They ran barefoot in the summertime
in packs like stray dogs, ragged and dirty,
and there were leaders and followers. Each fell into place
warrior and peacemaker, alike,
the way that young women do when left good and alone.
They hunted, too,
though, if asked, they couldn’t tell you just what.
No, it was in the motions; the movement was what mattered,
especially on the longest of the hottest days.
Beneath the brightly hot, the hours of sweating, breathless
they found cool, stale air inside the station,
safe inside a public darkness
since it was best for watching anyway.
There they pressed the backs of their thighs
against the splintered wood, felt their skin stick
to the layered shellac,
cringing. Like pews.
They sat and were audience, again, but not to god
for once, there were no cubbies for hymnals,
no blank envelopes tucked somewhere
for drawing body parts,
for drawing their mocking laughter,
for catching old man and woman frowns.
No, inside the dark,
they broke apart. Individual again, solitary inside
but not entirely alone with their skin pressed thigh to thigh,
and that was good,
since they each watched ragged claws
peek from inside stiff sleeves when the man in white
adjusted his tie beside their rows,
when he tipped his stiff hat to passersby.
They spotted him fast, or Katy did, anyway,
shoving her elbows into sister-sides,
grunting concern and vigilant.
His suit was crisply white and looked like weddings,
like rich people’s summertime
and rituals on boats nobody used to fish;
it seemed to glow when the shadows fell darker,
when the sun disappeared behind the trees
outside the dirty windows.
Someone whispered that his suit turned his teeth yellow,
and it passed down the row.
The gold buttons at his middle
reflected light like signals, sparks—
they’d been polished in piss, someone added,
since that was supposed to make brass shine.
His crimson tie was pinned by an aurulent star,
five-pointed, and at its white diamond center
blinked a ruby eye. It pulsed,
throbbed like a heart in its watching. It shifted sometimes
in a jeweled socket, though you’d never
notice unless you stared hard, so someone said.
But they tried not to stare. They all, it seemed,
tried not to stare: fingernails needed inspection;
there was something on the floor.
There were country children tucked
among the bigger bodies in the crowd that hustled by.
Side-eyed, they were stealing looks
at his big daddy hands, too,
but they were not as brave.
They tucked their cheeks behind knees,
got jostled and knocked-about.
The man in white daubed his forehead with a kerchief,
seemed oblivious to the chaos around, focused on the signs
above or something inside,
though they knew he saw. He stepped before the rows
and made a show of smoothing the front of his trousers
of lifting his nose like an old hound.
The girls in front, the leader-types, that set them off.
Jessie thumbed her nose the way she’d seen in movies,
in pure pantomime. Something about him made them stir
that way, and they stood
leveled their shoulders, clenched their hands.
They were small bulls, invisible to most, and he grinned
but never looked directly their way.
The man in white stepped outside
into the heavy air that smelled like creosote,
like kudzu beside the tracks, green,
like the paper mill stench, poison,
from five miles up the road.
Their heads turned again, like a pack,
and they followed him with their eyes
as he stepped, full, into the sun,
lowered himself to his haunches—
feet flat, like giving birth, there, between his thighs
and shot them back an over-the-shoulder grin.
One of the girls, a shy girl,
one of the girls who always ran in-between
whispered later that she saw a shift, swore
that something grew cock-stiff
and rippled beneath his coat. She laughed,
said it just had to be sinister,
more sinister than his old thing, she giggled,
tucked there beneath the fabric behind:
a tail, vestigial, maybe, jerking like sex
with its red, knobby end;
maybe waxy ropes with little teeth,
grew about his middle.
It was hard to tell what was real, she said,
and it really didn’t matter
since there was nobody they could tell
that would believe them