Vineyard poet Judith Neeld died at the age of 90 on April 18. In her career, she published five books of poetry, was awarded the Emily Dickinson Award from the Poetry Society of America, and edited the Stone Country Magazine. Her Collected Poems will be published this spring.

In the introduction to her book Greatest Hits 1981-2001, she wrote about the origins of her poem Centertown, originally titled In the Mid Island: “The genesis occurred in the 1970s when West Tisbury, almost in the Island’s center, featured a do-it-yourself car wash, a two-machine laundromat and a restaurant where coffee was served in glass mugs. Now the restaurant has reverted to a family home and the laundromat and car wash have become a casual restaurant. Our houses have electricity, but in the summer, when many people rent their homes to vacationers, kerosene lamps and bare-boned furnishings are the norm when you’re living in a tent or cabin in the woods. All the rest is true, too. Indeed, our winters seem ‘as long as a woman’s term’ —the kind of grace a pregnancy holds, as it holds the unknown.”


This is where the world begins and ends:

the elms that die

slowly, the young men


in clay-cuffed Levis

talking of the summer

the rainless mornings

the dry fields, the women

who wait table on the State Road and bring home the tips;


come home

to naked beds in kerosene light

and, after making love

go out to the two-machine laundromat behind the trees

while their men shine

’74 pick-ups at a do-it-yourself carwash.


Nights after

the store closes

and the post office under the same roof tourists will come

to Daddy’s Forge Restaurant.

They will eat cranberry cake

and wild blueberry ice

while the women circle their tables serving coffee in glass cups, remembering money will be harder to come by

past Labor Day.


It will rain

between then and now

the corn will come in

sheep will be brought back

from the salt marsh meadows, bloated will crop our grass

not so high since June

while the elm bark beetles get

their old playmates ready.


I have told you these things

because they are what you would learn in the summer here.

As for winter

it is long

as a woman’s term.