Lackawanna Rail

by Jay Parini

Jay Parini

All night the engines slept below us
in their bulky shed,
while boxcars waited,
wagon after wagon flled with coal.
I woke up carly, rubbed my eyes,
and watched the rail yard gather to itself
its definitions:
corrugated iron rippling roof,
a red brick wheelhouse centering the lot,
and blue rails streaming north and south.
Wed come out early
on the night before to eat and drink:
cold sandwiches and beer
amid the honeybees that stuck
and fed in blood-bright flowers
as we smoked a pack of Lucky Strikes
and lied about the girls
we loved so well. The night sprayed
stars, and fireflies
temporized in ghost-capped hogweed,
and the crickets thrummed.
We were just fourteen,
both willowy and sad
with all the world before us like a hill
that wouldn't budge.
We slept against its shoulder
through the August night,
I watched you breathing in the brittle grass
with dandelions almost like a crown
of bloom in your blond hair.
In T-shirt, shorts, and yellow sneakers,
you were like a girl
with slender wrists and puffy lips.
Your eyelids trembled,
and I had to wonder what you dreamed.
Whatever we had said,
the night before was nothing now.
I didn't weigh it heavily
in breaking dawn, its bony light
and sickly sweet fermented breeze
that drew across a beer can
spilled nearby. And soon the wagons
clicked and swayed as pistons
cranked the day into a date,
a time when something was accomplished,
hard coal hauled from here to there
as butterflies and birds began
to graze from flower to flower
from minute into hour
and everything around us
flushed and fluttered, then broke free.

New and Collected Poems: 1975-2015

Last updated November 30, 2022