Interesting People of Newfoundland

Newfoundland is, or was, full of interesting people.

Like Larry, who would make a fool of himself on street corners

for a nickel. There was the Russian who called himself

the Grand Duke, and who was said to be a real duke from somewhere,

and the woman who frequently accompanied him on his rounds.

Doc Hanks, the sawbones, was a real good surgeon

when he wasn’t completely drunk, which was most of the time.

When only half drunk he could perform decent cranial surgery.

There was the blind man who never said anything

but produced spectral sounds on a musical saw.


There was Walsh’s, with its fancy grocery department.

What a treat when Mother or Father

would take us down there, skidding over slippery snow

and ice, to be rewarded with a rare fig from somewhere.

They had teas from every country you could imagine

and hard little cakes from Scotland, rare sherries

and Madeiras to reward the aunts and uncles who came dancing.

On summer evenings in the eternal light it was a joy

just to be there and think. We took long rides

into the countryside, but were always stopped by some bog or other.

Then it was time to return home, which was OK with everybody,

each of them having discovered he or she could use a little shuteye.


In short there was a higher per capita percentage of interesting people

there than almost anywhere on earth, but the population was small,

which meant not too many interesting people. But for all that

we loved each other and had interesting times

picking each other’s brain and drying nets on the wooden docks.

Always some more of us would come along. It is in the place

in the world in complete beauty, as none can gainsay,

I declare, and strong frontiers to collide with.


Worship of the chthonic powers may well happen there

but is seldom in evidence. We loved that too,

as we were a part of all that happened there, the evil and the good

and all the shades in between, happy to pipe up at roll call

or compete in the spelling bees. It was too much of a good thing

but at least it’s over now. They are making a pageant out of it,

one of them told me. It’s coming to a theater near you.

Bibliographical info

“Interesting People of Newfoundland” from WHERE SHALL I WANDER by John Ashbery. Copyright © 2005 by John Ashbery. Reprinted by permission of Georges Borchardt, Inc., on behalf of the author.

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