Cannery Row on Tinker Street: The Poem

Earlier this week, I shared the story of a Woodstock artist worthy of a Cannery Row of Tinker Street should someone volunteer to write a fictional history of our town’s one-of-a-kind characters. Well, my friend George Drew has recast this story as a poem. What’s next? The musical?

Rick Pantell, the Woodstock artist who told me this story, will be our guest this Saturday, July 28th, for our Pocket Guide to Woodstock village history walk. We’ll start at 10 am at the Golden Notebook at 29 Tinker Street. Let’s see how our galleries and T-shirt shops stack up against John Steinbeck’s sardine factories.

Hope to see you Saturday,



All his paintings were signed in the lower
left hand corner, one letter only, and always
blood-red: V. No one knew his actual name,
and since he loved above all Van Gogh

and channeled him in his own work so
forthrightly, we called him Vincent.
Maybe, like Doc, he was, deep down,
a lonely man; it was impossible to probe

past the smile he wore like the permanent
press pants he favored, so no one knew
for sure; we did, though, that he was a drifter,
right from the day in 1938 in Germany

when he went out the back of the orphanage
as the stormtroopers were coming in the front.
The only one in his Old World Jewish family
to evade the camps, he lost his sputtering faith

but not his modern Jewish sense of irony,
returning in 1945 as a U.S. Army soldier
and helping to liberate his home town,
an irony as cuttingly sharp as razor wire.

After the war he settled here in Woodstock,
in an upstairs cold water flat on Tinker Street,
which is where we found him one morning,
on the wall in front of him a full-sized

Wheat Field with Crows, and on the wall
behind him, like a black hole, The Scream,
and scattered here and there around each,
canvases of his own, mere colored chaff,

he said, before the bounty of such a harvest.
Disturbing paintings, we thought, and said
as much, but he was nothing if not content,
explaining that while he’d always lived to paint,

and painted to live, on this very Thursday
he’d turned sixty, something he was first
in his family to do and something even more
wondrously sweet. Later that day he died.

—George Drew

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The Mother Grouse Blog is produced by Will Nixon, author of My Late Mother as a Ruffed Grouse and Love in the City of Grudges available on-line.

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