Altoona

by Dale Patterson
conjunction
First Place, March 2013
Judged by Deborah Bogen


From boiler maelstrom, rivets
and bucking bar, he walks
onto Fourth Avenue. Cinders
crackle each step, ten paces
per-puff on a Chesterfield.

His home is an hour away,
down through the valley,
past shop-after-shop, butted
brown boxes, corrugated:
their seams drawn in
fiery red-orange, exhale
a noxious gray smoke,
pushing gondolas, tankers,
muscled locomotives, all to be
stripped-to-their-skeletons
and rebuilt again.

Apart from the rail yard,
a copper wheel spins, buffs
yellow highlight on Brush Mountain’s
ridge, marks tallies in frost
on tarpaper houses.

His pockets share warmth
with his clenching white-knuckles.

The day-shift is fresh-
out-of-bed, mugs
down its beans,
then hammers the sidewalk.
He nods as they pass, takes
one last precious hit from a spent
cigarette, then strides
to his door.

His wife sparks a match
on a kerosene burner, sizzles a pan
of tough meat and bone.


What Hopper brings to canvas this poet brings to the page, a moment both precise and stylized that calmly confronts a human paradox: that even our solitary natures connect us. The language is as dense and durable as the self-contained subject who seems to be another “muscled locomotive…” as he saunters past “shop-after-shop, butted brown boxes” on his way home to the “tough meat and bone” that sizzles in a pan. --Deborah Bogen

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