This is not a city of cars, I refuse to believe it. My town is hemmed in by bright rails to the north, a rail hub in its heart, our river flowing with trains running the length of it. Our city stitched through with tracks, our air washed clean after the cold front, the broad oaks jettison their freight of leaves, veining the sky with bare limbs. The sound of the trains, cold and clear, is the sound of purity. My morning sky, tree hemmed, is a delta viewed on an atlas and there is no better day to be alive.
I heard John Henry bound this city himself in rails, laid a thousand tracks in one day, a hammer in each hand. I found the knuckles in each clenched fist fit together like a gear. The gears in the gut of my saw fit one to the next like teeth stitched to a jaw. It turns, it is relentless. I drove my truck to work for ten years with a deer’s jaw wedged where the dash met the windshield. I dreamt I went to war with the jaw of a mule and killed a thousand men. There is a jaw-bone wedged where the earth meets the sky. It is a lever.
One cold day in the woods, long ago, one of the grown-ups came running frantic around the bend, get off the tracks he said, there is a train coming. There is a train coming, he said, get off the tracks, there is a train coming.
It is defiance that raises me each morning,
To provide for mine with whatever talent
I can summon to my hands, without insurance, without benefits.
I am one of the American craftsmen, my life
Can end tomorrow and no one could weep.
It is Apollo who comes to dredge the earth,
The rebellious earth breathing fire at his arrival.
It is Apollo who hangs his freight of fire above us
Each day. It is the rebellious nature of my daughter
In her car seat commanding me, “fast and fast and fast.”
The son born to the Japanese hair-stylist was named Apolo, who raised him alone. The boy sprung up, wild and restless, strung his days together getting fucked up. He dreamt the idea of a speed-skater. His woke to his friends falling dead around him. The father stole his son away and abandoned him in a cabin in the great northern woods. The weight of snow taught the boy to shut up and listen to the thing thumping in his chest.
Apolo rose before each morning, and heading out to the frozen lake,
Lashed his skates to him. Imagine for me, please, the sound a man makes
Over broad ice, the friction of his life reduced to two lines of bright steel.
His breathing. Summoning whatever strength he has in his legs to push
Away from gravity, our earth’s death of inertia. The very air trembling
Around him, the indeterminate speed of his life, near frictionless
Over fast ice, vanishing, hundreds of miles away from the rest of us.