there was chesapeake and i learned to spell the name on the yellow paper and i put my name and chesapeake and west virginia and i wrote them down and that was the name and i was there and living in it and being in it before i knew what it was called by people who were not in it and the noise and i lived above levin’s discount in three rooms with my brother and my mother and my father and he was the one and there was yelling all the time and the yelling seemed as natural as the curfew siren at ten o’clock each night from the fire department out back where i was once a junior patrolman and i heard of kids getting to go down to charleston to see the jail but i never went because i quit and the noise and the river the kanawha and the long coal barges with the big stern wheel and the low moaning they called each other with and i heard and there were dead fish in the river and i saw them dead and i covered a live one with lighter fluid and burned him in the mud puddle and there was the basketball court of the grade school i attended and hot summer nights and lights and people playing horse or dancing and i couldn’t sleep and lay in the hot dark between the sheets and heard the coal trucks on the road going from the mines to the plants or to the barges on the river and i knew the whitelight flashes even then like the cold glow of a streetlight and my body turning white and i was scared and not sure what i was scared of and i heard the trains on the track beyond the white firehouse and the repair shop for the low mining cars that go into the ground with men and bring back black coal and men with black buried deep in their skins and fingernails that were never clean and white like mine when i was still wrinkled from the tub but were black like the coal in the trains and above them the turnpike with the long cars going by and making sounds i could not hear over the rumbling of the coal that was around me and on all sides and moving and shifting and killing and the people in the cars going through and high above me and not in it like i was and calling it names that they had made up and that weren’t my names that weren’t chesapeake or west virginia or philip or anything and i did not know if i could see it because it was too close and you had to be up high and blurring by on a turnpike to see it and i was down low so i played in it and thought the mining cars with low v shaped bottoms were toys and i played on them and i played and pretended they were cars and long and blurred with speed and free and not flat and low and ugly and broken and not toys at all and i played beneath the steps that led up to where i lived and where my parents yelled and i could hear them and know that she cried and he was not a man and yet i didn’t know and yet it was something i would learn and at night i was afraid and didn’t know why and i lay and waited and listened to the coal moving in the earth and in the air and in the water and in my eyes and i played hard during the day with the sun hot and played hard beneath the rotting wooden stairs and played hard with the kid from the house behind the store and the white house and the girl who tried to kiss me and i put my broken arm in front of my face and ran and the door that led into the black dark room at the back of the store and you looked into the room and through the dirty glass and saw old bicycle pumps and boxes and darkness and i played with ginger who was young and chained beneath the rotting stairs and would tangle her chain around my legs and drag me down and lick my face and breathe hot heavy dog breath into my face and it was wet and warm and ugly like the girl from back doors who used to try and kiss me and i played and one day found it lying there or he brought it with him and i don’t remember who he was only that he was a kid and i was a kid and that made it all right but i do remember it and i always remember it and it was a steel metal tape measure that spun out stiff and shiny and had inches and feet and i played with it and i played and it was late and evening and getting dark and they called and i didn’t want to come so i played and he came and was fat and laughing and being a daddy and picking me up and throwing me over his shoulder and i didn’t want to go and the other kid was staying and why couldn’t i and he was carrying me and i had the tape and the other kid had the box end of the tape and i grabbed and fought him for it and he was laughing and he was laughing too and carrying me back to their endless yelling and i didn’t want to go and the other kid was staying and pulling me back with the shiny metal tape and i grabbed the tape and he pulled and daddy pulled and it hurt and the tape cut and jerked and the tape sliced through the palm of my hands and it hurt and i dropped the tape and it still hurt and it wouldn’t stop and he was laughing and i was ashamed because it hurt and didn’t bleed but it hurt and it hurt and i was ashamed because it hurt and didn’t bleed but it hurt laughing and i was ashamed of myself like when i wet my pants that time in the grocery store and ran back and hid them under the bed and i would have made it but i was at the grocery store and filling out a coupon for a basket of food to be given away and i needed to go but i had to fill the coupon out then it happened and i ran and ran and ran and i won the food later on but there wasn’t the toys i wanted and they had them up on the shelf you couldn’t reach and i thought i could take them if i won but you only got the food and i ran and ran and ran and i was scared at night and didn’t know why and i was ashamed of my cut hands and i was ashamed because i wanted toys when we needed food and i was ashamed and all the while the coal moved around the back and front and both sides in the barges on the river and the trucks on the road and the trains on the tracks and in the low cars in the mining repair shop that became the toys you never won


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