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.
3 thoughts on “Train Trek, to boldly go where…”
Here are lines more prose than poetry with strong, historical images of the building of the rail lines year upon year where not all survived. There is a bleak pride here of cultures both disrespected and affirming their pioneer spirit. The intermixing is the American melting pot towards the joining of a nation to its territories. As I read line by line I pictured the turning of a photo album where the past is both shown and given brief explanations. At the same time I felt a disconnect with the writing style as if the ghosts in this story did not know each other nor ever met unless they shared that single page together. I heard echoes, but couldn’t find the direction of the sounding.
Love what you’ve done in poetry form, or prose poetry. So much emotion, metaphor and raw truth in these lines. Historically accurate, it seems…pulls us into the experience of the workers who laid the rails and experienced hardship, discrimination, etc. In my view this is one of the finalists.
This does have a ‘flashbulb’ orientation to it I feel – PM describes this well when speaking of a “Photo Album”, as I got snap shots flashing across my mind when reading the text.