the christmas tree speaks

by George Bancroft Duren

Image: Mitsu Yasakawa/The Star-Ledger
Image: Mitsu Yasakawa/The Star-Ledger

From the silent forests
I have come to keep
Tryst with all the children
Who dreamed me in their sleep.

Trim me with your baubles,
Chains of pearl and gold,
Death has touched my needles
And I shall soon grow cold.

Pin a crown of diamonds
Upon my topmost bough
That has known no splendor
But sun and snow ’til now.

Clothe me in a raiment
Beset with bubble gems:
Loop fair strands of silver
Around my withering stems.

Deck me with these trinkets
Though they be shroud to me;
It is sweet and fitting
To die a Christmas tree.

Sweet to leave the forest,
Sweet to leave the wild,
Sweet to die if dying
Brings gladness to a child.

This offering comes from Duren’s 1926 collection Earthbound.

of timothy still

by E. Alma Flagg

Image: Jordan Allen
Image: Jordan Allen

He touched our lives with gentleness and hope,
The hope that Newark would be a better place;
He gave a model of inclusiveness,
Of knowing black and white and high and low.

The strength he had is what we must employ
In treating poverty, disease, mistrust, and hate,
The love he had we’ll nurture everywhere
To make our living worthy of his gift.

The kindness of a man as big as he
(As big of soul as he was big of frame)
Is what we must extend to each and all
While joining hands to make our forward move.

We loved him as the brother that he was,
We’ll miss him from our gatherings about;
Our city and our hearts know he was here,
And will remember in the years to come.

Timothy Still, a former Golden Gloves boxing champion, turned his commanding physical and personal presence to grassroots organizing in Newark’s Central Ward. He co-founded and led the Hayes Homes Tenants Association, and was president of the United Community Corporation, the city’s official community action agency in the mid-1960s. Upon his sudden death of a heart attack at age 48, the city observed a weeklong period of mourning. In 1970 the Schoolmen’s Club dedicated a plaque to Still’s memory in the Central Ward’s Quitman Street School; the inscription hailed him as “a shining example to light the way to a better Newark.”

Alma Flagg’s tribute is taken from her 1979 collection Lines and Colors.

the message of the masque

by Leonard Harmon Robbins

Image: Edward Penfield via Gallery East Network http://www.galleryeastnetwork.com/ngg_tag/lithograph/
Image: Edward Penfield via Gallery East Network

The lights are out; the rainbow pictures fade;
Their magic beauty and their color-flow
And rhythmic grace no eye again shall know;
‘Tis ended now, the lovely masquerade,
And those who, wondering, looked, and those who played,
Back to the busy commonplace they go,
To toiling life that moves so dull and slow;
And silent darkness cloaks the parkland glade.

The rainbow pictures fade; but still there gleams
The rainbow hope to hold us to our dreams;
And lowly toil grows beautiful and bright
As hearts urge forward to the coming light;
And men in lifelong memory will see
The vision of the city that shall be.

The 1916 Pageant of Newark was a piece of historical and allegorical theater written by Thomas Wood Stevens and produced, literally, with a cast of thousands. It offered an exuberant vision of Newarkers’ collective future.

This sonnet appeared on the front page of the Newark Evening News of June 3, 1916, the day after the final performance.

our theatre

by Augustus Watters

Image: Mural Locator
Image: Mural Locator

When Winter comes, with horrid roar,
        And all the trees are stark and cold,
While glorious Sol doth hide his face,
        And all the world seems growing old,
All hail! our little Thespian church,
        Where only mirth and music sound;
Where no joy-killing bell is heard,
        And every imp of gloom is drowned.

As outwardly the world grows dark,
        Within the scene doth brighter shine,
And deathless Shakespeare’s regal wit
        Still glows like immemorial wine.
Nor saint nor devil haunt this place,
        But men that thrill at others’ woe—
Mankind with blood within their veins,
        Who fain would make a heaven below.

A heaven where sense and beauty dwell,
        And poetry of form and sound—
Where all is genial, kind, and bright,
        And music sheds a glory round.
Here may poor Goldsmith oft appear,
        And Sheridan, and Bulwer too,
And all the dazzling sons of fame
        Who wrote more wisely than they knew.

Long may Bob Acres make us roar
        With cowardice sublimely quaint,
And Tony Lumpkin teach again
        How love can make a clown a saint.
And mistress Coghlan (fairest Rose)
        Enchant us with her Rosalind
A type of what sweet woman was
        Before the day when Adam sinned.

Let none to vulgar tricks descend
        To split the ears of boors and knaves,
For any acting so o’erdone
        Is far from what good breeding craves.
Men are but babes of larger growth,
        And all must end as they began;
And since ‘tis so, then let’s be sure
        Our play is such befits a man.

