Poet's Choice: 'Cocoanut Grove' by Ron Slate

By Ron Slate
Sunday, May 10, 2009

The story of the Cocoanut Grove Fire of 1942 in Boston is part of my family's lore. I wrote a poem about it almost 35 years ago. But I found a reason to return to the story after reading Adam Zagajewski's essential poem "Try to Praise the Mutilated World," which appeared in the New Yorker soon after the World Trade Center attacks. The speaker of that wonderful lyric implores us to remember the world's ruined beauty. Adam's poem not only provoked me to answer, but pointed to something not yet articulated. I wrote my poem as if in dialogue with his, and also as if my daughters were listening in.

The Cocoanut Grove Fire took 492 lives.

(Editor's note: To see this poem laid out correctly on paper or on your screen, click the Print button in the Toolbox.)

Cocoanut Grove

My life began with the fire,

glimmering in the birthwaters.

Beyond my bedroom wall

voices murmured a memory.


My father's mother died

with her sister in the ladies' room.

He said -- if she had escaped to Shawmut Street,

been saved, nothing would be the way it is.

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