Sledding on the Hillside near the Train Yard
From the cliff top
the sixteen sets of parallel rails below
gleamed in the winter sunshine,
enticing young boys.
Across the river,
the streetscape of the vibrant City
spire of the building of the Empire State,
all towered above the ferry boats
chugging, spewing black smoke -
the powerful tugboats guided the freighters -
adrenalin was made for this scene.
A third of the way from the bottom
the immigrant Irish, Italians, Germans, Yugoslavs
who crafted this new monument to progress
left a outcropping plateau, from there a more gentle slope
down the balance of the hill to the yards.
Some would at noon,
black pails in hand,
actually free climb to the landing for their lunch break,
pass around loaves of fresh baked bread,
salami, kielbasa and provolone.
It was here as ten year olds
that we would cart our sleds
on snowy winter days,
waxing the runners with lard
provided by the local butcher’s son.
For hours we would launch
down the lower slope
having packed down the snow with our feet,
slicked it -
Our sleds moved quickly, almost out of control
as the freight trains moved in and out of the yard.
We did not know the word “testosterone” then
but knew we enjoyed it.
The dare devil antics
where we timed our slides to cross the first few tracks
before the marshalling yard goat engine
lumbered across the rails just below.
We left home early in the morning
returned before dark.
Our parents did not worry or wonder.
If they had,
the local police would not have bothered to come look for us
this was how boys became men
learned how to care for themselves and their families
calculated, took risks, developed their physiques
fine tuned their minds
tilled the fertile ground of imagination
learned how to make decisions
bandaged their own wounds
made their own collective rules
repaired their own sleds -
found the tools to do it.
If Momma knew where we were
I am not certain what she would have said
but Pop, I’m sure, suspected,
understood deep down inside,
having crossed the ocean alone at age 15,
made his own way.
It was here we honed our dreams as well.
Tom saw the raising panorama across the river
and now owns a few of those buildings.
Phil saw the bright lights at Christmas time.
Now the tunes that he would sing
as we walked along the tracks,
fill the canyons of the theaters
across the way.
John looked to the sky,
envisioned the airways of the future -
died piloting one of the human bombs
which destroyed the two Twin challengers
to the Empire State’s supremacy.
Stan became a railway engineer.
Pete, a harbor pilot.
Mario, an Italian restaurateur, a favorite haunt of Sinatra’s Hoboken.
Borislav, his father’ butcher store,
gave his own children more sophisticated
cans of Butcher’s wax for their sleds
and would for certain –
never let them go near the freight yards.
As to Vinnie, he never grew up.
Masculinity drove him
to pilot his yellow Thunderbird
as he did his sled
to attempt to beat a freight train
at a crossing.
He knew enough
not to take Adele with him that day.
He did not make it.
And we all mourned together – and moved on.