Park Presbyterian Church occupied West Park Street until 1872, when its building became the 1,063-seat Park Theatre. A magnet for star performers in its day (Oscar Wilde once lectured there), the theater was converted in 1889 for use as the Free Public Library, and from 1901 to 1931 housed the New Jersey Historical Society. The Prudential Tower now occupies the site.

Augustus Watters, who gave yearly public recitations from Shakespeare, dedicated these verses to the manager of the Park Theatre, Leonard Gray. They were printed in the 1882 volume Poems.

hospice

by Lynda Hull

Image: St. Lucy's Church
Image: St. Lucy’s Church

Frayed cables bear perilously the antiquated lift,
all glass and wrought iron past each apartment floor
like those devices for raising and lowering
angels of rescue in Medieval plays. Last night
the stairwell lamps flickered off and I was borne up
the seven floors in darkness, the lift a small lit

cage where I thought of you, of the Catholic souls
we envisioned once, catechism class, the saint
in her moment of grace transfigured as she’s engulfed
in flames. The lift shivered to a halt above the shaft
and I was afraid for a moment to open the grille,
wanting that suspension again, the requiemed hum

of one more city going on without me—Cockney girls
with violet hair swirling among the businessmen
and movie ushers of Soho, sullen in their jackets.
All of them staving off as long as they can
the inevitable passing away, that bland euphemism
for death. But I can’t shake this from my mind:

your face with its hollows against hospital linen.
Newark’s empty asylum wings opened again this year
for the terminal cases. Each day another
strung-out welfare mother, the streetcorner romeos
we used to think so glamorous, all jacked-up
on two-buck shots. It was winter when I last was home

and my mother found you on her endless dietician’s
rounds, her heavy ring of keys. It was winter
when I saw you, Loretta, who taught me to curse
in Italian, who taught me to find the good vein
in the blue and yellow hours of our sixteenth year
among deep nets of shadows dragged through evening, a surf

of trees by the railway’s sharp cinders. Glittering
like teen dream angels in some corny A.M. song,
buoyed by whatever would lift us above the smouldering
asphalt, the shingled narrow houses, we must
have felt beyond all damage. Still what damage carried you
all these years beyond the fast season of loveliness

you knew before the sirens started telling your story
all over town, before the habit stole
the luster from your movie starlet hair.
Little sister, the orderlies were afraid to
touch you. Tonight, the current kicks the lights
back on and there’s the steady moan of the lift’s

descent, the portion of what’s left of this day
spread before me—stockings drying on the sill, the cool
shoulders of milk bottles—such small domestic salvations.
There was no deus ex machina for you, gone now
this half year, no blazing seraphim, finally
no miraculous escape, though how many times

I watched you rise again and again from the dead:
that night at the dealers’ on Orange Street, stripping
you down, overdosed and blanched against the green linoleum,
ice and saline. I slapped you and slapped you until
the faint flower of your breath clouded the mirror.
In those years I thought death was a long blue hallway

you carried inside, a curtain lifting at the end
in the single window’s terrible soft breeze where
there was always a cashier ready to take your
last silver into her gloved hands, some dicey, edgy game.
Beneath the ward clock’s round dispassionate face
there was nothing so barren in the sift from minute

to absolute minute, a slow-motion atmosphere dense
as the air of Medieval illuminations with demons
and diaphanous beings. I only wished then
the cancellation of that hungering that turns us
towards the mortal arms of lovers or highways
or whatever form of forgetfulness we choose.

Your breath barely troubled the sheets, eyes closed,
perhaps already adrift beyond the body, twisting
in a tissue of smoke and dust over Jersey’s
infernal glory of cocktail lounges and chemical plants,
the lonely islands of gas stations lining the turnpike
we used to hitch towards the shore, a moment

I want back tonight—you and me on the boardwalk,
the casino arcade closed around its pinball machines
and distorting mirrors. Just us among sea serpents,
those copper horses with mermaid’s tails, porpoise fins,
and the reckless murmur of the sea. Watching stars
you said you could almost believe the world arranged

by a design that made a kind of sense. That night
the constellations were so clear it was easy
to imagine some minor character borne up
beyond judgement into heaven, rendered purely
into light. Loretta, this evening washes
over my shoulders, this provisional reprieve.

I’ve been telling myself your story for months
and it spreads in the dusk, hushing the streets, and there
you are in the curve of a girl’s hand as she lights
her cigarette sheltered beneath the doorway’s plaster
cornucopia. Listen, how all along the avenues trees
are shaken with rumor of this strange good fortune.

