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January 23, 1994

Once, taking a train into Chicago

from the west, I saw a message

scrawled on a wall in the railway yard--

Tommy, call home, we need you--

and for years I have worried, imagining

the worst scenarios. Beneath the message

was a number written in red chalk,

although at eighteen who was I to call

and at forty-six who is left to listen?

But Tommy, I think of him still traveling

out in the country, riding freight car

after freight car, just squeaking by

in pursuit of some private quest.

That's the problem, isn't it?

Coming into the world and imagining

some destination for oneself,

some place to make all the rest

all tight, as we cast aside those

who love us, as they cast aside others

in their turn, and all of us

wandering, wandering in a direction

which only our vanity claims to be forward,

while the messages fall away like pathetic cries--

come back, call home, we need you.

From "Velocities" by Stephen Dobyns. (Penguin: $14.95) 1994 Reprinted by permission.

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