American Detritus

By Wendy Drexler

Saplings reeling past the clattering tracks
like the past itself—smokestacks, sheds
and chimney pots, the faceless, boarded-up backs
of boarders who stare back. Chipped brick walls,
rusty carney machinery, a sea
of wooden water towers that squat in waves

on sagging roofs. Slag heaps, stovepipes, waves
of scrawled graffiti flashing by the tracks,
backsliding. The Schuylkill slinks to sea
past factories slack with vines that shed
their blooms through cyclone barbs, Jersey walls
of crumbled concrete. Trenton turns its back

to rows of houses sprawled and scrappy, back
yards grassless. Now Manhattan’s masts cast waves
of light on small-shop owners’ half-bare walls
no longer stocked with made-in-America tracts,
those worsted woolens, union-spun. The sheds
of tool-and-dye shops emptied of the sea-

blue bibs of slapped-flat overalls, the sea
of immigrants who streamed from Ellis, backs
piled high—bundles, baskets, bibles—to shed
old lives and claw by day-shift, low-pay waves
of piece work, garment rack-clack over tracks.
Factories bristling with decay—bare walls

where cutters, clothiers darkly toiled—grim walls
of hardship shadowing the coast, a sea
of smoke and fumes from torches, scorched tracks,
the whole earth clogged. Refineries slather backs
of Jersey’s poisoned marshes, oil-slick waves
all punked with mercury. In watersheds

dioxide fumes pollute beneath the shed
of greenhouse sky that closes down and walls
us in, as now the train in lowering waves
of smog tilts north to hug the shoreline. See
the sunlight simmer through the muted backs
of clouds as hard as tarnished pots. The Amtrak

thrums on to Boston, tracks the past, which shed
its grace on labor’s back, before the Wall
Street tumble, bank notes waving like the flag.


Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 12. Nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

Wendy Drexler’s poems have appeared in numerous journals and several anthologies. Her chapbook, Drive-Ins, Gas Stations, the Bright Motels (Pudding House, 2007) was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

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