Thursday, May 13, 2010
At the Bellows Falls crossing
a leased Santa Fe locomotive,
blue and yellow, backs a string
of cement cars across the river
toward the North Walpole yard.
You would enjoy seeing this stray
machinery from the Far West
groaning across the rusty bridge.
It invokes your California years,
the dust of the Central Valley
inflamed by the Santa Ana winds,
the Mexican pickers sweating
in fields that stretch from one slab
of mountains a hundred miles
to the other. Did you feel the land
tremble where one railroad crossed
another, subtler than earthquakes?
Did you admire the gray and red
Southern Pacific diesels cruising
from Oakland to Sacramento?
Maybe you don’t find railroads
as interesting as Thoreau did—
the hoot and stammer inscribing
the spirit of commerce on the green
silence of Walden. Sometimes
he hated its vibrancy and greed;
and sometimes I think the etching
of railroad on landscape ended
Jefferson’s agrarian dream for good.
But today in cloudy Vermont light
this alien diesel engine smiles
with effort and I smile back
at it; and maybe you also,
as you crouch over powerful texts,
are smiling with intuitive glee,
amused by what’s so childish in me.