One day, two bums [let's call them old men for this occasion] went out on a familiar walk. A good mile through a stand of old oak, down the steep cut to the sixty year old steel bridge, its rusting structure suggesting a monument to something [we know not what], and thence northward along the railroad tracks, in file, silently [heads bowed, eyes to the ground] into the fog collecting, rising.

Slowly along the winding deer path downward toward the tracks they went, each with a walking stick [hand-carved, it should be noted, for the sake of harmony], in file through the dark woods, over the wet compact of [dead] leaves, late in the day, late in November [although it could have been early December], the old men trudging along.

The smaller, slighter of the two [and older perhaps by a couple of years] first, leading, the larger one [larger not only in stature but also in posture] following, neither one a leader or a follower but rather taking up those positions naturally, as, for instance, brothers might, although in that case a competitive tension would be likely present [since brothers are usually more inclined to be enemies than friends].

In old [tattered] overcoats, hats [that of the smaller one greenish, that of the larger one brownish], and gloves [nondescript], carrying sticks fashioned rudely [by hand, as already noted, probably with a pocket-knife] from windfall limbs, the old men proceeded northward [in truth, more northeastward] along the ties, both noting a band of green[the fog intensifying its green] a passing grain car had obviously sown this field of winter wheat, now a healthy three inch stand, thriving in the rock bed between the rails, and on the ties as well [if this notion can be maintained].

The one ahead stooped, pulled a few shoots out of the rocks, rubbed them between his fingers, then threw them down [correction: scattered them into the air].

What each man was thinking cannot be revealed [how can it be? Stream of consciousness went out of business long ago]. It could be that they were thinking nothing, that the movement, the occasion, was occupying them completely [nothing is more real than nothing]. Their walk, then, could have been not unlike prayer [this is just a wild guess], a form of prayer, a rhythmic ritual muttering of ancient verses [yes, much better, ancient verses], verses collapsed into meaninglessness [yes], meaningless and, therefore, valuable syllables.

But what they are thinking does not matter much, they are [the shift to the present tense here is deliberate for the sake of immediacy], after all, old men, out of the loop of generative illusion [nicely said], freed to exist plainly in a larger field [of winter wheat], their lives their own, for a while.

The old men walking along, ahead of them another bridge rising into the fogbank, and beyond it on a siding, a line of boxcars [digression: as he glances at the boxcars the smaller one recalls, for no specific reason, that in France, boxcars carry this inscription: 40 hommes ou 20 chevaux]. They pass the tail of a squirrel on a tie between the rails, a complete tail neatly severed at its base [this to point out that animals too like to indulge in railroad tracks]. Each man inspects the [loose] tail briefly with his stick, poking at it {it is dry, dead].

The slighter man, wiry, tough, picks up a stone from the railroad bed and hurls it at a rotting disconnected telegraph pole. The larger man comes alongside and fires his stone at the pole as well [it should be noted for the sake of accuracy that the smaller man throws with his left hand while the larger man throws with his right]. This contest continues until each man has hit the pole several times [neither man, however, can be declared the winner, for it was not a competition, just a game].

Then they proceed, in file again, but this time the larger man ahead for a while, then dropping back, taking up the position in which he can keep himself organized, can keep himself from collapsing [although the larger one is younger, by a couple of years, as noted earlier, he is not in as good a physical condition as the smaller one who daily practices the art of Tai Chi], guiding himself by reference to the figure [the more athletic figure] ahead, by the cold steel of the continuous rail, by the tender shoots of winter wheat.

To the man ahead have come a few words, not even a complete line, from a bitter poem, body words, shooting up, sudden pain from a deep muscle, ineinander verkrallt [it could be Celan, but this cannot be ascertained]. The man pauses a second, half turns his head as if to check on the other old man. As he moves forward, the words form again, in his body [words are not always spoken aloud by the mouth], ineinander verkrallt...ineinander verkrallt...ineinander verkrallt... echoing inside of him.

