Once upon a Small-Town Time
Paperback: 112 pp.
These poems depict three small Midwestern towns, in a time when the traditional rural lifestyle is giving way to encroaching commercialism. Poignant glimpses of townspeople lend an intimacy to this unsentimental portrait.
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 The Secretkeepers and The Book of Life
The town's three major flower shops
Have been unceremoniously busy all week,
Creating original bouquets
For a queen and her attendant maidens,
Corsages for an entourage five hundred people deep.
Homecoming for a prairie-town college
Coincides with our unplanned arrival home.
We've returned, to our clapboard roots,
During this season when leaves, squirrels, weaving spiders
Incorporate eternity into their schemes.
We've come back to recapture a soaring euphoria,
From October's exquisite liquors,
Before hibernal stupors force shut doors
Eager eyes held open to summer guests.
Soon, the parade of crepe-papered floats
Will begin its hectic assembling.
We'll join the excitement as it passes us,
Being passed by shadows cast against time,
Then realize why we drove such a distance,
Not knowing we'd share others' festivities:
Our memories keep forever alive.