|Chagrin River Review||
South Dearborn Street
tall black men
buildings made of stone
the garbage trucks grinding,
a circle of pigeons fan
over the rooftop of a restaurant –
Open For breakfast.
The rumble of the red line
my hand pressing on the glass
reading the cold like braille.
I am standing in my son’s
apartment, a hazy sun
everything gray and still
a city reflected in the lake.
He is in the North Loop
with his girlfriend.
Back home my wife and daughter
get ready to drive to D.C.
I stare out the window at
the picture of a city waking
and I remember a time when
we were always together
travelling in a pack,
to the store, to the Friendly’s
at Gloucester circle, to Ireland
and Spain, and it hits me
that I’ve been fooled to think
that time is my friend,
that there is plenty of it,
that it will be enough
if memory replaces this scene
in front of me like a postcard.
But I know the truth –
down the street, back East,
around the world – time is
leaking out of the pictures
like a hole in the dyke.
If Dali were here I would ask
him to stop his clocks from
melting, maybe catch the drippings
in a bucket, something we could
use later to recycle the minutes
that race past us like a bullet train.
Outside, the pigeons circle again
then push further into the sky.
“If wishes were horses, I’d have a ranch.”
Passing through Ocala, white stucco ranches, orange groves, Cypress trees shedding their skin, another line of broken motels stamped with plywood windows, the signs along the road, large clean rooms, horse country, we look for gas by a cattle farm, the black and white bellies dotting the hills, the neat rows of thin roof trailers, the flat brown yards. A church steeple in a field of green points to a cloudless sky and I say to myself, “this is Florida.”
I look in the mirror to catch a glimpse of my teenage kids hooked to Ipods in the back seat, and I remember the last time we did this, drove for three days to my mothers, over ten years ago. We took video of it then but I can’t bring myself to look at it. Once in a coffee shop I saw a women look at a child and ask her mother, “don’t you wish you could freeze her?” I’ve often felt this way, like it’s all running away from me too quickly.
I look out the window again, a green pasture, a billboard for Fireworks, and a sign advertising a Gospel chorus, and a train comes alongside, traveling in the same direction, the same speed, like it caught up to us and slowed down. My wife is sleeping next to me and the kids don’t notice that I play this game, beating a series of red lights to keep pace, my nose level with the engine car. It’s good luck.
As a boy I walked to Riverside to smoke cigarettes and make wishes when the trains crossed in opposite directions, my grandmothers Irish superstitions still with me, no fake birds hanging on the house, remembering to lift your feet over railroad tracks, tossing pennies into the wishing well.
In those days I was always wishing to start over. It was all very ceremonial and I’d make some promise out loud to God or to the universe and the wish usually began with an affirmation about beginning again, along with some clever phrase I’d stolen from a Paul Newman movie or a sports magazine, things like “make way for the kid” or “I’m a natural born world shaker.” I imagined myself doing great things, dangerous things, things people would remember. I had this need to make this day (the one at the time) the day that changed my life. I don’t know where that need came from, years later maybe from mistakes I made that carried a bit more consequence, but as a kid, it had to be the Irish in me, the religion. I love the Irish, but we’re guilty fuckers.
The sun starts to set and the train switches north away from us, and I imagine he blows his horn three times, and I make a wish that my kids will be safe and protected, and like the Bob Dylan song says, “that (they) see the light surrounding (them).” Seems I’m still stealing lines for my wishes these days even if I gave up starting over.
The sound of the train wheels on the track is fading, blending with the traffic around me, and I think of the few days before this, fishing behind my mother’s condo, throwing back a Sheep Head, and suddenly missing my father sitting in the screen porch.
He kept a small book of prayers he said every night on his knees, hand scribbled notes about his kids, his wife, casting his net of wishes over all of us and I’m adding up how many wishes that might be when I turn to see a Great Blue Heron, four feet away, looking for a piece of shrimp I’d already thrown into the ocean.
“I’m sorry,” I say, just like that, out loud, and I tuck my line to my pole and we walk off the pier together.
Here on the west coast, looking out at the Tampa Bay Bridge, I will always feel the same sadness, the same longing to have done things a little differently in my young adult life, to have been less impetuous, perhaps, less self-destructive. I remember when my kids were little, two and four maybe, I said to my father in the house I grew up in,“ I’m sorry for those years it was so crazy. It must have been hard.” He just looked at me, a note of confirmation, not entirely releasing me, not willingly wanting to remember it either. It was a silent moment.
The train has just about disappeared on its way to Bradenton or points north and it feels like an ending to a movie, the credits of my life rolling slowly over the screen, Lucinda Williams singing some soulful ballad as we all fade to black. One of the kids asks to stop for a bathroom, but I’m not really listening. I’m still back there with my father’s prayers sprinkled over the backwater he loved so much, standing among the Herons and the Pelicans and the Cat fish, waiting over all that blue for a wish or two of my own.
Kevin Carey teaches in the English Department at Salem State University. He has a new chapbook of fiction "The Beach People," from Red Bird Chapbooks and a 2012 book of poetry “The One Fifteen to Penn Station,” from Cavankerry Press, N.J. He has recently completed a documentary film about New Jersey poet Maria Mazziotti Gillan, called “All That Lies Between Us.” Kevincareywriter.com