A wooded village at the salt mouth of Maine’s greatest watershed.
5,000 souls more or less any given day according to who arrives
or leaves, in all the ways humans come and go, cheering and crying.
Four modest, compass mountains, a drinkable lake, ponds and brooks
running to a riverway between sovereigns almost becoming
the Canadian border when presidents arguing it signed in at our hotel.
But after the treaties, dams, mills, and log drives the Penobscot People
still prevail. We do not exist without our neighbors, all directions.
Echoes of shipping circle the bay off mighty bridges we depend on,
and off the fort across the water sculpted royally against crowns in case,
reminding, lest any forget, how we grew up playing on stones stacked
against empires so never stop believing what we can make of rock.
And our native drive to protect and endure, giving our best for peace
or, God forbid, war.
We keep hardy shops, book and movie places, and public hearths in
and out of town. Woodsmen and women, farmers, fishers. Makers
and fixers. Traders and commerce doers. Seekers and teachers.
Our children grow up learning how to work.
We stage all manner of races, ball games, and shows between shifts.
Music drifts over the paper machines tended by families of masters,
over our tears and prayers. Not one of us whose heart hasn’t been broken.
Not one who won’t again, someday, laugh. Listen, and with the other
creatures, you will hear us sing and dance when we celebrate. And debate.
We lift each other up. Our newspaper proves it.
Where the council we choose to do our business meets,
the incoming tides bring knowledge of the world, and, going out,
carry word that we are here,
and all our long welcomes.
We’ve all followed the rich smells of evergreens and mudflats
north and south, east and west, to this province believing
how lucky, choosing it, of all the corners of the world, to settle,
visit, and touch stones. Felt drawn to this place and there have
been signs. The people have built bridges, after all. After canoes
and ferries. Horses, railroads, motor vehicles. Landing strips. Sails
all along. Councils and chambers. How could we not feel welcomed?
When we saw the bay and its valleys between mountain quarries
and formations, the River still surprised us rounding the bend
in its power and glory. We’d heard of its historied narrows, battles,
survivors rising above the sorrows of its waters right here.
Oh, remember the taste of our pressed fruits and roast game,
our fish shelled or not, we say as was said to us when ancestors
feasted on the shore and in the clearings, asking, Is it true
what’s said of the abundance here? The good people? The comfort
they take in their work and arts? We feel what we lost in our mill
and found — inviting performers to make us smile, hum, tap,
and applaud again. Musicians to pipe the spirit of what abides.
Our sound, that we may still be known by our presence.
So that when, come June, under the same moon rising on us all,
a young man with dawn, Wabanaki, Orono, and Cold Stream
in him follows his way home, bringing Cree and Nashville,
and raises flutes carved by masters, maybe birch, maybe cedar
sometimes two at once — we on the riverbank notice how
the moon’s phases might be fingered holes for playing Creation’s
breath flowing over us in celestial vespers. How the last quarter,
like tonight, and the first, later in the month, are harmonic notes
under crescent finger-stops. Watch how the new moon and
the full, their next times around, look capable of wholeheartedly
open tones, blown through, full of the ancient strains of this
place on earth, sighed for more than ever.
Thank you for coming! We’re glad you’re here!
We’ve been waiting for you a long, long time.
Where her dad’s mill roared
the poet labors for words
so do the woodsmen
where the mill is done
the potter burns through blizzards
keep heart prayer gems
while the mill still heaves
its bare bones go up for sale
when the mill quiets
fishermen compose their songs
moaning with the tides
when mill people leave
children ask where friends will be
teachers planting seeds
while the mill turns ghost
families who built it cry
see how they, too, fade
where the mill is sold
pipers pipe and dreamers dream
the flower shop blooms
where mill echoes sound
the river wakes and exhales
farmlands breathe hope
where the mill people grew
old and young meet to question
believing in spring
when the mill trembles
the long and new here feel it
yogis stretch and sigh
where the mill is lost
cartographers go to work
here’s your town! right here!
where the mill was. . . clears. . .
soil, river, and air breathe free
leaders sleep again
where heirloom halls lean
saviors propose new life
oh, what do you see?
(now that the mill is hushed)
Because it was in our trees
Because it was in our air
Because it was in our waters and fire
Because it was in us heart to bone
Because it still is
Because all fibers might be pressed
Because tea leaves can be read
Because pulp can be shredded and beat
Because petals can be dried and spread
Because threads can be felted and paged
Because the papermakers’ sons
and daughters still are
Because it is in our hands
* These poems by Patricia Ranzoni will be included in STILL MILL: Poems, Stories & Songs of Making Paper in Bucksport, Maine, 1930-2014, an anthology forthcoming from North Country Press.