You Take Any Train to Coney Island

You Take Any Train to Coney Island

to the last stop and we did those rank summer nights.
Daddy, Sandy, and I joined the gangs with radios,
the mix of families and a few snoring drunks
riding to Brooklyn’s edge and the great oily ocean.
Past Sheepshead Bay and Brighton Beach, the train
ran parallel to the boardwalk, flickering for miles.
Then we swerved to the rise of the Parachute Jump, a tower
of silk popping, then billowing; you heard screams,
saw hair and arms flash from the Cyclone, the Thunderbolt,
the Skyrocket. This was Steeplechase Park or maybe Heaven.

But getting lost was a nightmare, so we held tight,
squeezing our way down Surf Avenue
where rides jammed the street next to penny arcades
and hot corn stands. At Nathan’s Daddy ate a frank
and treated us to knishes or french fries,
sweet and too hot to eat, crackling with salt.

Following side streets to the underside of the boardwalk
we always passed a Spiritual Advisor,
a fancy storefront with red brocade drapes.
A woman looked up from her TV and beckoned.
I shook my head and she cursed
through the glass. Her children cursed too.

Daddy bought us streams of tickets and buckled us
on high carousel horses with tails of real hair.
We leaned way out for brass rings and wondered
where the band hid that played inside.
We were demons in speedboats and fire trucks clanging bells,
but too young for bumper cars that let sparks fly.
Daddy rode the Wonder Wheel with us, clutching the bar,
all three whooping and swinging above the Boardwalk.

Down there the planks were thick as railroad ties,
but sprung a little as you walked.
The smell of rotten wood touched everything:
a day’s brine over suntan lotion,
beer on the breath, corners puddled with urine,
the smoke of garbage fires lit by hooligans.
We stood at the rail overlooking the beach,
gathered close against the chill and black of the water.

We went on, eating red jelly apples, soft ice cream dripping,
rainbow-swirled lollipops the size of dinner plates.
Policemen bounced by on the high backs of horses,
real and frightening in the bright empty street.
We returned past hotels for Transients and Turkish Baths
and waited for the sluggish ride home,
afraid, in spite of Daddy, that the train would never come.

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