At a lakehouse in Brownsville owned
by my father’s company. It had a bow-limbed tree
we climbed easily. A gravel driveway
ground like bones beneath our soles.
And bunkbeds where we fought for the top.
Where my sister in the upper bunk stuck
a tape recorder out the window
into the branches during a lightning storm.
Next day she played it back and swore
there were angry voices whispering
in the tinny wind, made us listen
over and again until convinced. Angry
in that way a whisper can be louder
than a shout. The way mothers threaten
with their teeth set
together. We sat on the floor for hours
trying to decipher what they say.
In summer we’d pitch our wishes to the tracks,
toss pennies between the ties and wait for trains
to come and lift them off like bells snagged
to the bumpers of wedding cars, engineers waving
like lonely grooms. Fenced behind chain-link and weeds
they trumbled past, the faded words SOUTHERN PACIFIC LINES
and carman markings, fat chalk letters that crawled
over metal like hungry slugs. They didn’t stop
when you were sleeping, they kept coming, the hooking
and unhooking, the banging together, the scraping apart,
the coupling and uncoupling like desperate lovers.
They shook us awake, pronounced arrivals into air,
departures etched like fading smoke against sad sky.
Some days we’d climb the fence, find pennies splayed out
among the blades or tucked into gravel, knicked from the force
of their journey, melted from heat. It would happen
to our souls, too – once we were old enough
to know it just kept coming, old enough to understand
the trip to a line’s end on a Texas summer night.
Notes: The footage in the video is spliced together from various sources from the Prelinger Archives – promotional videos about rail lines, newsreels, and home movies. This started out with over three hours of possible footage to use, so the most daunting part of the task was sifting through it and deciding what to use. Once that was done I ran it through Movie Maker, downloaded the train sounds from iTunes, recorded my voice into my iPhone, and transferred it to my computer. I’m curious if other people record the poem first, or create the visuals before recording the reading. I’ve found it works better for me to create the video first, with the poem in mind of course, and with me playing the video back and reading the poem to myself for timing’s sake. But when it comes to putting it all together, I like to record my voice while viewing the actual, completed video. So for this one, I just played the video while I read the poem and timed myself accordingly.