53. The Mechanical Man

Years back James had a toy,
A man of tin
No taller than his hand,
Cheeks red as iodine,
Hair and feet shoe-polish brown,
Laid thick–though silver tinniness
Shone through.
Wonderful, the hollow arms
And legs, all ligamented,
Strung with rubber bands.
Wind his key:
Knees, elbows, jointed pins,
Hiked right side, left side,
Higher up and tight,
Sharp angles to each other.
Rubber bands strained wire-taut
Till the key could hardly turn.
He was dubbed:
“The Mechanical Man.”
Snap! Limbs caught up rigid,
Hands and feet in spasms
Till the key whirred down.

Some boy rich enough
To own a bike
Had snitched the man
And picked him clean apart,
Picked out his rubber bands
And touched them with a match
To patch up his bike tire.

Saturday, today,
James was sitting
On the fender of the truck.
Riah said, “Okay, hop off.
Soon as your daddy comes,
We’re going home.”
She’d been watching Tom.
The men hung round the market
As they always did. Some standing,
Hand hooked on suspender. Some
Crouching, shoulders hunched.
Like Tom, some on the steps.
They looked the same
As they had always done.
But different
To her eyes: a fixedness,
Stiffness in their pose.
Not moving loose.
Swatting flies
Or tugging at their hats–
These dusters, and
The mounting need for rain,
Weighed on their minds.

Their cheeks were stained ruddy
From the sun.
Shrugs were cramped.
They recoiled at a touch.
She thought,
They’re wound up.

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