Once upon a Small-Town Time: Poems of America's Heartland
by Louis Daniel Brodsky
The Old Trouser Factory
Off to one side, the factory trembles, Its red bricks barely sticking to its weighty frame, The last vestiges of its white paint Flaking each time the wind bristles through town. People ask nothing of the beast That squats on two corners of Main Street and First. They barely recognize it as a creature breathing, Occasionally belching steam, eliminating residue. It takes nourishment from thread, trim, and fabric, Feeding while lying prone, in a lion's slow melancholy, Beneath humid afternoons, And spews short roars and growls, As though sewing machines were lodged in its gut, Racing erratically toward peristalsis. The beast barely renews itself, with the seasons, As America's appetite for a more casual lifestyle Diminishes its once-proud purpose And increasingly unfeasible reason for existing.
Use the player below to listen to Louis Daniel Brodsky read this poem.
As the title of this collection suggests, the poems in Louis Daniel Brodsky’s Once upon a Small-Town Time have a soothing sort of lullaby quality characteristic of bedtime tales. Conceived as a metaphoric road trip through three Midwestern towns and across a quarter century, the poems are steeped in an uplifting nostalgia, but without the cloying sentimentality. The observations are fond, even wistful, but never anything but fair and clear and unexaggerated in their effect.
Brodsky drives us through the dying Missouri town of Tipton, a once-prosperous railroad town eclipsed by a changing economy but whose charm lies precisely in its resistance to “progress,” in the serenity of its silence and motionlessness. We eavesdrop on the townsfolk in the café as they gossip about their neighbors, watch the Amish in their defiance of modernity, witness the heritage of a once-proud house auctioned off as junk. Brodsky drives us to “the square” in Jacksonville, and from his perch in the flower shop, shows us its shabby replica of Liberty in the town green slowly going to seed; we see a parade wending its way through town, before an Illinois College football game. Finally, he shows us Farmington, Missouri, as a family grows over a span of two decades, only to leave, tearing its heart.
Memory is no less potent a driver of these poems, collecting and spewing recollections of bygone triumphs. If it’s not the glories of the dying railroad town, with its memories of the presidential train coming through, its once-booming trouser factory whose exoskeleton stands as a monument to the town’s past splendor, or the worn-out replica of Liberty in the fading town square, the remembrance is more poignantly of a family’s inception and development in – and departure from – the heartbreaking innocence of rural America. The birth of a son, contrasted with the death of a neighbor, is especially affecting in capturing the tender cruelties of time.
Brodsky’s diction is full of lush Faulknerian imagery. He captures the bleak calm, the anonymous serenity and the evanescent odors of modest Midwestern towns throughout their seasons. Like a tour guide, “Traveling this desolate road / One strophe, measure, foot at a time, / On [the] way from poem, home, to poem again,” Brodsky not only shows us the Midwest, but allows us to feel it as well. — Charles Rammelkamp, author of The Secretkeepers and The Book of Life