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WATSON AT THE RAILROAD CROSSING / Michael Pettit Picture the long arm lowering its dinging red light in Watson's face, cheery as a cherry pie. Homeward from a party, Watson is the one soul stopped to watch as down the tracks comes the engine, a single beam of light and lonesome whistle blasts. Beery and believing in himself again, he recalls his magnificent youth, his power at sixteen to pray a freight train out of the deep Mississippi night. With some cherub close beside him on the car seat—her lips sweet with sloe gin, her curfew approaching—Watson motored slowly, certain he could beckon from countless miles away, from the railyards of New Orleans or Memphis or Mobile, a train across their path. He prayed to unknown engineers and switchmen, prayed to semaphores, timetables and all the gods of love. With luck, it was a long train that answered: tankers and boxcars rolling by, great iron wheels grinding, couplings ringing as Watson and his angel sat back, making out to its clackity music. In his heart was one more miracle: the train banging its way from engine to caboose to dead stop before them. Huge, immovable, beyond control. Rendering the night timeless for a time, all starry and steamy, all his. Ah, nostalgic Watson sighs, watching a boxcar creep by in the crossing lights, door cracked, the dark interior hiding a consumptive old hobo on his way nowhere . . . Ah hell. See then Watson jump from his car 230 · The Missouri Review and dodge the rising, flashing gate to run down the moonlit silver tracks after his disappearing train. He runs with all his heart, runs until it is only an arm's length away but oh oh oh, how his breath is burning. Michael Pettit The Missouri Review -232 WATSON QUITS THE TRACK / Michael Pettit I hear the Shadowy Horses . . . —W B. Yeats One last night in the cage, punching out two-dollar tickets for the daily double, the exacta, trifecta, perfecta. One last night of mumbled numbers by the hundreds, the voices of uncertainty, false hope, losses they can't afford. Why to his window must come the woman of three teeth, the glue-eyed man, the man with goiter? Why must he be their lucky teller, brunt of their faith in longshots that never show? Race after race they run dead last— broken-hearted horses so far behind the pack the crowd turns away before they finish. Tickets with their number litter the grandstand as the line forms again before Watson: old rum breath, lady of lilac perfume and eyes. In his dreams Watson's bettors wink as they wager, each one with inside info, a sure thing in the next race. Watson wakes despairing: do they never despair? Do they believe the billboards— two sleek stylized horses racing to a photo finish. Noses at the wire, eyes wild, ears back flat and the legend that reads ONE WAY TO EASY STREET. The red arrow directs them to Watson one last night. They are at the post for the last race, they are at the gate. When will that sweet bell ring? Too long, too long has Watson held the key to the big win, huge grin, fat cigar. No more hot tips, no more sweaty dollars and crisp, worthless tickets: at last they're off and Watson quits. 232 · The Missouri Review HOME AGAIN / Michael Pettit Do the hospital sheets cool my father's face—swept with fever, unshaven, a mystery immediately before me? He speaks, incoherently, of years ago as I ready the bowl of water, soap, brush and razor. I shave that same face daily thoughtlessly before the mirror, but now I feel the mortal heat of his cheek, touch again his rough beard untouched since I was a child swung up in his arms each weekday evening. On alert after 5:30, I watched from the limbs of the live oak out front or listened in my room for the door to swing open singing Home again home again, jiggity jig. I lay in wait, master of the distance between us, seeing him in the aisle, bus rocking away from the tall white...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 130-134
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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