Biographical Poetry posted September 10, 2018


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My life had derailed.

Derailed

by Sis Cat

That morning,
between King's assassination and Bobby's,
four boys threw the switch
on the Southern Pacific line
that passed a mile from my home
in the San Fernando Valley.
                                                                                                                          
As the freight crossed
the Reseda Boulevard overpass,
the train buckled and its cars uncoupled,
tumbling down the embankment and piling up.
A broken tanker valve
hissed Sulphur dioxide gas
that crept toward my neighborhood.

That night,
after my fourth birthday,
I became aware something had happened
when Mom woke me.
Bring your blanket. We have to go.
I grabbed it and my elf doll, Sam.
Where? Why?
Before she could answer,
I heard the sirens and loudspeakers.
Evacuate. The fumes may be fatal.

I next found myself outside
running with
my mother, my brothers, and my sister
toward our '57 Chevy station wagon
parked in our driveway.

The memories haunt me now,
like night terrors
where I'm unsure if I'm asleep or awake—
a burnt match smell;
red and blue lights flashed;
neighbors shouted;
car doors slammed—
too much information for me to process.

I cried.
  
I didn't realize it at the time,
but my life had derailed.
I don't recall my father's presence when we evacuated.
I didn't know where he was.
He disappeared from my early life so often,
we lacked time to bond.
My life barreled down the wrong tracks
before I knew tracks existed.

My only sound in this nightmare wailed—
wailed like the whistle of the Southern Pacific
that penetrated the Valley;
wailed like the fire engines, police cars, and ambulances
that rushed to the wreck;
wailed like the Cold War air raid sirens
that screamed atop fire stations and thirty-foot poles;
wailed until the other wails submerged my wail
and formed a continuous wail that pierced the night.

 


Free Verse Poetry Contest contest entry

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I thank The Valley News for providing details on the Southern Pacific freight train derailment in Northridge, California on May 4, 1968.

The photo is of a derailment that happened five years earlier on the same track:

Title: Train wreck blamed on sabotaged switch
Date: 1963
Collection: Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
Owning Institution: Los Angeles Public Library
Source: Calisphere
Date of access: September 10 2018 17:48
Permalink: https://calisphere.org/item/0acf4e4aaf0f5262b46fb2d9bc08785e/

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