Scents of exhaust and sunblock heavy in the air as we approach
The lumpy turd of green and brown lurching out of the Harbor
All stumpy trees and scrub brush
Vague winding paths with pink skin and white tanktops
Looking like someone set sail on a piece of Somerville park
The hills scream stroller accessibility
The visitor center is air conditioned.
So called because of its shape
Or the shape it used to have
Before the factories
And a half century of urban trash.
The visitor center and its collages about ocean life
Used to be an 1800s horse rendering plant
Turning defunct vehicles, entertainment and pets
Into glue and fertilizer
Where the smell of industrial bootstrap progress
Could be kept far away from its beneficiaries.
In 1930, they found cars didn’t render so easy
Knocked the factory to dust
Left the island to galloping memory and stench.
“They should have called it horse murder island”
Quips one girl
And I laugh
Because it looks as much like a pair of spectacles
As it does an abattoir
Two grassy bulges in the harbor
Like the floating remains of a botched boob job
Complete with wooden gazebo areolae
For a century it collected waste,
Layers of empty cereal boxes
Bottles half backwash, half seawater
The corner pieces of gold star stickers
Furry pieces of tape
Twin piles of accumulated memory
Floating amid oil slicks and rendered fat
It’s that sort of quaint black-and-white mentality
That nature is a receptacle,
Boxes to be filled and land to be razed
The suburb sprawl like asphalt vines
There was cereal to eat and diapers to fill
And it had to go somewhere.
The 90s, though, were a decade of reflection
Where we were flush enough to afford apologies
In Boston the apology came in boatloads of Big Dig dirt
Dumped without ceremony onto the layers of trash, horses and arrowheads
The spectacle became less spectacle-ish
As the dirt piled up,
Taking its modern misshapen busty shape
Sealed in with a modest shell of clay.
They seeded it, planted an overcompensating number of trees
Built a visitor center, a dock, and collages about sustaining marine life.
Now, standing on one tilted gazebo nipple,
Watching a careless wind over the try-hard Boston skyline
I think of the layers of horse murder island
Of all the layers
How Boston looked in 1950 atop a pile of its refuse
The Custom House clock toll across the Harbor
The slow climb of Prudential tower
How Boston looked in 1857 atop a quaint white horse rendering plant
Fishing boats dumping industry into a pristine Harbor
Factories billowing unquenchable fires
How Boston looked in 1600, atop a narrow spit of land
They called it Trimountaine then, because once you could see its hills,
Lost with its other names beneath layers
I imagine the natives never called it Spectacle island,
That it had a name before they built the canoes
That it changed once they nosed ashore
That one of the only things that’s the same after a layered year of Boston
Is my name.
Horse murder island.
Or spectacle island.
It is layers of mistakes, a few hopeful seeds
And the drive for progress that makes us good
Ben is a working poet born in the Jersey scene, migrated to the Boston scene and now in the NYC jungle. He’s written since he was a little one, fiction, nonfiction, you name it. He’s competed in several slams, including the final Beltway slam in Spring of 2011.