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Toy Trains In the Landlord’s House

ISSUE:  Spring 1982
Plunged into darkness, descending as if through his dream
down inside the white, austere, winter-long drafty
son of a bitch, I go as far from the courthouse
and human wreckage as he did, the Judge,
whose house we have taken to live in
like history’s hulk, going past
its hugely random floors
to seek a switch and restore our light.

I enter the basement of raw stone, departing the sloped,
feeble stairs, and arrive at his own town
on dirty tables: tiny trains wait.
No windows intrude. The roof hangs
black-padded, starred, vision
a contraption of cheap mirrors.
Mountains, green and black, rise
from paper and the imagination.
His tunnels abound, shops, houses,
people, dogs with feet lifted mid-step. . .

after a while I find the chair where he hunched and feel
out the master switch and flip it on, amazed
that in this crypt he should appear
to turn with the light upon me,
a serious weight in his eyes,
as if to demand what unscheduled
interruption breaks before him now.
The coal furnace thuds just out of sight,

its roaring like a great engine in the timeless dark.
This is a dream. We are training, but I wait
for a sign while I drift unaccountably
in like one of those accused
who knew his look and felt
they were goners.

I tell myself to rise into my family’s muffled steps,
flashlight still flaring from my hand, no dead
man’s dream filling my head with parts
lost, a world you have to go blind
nearly to imagine made whole. . .yet

years of neglect, years of the promised grind slowly here.
Each night he rose, abandoning at last all hope
of restoration, content to keep some few
workable wheels rolling, a sufficient
act of order, until in the end
he could not tell his town from another.

His house, his problem is ours. Wiring is unsafe,
fuses blow, circuits corrupt. . .”who knows
what connects to what, or why?

Yet, from each miniature light that glistens far off
on the facing of stones wedged shoulder to shoulder
I feel, as he must have, the homeless dead
turning from cramped, berthless cells
their papery faces to the black
racer, a second train, suddenly
sweeping away their heartbeats,
their one, fused, endless cry of hope
that in stale air, like smoke, is lying—

Innocent, here, innocent, here, inno. . .

—pounding out of the toy universe that comes,
goes, rounds, passes through my hand
to become the single spark
circling through this house
where I take time as never before
under the homemade stars of dream.

Dawn after dawn I sit like a man condemned
to see what we are flashed past,
unable to rise,
to believe there is anything overhead,
or even to call back a single word to those
we have not learned to love well enough
to abandon or lift into the light of our living.


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