Literati! You have until tomorrow midnight (“I’m leavin’ on that midnight train to Moscow”–Gladys Knight and the Pips), November 10 to get me your caboose over here. We are a bit backlogged on stories received but not yet posted, but should have everything on line by Thursday evening. At that point we will announce finalists, and have a write off with a new prompt. Gotta favorite you think should make the finals? Lemme know at email@example.com and I will consider putting it in as a finalist if you can give a compelling reason why it’s worthy. (Not soliciting bribes here, but I am partial to Sumatran coffee and all the usual vices)
by Mick Coolie
When they said ________, steel tasted on the tongues of the repeat of the spikers,
The sound not the men.
Coolie’s shadowed silk-strapped do’uns and Mick’s leather caps
Stoled by the northern winds lay forever under the wayside cut.
The track lay towards heaven where the ground no longer was until the labor stretched Further east to meet the golden nail.
Tarred feathered hard the men stood naked against the wind.
Six years on the line
Still alive there was something to be said—no man took offense.
Pitched tents echoed limbs lost, workers killed alongside,
Souls hung on pegs in the coatroom where they signed on
Cold and liver heavy.
East meets west—the herald noise in print
Triumphed by Barons and Lords of this new Land
Mere talk that couldn’t swing a jack couldn’t lift a rail, no idea where the oil went
Scoffed over tea and rice, buffalo and whiskey.
Most men spat silenced. Nothing meant nothing ‘cept for getting back to the pay
Back to the city of the lost and wounded
The storefront promise done in by the weight of food and boots
That crippled the notes out the back stairs door
To corners crammed with shattered dreams, workers washed down the gutters
On the way to the sea.
Bones ill-spirited along the line, buried in back of makeshift towns whose only sign
To place the dead.
Splintered tied crosses for the Mick’s
Splits for the Coolies
The mountains showed no division between the two
But closer to a city there was.
Only if to resurrect and use their bones to build with
Fortified skulls, anchored ankles, crushed ribs
The ones who lost a fight, left in the dirt, covered by history:
Old Johnny clackity-clack: Buddha cuts under the mists.
Magnesium trays exploded in front of the guys and dolls, the line’s end.
A million workers stood faceless at the cameraman and his staff,
The husbands and wives of the famous milled about,
Children pin-wheeled behind the luxury cars with candy
Clutched in privileged fingers
Fourth of July cotton halos for the little ones.
They stared at the men drenched in mud and blood and pointed.
It was time to go home
Riding in the middle of a parlor car sipping American Bourbon,
Red-cheeked white freckled mess seated
Surrounded by linen cloth napkins and silver
Not to be pocketed …
Journeys back mirrored how they had come
Two steps per tie or half for some and those who could still walk the rail
Glory stole their pride
Had to step aside when the train went by.