Friday, May 16, 2008

for Dorothy:

Stella the Chalk Dancer

A little girl
was a champion hop-scotch player
She lived a block from the train station
next to the railroad tracks

Her parents warned her
not to play near the train tracks because
the tramps would tumble off the rods
and out of open boxcars

as the train slowed
and the bulls walked down the line
looking to bust some heads
for the railroad company

But this girl, Stella
she wasn't afraid of tramps
and she knew some of them
used to give them cold water
to drink from a bucket and dipper

Sometimes she snuck biscuits
out of the kitchen for them
She liked living by the tracks
and looking for passing adventure
Her town was so quiet

Stella as a five year old
listened for the steam engines
nearing her yard by the tracks
They would come with a

The back pressure hissing
off to the sides of the slowing
iron horses in great clouds of hot steam
kept Stella at a safe distance
until the engine passed

But then she moved in closer
and stood on her tip-toes
waving her hankie
as the red caboose approached
and the trainmen watched
for their regular customer

Stella was the darling
of these sooty men
She loved their chalk
it was the best chalk in the world
for drawing hopscotch squares

Her feverish waving
was something they looked forward to
in this one town an amusement
a special feature on their route
of hundreds of towns like it
There was only one little Stella

Stella would call out
Chalk! Chalk!
Do you have any chalk?
Could I have some, please?
Could I, huh, could I?
It's me, Stella

The men dropped chalk
at her feet as they passed by
leaning out from the back rail
a nice piece of thick
boxcar-marking chalk
for Stella they would toss

As Stella grew older and was
filling out she learned
that the trainmen threw more
chalk to her if she danced
and by then she had begun to hop
around like the peasant women
she saw in the movie house films

Plus Stella's family was Hungarian
and from gypsy stock
Her father played flamenco guitar
and her mother castanets
The tambourine was not unknown
in their home either
Each of the five children had their own

They made brushes by day
in their family business
but by night it was roundelay
after the good radio programs
and the dishes were done

As Stella passed from her babyhood
as the youngest child
her family seemed to loosen up
and the truer forms of hot-blooded
Gypsy music and dance obtained
before her widening eyes

Encouragement was shouted
instead of whispered as she'd
heard from her bed sometimes
and her mother danced on the tabletop
in boots, not barefoot anymore

She adopted some of the moves
in her routine at trackside

At eighteen her black hair had grown long
and it spiraled around her lithe form
as she pirouetted and held aloft
her be-ribboned tambourine

The trainmen vied for the route
through her town
even taking extra duty
just for the chance to see
Stella the chalk-dancing gypsy girl

Chalk fell like rain
upon Stella
and the trainmen leaned
way way out to realize their dream
To have their fingertips brush Stella
in passing

By now Stella realized she was playing
these men like a musical instrument
She had them completely in her
mesmerizing power
and her burgeoning chalk supply
which she now sold on the school yards
seemed endless

She took the proceeds
from her chalk sales
and bought bindles of canned soups and crackers
for the scrambling tramps
who thanked her before
vanishing quickly
into the wings of town and into the countryside

theirs was not to be an audience
for Stella
but she wished they could be
With the poor people of the world
Stella wanted to share her fate
Her gift of dancing
and love of nurture

Stella's family grew accustomed
to her performances of gypsy skill
and humanitarianism
and over time grew proud
of the local niche she had carved
for herself
as The Chalk Dancer

One evening when a non-stop
locomotive swept through town
Stella danced particularly close to the tracks
and her favorite cabooseman Roy
a single and kind Hungarian with rhythm
counted the beats

And at the precise moment
swooped low and out from the gangway
clasped Stella by the waist
up and unto himself
for evermore

A greater brass ring than Stella
there never was
Scattering tramps had seen Roy's win
and they cheered
Roy, too, had watered and fed them
They knew these two belonged together

Such things happened
In the age of steam locomotives
they happened
and much more
oh yes

[dd ]


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