Train above Pedestrians

Where moonlight angles
                  through the east-west streets,
down among the old
                  for America
tall buildings that changed
                  the streets of other
cities circulate
                  elevated trains
overhead shrieking
                  and drumming, lit by
explosions of sparks
                  that harm no one and
the shadowed persons
                  walking underneath
the erratic waves
                  not of the lake but
of noise move through fog
                  sieved by the steel mesh
of the supporting
                  structures or through rain
that rinses pavements
                  and the el platforms
or through new snow that
                  quiets corners, moods,
riveted careers.   
                  Working for others
with hands, backs, machines,
                  men built hard towers
that part the high air,   
                  women and men built,
cooked, cleaned, delivered,
                  typed and filed, carried
and delivered, priced
                  and sold. The river
and air were filthy.
                  In a hundred years
builders would migrate
                  north a mile but in
these modern times this
                  was all the downtown
that was. And circling
                  on a round-cornered   
rectangle of tracks
                  run the trains, clockwise
and counter, veering
                  through or loop-the-loop
and out again. Why
                  even try to list   
the kinds of places   
                  men and women made
to make money? Not
                  enough of them, yet
too many. From slow
                  trains overhead some
passengers can still
                  see stone ornaments,
pilasters, lintels,
                  carved by grandfathers,
great uncles and gone
                  second cousins of   
today—gargoyle heads
                  and curving leaves, like
memorials for
                  that which was built to
be torn down again
                  someday, for those who
got good wages out
                  of all this building
or were broken by   
                  it, or both, yet whose   
labor preserves a   
                  record of labor,   
                  ambition, skill, greed,
folly, error, cost,
                  story, so that a   
time before remains
                  present within the
bright careening now.

Reginald Gibbons, “Train Above Pedestrians” from Creatures of a Day (Louisiana State University Press, 2008).
Source: Creatures of a Day (Louisiana State University Press, 2008)
More Poems by Reginald Gibbons