Breakdown

Steven Deutsch

On that endless day in February –
when I found out
you wouldn’t be coming home,
I hitched a ride to Lewistown
in a car so beat up
it might have been lifted
from a junkyard on Route 220.
The delinquents that drove it
were thoroughly stoned
and moved in fractal time –
abruptly, like mechanical dolls
wound for infinity.
We took the grade
down Seven Mountains sideways
laughing at fuck knows what.
 
They tossed me out
at the train station
just over the river –
a place so desolate and cold
the vegetation that grew there
could not be found
anywhere else on earth
I sat on the icy asphalt
and cradled my backpack,
as if the contents –
some ludes and librium,
two nickel bags,
rolled sweat socks,
and a stuffed dog named Lucky,
could save me from the setting of the sun.
 
The train rolled through the heartland
of tarpaper shacks
and graveyards
lit by a macabre moon
made orange by train windows
crazed by the cold.
Outside, packs of hounds
hunted and howled,
prey and people fled
and at the service plazas –
little Meccas of civilization
in the wind blown wild –
the wretched of the earth
sobbed in the artificial light.

In Harrisburg,
a G.I., in full battle gear,
sat down beside me,
stinking of blood and jungle,
his right leg lopped off
just above the knee,
the bone whiter than fresh snow.
A chest wound
the size of Ali’s fist
bled on the seat.
What was left of his name tag
read PFC Deuts.
He smoked weed and told stories
of little towns in the Mekong
he had blown away,
in a voice as green and sweet
as honeyed tea.
In Philly, he shot out a window
and left the train
through the gaping wound.

My brother met me at Penn Station.
Sturdy and sure,
he was dressed as a Hassid –
payot graying around his ears.
He knelt on the grimy station floor
and davened
to the beat of a hit song
as ugly as 1968.
With prayers as mechanical
as the patter of
a ventriloquist’s dummy,
he sold peyote
and cheap copies of the New Testament
to travelers
desperate to get high.