Returning to Camp
Returning to camp years later,
I find the wooden barracks
all staring at each other
in mute and mutual witness.
The icy light bares everything:
the pump where we washed at dawn,
the latrines stinking of quicklime,
wooden picnic benches smoothed.
Rampant in that final summer,
as in an old horror movie,
death repealed all decency
and drowned two dismal children,
fumbled one from a treetop,
and bled one with an axe-stroke
aimed at a femoral artery.
After the last, we all went home
because ghosts trilled all night
and blood pooled in nightmares
even the counsellors suffered.
The camp never reopened,
yet despite its lakeside frontage
no one bought the property,
no one even vandalized it.
I’m more alone than anyone
lost on the Antarctic ice sheet.
The barracks groan in the wind,
still repenting. The famous ghosts,
faintly visible in daylight,
sit huddled on a picnic bench.
I call their names, but absorbed
in eternity, they ignore me.
Careful to avoid the blood puddles
left by nightmares sixty years ago,
I cross the yard to the pump,
which despite its patina of rust
still grunts up a gush of water
cold enough to torture boys
lined up naked in the sunrise.
The latrines now smell as sweet
as garden compost in spring.
I want to ask the dead boys
how they get through the winter
in these unheated barracks but
they wouldn’t bother to answer
even if they shared my dimension,
which even in life they didn’t.
The Princeton Tiger
The train seems reluctant to stop
at Princeton Junction, but it does.
The odd smell of New Jersey.
I’d forgotten that dim flavor.
A long walk through Penn’s Neck.
The dinky train no longer runs,
its track a slur of rust, the ties
too rotten to bear any weight.
Washington Road sems endless,
the early spring marshes twittering,
Carnegie Lake half-frozen still.
I reach the campus. A ruin,
as they warned me, every building
bulldozed into a rubble heap
spangled with last summer’s weeds.
First College, Gauss Hall, McCosh,
the chapel, Firestone Library—
even the trees cut down for lumber
to rebuild the demolished village.
Yet nothing has been rebuilt,
Nassau Street blocked by debris,
one wall of the old hospital
still standing to attest to losses
no one bothered to tabulate.
At the site of the Witherspoon Grill
I picture myself ordering
scrambled eggs and whole wheat toast.
The hiss of the gas grill warmed me
all over. Summer rain splotched
the big windows, my workday
in the library stacks loomed.
Nothing remains of that moment.
Nothing to loot, no souvenirs
to take back to New York where
no one will want to hear how sad
the ruined town and college look.
Five years from now a waste land
of housing development will claim
this site. No one will remember
Nassau Hall and the Battle
of Princeton, no one will recall
the university’s buttery stone,
the arrogant undergraduates,
the orange and black tiger motif
that one cruel night opened its jaws
and ingested everything in sight,
leaving only an untold lie
at the corner of Einstein Drive.