Alec Solomita – The Red Lights of Needham
The Red Lights of Needham
Afternoons I drive through the tree-lined town of Needham, where folks lunch at Blue on Highland just by Venus Nails. Needham has the longest red lights I’ve ever seen. And in summer, the girls in cut-offs in twos and threes and fours, stroll the byways in suburban glory, legs as long as the red lights of Needham.
Just past the longest light of all, you take a right on Elm Street and roll slowly by wary well-trimmed hedges until you reach Applewood, a bit of Bedlam tucked in a circle at the end of a cul-de-sac. Inside, the receptionist greets you with real pleasure. Yet among the armchairs, flowering dwarf trees, Currier and Iveses, you catch a whisper of death and feces.
The rooms display pictures of the young and the dead — give off scents perfume, medicinal, or just high, vague, and enfeebling, scents that follow you down halls long as the red lights of Needham.
In one room, a woman in a velvet dress elegant in an armchair, reads; in the next, a man more obese than the fat lady in the circus in an industrial nightgown, watches a game show. Some beds are empty — the patient off to music hour, bingo, I Love Lucy. In others, tiny motionless husks, gray husks of human being barely the size of dogs, some spouting tubes, some not, lay curled on their sides under thin white covers, their lives fading like slow-dancing dreams.
The aides are mostly young, Haitian, of the darkest, most seductive hues, whose buttocks swoop like intermediate ski slopes, whose mysterious Creole, filled with laughter, echoes down the sad halls, who care for their crazy, incontinent charges not quite like brothers and sisters but not unkindly, with humor and fellow feeling and the occasional command to quell chaos – the old man trying to escape his wheelchair, the woman who shrieks like a siren, the WWII vet who juggles his food.
I fall briefly in love with the nurses and aides as I walk through the second floor where my wife who’s lost her mind lies chatting in her room in a language all her own and cries when she sees me. I sit by her side, hold her hand and listen, nodding, to her opaque wishes and fears. I stay two or three hours before I rise stiffly, my legs asleep, my back sore. I find my car in the brittle dark and start the engine. At the end of Elm I turn the corner then stop at a red light that seems to last forever.
Author’s Statement on Beauty
Beauty is omnipresent in the natural world and I admire poets who can communicate this in ways that don’t descend to cliché. It is indeed a challenging task after thousands of years of poetry to find just the right details and just the right way to shape those details to convey the beauty that surrounds us, but it can be done. One of my favorite poets, the relatively unschooled Romantic John Clare, starts many of his simple yet astounding “nature poems” with the words, “I love,” as in “I love the forest and its airy bounds” and “I love to hear the evening crows go by.” Clare’s love combined with his originality (he doesn’t say, for instance, “I love to see the evening crows go by” — just as rhythmic but without the genius of “hear”) make for a line that still sends shivers through the reader.
Whatever the subject, be it clearly a thing of beauty, like the tracery of branches at dusk, or an old lamp someone discards on the sidewalk, I try in my work to shape and share my own experience of its miraculous existence in a world full of chaos and difficulty.
And for all the contemporary arrogance and violence of much of humanity today, I still see countless acts of succor and comfort, the most lovely and surprising manifestations of beauty that exist in our strange world.
Alec Solomita is an editor, critic, fiction writer, and poet living in Somerville, Mass. His fiction has appeared in, among other publications, The Mississippi Review, Southwest Review, and Ireland’s Southword Journal. He’s published poetry in Literary Orphans, Algebra of Owls, and many other venues.