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On the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Town of Washington Grove

by Luther Jett. Copyright 2023.

Before there was a town —fields,
and before the fields
a forest. Chestnut, Oak, Hickory,
Maple. Quartz quarries speak
of an age before even trees.
Tonight we sing of songs
no longer sung and songs to be.

Who came here first? Ancestors
of the birds whose choruses
greet dawn and bid the day adieu,
behemoth saurids whose long strides
shook tender ground. Then fire
and ice, rains upon rains,
woodland and marsh, green springs,
golden autumns. New migrants
followed game down long river valleys.
They came to hunt, to plant, to chip
the pale stones, shape the red clay.

We cannot know the names
they called themselves — Their songs
forgotten now. And who came after?
Farmers and refugees who cleared
timber to make fences, played
their lonesome fiddles late
into the night.

Farm wagons followed tracks
laid down by deer, dusty in summer,
muddy and rutted in spring. Chickens
ran where turkeys gobbled once.
Cattle took the place of deer, dogs
howled to a moon that saw it all
before we came to linger here.

There were drums of war. No battle
here, only widows wearing weeds
to grieve. There were lilacs in the yard.

Before there was a town, the railroad
had to come. Then tent and tabernacle.
New trees planted. Cottages and gravel
paths laid out under maple, hickory,
and oak. The summer people came
and stayed the winter. The townsfolk
sang late, late into the night. Wars came.
Peace followed. Hard times and times
of plenty. More wars. More peace.

Now here we are — and who
will follow us? A song
cannot remain the same,
lest it die. Even the moon
must wax and wane. Tonight
we’ll sing old songs
so new songs might take flight.

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