"The Locomotive, the Coin, and the Moon" by Suzanne Lummis
The Locomotive, the Coin, and the Moon
Unbounded by ice, iced railings, hard
packed snow, sounding, swallowing
the distance between them — between
the kids and the first car — nothing
could scold it, shame it, stop it,
nothing could un-monster this train.
And when it burst, all metal and moving
parts, into the mouth of the sheds
where the boy and girl flattened
against the pine wood walls, its size,
force, blackened the night to a blueness.
What needed to be carried that fast?
— Not much human in there, bone, flesh.
The kids wondered a bit. Planks, coal,
auto shells? It went on a long time,
the train, and they didn’t know what they felt
or thought. Not much thought
in them, in those kids, it’d been sucked
under the wheels. But they loved the train,
remote yet near, the unfeeling shapes
it worked into the cold air and up
to the moon they’d visit (this had been
promised them) in a rocket
red as a frozen cherry pop.
The small coppers they’d placed
face up on the icy track gleamed
in their understanding. Shone. It lasted.
It lasted a long time.
The boy’s name was Dennis and he’d
die first, though not for many years.
Last news she’d hear, at age 20
he hadn’t yet grown up, still awkward, silly,
unloved by girls, un-admired, but in school
straight “A”s all the way. So in her mind,
all his life he’d be that train-shed kid. His dad
worked on the engines, silent, locked
down in himself. A couple years from then,
from the night they’d laid down their coins,
he’d lose his mother to a wasting sickness.
And two days after that, when the school bus
stopped for those ones who slipped
from the many cube-size units along
the corridor above the sheds, and up
the wooden stairs, he’d walk past the kids
staring from both sides of the aisle.
He’d clutch his books, head up, and she’d see
what was in his eyes, but nothing
fell, nothing from the boy.
Seems someone told him he had two days
to cry. From what she knew,
from what she heard and gleaned, maybe
he never did again. But then, what
the hell did she know — nothing,
not even how he died. She thought
she’d die first and long ago.
But by now, tonight, the first time in all
this time she’d written out his name,
the train sheds are long gone. The TV’s on.
The Rover’s setting down on Mars.
Nothing could stop its leaving. That leaving
kept on going. That leaving returned
the stillness to its place, wrapped
back the stillness around the frozen pines
descending toward the frozen pond.
Its leaving left a wanting — a silence
that never did stop wanting.
Already the boy had pocketed his metal
and started up the stairs, let’s go.
She gazed at the coin pitched deftly
from the tracks, sleek, headless now, no
longer worth one cent, a gleam on her palm,
a left-behindness. What had she expected?
To see how slim a thing could be,
how ironed to a thinness, how sharp
along its rounded edge? She wanted
to see movies, but movies lived far away.
The un-footprinted moon looked smooth
above the pointing, single-minded pines,
smoother than it would ever seem again.
What happened next? The boy urged, let’s go.
So she gave it all she had. She raised
her token and paid it to the moon.
Suzanne Lummis hosts the YouTube series They Write by Night, produced by poetry.la, which explores poetry influenced by film noir and crime fiction. Her work has appeared in The Antioch Review, Ploughshares, The Hudson Review, Plume, The American Journal of Poetry, The New Yorker, and in the Knopf anthologies Killer Verse, Monster Verse, and Poems of the American West. She has taught for twenty-five years for the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. She is one of two poets to be named 2018 / 19 COLA (City of Los Angeles) fellow, an endowment from the Cultural Affairs Department that recognizes notable Los Angeles artists and poets.
Photo Credit: Staff