Rumors at the Blackstone Canal by Lea Graham

They say it’s under Harding Street.
What Dan & Trojan Mick find fishing—
some lost thing, lift the manhole

cover, peer down. Once called a shot
in the arm. Once called progress.
Sold to P&W Railroad for

$22,500 in this city Dickens described
as having “an aspect of newness…
as if built & painted that morning.”

Now chainlinks, now Titan
Roofing, Inc., now plastic swans,

They say it floated St. Croix rum, cognac,
Holland gin, Canary wine inland.
Butter, chairs, Quinsigamond

coal, grindstones, slate, iron
& glue, wire, carding machines,
cotton & molasses to Narragansett Bay.

They said “struck by the gloom
of the nights…except for candles, torches,
fireplaces & Betty lamps.”  Called a promise 

of looking glasses, crockery, India Rubber.
Residents displaying blotched & scrofulous
skin, pockmarks from smallpox,

impetigo, head lice, gout, the gravel,
worms for reasons still unclear;
drownings—especially in winter,

annual events; ulcers & sores,
scorbutic eruptions, piles & diseases
of females. Now East Coast Autowerks,

now a cloud like a river spilling
its shore, now streetlights bent
to this bowed street, “the long

filling of the once-longest
canal.” They say “where the water
runs deep,45 miles parallel to

Blackstone’s head, Ballard &
Millbury, merging. No open
honey wagons, please. Now this

blued figure under Western Union
in a swift photograph after drinks
& laughs, across fieldstones

revealed through blacktop,
forgotten gas lamps down
from Widoff’s, Thursday night.

Leather & Prunelle shoes, buffalo
robes & shingles sent to the Queen
of England. They say mackerel,

sugars, rice & spices,
53,967 gallons of intoxicating
liquors, 50,000 gallons

of ale, chocolate & paper.
They said “drunkenness & what
to do about it?”  They say Abby

Kelley Foster, Lucy Stone, Clara
Barton, Dorothea Dix & Abe
Lincoln overnight on Elm Street

years & forty-nine locks ago.
Called arterial rumor. Called
manufactured romance. Now, Blue

Monday with the Cockroaches,
Now, Abbie Hoffman at the El
Morrocco, now, Maurice the Pants

Man. Called past’s cough & slough.
Called John Brown’s whim.
Captain Bob’s wish. Called John Brown’s piss 

trough. They say Wuh-stah: heart of
the Commonwealth, city of the seven
hills. Called Wormtown. Called the Woo.


Image Courtesy of Lea Graham

About the Author

Lea Graham is the author of the chapbook This End of the World: Notes to Robert Kroetsch (Apt. 9 Press, 2016) and the poetry book Hough & Helix & Where & Here & You, You, You (No Tell Books, 2011). Her poems, translations and reviews have been published in Bateau, Milk, Southern Humanities Review and Sentence. She is a contributing editor for Atticus Review’s feature, “Boo’s Hollow,” which showcases poets’ writing on place, and Associate Professor of English at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York.