Hannah Huff responds to our monthly historical photo prompt with the poem ‘A Routine Groundbreaking.’
“A Routine Groundbreaking”
a streetcar must run through town.
this has been decided
by the fact that there is ground —
space to pick at with pick axes
and shovels. when times were monochrome,
loam seemed endless, ending
only once it became floor, road, or track,
at which point, it could only be turned
into other floor, road, or track because once dug,
men think there’s no going back to plain earth.
terrain has always been solidity
to hack, producing verifiable holes and rubble,
but sky has eternally seemed to defy
incision, thwarting permanence, the atmosphere
looming bright, ephemeral, elusive in photos
for over a century. who knew apparent nothingness
would come to hold change, dangerous,
though we know now. yet, we continue
to pick at the hard earth, so satisfyingly overturned
into a cold vertebrae of sleepers and rails,
even if it takes backbreaking work.
what’s consistent between then and now
is the idea that we must dig to keep ourselves
moving toward more movement. the horse and carriage
are obsolete, exit pursued by a train of obsidian
jalopies, though the street under hooves persists,
along with the men who gather around their mounds
and wheeled gear, reveling in their power
to displace the underground. how could they
know 100 years ago that the sky and earth
would mutate because of small things
like the impulse behind piles and rubble,
except if they heeded the shock of iron spades
disturbing something breathing above, heaving beneath?
Each month, The Coil presents an ekphrastic challenge (photo prompt) for writers and lovers of history: We feature a different public domain historical photograph or illustration, and ask writers to respond to it. There is no wrong answer, and no set style guidelines. Poetry, prose, hybrid, fiction or nonfiction, experimental — anything goes that has a history bent. The best responses will be published on The Coil after the challenge ends. See all past challenges and responses.