Small Town

by Peter Doyle

Twice a week I am whisked through this pleasant town,
shuttling between the compartments of my life.
Mostly, it presents itself arranged as slide shots
of a comfortable, small quietude.
The Railway Tavern, the hardware store, the old town hall,
snap, snap, snap on my carriage window
and gone in a streaming banner
of blurred visions.
 
Or now, on a slow train, we roll to a stop
along a white picket fence.I imagine living here, on a narrow boat.
The russet rooftops fresh baked under the morning sun,
birdsong condensing from the sky, and I
strolling to buy coffee scented with chocolate
would want nothing, nothing more.
But there is the name.
 
I have never been here but it has meaning;
an event shocking and incongruous.
I cannot look without it oozes from the sump
of memory like the smell of earth rot
before a storm. As if on this fine day a black squall
boils up from fetid lost places in the bottomlands
and engulfs that light plane flying overhead,
small and fragile.
 
The people here are unwilling keepers
of fissile perspectives, incalculable half-lives.
I picture them; a community of carers and wardens,
senses taut for the muffled crack, smoke on the wind.
Toiling for years with heavy compounds;
the burden of memory, the mass of context.
Gently attaching gossamer strands of normality,
testing the weight at each anniversary.
 
Far from home, when every daily commute is a trial,
do they think about a generation for whom all this will be history?
I imagine them in the station bar waiting;
waiting for the small talk of strangers to lead to the big question:
“Where do you live?”
Speaking their shibboleth and pausing the long pause
for the sheer, irradiated tonnage to sink deep behind the eyes
and founder there, hissing.