By Vicente Huidobro
The railroad switchman’s little house is located close to the tracks, at the base of a mountain so steep only certain unique trees can climb their way up
the slope. Taking hold with their sharp roots, they cling to the dry earth till they reach the top.
The little wooden hut is falling down because of the constant shaking and clamor. The hut is on a twenty-meter embankment near to the intersection of three railroad lines. The switchman lives there with his wife, watching the trains laden with ghosts pass on their way to various cities. Hundreds of trains. trains running from north to south, trains from the south heading north. Each day, month, year. Thousands of trains with millions of ghosts, crushing the way through the mountain’s hollows.
His wife, a good woman, aids him in directing the trains along the right tracks. The responsibility for so many satisfied lives has imposed on their faces
a tragic mask. They are barely able to smile when gazing down on their little daughter, a tiny three-year-old, so delicate, whose childish gestures evoke flowers and doves.
The trains tear through the countryside with the clash of iron, of long metal piecings dragged from an entire city that strives to set itself free, a city of ghosts now without chains, drunk on freedom.
With utter confidence, the switchman’s daughter plays among the trains that travel her mountain. She’s unaware that in the city rich children amuse themselves with trains as tiny as mice as they scrape over rails of tin. She possesses the largest trains in the world . . .and now begins to regard them with scorn.
The daughter is an enchanting little child who lives without worry, so free it
seems she has chosen not to become close to anybody. One might think that an earlier train, passing through, left her by chance there, beside the tracks.
Her parents, however, never cease watching her; while there is still time, they spoil her, adore her.
They know that one day a train will kill her.
Vicente Huidobro is a Chilean writer quite well known during the early part of the past century.
Translator Thomas Feeny teaches Romance languages at North Carolina State University, where he’s been since 1970. A baseball fan, he’s written a number of poems dealing with the ups and downs involved in following that sport.