The Brotherhood of Railway Clerks

Jessica Jopp

With their newly sharpened lead
the brotherhood of railway clerks
document summer latitude
sitting at their heavy station desks.
They pinpoint destination times
precisely as a silver watch.

In the bright sun of an afternoon
they use fine instruments to match
their passengers with numbered seats,
compartment green, window, aisle.
The leather satchels and the worldly trunks,
the clicking dinnerware they count,
perhaps some extra cargo, too.

Yet while they gesture over ledgers
and shape the graphite figures
with their capable hands, they are dreaming
of a rail line cut through trees,
the way a head-lamp beam at night
weaves its ignited breath,
the windows lit behind like sparks
extinguished by pursuing dark.

If they had to account for beauty,
the clerks would look up from their desks
and out an open window watch
a live oak fifty yards away,
marvel that everything has been remade
by what its leaves and branches cast
across the station platform.

If they had to document grief,
they’d look in the same direction,
but then their eyes would close
to the voices warm air will fade
(all those lives that have shuttled past!)
and their startled pencils would pause
before the keen sorrow of shade.

July-August 2020, ATC 207