Trains

Adam Ward

 

The subway lurches throwing us into disarray,

the messy landscape of skin and bone, dreaming of simpler days,

the skinny stick of a girl waltzing to her fatherís tune,

the awkward glance across crowded rooms. This I know,

feeling the sky above concrete (the dark pit as we slide

under the river towards home), the fragments mean more then we think.

The chromosome for love is made of tire swings and green sunlight,

as seen in the shallow waters near Brooklynís edge.

All things converge onto this point. Focused, but hovering

above us like the Holy Ghost. Our Father Who Art in HeavenÖ

 

Towards the sky we emerge, half frozen between rusted rails and dusk.

Halted by the traffic of too many bodies on this crowded perch,

screaming the mountain down into a quiet hole. Unrelenting, the secrets

fold into skin and become real. Porcelain chips for blood,

the conductor announces places from some forgotten dream.

Picture the sunlight through broken glass, the plastic floats

on puddles of glassy milk. Picture the outline of the train

as it slices the air, how beautiful we are caught in the blur.

How soon the blur becomes framed in our chest.

 

I adore the box. The way it contains us. The cat peers

in to see if we are dead. And the quantum self speak of this, the drumbeat

on jungle floors,the mosquitoís love songbefore death, hatched

to fly from hatchery to the dream of wind, how it will carry us above

the city, to the emptiness of the sky. Naked and then real.

(Not the other way around.) Because of the bills that came before,

the wires connecting our houses with blue veins of electricity,

the hunger inside, the pile of papers on the floor. This is the new self

trapped inside units of pulp. A convulsion of blood from first sight,

the enormous expanse of it. The problem seeing the whole as we flutter down.

 

Certain things come with love, the residue of sleepless nights,

the training pants by the bed. Absence more than anything else.

Negative of a negative divided by the sum of its parts.

Until we superglue the rest into rivers of subdued desire. Miracle # 457.

Tuesday 8am, and the particle of dust becomes its own universe,

orbited by the cityís littered streets. Check point. The arrival of spring

seems arbitrary, focused on primal things, such as the first moon walk,

the first bucket from the mountain well. Due east the clouds gather,

we shrink from the sky approaching the neighborhoodís smoky scent,

towards evening, towards the peaceful haiku in-between.

 

The man, as if on queue, rolls over on scratchy seats.

And then talks to folded heads bent like hollow stalks towards the floor.

Lack of sunlight, lack of subzero temperatures and cotton candy.

I told them Coney Island was just a stop away. The salty goodness

of a womanís tears if she cries for you. Or the Mermaidís loop

around the park, as the Cyclone clicks and clacks towards heaven.

Which elicits snickers from a row of sneakered feet. The landscape diverts,

submerges, divides until darkness resumes. Flickers of light.

 

Ten feet. I am dead. The box closes. Tightened throat,

then burst of sunlight from beneath the glassy bottomed boat.

Who consumes us in silence, but our own ghosts on 2nd Avenue?

The night we flew down the steps towards smoke and the women

made of smoke. I knew the end would be just the same.

Three whiskey sours, two beers, 15 cigarettes, and the long bar

recedes beneath the twisted streets. Punctuate it with rusted bottles caps

and red army ants on the couch.Brooklyn, Staten Island, the dead

faces are invisible from the sky. Framed by the distant echoes

of love, the soft touch melting us all into our sticky seats.

 

June 10. Six hundred and ten days into the funeral march.

The sky boils with rain, and then ashes pour forth.

We argue about the nature of the occurrence, the root cause,

while men stand languidly in the rain, overtime, as the streets

remain deserted before dawn. I copy the addresses down,

the ones whose numbers are written in pockets of bone, the absence

of the real at the center of everything we do. We become one with rain

while visitors cometo pray near the presence of nothingness,

near the edge of death. I look out the window and see

the black tunnel ahead.We are rushing towards it. Seeking it out.

 

The large number of words is a detriment. Corroding even simple things

into nuanced blocks. Blue sky. Brooklyn. 8 am. The rest is optional.

Even the air feels thin over the Gowanus Canal. The drum party

lasted until dawn. I made sculptures from bread and then walked home.

Inside the static we exist, stuck and unstuck, itís all the same.

I love the way you move, the way the train leans into the wind,

the way our bodies lurch forward through the city as the image

wears off and the blue sky rubs into skin. Breathe in, the spectacle

of broken stone, the muddy tracks, the awkward glance, the images of home.

Breathe out particles of dust, the memory of standing there between two worlds.

 

How do I tell you what surely doesnít exit. My dear wife slides more easily

between Brooklyn and the city. I imagine the air collapsing around her

as she walks, the train slowing as she nears. How terrible to think of her

as just another body on the train. Sloshing inside the yellow doom

of dirty seats. The faces pressed like ghosts against the glass. I prefer

the darkness. The entrance to the tunnel looms. We approach as if falling

into Hawkingís dream. I consume this train. I collapse gravity

with these eight years of love. Stopping time as she steps off the train,

letting my eyes rotate 360 degrees around her body, to protect her I think,

to save her from the lack of sunlight, the lack of anything real.

