for Richard Higham and John Margret Powers
I think of you both as Boston waits for a jury to deliver a verdict in the Marathon bombing case sentencing phase.
Of course, I think of Sacco and Vanzetti as if we might have learned something since 1927 when they were executed
in the Charles Street jail right near where Jack, a vegetarian, was forced to work in Buzzy’s Roast Beef just around
the corner from the original Stone Soup in the still extant store front which is the last stand of the old West End.
Jack was proud of that and it was Jack’s quest to open new outposts on the frontier of poetry that brought us all
together down in what became the Combat Zone and then faded back into China Town as strip bars and porn shops
clustered there in a tight seed pod that eventually burst and drifted out to new nubile fields on the outer rim.
In 1927 they electrocuted Sacco and Vanzetti but right now reminds me more of the Scottsboro Boys as mug shots
of young black men alternate with replays of their fatal confrontations with multiple police officers across the land.
You grew up in the 1930’s that saw probably the lowest crime rates of any decade in U.S. history even as a rash
of bank robberies and shootouts with police by people with names like John Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde, Pretty
Boy Floyd, and Ma Barker and her Boys became infamous all over America if not all over the world.
Decades later as I worked the shelters I would still meet old hobos occasionally who had been children then
who in their old age would remember how you could walk everywhere and be safe anywhere in those years.
Even in the late 1960’s when I hitch hiked around the North East I experienced the remnants of that mutual aide
ethos not yet cut to pieces by the fear that has grown and grown with the cult of individual privatization. Click.
But like Jack and Richard, I grew up in it, and we were all marinated by that splendid spirit of cooperation.
Orphaned and abandoned as they both really were they had only hope in something larger than personal failure.
They were survivors, of course, with the survivor’s grim guilt of everything that happens by inevitability.
People do what they do and then people make the best of it. Jack would always remember coming home to find
all his family’s things out on the street. Richard would end up working on a farm where the care of chickens would
become the great solace of his young life. They were both too young for the war, but just like me they were caught
by Vietnam, Richard overseas in Saigon, Jack at home in the resistance movement. And yet they remembered WWII
and the depression that spawned it. They were only babies then. Richard was born in the depths of the post 1929
economic collapse. Jack was born with the Spanish Civil War still ongoing. For both of them WWII would have
been the backdrop of their school years. Richard was starting first grade as Hitler invaded Poland. Jack was still
in middle school when the A-bombs went off in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. My whole world was still vibrating from
events that formed their youth. And somehow our lives all crossed as Jack tried to plant a poetry seed in the former
Combat Zone at a restaurant attempting to front run a city development plan to re-invigorate the mid-town Theater
District that was left legless as it was side swiped by the Reagan-Bush recession of early 1991. Instead Jack
ended up doing a poetry workshop at St. Francis House day program just down the street from the Mason Bld.
I took over the workshop from Jack when I came up from Delaware after having gotten married there in 1989. I
became the poetry guy there and then at Pine Street where I worked. Every week I would see Jack at Stone Soup
at T.T. the Bears where I would usually be the closer. Every week I would meet Richard at the Thai restaurant
after facilitating the St. Francis House poetry group so we could relax and talk while I read his poems to make sure
I could get all the words and punctuation right when I typed them. I still have his handwritten versions and what
I typed back then sitting on my mother’s little coffee table some of Jack Powers poetry seeds still living now as if
Johnny Appleseed Stone Soup Jack had left them for me to re-member May Day. Richard’s May Day of flowering
red flags. And Jack’s May Day of Haymarket martyrs for the 40 hour week and overtime and the real Labor Day.
And both May Days for the mother of months.
James Van Looy has been a fixture in Boston’s poetry venues since the 1970s. He is a member of Cosmic Spelunker Theater and has run poetry workshops for Boston area homeless people at Pine Street Inn and St. Francis House since 1992. His work appears weekly in Oddball Magazine.