New York City skyline at night

Poetry

 

 


Jan Beatty


The Switching Yard

I'm riding the dirt line to Winnipeg, to my birth father
who now is the whole province of Manitoba,
has grown deeper than the Assiniboine and wider
than the Red River Valley.
We're rolling out of Toronto with a derailment
in Capreol—14 cars off the track, but we're headed into it,
lines of indigenous pines otherworldly now
because I'm the indigenous one,
ghost explorer returning,
looking for blood.
The VIA Rail steward says:
If you look here, you'll find the train #====
here's the name of each car.

Mine is 111: Bliss.
Now we're stopped, 11:30 pm and the sky is blue-dark

with the trees going back to their night souls—
Is anyone else on this train tonight
looking for ghosts?
I can see the rail ties, the track is the dirt line
to my father. Moving again, just crossed
the highway outside of Wahago.
From this 3X4 window I can see underpass,
underpass, deserted road, so close to the hillsides
we are inside the land.
Industrial construction yard, lines and lines of tracks—
2 giant sleeping cranes, nothing as lonely as a
crane not working: relic with its head bowed
in the brokenness of a highway dream.
Crossbar signal/arm over the road
with red light eyes: we're coming.
Riding north of Thunder Bay to Winnipeg,
past the green green of Saskatchewan to the prairies
of Manitoba, nothing but fields of dirtgrass for miles.
My father's father was here—and in some piece of dirt,

some line of crossing, the wind will whip up
into the Manitoba field-long clouds where
the Red River meets the union hall,
where miners and machinists said, here.
If I can stand in the crosscut of bodies that made my father,
that grew him hard into a crosschecking fighter,
I will have found blood.
There is no peace like the road at night,
until the train whistle spills its fat long blare—
must be coming up on a town.
Tree branches hit the side of the train, a band
of light coats the trees in the distance in the
secret life of quonset hut/quonset hut/
all this industry and dreaming, people's lives
on these dark patches of land—are they up late
worrying about losing?
Their job, their minds, their families?
We are all so

separate with the same lives.
The train shaking me home to no father I know,
forward for the Hornets/Maple Leafs/Rangers—
—his steps, my steps.
I can't see him/hear him/touch him
but I can walk the ground, step hard
in the gleaming city of his body.
I wonder to him about those who walked before:
Was there a white frame house?
A woman, your mother, washing clothes
by the side of the Red River?
Are these the overalls touched by your skin?
Who made your green piercing eyes
that bore through me with aliveness/
then two bodies slammed together
one night in Pittsburgh and I was made,
and in the making the blood ran.

In this ghost land, lights show up in trees,
a band of light in the sky, a different look
every 20 yards, the change of it all.
House on the hill with 5 lights on, the kind
of house that always has porch lights burning—
there's a steadiness out here that I love,
a regularity I don't know. Sudden rise of land
and a highway tunnel. Sign: Megalots—160 ft deep

and city lampposts sprout like alien antennae.
Where is that one sweep of wind where
I'll find the switching yard: this train and that,
those who made you, and, in that distant
but bloody kingdom way—me,
so I can stand and say, here.
Here where Polish immigrants set their stake:
where the prairie met the working stiff
and you were born. Shut up in this
compartment, I am the small ghost—
red light shines in the window from a signal,
shooting the whole traincar bloody red.
Tomorrow in the open I will be legion—
you will see me bleeding from every pore,
a woman in the switching yard.

 

The Dealer in the Natural World

First date we walk Larimer Avenue,
grass blades sticking through crumbling sidewalks,
ground ivy & used needles in the alleyway.
We pass his '76 Trans-Am, firethorn red
with slashed tires, into a nice apt. with black spray-
paint on the walls:
Jag-off Motherfucker
I hope you die a horrible death

Oh, he says, that was my ex.
I'm stupid, no other way to say it—
John's a bartender, very smooth & still
looks good after all the drugs. After a few
coked-up nights, I say, Let's go to a movie,
& he says, Why? We got all we need here,
Darling.
His is a paper-thin charm, but it
works on me, & soon it's coke
every night until my nose bleeds, & the 5AM
sun hitting the porch trash is my idea of
the natural world, the grind of the garbage
truck gears the song of it.
So many bodies the next day,
strewn like branches:
we were herd animals snorting together,
territorial so as not to upset the balance of nature
& dry up our source. I come to love
the amber bottle with the mini-spoon attached,
then piles of coke on the table. Garbage cans
of Quaaludes bloom on the porch, ripe
for picking. Chocolate mescaline on weekends,
weed all the time. This is our sustenance,
our daily bread. Walking outside into
city-fresh air while people are driving to work
makes me feel cool, & then one New Year's
Eve, he never shows, never calls, & that's
it. After, I waitress my way back
to school & almost clean, hear Frank OD'd
on crank. I see Jimmy on my way to class,
9am, barefoot with no shirt, looking like
he was just dropped here/no context/digging
in his pockets for a map. A year later,
I run into John, he says:
Yeah, I ran into Miss New York that New Year's
& went out with her instead, a real
beauty queen. What could I do?

 

 

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