Near the middle of the second bridge over the stream, the old men take a piss [they do not remove their gloves to hold on to their cocks while pissing. It is a cold day].

Down through the dark stand of oak, following the deer trail, over the wet compacted dead leaves, the old men went. [Here the return to the past tense is deemed essential to disrupt the chronology and monotony of this winter walk in the winter wheat]. Down the cut by the bridge they went, and then northward [more or less] on a late November [okay, November it is] afternoon, into the lowering fog, into the obscured evening. Along the railroad track in single file they proceeded until, beyond the second bridge, they came upon a string of boxcars on a siding. [This encounter with the string of boxcars is so important that no intrusions will disrupt the rest of this paragraph, or for that matter the next two paragraphs]. These they began to inspect, peering into the doorway of each open car, examining each one as if they expected to find something there. Although, perhaps this gesture was merely the idle curiosity of old men, old men who gaze without interest at whatever presents itself, at whatever lies before them.

One of the boxcars was made of wood, like the others dramatically spray-painted by disenfranchised youth in distant cities, magnificent, huge dayglo letters of the alphabet so artfully designed as to obscure their origin. Into this wooden boxcar the smaller of the two men jumped. Then he turned and reaching out to his friend he pulled him aboard.

Empty, walls and floor of heavily splintered wood. Both doors drawn open. Empty, only a few strands of baling wire, flat bands of black steel. Sitting down, using each other's back for support, the men took up position. The one facing the west door, the other the east.

Here they sat in silence for a long time, for an unusually long time [intrusion: it is difficult to establish how long an unusually long time is]. Here they sat relaxed, quietly, not moving. Inwardly, as children sit in a kitchen near their mother -- with mother, as she prepares supper. Here they sat back to back [in silence, except for the sound of their breathing], the fog gathering, lowering, shifting through the boxcar, inhabiting the space with the old men.

On a rail nearby paused a red-tailed fox, one paw on the rail, the other hovering, as if feeling something, alert to the presence of the old men, its nostrils in attentive quiver, its big bushy tail tense, still.

By pure blind association, since from where he sat he could not possibly see the fox on the railroad track, a few words of a fable [he once knew by heart] surged in the smaller man's body: Un vieux Renard, mais des plus fins ... Fut enfin au piège attrapé.

The larger man must have felt in his body that something was speaking inside his friend. He did not say anything, but with his back he pressed a bit harder on his friend's back.

Before they jumped down to the railroad bed, the old men tried to decipher [their one communal act on that day, except for the deliberate pressure of the back of the one against the other], the remnants of words cut into the wood at one end of the boxcar. The closed curve of a B or perhaps an E, the angle of an L or a B.

Strange how long they inspected the few bits of words cut into the wood, bits of letters, bits of exclamation. [No, there was no carving of a heart pierced by an arrow, only letters, remnants of words]. Standing at the wall [squinting] in the act of study, the old men inspected, much longer than by any compass seemed necessary.

Then the old men climbed out of the car and retraced their steps, back to the place where they had begun [up the hill], walking in file, as before, the fog steady, unchanged, the wind still, things much as they were [earlier, during the descent]. Along the green ribbon of winter wheat glowing between the rails, over the first bridge, then up the steeply cut embankment [the old men puffing a little now] to the deer path winding through some woods.

Then along this path, over the soft wet compacted [dead] leaves, and then, from the valley came the burgeoning blunt sound of diesel engines pulling a heavy load, diesel engines hard at work, that deep powerful throbbing strain of diesel engines [the old men could smell the burning diesel oil]. That first, then that, accompanied by the sound of rolling stock, of steel wheels on the steel tracks.

Impoverished ironies stretch endless as continuously forged steel rails back and forth, hin und her, back into time and through time to nothing and beyond that place to nothing more, and to here, to this empty text [full of intrusions], and then to more, ever ineinander verkrallt...enfin au piege attrapé ...



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