Riding atop a freight train is a dangerous way to travel, yet hundreds of thousands of people a year, fleeing oppression in Central American countries, are willing to take the risk.
Their destination? The land of the free, and the home of the brave: the United States of America.
These freight trains, known collectively as La Bestia (The Beast) rumble northward day and night on tracks that are just a block away from my apartment in Colonia Juan Manuel Vallarta.
National Public Radio reports that an estimated half-million migrants a year ride the freight trains through Mexico, hoping to start a better life.
But people can’t cling to the top of a boxcar forever. Sooner or later they’re going to need a break.
So, when evening comes, and the train slows enough (as it does in residential neighborhoods) to jump off without breaking an arm or leg, they jump, and find a grassy spot by the tracks to spend the night.
Next morning, more or less refreshed, they wait for La Bestia to creep by, swing themselves up, and onto the top of the nearest boxcar, and resume the long and dangerous journey northward.
first day of summer—
in the old stone Buddha’s lap
weed seeds germinate
My little brother and I move stealthily toward the railroad tracks behind our great-grandmother’s house. We hope no one is watching.
No fence separates Grandma’s backyard from the tracks. Our parents have warned us of the danger, and have forbidden us to go there.
We are clutching pennies that we plan to put on the track to be flattened by the passing train. My little brother’s friend came to school one day and pulled a flattened penny from his pocket at show-and-tell time. The friend told how the penny was crushed, and we want to repeat his exploits.
We are almost at the tracks. We can hear a train whistle blowing in the distance. We run the last few feet, stoop to place our pennies on one rail, and then beat a hasty retreat.
After the train passes, we scramble back to the track to reclaim our transformed treasures, our parents none the wiser.
This childhood escapade comes to mind as trains rumble day and night through our neighborhood in Colonia Juan Manuel Vallarta.
early morning train—
the cat on grandmother’s porch
curls a bit tighter