For Years, This Town

by Kristin Werstler (Univ. of Mount Union)


My dad has this Budweiser piggy bank

shaped like a bottle, filled with loose change

and lint and a couple a’ twenties

snuck from the cookie jar

where Momma hides her church money.

 

It’s for the Grand Canyon. He told me once,

we’re leaving Monarch Rubber and that pastor

with the wonkey eye and all those trains

that howl, like wolves, to the moon

every night.

 

And baby girl, he said,

we’ll race the trains and kick up dust

and those damn locomotives will smolder

under our burnt rubber –

they’ll never know what hit ‘em.

 

But I have been choking on his words for years.

 

The sound of metal wheels

clicking down the railways

reminds me of the home.

The horn blaring so loudly

the ground trembles in its wake

and my bedroom walls rock in its rhythm.  

 

Trains have lulled me to sleep for years,

the tracks like stitches hatched across this town

if you tug at them long enough

our whole world might unravel,

and all the corn fields and fracking wells

and liquor stores will dissolve between our fingers,

the neighborhood lemonade stands will forget the taste of our lips,

the community pool unremembering how to float our bodies –

 

Listen, for years I’ve kept hidden

between the folds of our county map,

tucked within the crease that runs through this town,

pouring gasoline along the sidewalks

filling the streets with smoke

would be like toppling all the headstones in Belmont Cemetery.

We could pretend the town’s conscience was cleared

but the bodies would still be there.

This town is a graveyard.

Our brick buildings, the intersection of Columbus

and Route 44 are my ancestors,

the ghost of the person I used to be.

 

When the day came

for Dad to spend our Grand Canyon money

on drugs, I understood, I even

smoked them with him. Let expressways,

and the cities we’d only ever seen in pictures

fade away, probably hauled off by the trains,

maybe even the same ones

that brought Dad back

from Vietnam.

 

I think we knew we could never beat the trains,

but we couldn’t keep listening to them

either. We breathed in fantasies of escape

the same way this town lived off the smoke

that billowed from factories, pumping out

tires, vacuums, engines until they shut down.

The abandoned factories lay scattered like

this town’s rotting flesh.

 

Holding onto this disease would be like plucking

the ruby leaves from the rotting branches of an antique oak,

unburying our old German Shepherd

from the backyard. My step-father accidently built

a shed over the grave, so I guess

we’ll have to tear that down, too.

 

I have so many roots tangled in this town,

the soil is starting to build in my ears.

Sometimes, when I’m sitting in the wooden pews

with Momma, I play with the dots of lint

stuck to my dress, pretending to pick little pieces

of this town away. There is this piggy bank

hidden under my bed, filled with loose change

that whisper about grand canyons all around

the world, and cities I’ve only seen in pictures.

 

But when I learn to live in maps

that I cannot trace with my eyes closed,

I’m sure they will whisper about

the trains and brick buildings and smoke

I have known for years.

This town.

And I think

I will finally be ready

to swallow it.