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boxcar at Kent, Ohio, 1978, photographer unknown

boxcar at Kent, Ohio, 1978, photographer unknown

Claim and Disclaim live in a box
at the end of the tracks at the border
between Thislandia and Nolandistan.

One is tall, one is small, one is
light divisible, the other squints,
is heavier, can hardly see at all.

It’s hard to say from where I write
perched here upon this wooden stool
which one of them emerges first
at crack of dawn like Mr. Sampson’s
rooster, proud and strong. I’d like
to think it’s Claim. You see his arms,
the way they swing? His shoulders
squared, a happy tune upon his lips?
It’s Claim, oh, yes, it’s Claim,
it’s definitely Claim!

Thislandia, it is a busy place
with avenues and shops galore
to satisfy the cravenest and
never-ending jobs—well, some they
end but something always starts
again—to fill the hours. Claim, if
it be he, today works as a plower:
see him there, both hands upon
the shaft, sure-trudging, turning up
and out those perfect rows of toil.

Now, over there, just to the left
of Claim and Disclaim’s box on rails
Nolandistan hums quiet, growing trees.

Nolandistan is mostly shade, though dappled
bits illuminate from time to time, and things
we leave there never stay, the seeds we plant
dissolve the instant that we lift our hands.

Thislandians despise Nolandistan, or no—
despise is far too strong a word, they do not
like, and even that I shouldn’t say, for isn’t
that Disclaim now creeping out, and aren’t
we here together, you and me, to learn
the natures of our brothers in the box?

The figure leaps from stone to rail, from
lily pad to teasel stem and lands upon
his haunches like a mottled frog within
the bounds, from all accounts in safety,
of the dark Nolandistan.

I’ve heard it said he is the lazy bro,
too full of his own eptitude to bother
with the issues and the worries of
our time, though I don’t know if this
is true, for more and more I see
disclaimers tacked to claims made full
and bright, in honesty, with shadows
falling cross the smiles and furrows
deep upon smooth brows of good
and true Thislandians;

and since we never see the brothers
in each other’s company, catch glimpses
of the two in moments only far too fleet
emerging or returning to their box at dusk—
or is it dawn?—I cannot help but claim
the labours of disclaiming as the greater,
finding ways from over there, not here,
to say, but wait, what if, hold on,
I need to stop and think—

while off he struts, his arms a-swing, the
bolder, never caring, indivisible, Claim
staking and advancing toward the light.

© Elaine Stirling, 2012