinity pin down the Acre for good.

Like another Ellis Island, this parcel bears tracks of those who have carried on.

Signs make an Embassy Row: Club des Citoyens Americains, Olympia, Phnom Penh.

The overlay sticks, links up in a set. The census schedule is richer.

The truth hits home as my eye catches gallon cans of olive oil

gleaming in the window of an orange storefront. Men haul sacks of rice.

An old man crossing Worthen Street walks his dog toward the big brick mill.

He stands for all scarred and decorated survivors, plus their line of makers.

From a third story porch somebody’s aunt looks for Marion’s Meat Market,

a place that was erased like the wrong price on a grocery bill in Little Canada.

At a stop sign I check the rearview mirror, trying to stitch together in a moment

more than a century-and-a-half of life lived under a title, a surname,

 “that great fact we call Lowell.” A name layered over Indian words.

I try to retain what I’m told, but the brain is weaker than I’d like.

I’m glad that remnants can be triggers,

and grateful for discovery through preservation,

for the texture of diversity, this stained-glass history.

Looking back and looking at, I see the pattern is a turn,

with each turn wheeling in a world colored by long gone motions.

Our culture, the social protoplasm in which we love, work, dream,

stirred by all this turning, animates each frame.

We are what we were as much as what we are.

What we will become is in part our choice.

We can always change and change again.


Paul Marion (c) 1986, 2006 (from What Is the City?)

This is a photo from the event on JFK Civic Center plaza near Lowell City Hall in 1986. Seated at the left are Marie Sweeney (our fellow blogger), who chaired the Sesquicentennial Committee, and Mayor Robert B. Kennedy. At the rear, from left, are Rico Zenti, then-Supt. of Lowell Heritage State Park, and Lowell School Committee member George Kouloheras (maybe GL Voke Tech High School Cte. at the time?). I can’t recall who made this photograph and gave it to me, maybe Janet Lambert-Moore?

3 Responses to 1986 Lowell Sesquicentennial Poem

  1. Stephan Anstey says:

    I love the images, of course, and the ending is spectacular, but I think my favorite part is the way Paul notices the way history is preserved so casually.

  2. Judith Dickerman-Nelson says:

    Beautiful poem–I especially love the “gallon cans of olive oil,” the men who “haul sacks of rice,” and all the “remnants” that “can be triggers.” Lovely.