Monday, October 8, 2007

The Railway Children by Seamus Heaney

When we climbed the slopes of the cutting
We were eye-level with the white cups
Of the telegraph poles and the sizzling wires.

Like lovely freehand they curved for miles
East and miles west beyond us, sagging
Under their burden of swallows.

We were small and thought we knew nothing
Worth knowing. We thought words traveled the wires
In the shiny pouches of raindrops,

Each one seeded full with the light
Of the sky, the gleam of the lines, and ourselves
So infinitesimally scaled

We could stream through the eye of a needle.

When my mom was growing up, she and her brothers and sister used to play by the railroad tracks that ran near to their house. I remember hearing stories of the hobos who would hop off the trains looking for a hot plate of food. Once, a man with only one arm came up to the house and scared my mom and her siblings so much that they ran away from him. My grandma gave him food, and gave her kids a lesson in compassion.

This poem reminds me of my mom and her family, and what it must have been like to play near the train tracks. It also reminds me of the old wooden bridge that runs (ran?) over the tracks off of 50-somthing Terrace in Raytown. The bridge is massive - designed to hold cars - but was so old and scary... it's been about 10 years since I've been in that neck of the woods, so I don't know if it's still standing or not. My cousins and I loved watching the coal trains pass underneath, and would toss trinkets and candy and whatever else we thought might want to ride the rails into the cars as they went by. When I got old enough to be frightened of the possible collapse of the bridge, I stopped playing on it. My best guess is that the bridge is still standing strong and will be for years to come. I'm still not going anywhere near it, though.

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