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The Little Review
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Poem for Sunday, Trains and Stamps, The Butler


A House Divided
By Kyle Dargan

On a railroad car in your America,
I made the acquaintance of a man
who sang a life-song with these lyrics:
"Do whatever you can/ to avoid
becoming a roofing man."
I think maybe you'd deem his tenor
elitist, or you'd hear him as falling
off working-class key. He sang
not from his heart but his pulsing
imagination, where every roof is
sloped like a spire and Sequoia tall.
Who would wish for themselves, another,
such a treacherous climb? In your America,
a clay-colored colt stomps, its hooves
cursing the barn's chronic lean.
In your America, blood pulses
within the fields, slow-poaching a mill saw's
buried flesh. In my America, my father
awakens again thankful that my face
is not the face returning his glare
from above eleven o'clock news
murder headlines. In his imagination,
the odds are just as convincing
that I would be posted on a corner
pushing powder instead of poems—
no reflection of him as a father nor me
as a son. We were merely born
in a city where the rues beyond our doors
were the streets that shanghaied souls.
To you, my America appears
distant, if even real at all. While you are
barely visible to me. Yet we continue
stealing glances at each other
from across the tattered hallways
of this overgrown house we call
a nation—every minute
a new wall erected, a bedroom added
beneath its leaking canopy of dreams.
We hear the dripping, we feel drafts
wrap cold fingers about our necks,
but neither you or I trust each other
to hold the ladder or to ascend.

--------

We spent Saturday downtown with Paul's parents visiting two things his father always enjoys: trains and postage stamps. We parked at Union Station, which in addition to having passenger trains arriving all the time has its winter model train display in the atrium, though construction on the building means that the ceiling and some of the magnificent architecture are blocked in places by nets and screens. There are also several holiday displays still up, including a huge Christmas tree given annually by the Norwegian Embassy that's decorated this year not only with Norwegian and U.S. flags but with miniature reproductions of "The Scream" to celebrate Edvard Munch's 150th birthday.

Then we walked to the National Postal Museum, which is on the lower level of the old City Post Office and still has lots of mailboxes and vaults inside. There is currently an exhibit on the Hindenburg and Titanic disasters -- I had no idea that the former was primarily a flying post office providing the first regular airmail between Europe and North America, but apparently that was how it made the bulk of its money, not flying passengers. (RMS Titanic had its status as a Royal Mail Ship designated in its prefix.) Thousands of pieces of mail were lost in both catastrophes. We also visited the permanent exhibits on US mail delivery and got a few stamps in the "start a collection" area -- I found three George VIs.

















We went to eat early at BGR since I had a birthday coupon that was about to expire and BGR has burgers that fit everyone's dietary requirements. After my in-laws went home, we saw The Butler, which we loved -- the screenplay's bland and predictable in places, but the performances are excellent, more so the major characters than the cameos of presidents and first ladies which threaten to become gimmicky (Schreiber's fantastic as Johnson, Fonda's pretty good as Nancy Reagan and Rickman's not bad as Ronnie, but who thought Cusack as Nixon was a good idea?). I thought Oprah gave a great performance, not at all showy and not upstaging Whitaker, who was phenomenal as always, as were Oyelowo and Howard.
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