Warren Longmire
Meditations on a Photograph of Historic Rail Women

Number two from the right was an angry drunk.

Number one from the left always held the face of a dead cousin in her left pocket.

The third woman placed fourth in a seed-spitting contest at age six.

The first one knew she was the prettiest.

The fifth didn’t need to know.


The child belonging to the one on the far right worked at the general store as a bagboy.

The first’s daughter was too rough-looking. She lived to be sixty-one.


The second woman had no children. She spent five minutes picking the right shovel. It was as black

as her hands. This was not the first time she swung metal things from the waist.


The first woman’s head-wrap was a dishrag she grabbed just before leaving.

The second woman’s head-wrap was a gift from a long-dead suitor.

The center woman’s head-wrap was a prop.


The second from the left quit two days in.

The first preferred to use a wrench.

The center woman got the second to do her work.

The first wouldn't stop for all the money in the world.


Right from the center’s brother was a saint who shot himself last year.

The fourth girl from the right gave up on God long ago.

The fifth girl was a woman by the time she was thirteen.

The fifth from the other side decided she would never grow up as soon as the papers were signed.


I think the second had money saved but had something to prove.

The fourth looks like a Virgo.

The second woman was raped.

The first woman was raped.

At least three were raped and, during the interview, four said they once knew true love.

A white woman slapped two for being insolent.

The middle lady shot a nigga.

The last woman fondled her cousin when she was young.

Is that the same cousin who died? Is the last woman dead?


My grandmother is eighty-six.

I have no pictures of her, but I do know her name.

Her name is Ruth.

She loves God more than life.

She calls young black men monsters each time I visit.

She never leaves the house.

She grew up on a Virginian farm.

She is separated from but on good terms with my granddad.


My granddad’s name is Sonny.

My granddad can’t read.

He would look hard at the caption for this photo of nameless women and say,


I’m sorry, Warren.


I don’t have my glasses on me.

Why don’t you just tell me what it says?

Found In Volume 49, No. 01
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Warren Longmire
About the Author

Warren Longmire is the co-founder of the Excelano Project Spoken Word Collective, and a former poetry editor for Apiary Magazine. He's been published in journals including Metropolary, Eleven Eleven, Pax Americana, The New Purlieu Review and two chapbooks: Ripped Winters (Seventh Tangent, 2006), Do.Until.True. (Two Pens and Lint, 2012).