The gray-haired conductor herds our tour group
up filigreed steps into the brick-red box on steel wheels
fitted to tracks, complete with a brass hand brake,
Victorian ceiling lamps, and hard leather seats.
His smile and eyes gather into pleasure
as he drones by rote the history of the trolley,
at first horse-drawn, then electric cable cars
speeding at a breathless fifteen miles an hour.
We read signs posted above windows:
Arrow shirts with starched cuffs are dignified
and proper. $1.50
Food will win the war. We have meatless days,
wheatless days and porkless days.
Standing on steps or running-board is dangerous.
Do so at your own risk.
We rock to the electric cable’s rattle and hum,
musing how far we’ve come in a lifetime.
Sonic jets break sound barriers,
rockets puncture space,
men walk on the moon,
and satellites orbit earth,
hauling smart machines with microchips
small enough to fit into an ant’s mouth.
We race the beltway all the way home
while voices of our ancestors give chase,
their thin whispers warning us to slow down.
Published in Volume 11-4, Fall 2010, Mapping the City: DC Places, Part II. Our gratitude to Dean Tuthill for permission to reprint.
Stacy Johnson Tuthill (March 10, 1925-October 19, 2010) founded SCOP Publications in 1976. She is the author of five books of poems, most recently Painting in the Dark (McNaughton & Gunn, 2007), from which this poem is taken. She edited the anthologies Rye Bread: Women Poets Rising (SCOP Publications, 1977) and Second Rising ( SCOP,1979), and the collection Laurels: Eight Women Poets (SCOP, 1998), which documented all the women who had served up to that time as US Poets Laureate.