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Meg Day
Meg Day

The Permanent Way

Recorded for Poem-a-Day, September 29, 2016.
About this Poem 

“Much of my youth was spent on family road trips to National Parks—I can map with ease the different phases of my childhood and adolescence based on the geography of the parks system in the United States. In many ways, the NPS was how I learned about this country and the people who lived in it; ‘The Permanent Way’ attempts to correct some of the omissions in that early education, of which there were many.”
—Meg Day

The Permanent Way

            Steamtown National Historic Site was created in 1986 to
            preserve the history of steam railroading in America,
            concentrating on the era 1850 through 1950.

We weren’t supposed to, so we did
      what any band of boys would do
& we did it the way they did in books
      none of us would admit we stole
from our brothers & kept hidden

under bedskirts in each of our rooms:
      dropped our bicycles without flipping
their kickstands & scaled the fence
      in silence. At the top, somebody’s overalls
snagged, then my Levi’s, & for a few deep

breaths, we all sat still—grouse in a line—
      considering the dark yard before
us, how it gestured toward our defiance—
      of gravity, of curfews, of what we knew
of goodness & how we hoped we could be

shaped otherwise—& dared us to jump.
      And then we were among them,
stalking their muscled silhouettes as our own
      herd, becoming ourselves a train
of unseen movements made singular,

never strangers to the permanent way
      of traveling through the dark
of another’s shadow, indiscernible to the dirt.
     Our drove of braids & late summer
lice buzz cuts pivoted in unison

when an engine sighed, throwing the moon
      into the whites of our eyes & carrying it,
still steaming, across the yard to a boilerman,
      her hair tied up in a blue bandana.
Somewhere, our mothers were sleeping

prayers for daughters who did not want women
      to go to the moon, who did not ask
for train sets or mitts. But here—with the moon
      at our feet, & the whistle smearing
the cicadas’ electric scream, & the headlamp

made of Schwinn chrome, or a cat’s eye
      marble, or, depending on who
you asked, the clean round scar of a cigarette
      burn on the inside of a wrist so small
even my fingers could fasten around

it—was a woman refilling the tender
      in each of us. We watched her
the way we’d been told to watch
      our brothers, our fathers:
in quiet reverence, hungry all the while.
 

      

Copyright © 2016 by Meg Day. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 29, 2016, this poem was commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Imagine Your Parks grant.

Copyright © 2016 by Meg Day. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 29, 2016, this poem was commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Imagine Your Parks grant.

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Classic Books of American Poetry

This collection of books showcases the masterpieces of American poetry that have influenced—or promise to influence—generations of poets. Take a look.

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A Poet's Glossary

Read about poetic terms and forms from Edward Hirsch's A Poet's Glossary (Harcourt, 2014), a book ten years in the making that defines the art form of poetry.  

American Poets
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poem

Theme for English B

The instructor said,

    Go home and write
    a page tonight.
    And let that page come out of you—
    Then, it will be true.

I wonder if it's that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem.
I am the only colored student in my class.
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem,
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:

It's not easy to know what is true for you or me 
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I'm what 
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:
hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York, too.) Me—who?
Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach.
I guess being colored doesn't make me not like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?

Being me, it will not be white. 
But it will be
a part of you, instructor. 
You are white— 
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you. 
That's American.
Sometimes perhaps you don't want to be a part of me. 
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that's true! 
As I learn from you, 
I guess you learn from me— 
although you're older—and white— 
and somewhat more free.

This is my page for English B.
Langston Hughes
1994
poem

We Real Cool

                   THE POOL PLAYERS. 
                   SEVEN AT THE GOLDEN SHOVEL.



We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

Gwendolyn Brooks
1960
 Donald Hall, Grace Schulman, John Ashbery, and Brad Leithauser at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.