I compiled a book-length collection of poems about a fictional town on the Middlesex Canal north of Boston, based partly on my own experiences in a real town there. I used some of the stories I had heard; I made others up.
Later I realized the material—about the citizens of the town, the history of the canal (1793-1860), and my own experiences—could be put on the stage, as Spoon River Anthology had been. So I organized a number of readings with actors. Some were in New York City, others in various venues in upstate New York, after I moved there.
Then I learned there was a new Middlesex Canal museum, in an old, now recycled factory building. It was on the canal, in a town adjacent to the town I’d written about. I wrote to them and we scheduled a performance there.
The main room of the museum was full. They listened intently. Any sexual humor was met with grim New England silence, except for a small group of young people. As the end of the performance approached, I expected to be dragged out and tarred and feathered (something they really did in these towns).
Instead, the play got a standing ovation. I stayed around to talk to some of the audience. My mother, who had moved from the town some years before, introduced me to the local representative to the state legislature, whom she knew.
He thanked me for writing about the town.
“Even though I told some of the stories?” I asked.
“Well, that’s how it was,” he said.
“Dr. Plotkin” is the story of someone I met a couple of times, with details I gathered from some people who knew him. The voice is my imagined recreation, but I believe the facts are accurate. He was, by the way, a very good doctor.
One day when I was an intern I came home from the hospital
and my wife was hiding. She had slit the baby’s throat in his crib
and was crouched on the pantry floor off the kitchen. That night
was the first she slept in the asylum. She never slept
anywhere else the 30 years she lived on.
I moved away from my parents and friends and the city I always
loved. I found a house in Gladstone, deep in the woods.
I found a woman to share the house with me without hope
of marriage since, by the laws of the Commonwealth,
you couldn’t divorce a psychotic.
My reputation has been that I’ll treat anyone, even the deadbeats
who never will pay. It’s because that evening in Brighton
I lost any arrogance I had about my importance on the Earth.