Unon Station, Chicago, 1993

By Joan McBride

Here comes Junior to meet my train,
in his low-down dungarees
and tucked-in shirt trailing the stink
of the train yards where he has worked all his life.
My uncle is at home at the station;
his bearish demeanor and wrench-like hands,
his hair a little longish
and shiny like creosote.

He talks about rail yards,
not some dinky yard in Portland or
Shelby. He works the Chicago Yards
where the clanging of engines is a steady thrum.
He runs the haulers and hump yards, the switches
and glorious mainlines, sorting and coupling
all day long in a hatchery of cars and locomotives.

“Breakfast is on me,” he says,
“Breakfast at the Union Station Café
where we can smoke and talk.”
He orders bacon and eggs for me
before I can say I’m six years a vegetarian.

I light up a Camel and he a cigar.
We drink black coffee and slouch
over our counter stools.
He tells me about his new wife,
the one without eyebrows and
the painted-on beauty mark that
moves around her face like an
errant beetle. “It telegraphs her mood,”
he says, “To the left and above the mouth,
all’s good, to the right, no roast beef
for you tonight, buster.”

He tells me about his two adopted daughters
how hard it is to suddenly be a dad of teenagers at 55.
They are always bleeding he says.
He wants to know about my life.
I don’t tell him, I’m riding the train
without a destination,
that I had to take Thorazine for three months and
just ended therapy and college is not going well
and I definitely drink too much.

I don’t tell him I am shamed in his presence.
His rugged approach to life. His workman’s hands,
his support of my grandmother – his ability to make
people understand. His wife,
a beautiful man who dresses as a woman,
is never hidden away. He likes her without eyebrows and
a roving black mark.
But there he is, a hard working train yard man
grease smeared on his clothes,
cigar smoke fogging the air around us
daring anyone to question
the gold ring on his finger.
Do I eat the bacon he orders?
Oh yeah.

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