by Fred D’Aguiar

Long before you see train
The tracks sing and tremble,
Long before you know direction
Train come from, a hum
Announces it soon arrive.
So we tend to drop on all fours
Even before we look left or right.
We skip the sleepers or walk
Along by balancing on a rail.
We talk about the capital
Where the train ends its run
From the interior stacked with
The outsized trunks of felled
Trees and open-topped cars of bauxite.
We always hide from it unsure
What the train will do if we
Stand next to the tracks.
It flattens our nails into knives,
It obliterates any traffic
Caught by it at crossroads,
It whistles a battle cry,
Steam from the engine a mood
Not to mess with or else.
Rails without beginning or end,
Twinned hopes always at your back,
Always up front signaling you on,
Double oxen, hoof stomp, temper
Tantrum, stampede, clatter
Matter, head splitter, hear us,
Stooped with an ear to the line—
greenheart, mora, baromalli,
purple heart, crabwood,
kabakalli, womara.

SOURCE: Poetry (December 2008).

PHOTO: “Old Bauxite train in Linden, Guyana.”


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Fred D’Aguiar –born in London of Guyanese parents and raised in Guyana — is a poet, writer, and professor of English and Africana studies at Virginia Tech State University. He is the author of British Subjects, English Sampler: New and Selected Poems, and The Longest Memory, and is the recipient of the David Higham Prize for Fiction and the Whitbread First Novel Award. He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia. His sixth poetry collection is Continental Shelf (2011), available at Visit him at