Jendi Reiter is the author of the novel Two Natures (Saddle Road Press, 2016), the short story collection An Incomplete List of My Wishes (Sunshot Press, 2018), and four poetry books and chapbooks, most recently Bullies in Love (Little Red Tree, 2015). Awards include a Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellowship for Poetry, the New Letters Prize for Fiction, the Bayou Magazine Editor's Prize in Fiction, and two awards from the Poetry Society of America.
THE POLAR EXPRESS
Though I no longer believe
in Lancaster County
the bell scrapes out a chime
and the black engine the gouged-out mountain swallowed
loops dinging past tin-sided diner and derrick
bobbing its lullaby head over the town
of men in hats waiting under streetlamps
and the monocles of gas pumps and clipped round trees
that an old man's hand reaches down and straightens
under the hinged glass. Though horses
clop through sun-silent August
boys who'd be reaching
(were they my brothers)
beneath the gamey softness of laying hens
are watching The Polar Express,
uncanny digital faces
caught between child and cartoon.
Inside the National Toy Train Museum
is a replica of the National Toy Train Museum.
Though the bell rings only
the boy can hear it after he confesses
belief in the old man and the sleigh and the story
that everyone grows to learn untrue.
Though I never knew a red and tinsel Christmas
daily our voices lofted holy notes to rafters
we nailed with our tender hands
proud with hammers instead of toys,
laying a different world over this
asphalt maze of cravings.
Push the Button and Look Into the Mine.
Though the bulb inside shows plaster pink
Disney dwarves who never coughed up black
Pennsylvania coal, the land (our fathers said)
promised us gifts for being good
white souls fertile as bulls and plain
cotton obedience. Though I could say
why my plough hit rock, the millstone
was always the bells
striking the universal hours
for dinner and penance
and the rope of God
the blizzard-blinded followed from barn to hearth.
The movie ends and the lucky children
listen to what pleases them
on their mothers' phones and the toy train sings
the new start of its same circuit
with piercing light whistles like a boy
calling his brothers across
a field too far to hear.
YEAR OF THE RAT
Rubin Museum of Buddhist Art, New York City
VILNA IS BURNING
for Billy Porter and Indya Moore
Truth waits till sundown to come out
of the A train stop on 155th.
He remembers Sabbath-observing
hands stripping the paper name from his forehead.
He remembers his clay sleep in an overseas crate
marked for a Hester Street tailor's shop.
Seventy-one winters measured in chalk and shears,
sons of sons pinning broad, then narrow,
then broad lapels to Truth's nerveless shoulders.
Truth found the scroll that would wake him to labor
almost at once,
but time never seemed right in the new world
to raise his giant head in the workers' hungry crowd.
How dare he compete with the fathers,
budget slave who neither eats nor speaks?
But when the last son rolled up his cloth tape
Truth came to himself on a trash truck uptown,
still in the sharp purple blazer and parachute pants
of his final window display.
Thus he strutted into the televised streets.
In a record shop's plate glass his face reflected
four centuries baked brown.
A sign read SOUL so he entered
perhaps to barter heavy lifting for the one thing he lacked.
She, waiting on him — she
was the first angel to match his height,
black hair glossy as a spinning 45,
bronze legs that went on and on like Friday night prayer.
Tonight — Xtravaganza.
DJ in paisley top hat preaches
"Pose!" though Truth can see
the letter some clergyman erased
to write death on his forehead, too.
While Truth's retail angel vogues
for the honor of the house she mothers,
in a gown he sewed, silvery
chiffon lofting like the smoke of torched Prague.