‘Labor Day Eve: A Walk’ (1984)

With all the walking and talking about walking going on in the city, I thought I’d share this poem from 1984, which originally appeared in my book STRONG PLACE: POEMS ’74-’84 and was reprinted in WHAT IS THE CITY? in 2006. In the ’80s, I had a Sunday routine of walking downtown to check on the progress of the many building projects going on and to think about next steps in the shaping of the national park, especially. It was a remarkable time, and I consider myself lucky to have had an opportunity to work on so many programs and projects that remain part of the scene today.—PM


Labor Day Eve: A Walk


Began at H&H Paper, ex-boarding house for mill hands,

In blueprints as a Cultural Center, then headed to the Boott Mills yard—

The bell tower with shuttle vane an exclamation mark on a brick cliff.

Near the gate, a Locks and Canals truck.

Crossed French Street to John, passing the Trade School

And double-deck car lot’s wrap-around mural: the mass production of textiles,

From slavers to strike banners to the river that juiced the looms.

Behind the five-and-dime I stopped—picturing a long-gone bar.

When mill business dragged in the ’50s, my father would be laid-off;

We’d drive Mum to work in the clothing store, then get a booth in that tavern,

Whose bar-top ran a whole block. We ordered beer and orangeade.

Around the corner one building rules Kearney Square—the SUN,

Its ten stories a local marvel in 1914.

The roof signs stayed when the newspaper moved.

Electric SUN, each night a contradiction,

A message, prayer, torch, fist, business card above Lowell chimneys—

From Centralville it’s blue; from the North Common SUN glows red.

Turned up Merrimack, looking towards City Hall, civic temple,

Clean angles backed by sky, spread eagle crowning tip-top gold ball,

Time-hands correct on the big face. Near St. Anne’s Church,

in Lucy Larcom Park, grass strip named for the “mill girl poet,”

A Kids’ Fair was breaking up. On cobbled Shattuck, my office sign:

Lowell Historic Preservation Commission, U.S. Department of the Interior.

I work at a national desk. The government pays me to remember.


—Paul Marion (c) 1984, 2006