Traffic

Trucks and stationwagons, VWs, old Chevies, Pintos
drive stop-and-go down Whitney Avenue this hot
May day, bluing the coarse air, past graveyard and florist,
past this empty brick building covered
with ivy like a Mayan temple,
like a pyramid grown over with jungle vines.
I walk around
the building as if I were dreaming it; as if
I had left my planet at twenty
and wandered a lifetime among galaxies and come home
to find my planet aged ten-thousand years,
ruined, grown over,
the people gone, ruin taking their places….
They
have gone into graveyards, who worked at this loading dock
wearing brown uniforms with the pink-and-blue lettering
of the Brock-Hall Dairy:
Freddie Bauer is dead, who watched over the stockroom;
Agnes McSparren is dead, who wrote figures in books
at a yellow wooden desk; Harry Bailey is dead,
who tested for bacteria
wearing a white coat; Karl Kapp is dead
who loaded his van at dawn,
conveyorbelt supplying butter, cottage cheese, heavy cream,
B, buttermilk, A with its creamline—
and left white bottles at backdoors in North Haven and Hamden
for thirty years; my father is dead
and my grandfather.
I stand by the fence at lot’s end
where the long stable stood—
fifty workhorses alive
in the suburbs, chestnuts with thick manes, their hooves
the size of oak stumps, that pulled forty thousand quarts
through mists in the early morning to sleeping doorsteps,
until new trucks jammed the assembly lines
when the war ended.
I separate ivy
like long hair over a face
to gaze into the room where the bottlewasher
stretched its aluminum length like an Airstream trailer.
When our teacher brought the first grade to the dairy,
men in white caps stacked dirty bottles
at the machine’s end, and we heard them clink
forty feet to where they rode out shining
on a belt to another machine
that turned them instantly white, as if someone said a word
that turned them white. I was proud
of my father and grandfather,
of my last name.
Here is the place
that was lettered with my father’s name,
where he parked his Oldsmobile in the fifties.
I came to a plant with him one summer
when I was at college, and we walked across blacktop
where people my age washed trucks;
both of us smiled and looked downwards. That year
the business grossed sixteen million dollars
with four hundred people bottling and delivering milk
and Agnes McSparren was boss
over thirty women.
At the roof’s edge,
the imperial Roman cement urns
flourish and decorate exhausted air.
Now suburbs have migrated north
leaving Whitneyville behind, with its dead factory
beside a dead movie. They lived in Whitneyville
mostly—Freddie Bauer, Agnes McSparren, Karl Kapp,
Harry Bailey—who walked their lives
into brick, whose hours turned into milk,
who left their lives inside pitted brick
that disappears beneath ivy
for a thousand years, until the archeologist from a far galaxy
chops with his machete….
No, no, no…
In a week or a year
the wrecker’s derrick with fifteen-ton cement ball
on a flatbed trailer
will stop traffic as it squeezes up Whitney Avenue,
and brick will collapse, and dump trucks take clean fill
for construction rising from a meadow
ten miles in the country.
I wait
for the traffic to pause, shift, and enter the traffic.

-Donald Hall