Thursday, July 5, 2007

Living on the Line

streetcar "A public passenger car operated on rails along a regular route, usually through the streets of a city. Also called "trolley", "trolley car." The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language.

There is a clanging in my head,
the house shakes; it's the years before
Pearl Harbor Sunday.
We live on the Como-Harriet streetcar line.
Every fifteen minutes electric trolleys pass,
one in each direction,
faithful, wooden, yellow as bananas,
iron wheels on iron tracks.
Their racketing owns the center lane
of those wooden brick streets.

Our house, solid, colonial, is my mother contends,
the only real mistake my father ever made.
He cites convenience;
his defenses tightening through the years.
"The rattletraps will be replaced,"
he promises on his morning exits to the University,
leaving my mother with doubts
strong like her breakfast coffee.

At the corner
step out into traffic, cars stop,
the hinged doors fold open,
three metal steps up,
token drops into a glass, brass box,
the conductor cranks -
clip, clip, ring, ring.
Up front, the motorman pushes his iron handle forward.

Chubby, bored, doubtful childhood ever ends,
I ride, sitting high, alone.
Jungle afternoons in August, windows open,
through wooded grounds of Como Park,
transfer downtown to fields of corn, wheat, cows,
stretching rural to White Bear
or transfer at Eustis,
through downtown Minneapolis,
the Gateway and then the lakes.
My thighs ironed into rattan waffles,
face and arms speckled with soot,
brain rocked to somnolence.

Summer nights,
homes open to catch coolness,
bright window squares fly by,
tilt, rattle and screech
around the corner on Como and Knapp
freakish and friendly.
State Fair week they line up tight
cow catcher to rear, miles in each direction.

Winters our "39 Chevy" would rocket
the icy streets between snowbank and trolley,
seemed barely two feet on either side,
my breath held tight, father's jaw rigid.
He was right, of course. Two wars later
they roll up the wires, inter the tracks in asphalt.
For some of us, ghostly cars still spirit
through old neighborhoods.

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