Split Custody

childcatcher

In the dark of winter nights, I walk along
the west side blocks of Broadway
where a few old mansions still stand, some of them
life insurance offices, another a pet clinic

there is a certain stretch of sidewalk
where new streetlights cast a sickly light
where the pavement buckles from
the surface roots of the Western plain trees

the effect is not entirely unpleasant;
it recalls the grand boulevards, the parks
of a European city – La Belle Époque
this alee of shadows, half lit by a false gaslight glow

I walk here often in dreamlike respite from the blight
of the big box stores, the housing tracts,
the portables of the elementary school
deposited debris from a great flood

At the end of the block our stage set ends:
the apartments elevated over an asphalt courtyard
the gas station, the abandoned used car lot
the sourgrass patches, the soda cups in the gutter

At the curb I see, tidily stacked, the overnight
things of children – the two little boys, I guess,
playing in the shadows of the apartment’s
covered entry where their mother smokes

two pairs of tattered, canvas sneakers
two worn backpacks, the zipper broken on one
a coiled comfort blanket bearing
the burrs of last summer
a soiled stuffed rabbit
a sippie cup
two tiny lunch boxes

These things, mute guardians of children
seem to protest: “Take me instead, Take me!”
The little boys give chase – one the hero, the other villain
the mother stands silently in the bone chilling air

They are waiting for the rolling in of tanks
for the Boogie Man to drop down from the trees
for the Chitty Chitty child catcher
for a piloted asteroid
an Axis of Evil air strike
for Gotham to fall
for Godzilla to rise
for Mothra to descend

When she thinks of her ex,
in the shadows she thinks–
They might as well be.

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