One train may hide another

Readers interested in criminal procedure, or constitutional law, or law and sexuality, or just a good read with some fascinating historical details, might enjoy David Sklansky’s “One Train May Hide Another”: Katz, Stonewall, and the Secret Subtext of Criminal Procedure. Without rejecting the commonplace claim that the development of constitutional criminal procedure was a matter of racial justice, driven largely by the civil rights movement and efforts to end mistreatment of black defendants, Sklansky suggests that this area of law was also shaped by concerns about “the long, sordid history of the policing of sexuality”–and the policing of homosexuality in particular. Of particular interest, given Larry Craig’s arrest last year, is the discussion of spying in public toilet stalls. Apparently, this practice was a standard police tactic used to detect homosexual conduct and arrest those who engaged in it. Katz v. United States focuses on the public phone booth, but the “secret subtext” may have been a concern about privacy in the public toilet stall.

And, one train may hide another. For me, the appeal of this article is not just the substantive argument, but an introduction to Kenneth Koch’s poem from which Sklansky takes the title phrase. Koch was traveling in Kenya and saw a sign at a railroad crossing: “One train may hide another.” The line inspired him, and here’s how his poem of that title begins:

In a poem, one line may hide another line,

As at a crossing, one train may hide another train.

That is, if you are waiting to cross

The tracks, wait to do it for one moment at

Least after the first train is gone. And so when you read

Wait until you have read the next line–

Then it is safe to go on reading.

In a family one sister may conceal another,

So, when you are courting, it’s best to have them all in view

Otherwise in coming to find one you may love another.

The whole poem is here. And thanks to Melissa Murray, who recommended Sklansky’s article to me.

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1 Response

  1. A.J. Sutter says:

    One of my favorite volumes of Kenneth Koch is his “One Thousand Avant-Garde Plays” (Knopf 1988; the title is hyperbole). Most of them are barely a page long, but almost all are funny, lovely or both. Unfortunately, it’s out of print; it’s worth tracking down.