Saluting the Clackety-Clack
I Placing first the coin and then his ear upon the humming rail, my Father called ``It's coming!''
and lifted me to his shoulder, fingers in my ears,
as the 4:15 rumbled past.
He threaded a shoestring through the nail-pierced buffalo's eye,
then handed me the flattened silver necklace I wore daily
with the buckeye bracelet we'd made the week before.
II When Uncle John's troop train
passed through Goshen, we all went,
piling two and three deep behind
the gas ration stickers.
(``Is this trip necessary?'')
In camouflage greens, it
sped past, past the Red
Cross trays of donuts and
steaming coffee, past
the clanging crossing, past
the assembled family.
Frozen by Grandma's Kodak, we dozen cousins
in our drooping socks and sailor hats
still stand on that July platform,
waving the stars and stripes,
saluting the clackety-clack.
III The Summer I was ten, I jumped four o'clock
box-car shadows as they spilled, then bent,
down the deep slope of Donna's yard.
In playground sing-song, we tallied
the Chessie kittens as they slept past,
dreaming of Calico mothers' languid tongues,
of sun-splotched windowsills.
IV Chicago-bound on Christmas Eve. Cold seeping through
feather pillows, numbing ears. Every window
a filigree of silver frost. Emerging from my quilt cocoon, I joined
college carolers humming ``Silent Night''
through the swaying aisles of the Denver Express.
We didn't know those broad white clumps,
those giant loaves huddled along the Nebraska tracks,
were cattle, frozen:
The Great Plains Blizzard of '58.
V The tracks of my son's Lionel stitched their way
alongside bubbling fish tanks, between table legs,
into my gypsy heart.
As the small green engine
pulled two spotted guinea pigs - placid hippos -
in coal cars cushioned with Kleenex
through the metal tunnels and past the general store,
I heard a distant whistle.
VI Stretched out eye level to the rising stack of green,
through three decades, I repeat my winning strategy:
``Forget Park Place and Boardwalk.
Go for the railroad monopoly.''
VII From Europe I will remember:
White-shirted men leaning out open windows
of Yugoslav trains, sending smoke
rings out against the stars.
The gray and blue and lavender
of the metal and steam and smoke
of Monet's trains, filling once again
the arched chambers of the Paris station.
VIII Now, here, on the Indian-Pacific,
shimmering salt water to my right, to my left
ghost-gums and red Aborigine earth,
I am the woman
framed in the window -
white linen, yellow roses -
silver both in my hand
and flashing round my aging neck.