Scott Harney

Norumbega Park
June 24, 2020 Harney Scott



They used to say the name was Viking
but now we know it was Algonquian Indian
for “quiet place between two rapids.”
At the break of the twentieth century, they came
by carriage, boat or trolley for the carousel,
the zoo, the penny arcade, or the Great Steel Theater
where moving pictures on the Kromograph
assured them modern times were here
to stay. The movie house became a ballroom
called the Totem Pole with tiers of loveseats
curved around a dancefloor and a stage
where Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw,
Harry James, Lawrence Welk, even Frankie Laine
kept them dancing from Pearl Harbor
all the way to Cuba, beneath a crystal chandelier
that spilled a champagne-colored light,
dappling the dancers and the band.


In late September ‘64, the park was closed
and four boys scanned the perimeter.
I was nine, the oldest, found a place
beneath a fence we all could squeeze through
and Norumbega was ours. We had come
remembering the park in its final days,
mostly kiddie rides: baby rockets in a shaky orbit
around a groaning motor, midget Cadillacs
trapped in an endless rotary, or puny motorboats
forever turning on a river’s curve. We turned
away from these since we were men
and chose instead the House of Horrors.
The power out, we pushed each other
in the coal cars on the tracks to hell where
demons painted on the wall and plaster skeletons
scared us less than we could say.


We headed toward the Totem Pole, pried
a broken door and slipped inside to witness
glamour gone to ruin: loveseats overturned,
chairs and tables piled everywhere.
Above the floor where once they sweated,
jitterbugged, swayed or swung, or did,
at last, the twist, hung the crystal chandelier,
flashing in a shaft of sunlight
from the doorway we had entered,
the door just hanging by a single hinge.


We found a rope and looped it over
the chandelier, heaped the loveseat cushions
on the dance floor. One by one, we swung
like Tarzan from the stage, and then let go,
sending puffs of cushion dust that swirled
like smoke to settle on the chandelier
that trembled still above us. Our laughter
woke Algonquian ghosts who thought
the whites were gone for good, but we ignored
the scowling faces on the phony totem pole
that towered near the stage and cursed us
to grow up, learn to dance, love women
and never find again a place between two rapids,
not exactly quiet but far from the water’s roar.

Scott Harney (1955-2019) was a practicing poet who, aside from a few early publications in the Somerville Community News, did not publish during his lifetime, leaving a significant body of work to be discovered by readers after his death.  He grew up in and around Boston, graduating from Charlestown High School and Harvard College.  His literary influences include Robert Lowell and Jane Shore, with whom he studied at Harvard in the 1970s, as well as Richard Hugo and Philip Levine.