Shan CalandrilloThere is an unknowable quiet inside, a dead quiet. I looked a long time for my voice, but never found it.
The day I became a mute: A hand wrapped clear around my neck and sucked my voice in through the palm, warm and darkening. Pin-point radiative sparks burst through my body to gather up the voice and pull it through that space in the front of my throat where the palm lay. And in that palm it stayed, and the palm balled into a fist to keep the voice in.
And when the hand lay lax and open in death, I think that maybe the voice went out through the nostrils with the spirit there, never again to return to me.
I have adapted to my muteness. We are an adaptable people.
I’m going to tell you a story. Everything in the story is true. Near the church the family built homes, they built them like termites. Beneath the homes through the basements were dark tunnels connecting sister to aunt to brother to cousin. They packed into the houses, eights and tens and twelves of them into each little home till you scarcely could tell who was where at any given time, all of them being very much alike anyways.
In our den we were six, mother father grandmother grandfather uncle me. My grandmother washed the laundry, my grandfather ran the restaurant. My mother was a waitress and my father was a junkie. My uncle—but none of this is right. Let me try again.
My father was a railroad spike, my mother was a railroad tie. My grandfather was a gandy dancer and my grandmother was an old wooden wagon wheel and my uncle was an endless heap of coal.
I am a brakeman and I am an engine, I turned thirteen and now I’m a hopper full of grain. I am a reefer, a great white Tropicana running westward on the Santa Fe, decked and dripping with my colors and my sigils picked up somewhere outside San Diego or Albuquerque or both, some perishable bounty held within. I am a tight steel knuckle, ninety pounds, can you lift me? Can you throw me into place?
I am a serpent scaled in lime and salt, I am dusted with coal and chaff and aerosol. I am idling at the signal. I am humping tracts of hollow boxcars in the dark, meeting decapitated intermodals, skeletal lumber cars. They will come with me to the place where I leave them.
I am the pinch point south of Peekskill through which the Hudson valley lines flow like sand, like concatenated sibilants, senseless, like slime-slicked hairs down a drain. I am a dead line out in the desert, grass grown over the ballast. I am a blinking FRED in the dead of winter, all sound swallowed by the wail of the whistle, going winking out of sight. But you could see my lips mouth: