The Train Speaks

By Eve L Ewing

…the presence of Negroes in large numbers in our great cities is not a menace in itself. (The Negro in Chicago, xiii)

Even now, I dream of them, all my babies.
Quiet nights in the railyard,
When the little feet skitter beneath me,
When the last of the strong men with his
gleaming silver buttons has locked the door
and laid his hands against me,
warm palms offering a silent farewell,
I see them dancing in every passing cloud.

My babies, my babies. Born unto me
in the hills and green lands, loose threads
catching in my sharp parts when they don’t watch out,
blistered hands hauling parcels of burlap
as hefty and shapeless as bound cotton.
They move like rabbits, then. They look
for a lash that isn’t there, even them that never felt it.
It’s in their shoulders.
The lash lives in their shoulders.

Long after the last biscuit is gone,
when the sunrise brings steel mountains,
my children look and look through the space
I have made for them, the gift I prepared.
They are safe within but can see without.
They feel it before they know the words,
then smile when it comes to them— it’s flat.
The land is flat. And they smile to think of it,
this new place, the uncle or cousin who will
greet them, the hat they will buy, the ribbons.
They know not the cold, my babies.
They know not the men who are waiting
and angry. They know not that the absence
of signs does not portend the absence of danger.
My innocent children. My precious ones.
I can never take you home. You have none. But oh,
if I could keep you here, safe in my iron heart,
I would never let you go out into the wind.

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