Words From Up North


What We Did


Joined the track team, purple nylon sleeveless tanks

shiny matching shorts, marching up young thighs.

Pulled our white athletic socks up to their full height

(spring training) straightened our backs, flattened our high arches

against cool silver chain link fence, bent our knees

bowed wide firm foreheads against hairless legs.

We stretched.  Before we stretched we gathered.

Before we gathered we had to arrive.  (Honor roll.) Back up.

Rewind past the cemetery (let the look out come along).

See our breath smoke.  Walk (run, run).  Warm up in our usual way.

It’s spring in the north country.  Sidestep black ice.

Cup hands (that’s how they do it in the movies).

Back track, back to the tracks.  Cross-train

over rusted rails.  Hardened tar, blackened ties

no chugging mass barreling toward us

ghosts trains don’t run on the empty trestle

like track stars do (no shortcuts, coach says), paying our respects

to the harrier who dashed before us, (silly rabbit) died

with his legs pumping in the icy river

still striding toward that blue ribbon.



While on vacation in my hometown, I have been reading Marie Howe.  Her poetry is filled with childhood memories, not many of them happy.  The “shocking” or “ah-ha” parts are so well woven into the tapestry of her poems.  I had to try it.  Especially since I’m here, in my childhood home, in my childhood town.  The ghosts, I’m sure, will be happy to oblige with appropriate memories.


7 responses »

  1. quit playing with ghosts and come back to albany. 🙂

    miss you!

    i also like what marie howe does with memories. it’s very difficult!

    i can’t do what she does (or don’t think i can). i didn’t realize how much i rely on “magical realism” to write them until you mentioned it the other night (and today on my godzilla piece).

    but here, you’ve dealt with them very concretely and skillfully. and i love the dead bunny. poor, dead bunny.

  2. drat! the bunny isn’t a bunny. i added that in at the last minute. it’s someone who fell off the trestle. a person way before we used to cross the trestle.

    this is why i like blogging poems, to get people’s first reactions to help with editing. of course, i should trust my instincts. i wasn’t sure about “silly rabbit” but harrier reminded me of hare which made me stick the silly rabbit in.

  3. i read it quickly and thought it said “hare” not “harrier.” 😦

    and so “silly rabbit” made total sense.

    now that i am reading it properly, i’m not sure about the “silly rabbit” — although i do like that image of dashing. you know how they do. like when being chased. by harriers, for example. 🙂

    hmmm. revision and editing are dead to me lately. strange, i know. not sure how to help.

  4. This is really very good, Jilly. Love the ending. My own poems have all been about childhood memories recently, I’ve no idea why….but there’s a lot to unearth, for sure 🙂

  5. This is beautiful, Jill, from the way the lines are indented, the memories rewinding, to all the details of the runs. Very flowing sounds. Sad, too, about the one who died. I wasn’t expecting that. I haven’t read anything by Marie Howe. I’ll have to check out her poems.

  6. Hi.

    It was a little oblique, the rabbit. But I know a rabbit as someone who gets chased/followed, so it fits the part. I suppose the “silly” part is what caught me.

    It wasn’t clear about the death until your comments. And then I saw it, reading back.

    It is beautiful, this poem. The idea. Keep with this, por favor. I like the oblique sinister feel. Will have to read some of Howe.

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