Criss-Cross

Strangers on a Train, 1951

From the start we know he’s a psychopath.
(Hitch isn’t so interested in “discovery.”

Rather, he makes it our folly to watch this man—this momma’s boy—
idle in a smoking jacket and know we are his double:
a two-tone cab and two-tone brogues. Black and its reverse.)

Our greatest fear is something will not happen,
and all the waiting leads to rage cramped in the hands,
strangle position. He will get a little too friendly.
He will develop a wonderful theory, and when he tells her, he won’t blink.

In those days, on trains, you kept close company, and so do we.
Everything’s monogrammed, etched with identity: tie tack, lighter.
These initials hold us in little compartments—
the record store booth, the dining car. Keep us
entertained and stupefied and quivering.

So we have to follow him down the carnival path:
like the town jezebel, we can’t help ourselves. We’re drawn.
Past the freaks, the shoot ’em ups,
the madness carousel, the kewpie dolls
and their big wet eyes, with a broad stride
toward a game of chance and the tunnel of love,
a rickety boat full of shadows, gliding forcibly on its track.

It’s a parlor trick, really, that slots our own gaze
inside the soft prism of the murderer’s,
delivers us pair after pair of thick, broken eyeglasses
in which we can see our gleeful, terrified expressions.

“Mother hasn’t been well for a very long time,” he murmurs,
and we all know how that story goes, and we want more.