Tara Betts' "The Paterson Falls & Hinchliffe"

Time is an unavoidable element in any kind of story-telling, and can sometimes be a tricky thing to control. When does a story take place? How long will you take in the telling of it? Which parts of the story will you slow down and which will you speed up, or summarize, or skip altogether? Which events make up the “present” of the story you’re telling, and which events make up its past? And how will you decide which events are significant enough to make it onto the page?

Personally, I’m partial to stories where I can feel the past pressing up against the present in some way. It enriches a moment, to feel a sense of the important moments that have led up to it, just as it enriches a place to know something of its history, the past stories that it silently contains.

Tara Betts’s narrative poem, “The Paterson Falls & Hinchliffe,” achieves this sense of the past pressing up against the present. Not all poems tell stories, of course, but this one does—it’s a short scene that gives us a glimpse of a shared moment between two people in a history-filled place. And the turn at the end is a deft move that slyly brings the poem into its own future.

Tara Betts grew up in Kankakee, Illinois, and now lives in Chicago. This poem, “The Paterson Falls & Hinchliffe” appears in her new poetry collection, Break the Habit, published in 2016 by Trio House Press.

The Paterson Falls & Hinchliffe
One of our first dates is the best memory
I can cradle about Paterson, New Jersey.
He parked the car on the warm June night,
a hushed crunch of gravel under the tires.
The tiny suspension bridge felt safe when
you led me to its center. The Paterson falls’
constant churn that bred silk factories gone.
I gasped because it looked like the battered
cover of Williams’ Paterson on my crammed
bookshelf, but this one roared a perpetual
sigh of water, leaving a mist on my face,
where you softly leaned in, and I was not
afraid on this tiny bridge above a high drop
and water rushing white. As we walked
away, I spotted the concrete wall with Greek
athletes on tiles embedded near its top.
When I asked what is this abandoned place
with a sign that reads Hinchliffe, you said
it was a Negro League stadium. I imagined
Satchel Paige pitching and Minnie Minoso
in his prime. My quick squeeze on your arm
and a smile was all I needed to convince you
to climb through the folded back tear
in the chain link fence with me.
I stared at the silent empty field around us. 
New trees, slender and slightly taller than us,
sprouted in the modest bleachers.
There’s history that I cannot write when
decaying, forgotten places cling to the present.
There is a history that I thought we could write,
but those early drafts were scrapped.

You can find “The Paterson Falls & Hinchliffe” in Tara Betts’ new poetry collection, Break the Habit, published by Trio House Press in 2016.