833: The Railroad Worm

833: The Railroad Worm

833: The Railroad Worm


I’m Jason Schneiderman, and this is The Slowdown.

I love winter. I like the coziness of bundling up in thick sweaters and putting heavy blankets on the bed. I like the short days, and the long nights, the hot cocoa and the hot toddies, the coming inside from a freezing street to a warm home. I have spent winter in St. Petersburg, where they never shovel the sidewalks and in Provincetown, where almost everything is deserted. And I love snow most of all, the magic of those flakes falling from the sky. Once, in Siberia, I was in a snow that was so cold I could see the shape of the crystals with my naked eye, and I realized that those snowflakes you cut out of white paper in elementary school are… real. Not just at a microscopic level, but falling from the sky.

I also love night. I didn’t know how much I loved night until I was living through what the Russians call the White Nights, and the sun never set at all. I would go to a movie in daylight and leave the movie in daylight. I would go out dancing and the sky was just as bright when I entered the discoteque as when I left. It felt like having full weeks of Sunday afternoons, which sounds like it would be lovely and relaxing, but it became absolutely distressing. It threw off my circadian rhythms. Without the night, my body never got the signal to sleep, and I could feel my thoughts getting stranger and stranger. At a certain point, I understood Dostoevsky’s fiction a little too well.

Night can be cozy or night can be sexy, and night is always spiked with a little bit of danger. Night has always felt full of possibility to me. When I was younger, I would stay up impossibly late because I could be alone in a house full of people, if all those other people were sleeping. In college, I loved coming back to the dormitories at night, seeing the lights on in my friends’ windows.

We humans are fascinated by anything that illuminates the darkness. We love the moon, and we love the stars. We love lightning bugs, and glow sticks, and I might know a little something about neon body paint under the black lights of the dance floor.

In today’s poem, the dark of night is punctured by bioluminescence, that amazing quality of certain creatures to literally light up. The speaker observes her daughter going into the night for work, and considers how, in the darkness, a place of danger might also be a place of sustenance.

The Railroad Worm
by Kimiko Hahn

Daughters, nocturnal by nature, rise
when the sun declines

to shower and powder for evening shifts.

Likewise, the Railroad Worm--
not a worm but a juvenile or adult female

Phrixothrix (the
With-Bristling-Hairs beetle)—

switches on a fiery red to attack or mate.

The female then lays a cluster of eggs underground,
curls around them for a year. The male,

while not luminous
does possess wings for convenient conveyance—

not something I’d want to spot
at the blues joint where my youngest bartends.

"The Railroad Worm" by Kimiko Hahn. Originally published in RESPLENDENT SLUG, published by Ghostbird Press. Used by permission of the poet.