November 27- Poem of the Week

The Permanent Way
Meg Day

  Steamtown National Historic Site was created in 1986 to
            preserve the history of steam railroading in America,
            concentrating on the era 1850 through 1950.

We weren’t supposed to, so we did
what any band of boys would do
& we did it the way they did in books
none of us would admit we stole
from our brothers & kept hidden

under bedskirts in each of our rooms:
dropped our bicycles without flipping
their kickstands & scaled the fence
in silence. At the top, somebody’s overalls
snagged, then my Levi’s, & for a few deep

breaths, we all sat still—grouse in a line—
considering the dark yard before
us, how it gestured toward our defiance—
of gravity, of curfews, of what we knew
of goodness & how we hoped we could be

shaped otherwise—& dared us to jump.
And then we were among them,
stalking their muscled silhouettes as our own
herd, becoming ourselves a train
of unseen movements made singular,

never strangers to the permanent way
of traveling through the dark
of another’s shadow, indiscernible to the dirt.
Our drove of braids & late summer
lice buzz cuts pivoted in unison

when an engine sighed, throwing the moon
into the whites of our eyes & carrying it,
still steaming, across the yard to a boilerman,
her hair tied up in a blue bandana.
Somewhere, our mothers were sleeping

prayers for daughters who did not want women
to go to the moon, who did not ask
for train sets or mitts. But here—with the moon
at our feet, & the whistle smearing
the cicadas’ electric scream, & the headlamp

made of Schwinn chrome, or a cat’s eye
marble, or, depending on who
you asked, the clean round scar of a cigarette
burn on the inside of a wrist so small
even my fingers could fasten around

it—was a woman refilling the tender
in each of us. We watched her
the way we’d been told to watch
our brothers, our fathers:
in quiet reverence, hungry all the while.