image by buttkus.
“I know my mother named me after a railroad man,
but it’s too late to change it now.”--Hoagy Carmichael.
Riding the rails was
a national mode of real
When I was nine, we lived in Georgetown,
close to the Rainier brewery, & a huge train yard.
I used to walk to school, cutting across the yard
to save several blocks of travel. One sunny morning
as I stepped across a complicated maze of tracks, a
switchman down the line swung his great lever, activating
the tracks beneath me to switch. This happened quickly & it caught
my right foot between the shifting rails, making a horrendous clunk.
My small foot was uninjured, but my shoe was hopelessly stuck. I
put my Roy Rogers metal lunchbox down on the cross-ties, & tugged
& tugged to no avail.
Then I saw & heard a clanking line of boxcars backing
toward me. Panicked, I managed to pull my foot out,
abandoning my shoe. The grunting train backed past me,
as I stood a few tracks away. The engineer in the
locomotive saw me, & made an angry gesture, waving his
arm, pointing out of the yard. His actual words were lost beneath
the sound of great metal bogie wheels squeaking on shiny steel tracks,
& the chug-chug-chug of the diesel engine. I retrieved what was left of my
shoe, & sort of wore it at school that day. I got a whipping
when I got home--they had been a new pair of shoes, but
the leather belt welts didn’t keep me out of vast fascinating
When I was a kid
I used to think that working
for the Railroad would be a great job but by the time I was a teenager
I decided I would be a movie star/writer/teacher; & I was
in a limited sort of way. Still I studied trains, loved them
& photographed them.
When you look at it,
train terminology becomes a poem in itself--
Baker valve gears,
Firebox, Couplers, Lempor injectors,
Crossheads, Quill drive, Dead Man’s switch,
Haman speed indicator, jackshaft, Kuhn slides,
Johnson Bar & Hancock air whistles.
Boxcar blues still thrump
like a slide guitar midst my
Posted over at
dVerse Poets Pub Poetics
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