 

The train is incomprehensible. After all the years, even today was a surprise,

the flicker of my reflection in the the glass. Train after train, until I disappeared

into the light. The man who dreams this is still learning to be a man,

yelling at the moon like a dog. He stretches in the darkness, turns into shadow,

and imagines the world as a ticket window, a process for turning children into ghosts.

Like Thursday night near the turnstile as the lights flickered, and we prowled

the block like hungry cats. Looking for snails on broken walls, watching the sun

fall below Brooklynís rusted edge. The moon blossomed in the sky and we

looked for candles in the house. My children were hot. They walked naked behind me

as we looked. We fell asleep in the shadows of citronella, until darkness returned.

 

The new form is the train. Ten per car. Each car filled with bloated heads.

I imagine the small boy who imagines himself as a man. The world gleams

with sunlight and the girl heíll marry. And then he moves from his seat

and through the doors to the platform where he disappears into the crowd.

Some make him out to be a priest, an urban myth of honeybees in the pantry

and the jello for brains on the B2 bus . But I pray for the lights to come on

like everybody else and the boy returns. Some sleep under the sky and on concrete steps.

Until the blood is reversed. Pumping from brain to heart, carrying tiny boats

of electricity from one chamber to the next. My neighborís house

fills with blood. She appears confused on the street as we exchange pensive looks.

 

The train rumbles beneath my house, even at 2am the house shakes

from the intrusion of steel. I picture rose bushes flying through the air and the sweet

smell of spring long gone. I practice the words in pitch black air. The air beneath me,

the air above. Scene 1: A boy kneels in dirt, scrubbing the ground with his tiny hands.

Scene 2: A dog meanders through the grass towards an accident on I-87.The black wheels

of the car spin through blue sky. And then I digress into darkness, how the night

seems to last forever, how my daughters sleep in another room, their small bodies

rising and falling while they sleep. The room is too small for us, the train expands

below into nothingness. I think of the bills to be paid, the quiet hush of my street

and how years from now, this house and my children will be gone.

 

Molecules rule the universe. Mitochondria. Black matter. This is the invisible

kingdom of god. The alter fills with calculators, old computers, the hard drives

from 10,000 desks. I split the universe into 2 parts. People and things. The computer

says we have only x number of years to live. The sun grows cold, the moon explodes,

and then this is all for naught. I bring out the garbage pails on Sundays and Wednesdays.

It used to be three days a week. The computer says its time to for the trucks to depart,

for metal cans to be crushed. The computer says the train will arrive between 5 and 6,

the passengers will board in x number of seconds before the doors close and the body

of the train pushes a column of air from Brooklyn to the city. And the night

is infused with this. The image of a man as the train approximates the distance to home.

 

Let me say this straight for once, the sky was burning with liquid jelly. Jet fuel

poured from the sky. My children breathed the dust of 3,000 bodies, we wiped

their bones from the hood of our car. A receipt half burned, a memo stuck

under a rusted grate. The ghosts become us, as if the collection plate was made

from the muddy earth. Swallowing sunlight as we walk to cleanse our bodies of the blood,

swallowing 2 years later the blue sky, so we can forget and remember simultaneously,

the way sub-atomic particles can be in two places at once. The metaphor we adopt

out of laziness more than anything else. I exhale the blue body of the sky.

 

I speak in muted tones. The past forgives us for quiet mistakes, the louder ones

are reserved for mythology.The beauty is in the delicate nature of things, the fragile

scope of the sky, the rhythm of bodies sitting on orange seats. Who could imagine

the flow of flesh from one stop to the next? 7th Avenue turns in to 4th Avenue

and we exit in a precise ballet. I love you. The perfection lies between syllables,

not the ironing board stuck in the bedroom closet, or the pile of laundry

by the bed. Itís surreal by nature, the air between us collapses and folds for each kiss,

the way I imagine the stars will fold millions of years from now. The secret lies

in whatís not said, in what is withdrawn,not offered. I offer this,

the beauty lies in the delicate nature of things. The fragile scope of the sky.

 

Pink Flamingos dance on the head of a pin. The pin in my fatherís lapel as we shuffle

from one end of the room to the other. Avoiding each other seems natural. The equation

for this is written somewhere on the underside of a chair, my 6th grade math class.

I never understood the movies that had so much talking in them, mostly we evade

and avoid. I avoid the train while riding inside it like an apple seed. I reject its silvery

flesh. But so does god. He works the double at the Lincoln Tunnel and complains

about his hours like everyone else. Or is it me, pretending this phone call is a prayer

and the line reaches all the way above the city into the sky.Because when she left

I was standing on the corner watching her go. Because even heart breaks can be put

so quickly into words. But we know, the both of us, how foolish this really is.

 

She walks with books on her head, tilted ever so slightly in recognition of the earthís

methodical spin. The ocean sloshes from Coney Island to Oyster Bay and the city

is dipped at the center into mud. I pray for the neon lights to come on as we pass

under 2nd Avenue. The few passengers left seem half asleep at 2 am. I pray for the goodness

of the world to return. Which comes in the form of an apple tree or the leather spine

of a dusty book. The best thing we can say is that the story begins differently

then how it began. Torpidly the man moves down the length of the car. As if to set

himself between moments of time. The seconds tick us closer to death. I feel my body

give way to gravity and the heartís inevitable collapse. Time stretches between us,

as I remember this already. Just yesterday a flood of sunlight through the morning sky.

