Railroad Crossing

The train a lament on wheels:
the word cruel graffitied
onto one hopper car, kaput
on another—annotations
on the planet’s sorry state
or just artists’ dour handles.
My daughter in the backseat
observing, wondering where
all the passengers are.
“It’s not that kind of train,”
I say, watching her lips
after my explanation
fashion the word boxcar
with the same scary awe
the Pentecostal daycare
has taught her to say
Jehovah. We’ve just come
from there—agnostic
fan of cheap daycare
and God-fearing child.
But now here we sit,
ten minutes and counting
at the railroad crossing.
Flat cars, tank cars, gondolas—
slow procession of metal
with supplementary notes
from the underground:
duel, heed, rash, qualm.
Then a stenciled Jesus or
maybe Che Guevara minus
the beret. Either way
the face of an interloper,
no caboose in sight.

Jon Ballard's work has appeared or is forthcoming in Flint Hills Review, Oklahoma Review, New Mexico Poetry Review, and River Oak Review, among many others. He is the author of four poetry chapbooks including, most recently, Such Small Rain (Pudding House, 2009). He lives in North Carolina. (

Boxcar Poetry Review - ISSN 1931-1761