This poem is reproduced as it was printed in the Spring 1989 issue of Ploughshares.

ode to the 5th bombardment group

by Louis Schleifer

Image: Library of Congress
Image: Library of Congress

Wings of Pegasus upward
O’er Mauna Loa’s peak,
Above Oahu’s plains unconq’rd
Protect the old and weak.

Guardians of the upper regions,
Strike the foe below,
Silence all the siege guns
And cease the bloody flow.

Wings of Pegasus onward
Seek out the lofty stratosphere
Nearest to the Lord
Where our ideals soar clear!

Guardians of the upper regions,
Eagles o’er Hawaii’s heights,
Permit no enemy legions
To blacken out her lights!

Private First Class Louis Schleifer served at Hickam Field on Oahu with the 5th Bombardment Group, 4th Reconnaissance Squadron (H), U.S. Army Air Force. He was one of five Newarkers killed in the December 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

A park close to South Side High School, of which Schleifer was a graduate, was renamed in 1942 in his honor and a fountain placed there, inscribed with this poem. The memorial now stands at Temple Beth Shalom in nearby Livingston, New Jersey.

the brown mug of cider

Image: William Coxe, A view of the cultivation of fruit trees, and the management of orchards and cider (1817)
Image: William Coxe, A view of the cultivation of fruit trees, and the management of orchards and cider (1817)

Philadelphia may boast of her porter and ale,
The one like pure amber, the other so pale;
She may chaunt the rich virtues of heart-warming beer,
And sing of peach brandy, the Irishman’s cheer–
Unshackled by custom, I’ll choose for myself
The brown mug of cider that stands on the shelf;
                The neat mug of cider,
                The dear mug of cider,
The brown mug of cider that stands on the shelf.

The praises of Bacchus his vot’ries may sing,
To the jolly old drinker their sacrifice bring,
With bays they crown the blithe god of the vine,
While they bow at his altar, I’ll worship at mine:
For dear to this palate, aye, dearer than pelf,
Is the brown mug of cider that stands on the shelf;
                The neat mug of cider,
                The dear mug of cider,
The brown mug of cider that stands on the shelf.

The Yankees may tell of their switchell and rum,
And bellows-top too, they may count in the sum;
Molasses and water is stale in my eye,
And rum, one may swallow, and after be dry–
Flip may suit some odd mortals, but not so myself,
‘Tis the brown mug of cider that stands on the shelf;
                The neat mug of cider,
                The dear mug of cider,
The brown mug of cider that stands on the shelf.

Then here’s to old orchard, the drink of my sires,
The liquor that mirth and good feeling inspires;
While the farm-house is thrift and the walls are of stone,
And the granary is filled, shall this nectar be known;
‘Tis the yeoman’s panacea, who cares not for pelf,
While the brown mug of cider is seen on his shelf;
                The neat mug of cider,
                The dear mug of cider,
The brown mug of cider that stands on the shelf.

Newark’s apple orchards were a prominent feature of the pre-industrial town, sustaining the production of its famed hard cider. The best brew, sometimes touted as “Newark Champagne,” was thought to result from a blend of the Harrison and the Campfield, or Newark Sweeting–two apple varieties first cultivated here.

The New-Jersey Eagle printed the above encomium on June 29, 1821. It was subtitled “A Parody,” and signed simply “NEWARK.”

we are jazz

by Sonya Kimble-Ellis

Version 2

Syncopation.
Innovation.
Celebration.
Brick city beats . . .
Jazz music blaring in my head.
Sitting stageside.
Mr. Wes, the Terrace Ballroom . . .
Places where the spirits of Sarah and other greats lived and rang true.
Shoo be doo be doo.
Singers & musicians making magic out of tragic pasts.
Enough to last
more than three lifetimes.
Playing sounds sweeter than ripened fruit on a vine.
Ivory keys inviting.
Hi-hats hissing.
Upright basses boasting . . .
We are jazz.
We are jazz.

Mr. Wes on Hill Street was one of countless nightspots to be found in Newark from the 1920s to the 1960s, when the city seemed to boast “a jazz club on every other corner.” A 2013 mural on Hawthorne Street pays tribute to this rich history.

Sonya Kimble-Ellis teaches art and writing and is an author of books for children and teens. “We Are Jazz” appears here for the first time.

twilight

by Leonard Harmon Robbins

Image: Marc Reed
Image: Marc Reed

Twilight in the trees
        On a still November day,
Twilight in the trees,
        And the world all gray.

Twilight in a life,
        The colors faded and gone,
Twilight in a life,
        And the night comes on.

