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Railroad Face by Ray Gonzalez

April 19, 2011
Source: Poetry Foundation

I sit with my railroad face and ask God to forgive me

for being a straight line toward the dead
who were buried with their poor clothes
in the Arizona desert of iron borders.

This way of waving to the embers of the past,
not apologzing for carrying torn rosaries inside
my pockets where beads of worry became fossilized
insects whose dry husks I kept since a child.

Faces adopted me from boys who hated their parents.
I was told not to repeat this,
reminded by the priest who unmasked himself.
I was told there was a great horror down
the hallway of the smelly Catholic school.
Once, my friend Joey jumped off the second floor window
and flattened his brains over the asphalt yard.

I see a hibiscus blossom.
It is a bright yellow flower that lasts one day.
Its shape brings tears, saves me from the hummingbird
that dots the air with patterns resembling an alphabet
too familiar to smell like a railroad worker.

I love heaven when I admit the spikes
and the railroad ties came from
the labor of fate and not the labor of love.
The tracks are my cross.

The tiny car is full of sweating men.
They look into the eye of the sun,
hold their hammers over their blackened heads.
If staring grows in the common search,
a perfume dots the heart with greed.
Silence between the lightning of pounding stakes.

Once, I rode the train home
to see if the smoke from the speeding engine
was going to enter my lungs.
I never wore the old, yellow hat of the crew,
but returned the shovel and the bag of railroad spikes,
thought I saw my grandfather, the foreman, running
across the desert in overalls, changing his skin
from brown to the black of the scorched engine.

I live with my railroad face, its smoothness hammered
by sweating crews that knew the line of hot iron
was going to end in the west someday.
I live with my railroad face and don’t know why
the tracks disappear on the horizon.
I cross my railroad face and comb my hair.

Ray Gonzalez, “Railroad Face” from Consideration of the Guitar: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 2005 by Ray Gonzalez.  Reprinted by permission of BOA Editions, Ltd.

Source: Consideration of the Guitar: New and Selected Poems (BOA Editions, Ltd., 2005)

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