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Poem: Streets Of Old Milwaukee — Milwaukee Public Museum

Milwaukee poet Richard Hedderman serves on the education staff at the Milwaukee Public Museum and often gets writing inspiration from the museum's exhibits.

Milwaukee poet Richard Hedderman serves on the education staff at the Milwaukee Public Museum, which often gives him writing inspiration. Here's a poem influenced by one of the museum's most popular exhibits:

It is endless, the early October dusk, smelling of smoke,
And lit in the flare of gaslight. The butterfly in the Mason jar
Folds its wings as if under the weight of dust,

And the draft horses haul their shadows back to the stables.
In the alley, the black cat tilts his head in the dark, listening
For a rat in the grate, a spider on the wall, or something else

We may never hear. Even the films in the Nickelodeon
Unspool silently in black, silver and silken gray, the actors
Gesturing as though signaling for help. The kite, torn by rain,

Hangs snagged in the wires. The streetcar reaches its vanishing
Point, as the barber summons his final customer, beckoning
With his gleaming razor. In the saloon, the cards,

Face down upon the table enfold their cache of prophecies.
The Western Union messenger leans his cycle against the fence;
The gate is locked, the dead leaves scattered. Winter

Is coming, and so, too, a war that will strew telegrams from here
To the Somme. Then the apothecary hoards his bottles stoppered
With the vapor of poppies, the player piano will jangle,

“Over the Waves.” The red service banners unfurled in the square
Will summon the clerk, the newsboy, the schoolmaster, to Ypres,
The Marne, and Amiens. So where, then, is the funeral parlor,

Its windows shut, the thick drapes pulled tight against
The gathering dark? And where, too, the undertaker
With his heavy gloves to lay us all to rest?

Richard Hedderman is a local poet based in Wauwatosa and is on the education staff at the Milwaukee Public Museum. His latest book of poetry, Choosing A Stone, is out now.