Leonard Harmon Robbins was a regular contributor of verse to the Newark Evening News. This is from his 1907 compilation Jersey Jingles.

newark

by Elizabeth Sewell Hill

Image via New Jersey Council for the Humanities
Image via New Jersey Council for the Humanities

                                1666

Sunset on the hills; with dark below,
The wooded slopes. The evening glow
Blinds where the river-flood runs wide,
Lifts pink and pearl from the other side;
And the woods run down to the splendid stain
Of the river-brim to live again.

One lone canoe drifts idly by
With the sure stroke sweeping back fitfully,
Presaging portents dire and black
From the tangled reaches of Hackensack.

The slopes stand bare on the darker side
Where the clearing spreads, brave, clean and wide,
And the timbers pile in close redoubt
Near where the home-lights twinkle out.

The new post held, the new vows sworn
In the old, old faith—and the town is born.

How the spirit kindles, how greatly goes
Thro’ urgent years, the Passaic knows.

                                1766

A flame thro’ the whole great countryside.
The spirit carries as the news runs wide,
Unhurried news of wind and tide—
A feathered prow passes the wharf’s long bar
Where the crowded masts of the shipping are—
Of orders coming from oversea,
Of imposts levied wrongfully,
Of tribute demanded of loyalty.

Lo, patriot, rebel and mutineer;
Muster of sloop and privateer;
And, deaf to the urge of amity,
To the arts and crafts of diplomacy,
It is “Tyranny—tyranny—tyranny!”

How the spirit blazes, how greatly goes
Thro’ troubled years, the Passaic knows;
Grappling the issue with immortal peers,
O little town of one hundred years!

                                1866

The dying roar of artillery.
A nation, torn, in her agony;
One nation, smiling in her agony.

The long grey lines have all swung south,
Worn, proud, unbroken. From river-mouth,
From inlet, from roadstead, the boats go by.
One flag flies in the freedman’s sky.
Blue lines passing, mute and worn have come
Home to the peace of the north hills—home.

The shipping crowds the lower bay.
New duties call—the greater play
Of Love’s great heart of forgivingness;
Wrongs that Right must needs redress;
And civic growth and righteousness.

How the spirit carries, how greatly go
The earnest years, we and the Passaic know;
Scanning the stars, blood of elder seers,
O city of two hundred years!

                                1916

Sheeted gas flaring down the hard-fought field,
Gouts of white lead, tuns of bursting steel,
Chaos of shells. The thunders sound
Fainter thro’ caverns deep underground
Where the trenches hold. Time’s conquests fall,
Smashed back and back with each interval.
It is hell gone mad; nor shift of grace
Rallies the hurt cry of helplessness.

Merciful seas cool the hurts that drown;
Unarmed non-combatants homeward bound,
Liner and transport going down.

And
For wanton display of efficiency,
For craven insistence of urgency,
There is “Butchery!” “Butchery!” “Butchery!”

World-thunders threaten down untrod ways,
Banners are flying thro’ anxious days.
How the years shall carry the spirit’s spell
Down abysmal years, the years will tell.

                                                                       

O city of visions memorial,
Back thro’ the years, perennial,
Or dark or light—
                        How the common tongue
Swung glib the name of Washington,
Knew Talleyrand, spoke LaFayette;
Cornwallis spits anathema yet!

The nation born, the common mass
Knew royalty, saw statesmen pass; 
Guessed trouble brewed, applauded France,
Appraised the heir of circumstance.

Now the nation grown past her infancy,
Argued of party, of polity;
Or suspicion scotched into bitter hate—
Delinquency made desperate—
Answered Lincoln and measured Lee
Where Gettysburg grappled with destiny.

You, too, have seen in a larger dawn
A world-empire wheel up San Juan,
Break into foam as the seas spurt red
Were it Sampson or Schley or Dewey led.
Now world-thunders threaten down untrod ways,
Banners are flying thro’ anxious days.

City of visions memorial,
Back thro’ the years perennial;
You who have heard with your ships at sea,
The rattle and roar of artillery;
Who have heard in the thunders, north or south,
Your heroes named by the cannon’s mouth;
Name now your glorious company,
And name the glorious company
That Peace has linked with liberty.

City of visions! What dreams shall glow,
Shall live, the Passaic may not know
Where just beyond, the future dips
To the nations’ dream-apocalypse,
O city of vision, whose spirit steers
Thro’ fifty and two hundred years!

Elizabeth Sewell Hill was a Chicago-based educator. While it is probable that “Newark” was written for the poetry competition held in 1916, any impression it made on the judges is not recorded.

Hill included the piece in her 1917 collection Western Waters, and Other Poems.