Can Iron Catch Flame?

There are railroad tracks in the sand. They dip and dive into the earth, only to re-emerge several feet from me without warning. But my eyes are trained. They see what cannot be fully covered. These gnarled, land-trapped metal lines run as far as I can see up and down the coastline of the Black Warrior River, flowing just behind the University of Alabama. After initially discovering these tracks, I was told by a friend that they had been used to support the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. But, in the last year of that brutal war, General Croxton with the Union Army took the city of Tuscaloosa—this city—by fire, and so with it took these tracks. Iron bones. Cremated, buried, rising. My mind wanders along them, wanting to raise them, to straighten them, to give them life. Maybe once healed they would speak. Maybe they could give me peace in knowing that the Black Warrior River—my Alabama Walden Pond—and the town that surrounds isn’t all bad.
I have lived in Tuscaloosa and taken solace here, in this park, in this very spot, on this very boulder, for almost a year now. No longer do I notice the curious strangers who flit past, directing over-emphasized blessings my way. No longer do I register the cacophonous buzz of the jack hammer some short distance to my left. The construction is never ending. They’re always building and rebuilding this place, this state, for one reason or another. This time, construction began after the massive tornado of April, 2011. It evolved into the current drive for University expansion. I’ve grown accustomed to this place, over time, and I have learned to tune it all out. Today, like every day, my plan is to read one of my many well-intended Kindle purchases. Yet the river, nestled against the bank and several steps away, calls to me instead. On cue, I pack up and begin to walk.
I keep my eyes pointed towards the stone steps ahead that lead to the port dock below. I am vigilantly aware of the rail tracks around me. They follow me like a well-trained puppy, always popping up underfoot. But, as I move towards the water, I watch and take care to avoid them. The rails beg for engagement. I won’t give in. Every time I see them, though, I am mesmerized. Entranced. I want to follow them into the earth and back out again.

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