At the crossing we count box cars,
the bumper of our ‘57 Chevy waits.
We look past the seat stains, the only time
our dad bought Dairy Queen, and watch
for bums sleeping on wheel frames
or standing in doorways. We wave
despite my mother’s glare, they wave back.
She says the bums will steal us but I know better.
They live in the freight yard deep
in Minneapolis where one afternoon I yelled
and a bum chased my friends and me.
We climbed a linked steel fence
and leapt to the other side. He grabbed the wire,
reaching through the square holes,
his arms thin as rusted tail pipe, brown
and wrinkled, too weak to climb,
rough skin covering his body,
his face. His few teeth and parched lips
cursed us back, sounding hollow and dry.
None of us spoke, feeling guilty, knowing
the safety of the fence was more than that,
a barrier between worlds, only touching
in secret places like this. He smiled at me,
his gesture more frightening than his pursuit,
as if he knew me well. We ran for our bikes
and silently pedaled home. I never told anyone
what really happened, how thin arms now
hang down from my shirtsleeves,
how I am dead to some, hardly alive to others.
I count cars behind lowered barriers,
watch the children’s clear faces, hands
waving over parents’ shoulders, and I wish
one more Dairy Queen for each of them.
Terry Tierney’s collection of poetry, The Poet’s Garage, will be published by Unsolicited Press in May 2020. His stories and poems have recently appeared in Valparaiso Poetry Review, Front Porch Review, Jersey Devil Press, The Lake, and other publications.