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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death repealed all decency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.

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