Our six-year-old grandson, Shepard, had never visited the Great Falls at Paterson, with the proud statue of Alexander Hamilton gazing upon the foaming, turbulent waters of the Passaic River. Early Sunday morning, to avoid the crowds, Roberta drove north along Upper Mountain Avenue. On our right, the monumental, vast Montclair State University campus lay still, devoid of clamorous student life; to our left, the graphic succession of BLACK LIVES MATTER and HATE HAS NO HOME HERE signs paraded by. In the back seat, Shep read them aloud.
Past ruddy brick warehouses and silk mills, we pulled into the McBride Avenue parking lot, and the three of us stepped into the lucid air, navigated the steps, stood at the railing, looked, and listened.
At least, he listened.
My mind was humming a mile a minute as it had been for three months, past actual words and articulated thoughts, more akin to a torrent of cloudy vibrations, anxiety, doubt, and fear flirting with clichéd self-admonitions and resolutions, to be safe, keep calm and carry on, just take one day at a time, keep your head high, don’t waste energy, maintain your emotional ecosystem, etc. etc. etc.
A grim act of will shut the rusty spigot in my over-educated brain. I sought the verses of the first poet in my life, William Carlos Williams, imagined him perched at this very spot, declaiming, “A wonder! A wonder!” as ““Around the falling waters the Furies hurl!” while “the river comes pouring in above the city/and crashes from the edge of the gorge/in a recoil of spray and rainbow mists –“*
Shep was smiling. His delicate hands gripped the wrought-iron, his golden hair windblown, t-shirt rippling, eyes wide.
*Paterson, by William Carlos Williams. Book I (1946), pp.7,10. Revised Edition. New Directions, New York, 1995.