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Living by the Train Yards

Living by the Train Yards

Page Dougherty Delano

The rats were river rats, living in the building's
empty, open basement. One night a rat
climbed through the bathroom holes only to be
attacked by our dog. Another night my husband
slammed a rat with a hammer, good aim from the bed.
When he went on nightshift I worried some, each
rat-like wintry noise, until I learned the night,
alone in a room turned wild by train wails.
The baby slept under thick blankets in the sea
of her huge room on the river-side.
I kept my hands ironed between my thighs,
it was that cold. The little heaters barely
warmed the place, its floors drooped,
tall windows flanked by plastic shades.
Upstairs the man with the pale mealy kids
stormed against his red-haired wife. What little
heat we had rose to them, while the man
shoved and bruised the woman. I don't know
how I let our baby sleep so far off with rats
waking, but she seemed safe in her crib.
We installed the Warm Morning Stove
in our baby's room on the coldest day,
shutting off the gas for hours until we tested
the line with dish soap, finding no gassy bubbles
rising from connections. The baby slept
through that cold in her hand-me-downs
under blanket layers. The stove glowed and cooed
and I no longer feared for the baby being cold.
On those few nights Ted was home, slowly
we warmed because love-making keeps
its own heat - oakleaf quilt, blanket dropped
to the lonely floor. Waking cold in the morning
I didn't care. The kitchen floor froze,
a glassy crust of diamonds on the paper-thin
linoleum rug pasted a good decade back
and frost covered the windows
so the river was gone, the bastard trees gone.
Revolutions, they say, often come in winter
when soldiers are most fed up and hungry
but on such mornings it is hard to wake
to anything outside. We had our stories of heat.
In the spring the man upstairs left his wife.
She brought her kids outside to whine and play.
Soon the river was banished again,
behind leafy trees, another kind of government.


Prairie Schooner, Vol. 66, No. 3 (Fall 1992), pp. 32-33