By the Railroad By Katherine Vandermel

By the Railroad

1864 (Drink)

117 Chinese boys.

Weedy, half-baked men. Egg-yolk
bruises. Butterfly ribs, flat faces. They walked away
from eastern dreamsongs into red America
to grow oil-black dahlias—

stems thick as wrists. They make dough
from dried blood.

Here at the railroad, shards of sunlight
cut their ivory monolids
until the crescents brown. These Laotian boys,
they work alongside countrymen—

their breath pongs of chicken stir-fry & fermented
rice cauterized in dialect.

A Western knife minces their Cantonese, tongues
laden with pork fat, fried, then burned
into metal. English whole,
elusive. Miners, Orientals, Aliens, all Crocker’s pets—

orange peels painted on china.

Tracks chiseled into bone
beyond the marshland, men built
the spine. They labor to one day ride it:
Work every day until you can start living.
I hear it often—

the throats’ filigree
suspended in the tap, on the lips
of our dixie cups,
before we swallow.

By Katherine Vandermel


Katherine Vandermel is a writer who strives to use language as a tool to resist the erasure of marginalized ethnic communities. She loves music and a good, warm croissant. Her work has appeared and is forthcoming in Alexandria Quarterly, Blue Marble Review, Poetry Resistance from Youth, and has been recognized by Behrend College and the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.

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