Always the distraction transforms us. Moments of love are scattered like glass

across the years. The first day I saw you in the hall. Or the black box of a train we imagine

is real. I can only guess at the years and hold the others to their word. I knew a woman

who lived like this. Her teethe were grey and I wondered if the commute did her in,

the hours spent idle on the train. The other stuff is all chatter, the train moves with the flow

of blood from Manhattan to Queens and then returns to the tunnels below 42nd Street.

If all these bodies can fit, nirvana should be nearer then we think. New York is the city of love. We live the way only others can dream. Arc of love. The hypotenuse is always the best bet.

I live here between lip and gum. The cause, letís be honest, will never be known. Only love survives and thereís little of that to go around. The city dips and returns. We survive.

 

I am walking down the street to the park. My daughterís follow me in parade. I tell them

to love one another and pretend to walk on the sky. This is the year for grasshoppers

and tiny bugs. If only the same could be said of the world. Its necrotic center

on certain days depresses me. Even with the gentle breeze through the room. The perfect

light on fall days. I revolve around myself until I switch off and become the third.

He speaks to me inside of me. He whispers into my head. I own the right to speak

in stereo, even if the center doesnít hold. The anthrax pock itís called, the best

we could come up with was a small verse that didnít rhyme. But the train rumbles

beneath our feet as the park draws near. The rest is an outright lie. The wind didnít

disturb us and the children were gone. They flew like leaves away from me.

 

Perhaps the conditional is real. Then maybe we can find the elusive center. The bent

stalk of girl. She spoke in the quietest tone. I am listening to the wind,

my motherís voice carries from heaven to here on certain days. But the image returns,

the red track circles the school and the air hums with summerís heat. In another place

she is crying under pale blue sheets, her fatherís voice echoing through empty rooms.

I am learning to speak all over again, each word fits precisely into the next as if

something really existed before and all along this is me reading my life.

Or we are read by the scenery on the train. The city looks at the man as he passes by,

the body in motion from this block to the next one. He completes the equation

by deducting himself from the cost. I live here in the middle, between A and B.

 

You realize the train is moving by the vibrations. The darkness seeps inside your suit,

the lack of anything but the train reminds you of certain snowy days, where

the wind surrounds the city as if to choke you into nothingness. The blank

sky is never really blank. The slate is grey but the city collectively murmurs

words onto the board. The uptown crowd ignores it with expensive devices

surrounding there beds. But in Brooklyn you live with it and keep going. Just like

the long lines for the train and the long lines to get up the stairs from the train.

You remove words surgically from the book. The book says you will die on day X,

but the X canít be removed. The book says you will love someone until they leave you,

until the whole world conspires to keep you sitting on the train.

 

Focus on the abrasive. She collects shards of glass from the skin, as if to pluck

the meaning from the dirt. Motorcycles line the block and then rumble down the street.

The neighborhood groans under the weight of their grief. A man dies

and the world moves on. The cardboard boxes all that remain and the photo

album hidden in the closet.I walk through the valley of chain link fences.

I shall not want. And so my life becomes a quiet song, witnessed by the company

of three. Girls who become women and then the tears drop like petals through time.

How does god expect me to understand my life? One moment in time among many,

the sheer brevity of it is unreal. I watch from the window as my girls run

through the sprinkler out front.The sunlight illuminates them, as if caught in the sun.

 

I remember skipping stones on the Hudson, the silver skin of the river holding us

in the light. Tuesday July 26, 1972 and my grandmotherís hands hold each grey stone

with tremendous love. As if to tell me the name of the sky is written in our blood

and the secret of the wind etched into our skin. Some people are elemental,

my grandmother larger then any mountain, blocking out the noontime sun.

Her love would help me now, caught between two visions of self. One rusted

by the salt of Brooklynís coast and the other hiding in the dark corners of a forgotten house.

Locked in a box, I remember my brother beating his chest as I cried mouthfuls of dust.

Because the sound of the lawnmowerís buzz drowned my tears and because the attic

remained a landscape of pale yellow wood and streaks of light. I submit to the noise.

 

And itís rumored to be correct. The image of the boy long gone. I hear him sleeping under

a canvas tent. This is my cantos to him, a letter sketched in the invisible ink of spy pens

and moonlight. The deep mystery is in the heart. And after all that, a denial of whatís real.

My eyes are closed to the electronic light. The blue glow of neon near the ice machine,

as the motels yellow glow seeps back into skin and bone. The weight of the world becomes you my friend. Itís endemic to the host, which speaks for us all.†† I have spoken now to the light,

and heard the visions echo in my bones. The only pain is to feel nothing at all, as the words rise

inside me like a song, piercing the grey Brooklyn sky towards the broken picture frame,

a boy sitting in the grass, looking into the cameraís eye. Knowing somehow, even then,

of the man who would reach back towards him through the dust. Lifting him into the light.