Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Underground Railroad Field Trip


The Underground Railroad Field Trip

In seventh grade, my
social studies
class was driven
in a school bus
to a large, white Colonial
house, a gracious private home,
where I smelled beeswax
and heard ticking clocks
chime the time,
until we, still growing,
some pimpled, some sweaty,
in knee socks, wool skirts, cardigans,
or heavy cords, and jackets,
invaded the front hall
and dining room,
preempting the air
with our teenaged, gym-class odor
and waves of giggles and whispers.
My boyfriend held my ruler
and wouldn’t give it back.

Sun streamed onto us through
the glass panes on either side of the
front door. The line inched forward
and I watched the faces of those at
the front as they returned,
the way I read faces of those who have
just seen a movie I’m waiting to see.

A cupboard flush with the floor
yawned black before me
when I arrived at the head of the line.
I was told I could crawl in,
that escaping slaves had hidden there
on their way to Canada, transported
on the underground railroad
from place to place secretly.
The square hole was barely big
enough for even a small person.
I huddled in there for a moment
with the ghosts of escaped slaves.
Years later I still conjure up terror
at the thought of unknown footsteps
outside the cramped hiding place.

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