Before the train churned across the 19th century
wooden bridge that shook and shrieked under it,
we got off, I was five, and we were going to watch
it ease along the criss-crossed splintery beams
that ran along the gorge like a thick stitch.
My Dad gave me a handful of pennies, all a deep rust
like the bottom of Bear Creek. One
even a wheat penny: mottled green, powdery.
Because he said the train
would change them, I bent
and let five coins clink on the right side of the track.
After the train chugged by, slower
than we could walk, the bridge
shrugging under it, I scooped up the pennies,
each oblong and brassy,
sharp to the touch.
Years later, kneeling over the commuter rail
you would tell me that pennies
could derail a train. Of course a lie.
When later you empty the twelfth bottle
of the night I hear the hiss
of another opening, smell it, backwash
evaporating in empties--it is what a secret
smells like: sweet, like an almond
whiff of arsenic. Sweet like lilies at a wake.
It leaks from between your teeth, from the pores
on your neck. You reach for my copper
hair, pull me to you hard, and everything
I don't say
trembles like pennies on the tracks.
Michele Harris received her MFA from the University of Massachusetts Boston, where her thesis, Blackdamp, was awarded the David A. Kennedy Prize for exceptional work in the field of poetry. Her work has appeared in Anderbo, The Rectangle, Escarp, The Prose-Poem Project, The Susquehanna Review, and is forthcoming in Eclectica. Currently, she teaches literature for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and serves as Poetry Editor for take'til, an online journal exploring sense.