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Grey Sparrow Journal

Issue 30, July 31, 2017
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Engineer

 

 

He was the boy who loved trains

of all kinds, and trolleys—back

when they still ran along the roads to

Carney and Towson, all the way

to the route’s end, Woodlawn or Windsor Hills

places I knew only as names

on placards, black print on white in

the front of those streetcars

or white on black on the turning

signage at the side of the car,

Irvington, Forest Park, each

Mysterious terminus.

 

He was the boy who set up the Lionel

trains on the sheet of plywood

painted green to look like fields

trains that ran past a station, a school,

 a town hall, fields with tiny metal

cows that grazed on painted wood.

 

He was the boy who wore the motorman’s hat

or the engineer’s striped cap,

had stacks of glossy

train magazines on his bookshelf,

talked of nothing but steam locomotives,

electric trains, old straw-seated trolleys

bus routes through Baltimore

till his world expanded and he learned

the subway lines in New York and Boston,

discontinued private companies,

public utilities, anything so long

as there were cars carrying people

or empty cars late at night or in the

first run out of the car barn.

Car barn—when was the last time

someone said those words

or cared about car barns?

 

I hear that now he’s often confused, often

unsure of how to log into email, uncertain

which day it is or

where his wife goes

when she leaves the house.

 

Someone said the cops came one day and the neighbors

thought he might’ve done something wrong

because they pushed him down

into the squad car

as he yelled, talk to my wife, please,

call my wife, she ‘ll explain.

 

It’s nothing like that, we later heard.

It’s his mind, it’s slipping,

He fears he won’t remember things

won’t remember the stops on the Number 19 line

won’t remember where they built

the diesel-powered buses we rode to school,

their fumes sweet and nauseating all at once.

 

When we were young he let me throw the switch and

start the train running. Sometimes he

let me drop a pellet into the engine’s smokestack

and gray smoke, pungent like incense, poured

out of the engine as it clicked along the tracks.

Sometimes he let me throw

the switch so the train turned off onto

a loop that led to the roundtable

where he did repairs, touched

up the paint here and there, let

the engine have a rest.

 

Heads together, we leaned

over the painted wood platform, the tracks

in the train world he created.

Light slanted in through the basement window.

Look, he said, flicking on a red signal.

  

He slowed the train to a halt, pointed

to the coal car. We need more fuel, he said.

He threw the switch then. I thought

he was king of the railroads.

 

                                             —Lynne Viti 
 
 

 

 

The Good Father

 

 

The good father

was the one who fell asleep on Saturdays

stretched out long on the couch.

Or he hoisted me onto his shoulders

or carried me into the ocean,

keeping a firm grip on me

which was fine by me.

The good father

took me with him to church

let me play with my white prayer book

with the gold cross hidden in a place inside the cover.

He pointed to the altar in front

when the three bells rang

and the priest held the white circle bread high.

The good father slept in the big bed

on the white sheets with dark blue lines at the edges.

He lay next to my mother,

slender, dark-eyed, pale.

Laughter came from their room at night,

and whispers that lulled me to sleep.

He drove us to Florida

in his gray car with three pedals on the floor.

I tried to stand up in the back all the way to Virginia.

Dirty water came out of the hotel’s faucet in Charleston.

We heard the train whistle all night.

He brought me a Charlie McCarthy doll

so I could talk to everyone and not be so shy.

He brought me a dark skinned doll

so I could rock her though she was not my child.

He smelled of aftershave and orange bath soap.

I traced the scar on his forehead with my small hand.

 

And later the sad father came to be in our house.

He wore a heavy brace on his leg.

A black steel bar ran up the side of the boot.

He walked with a wooden cane.

Bottles of pills filled the medicine chest.

He was early to bed.

One had to be quiet then.

 

                                                       —Lynne Viti 

 

 

 

 

 

 Last Three Times I Saw You

 

 

The last time I saw you

we had lunch at the Greek place.

You hardly touched your egg lemon  soup.

 

They’d tattooed your chest

On the skin above where

The spot on your lung

Made you cough up blood.

 

I don’t know why you waited

So long to find out about the blood.

 

The next to last time I saw you

you’d just  had a haircut,

white  locks poking out under a pink ball cap

after  your hair  began to  thin

You said loved your team at the hospital

And stopping  for empanadas and plantains

At the Venezuelan place

on the way home.  

 

The third to last time I saw you

you chose me to come to your house

So I could see the label pasted on the door

OXYGEN IN USE,

so I could see the tanks

when I peered inside your kitchen

from the  small back porch.

So you could tell me nobody at school knew.

 

The last time I saw you

we ate lunch at the Greek place

You said your doctors were hopeful,

that you had lots of time.

You said your body needed to move, you

wanted to walk the track next week.

 

We never walked the track

We never gossiped again

never talked about our sons again.

 

I grew my hair long

like yours used to be

It turned white

like yours used to be.

 

                                             —Lynne Viti