Sunday, August 23, 2015

A poem

I’m on a nearly empty train
trying not to miss you,
on a clear and cobalt twilight in early November.
The only other person here is this old guy I knew--
I thought he’d died seven years ago, but he seems fine,
just annoyed at the Q
which rumbles so slowly through Dekalb station,
before rising above ground to grumble past
the glass and brick checkboard
of the Watchtower building.
"Read God’s Word," the sign there says,
while the digital clock glows an evil orange,
and I try not to think of the last things you said to me.

The first two pigeons flutter down and roost outside the windowsill.
I start, the old man nods,
while they hang on and
nuzzle each other, purring like lovers.
I hear two more on the other side window,
and 1, 2, 3 land quickly out in front.
I look through the door portal,
and all along the train’s side there’s a dark snow of them
coming down from somewhere out there
up and past
the cables of the Manhattan Bridge
past the dull yellow wash of security lights
from out in the silent Long Island Sound, thousands of these birds are
to trail along this train.

"They look like passengers," I say,
"But they’re all gone, and that can’t be."
"They are," the man tells me,
"Look at the notes they have attached -- each one," he says,
"Tied to each left leg."
I see thousands of small slips of paper
each one thin as the fortune in a cookie,
folded over loops of dark string.

"They’ve been gone for years," he says,
"But some nights the wind changes and blows them back
from sea,
and they follow the trains inland
carrying all the old messages that never made it home.
They land on headstones and abandoned cars
and shuffle into the open windows of certain empty houses
along blue roads.  They light on weedy fields.
They land on cracked blacktop.
And they trill to each other in dead languages
all the disappointments that have ever
trailed a man or a woman all the way to the last place they left,
and if you could understand what they say to each other
you’d know everything you need."
But it’s just shuffling and pearls and caws to me,
and the notes are tightly folded up -- I can only catch
a half letter now and again,
a place where the paper is dark with ink on the other side,
the smudge of some symbol.

"There’s something here addressed to me," I say.
But he won’t answer.
"There’s some lost note she wanted me to have, isn’t there?"
I tell him.
He tucks his chin away and sleeps.

The train doesn’t dip down after it reaches
the end of the overpass.
It keeps rumbling darkly west
weaving between the skyscrapers
on an elevated track that shouldn’t exist.
It crosses the Hudson on some bridge I know can’t be
past Hoboken,
past Newark,
and out to the Elizabeth chemical fields
where the sky turns blood brown, and
gas fires pop open on the horizon.

A beautiful and poisonous snow begins to fall there--
it is a Christmas phosphorescent green
and it lights the back of each roosting bird,
and one by one
they drop off the train,
each murmuring, almost content
to die and litter the countryside
glowing with snow all along the line.
The trail goes for miles,
and I know the dying of them will take all night.
I know that even if I wake up in my own bed tomorrow,
some part of me
will wander the rest of my life
down an imaginary trail
in a deadly sleet only I can see,
plucking the notes from tiny piles of bone,
and dirty feather,
sifting through all the problems in the world
looking for your handwriting
and my own name.

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