It is neither the best nor worst of times,
no children begging in the streets, or fathers
coming home coughing, covered with soot.
The mills, mines, and factories
are the nearby casino hotels, all in one,
and Dickens sees in the workers’ eyes
a familiar dulling of the spirit. But they have jobs.
In their small, frame houses they have everything
debt can buy. He’ll be The Ghost of Promises
Made and Promises Broken. He’ll try
to figure out why the American poor
aspire to be like their oppressors.
Dickens on Main Street, admiring the new
street lights. Dickens at the Pleasantville Mall
as if stumbling into one of the country’s cathedrals.
Dickens at the Middle School thinking of his knuckles
being rapped, a cane leaving marks on his bottom.
He writes in his journal: “It’s not a disorder
but an order that is horrible.” He sees someone
he might call a Heep, then a Pecksniff, looks for
anyone who might be doing some far better thing.
Dickens is moved by what the children know
and cannot change, their parents working graveshifts
and second jobs, all the normal difficulties of love.
Yet he is just learning what a ghost can
and cannot do. Someone is controlling him, he feels,
figuring it out as he goes, and for the first time
Dickens understands the limitations of being
a mere character. He wants to say something harsh
to the person in charge. But he’s not given the words.