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Excerpts

From A Game to Play on the Tracks

The river still works. Regardless of commerce's digital hocus-pocus, logs must be towed, fish netted, barges and railcars loaded. From his open kitchen window, the day falls into the dirty water, and Roy watches the towboaters and their tides, onboard DVDs and the crass canned laughter, their on-line chess matches and short-wave tough talk to American navy ships. Some evenings, barbecued steak wafts over from their decks, a smell—cooking animals—his stomach can't abide. Fish, maybe; no longer the ruminants. The river is all mud and turbulence, but it locomotes. The narrow banks thrive with slick-furred otters and muskrat. Three long blurts of the whistle: the swing span of the railway bridge. The dusk-driven murder of off-shift crows passes over en route to their secret hideaway.
       On hot nights like this, he does not wear a shirt, only loose and long and frayed denim shorts, Tom Sawyer shorts with deep pockets for beetles and dead cats and granite. He is so clean. His chest and face are smooth, his arms smooth and muscled. At this point in the year, his blond hair is close-cropped, a ten-year-old's hair. Almost white, almost transparent against his lovely skull. He repeatedly runs his hands over it and waits for the kettle. Bare feet on varnished wood floors. The Louvin Brothers—their skyscraper harmonies and bittersweet major chords, the mandolin's needling, his mother's album—soar over the river and all pertinent tributaries.
       If I could only win your love.
       These walls were whitewashed but are not the texture and fabric of brick again, history recovered and splashed with modernity. This huge room—his home—was a section of roundhouse for the railyard on this river. The building is not round. It is only a section of circle, a chunk of curve, circa 1920. Close out Roy's back door, the original turntable now spans a Japanese water garden, the concrete well is loaded with lily pads and bog plants and shaded by cutleaf maples; its trestle, once the lubed swinging arc of the circle's curve, is now fixed as a footbridge across the pond, painted railroad black. He stands in the middle of the bridge, both hands around his mug of black tea, and looks down into the water, past the blanket of chickenwire, to the huge fluorescent koi. From there, that elevation, he looks back at his home and imagines himself—his chest and wide shoulders, the bright blue and ancient eyes—framed in the curve of its golden storm-lantern light: he's here, he's there.

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