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Audio for Nonconnah Yards (set volume before clicking) NonconnahYards

One railroad came from Chicago, bound for New Orleans
Or vice versa
One railroad came from Little Rock headed for Charleston
Or the other way around
In Nonconnah Yards south of Memphis
The rails crossed

My father knew that
My father rode those rails
Long before the Great Depression
Made it a requirement for many

Too restless for regular school
My father educated himself
From a faggot of belt bound books
He studied in the school of empty boxcars
While scenes rolled by on
The screens of those open doors
Like high definition television
Before its time

My father went home to his father’s farm
In Sardis, Mississippi
Where to his Faulknerian family’s dismay
He harvested a beautiful Cherokee sharecropper
Who became my mother

He learned from his father
The art of building houses
He built good ones before he went blind
Going blind he blamed on
Zane Grey, Bret Harte, Mark Twain, and Rabelais
Years later I would drive him through Memphis and he would say
Stop here or there so I could admire a house he had built
Back when he could see
When I was born, he was already blind
He would run his hands over my face to see what I looked like
He couldn’t feel my color

My father returned to Nonconnah Yards
Where he had jumped so many freights
Just south of those railroad yards in Memphis
That blind man built his last house
With a store attached to the side
Then he bade those trains from Chicago
Bring him boxcars of used shoes and clothes
Some he sold for cash
Most went on credit
That is, he gave them away
But people remembered and
By and by they made him money

My older brother and I were the
Only white kids for five miles around
It never occurred to me that
My family was strange – half blind and color deficient

Decades later
As I sit here in this Copenhagen bar where
People have no concept of racial discrimination
I am riding cosmopolitan rails
Looking out the door of my boxcar
At that boxcar door television screen
In my mind

I see that strange color deficient kid playing
With his friends
Totally unaware that five miles north
A great leader would be assassinated
Totally unaware that five miles to the east
An uneducated white man would own a grand estate
Paid for with money from singing black people’s songs
Ignore-ant white people would come to pay homage
At Graceland
In a white town named White Haven
Totally unaware of Nonconnah Yards
Where the railroads cross

I sit here in this Copenhagen bar
Drink my Tuborg
Amidst the clacking of the wheels
Of my daddy’s boxcars
I hear Peter Gabriel singing
I grieve