It begins with a hurricane sweeping Seaside Heights
onto the ocean floor. Yards out in the surf—
a fossil of the shattered boardwalk—the roller coaster,
as much a museum centerpiece as any mammoth
or T. rex bones. Rebuilding is a dubious art,
what with the uncertain rate of rust, but Bruce Springsteen
rolls up his pants, eyeballs the Star Jet
from a power stance on the beach: it’s night
and the boardwalk unnaturally dark. The ocean
roars, a cover for his cause. Maybe it’s playing
to the back of the room, to the boys desperate
for a gesture, but turning back is not
an option. He grips the casing, rattles
the skeleton as waves crash the tops of his boots,
the fine Atlantic salt crusting his cuffs,
up to his knees, every drop fountained
into the higher truth of the winter night sky.
A saxophone solo is what this mission needs,
he thinks like always since the Big Man died:
like he couldn’t use a boost up a mountain shoulder,
like he couldn’t use another set
of hands to tie the bandana around his head, kiss him
gently as a father? And this is how we separate
the boys from the men, these a cappella solos?
It’s one hand on top of the other
and the slow rush of blood to his feet and
the mysterious black of the sea before him.
Bruce Springsteen pauses halfway up—
a car, intact but creaking. He kneels
in the fragile seat and wonders if this could be
a reasonable way to die, to rattle loose
from the tether until the sudden
overtakes him, a fitting map
to the flattened world.
Spit takes the long way down.
The joists clatter under rickety tracks.
Soon the Coast Guard will be back. The wind has picked up.
A dog left behind howls a harmonica cantata,
and Bruce Springsteen thinks
that’ll have to do. Footfalls on steel
are a rhythm section, the flag furled in his back pocket
where a heart-red hat once flamed. It ends
at the summit, this swaying land claimed
for everything that dies and someday comes back,
and here is the proof: he can almost see
Atlantic City from here, planting the flag
in silhouette against the moon, claiming the coaster
as sovereign nation until the spotlight sweeping,
the boat horn barking, and Bruce Springsteen making himself
a reed, a sapling, anything that can bend into the night
and come out tall by morning.
Erin Keane is the author of The Gravity Soundtrack and Death-Defying Acts, a novel in poems about the circus. Her next collection, Demolition of the Promised Land, is forthcoming from Typecast Publishing in 2014. She’s an arts reporter and critic in Louisville, Kentucky, where she works for an NPR affiliate and produces the short fiction radio show Unbound.