Posted tagged ‘pennies’

Santa Fe: Glory & Relief

April 11, 2010

“Santa Fe,” can be read on p.89 of heart speech this (Atropos Press, 2009, ISBN 9 780982 530948)

It’s those blurry memories of something done more than once, something done by others we knew as children, that come back and reform into nostalgia. And there are these rituals we create that have only the sacredness we find in them, not the awe given by holy speech or writing, not the sense of Otherness in a space dedicated to surrendering self to community and community to what makes us feel part of something more. These rituals we make as children, chanting about not stepping on cracks, linking pinky fingers to establish a pact, spitting in our palms and mixing saliva as if sharing what helps us speak and swallow made our intentions more powerful.

My brother and his friends loved the danger of small town risks—setting up skateboard slaloms on scarcely driven roads, designing hang gliders and sailing off hillsides into iceplant and tumbleweeds…one of their favorites was to hang out by the train tracks that bordered the city’s only park, looking for dropped metal, tempting the trains to transform pennies into thin shimmers of copper, oblong and smooth where once they had been round, thick, and raised.

They did this every time they were near the tracks, scrounging for pennies, yelping when they found a “wheatback”, comparing dates and designs. Later, when I was with my friends, feeling less exposed but still timid, I would try the same trick with less success.

The trains, many from the Santa Fe line, were freight rather than passenger. I didn’t actually know there were still passenger trains until I was older. My friends and I counted cars and guessed how many more would pass before we saw the caboose. Some cars were closed and gave no hint of their insides. Others had open doors, still others no roofs. The company’s logos were painted on the walls and doors.

To really flatten a penny, you had to place the penny where it would feel the most pressure from the train’s wheels. This meant standing on the track and finding the most worn parts of the rails, already shiny and scratched, and then balancing the coins as centrally as possible. The rails themselves were not always flat enough to palm the pennies, and vibrations from the trains could throw them off onto the ground.

Then you had to wait for the train to pass. 10 minutes, 20, sometimes nearly an hour—you could get distracted or have to go home before the train was gone. And the pennies, if they were still on the rails, were as hot as they were glossy. Picking up a hot, melted, polished cent—what a thrill, as if no one had ever done this before.

So I remembered my brother and this shiny, one cent moment he spent again and again. The collection of copper slivers on his dresser. And the moments that are so ordinary and so sacred because we are so fully present and full of risks and joy.