—Photos by Taylor Graham
RIDING THE RAILS
He said he’d be on the railroad tracks.
Riding the route they used last year for Pony
Express—historical throwback detoured
from hectic country two-lanes to abandoned
railroad track. But how to find him on that lonely
stretch of rails and ties where you never
hear the whistle that means a train is coming—
engine, cars, caboose in a museum now.
No wheels to electrify the rails from there
to somewhere else. He asks you to be patient,
to pick a spot and wait. Exasperating.
The tracks are a moving target, even without
a train. He could be anywhere, riding
high on his dark horse, passing
through at night without a lantern, just clatter
of hooves on ballast or hardpan path
along-side. No street-lights. He could be
anywhere. Let him ride.
IT’S COLD OUTSIDE
No train comes through town—the tracks stop
here, where I see a young man walking
west, in wool watch-cap, sleeping bag draped
over his shoulder. It’s early, and cold.
Forty degrees by the time-and-temperature
display above the bank. Farther up Main,
by a building called Virtue, two very narrow-
gauge rails jut out of cutbank
but only by a ruler’s length. If the young
man followed that line into mountain,
would it be warmer inside?
GONE LIKE THE TRAIN
Where she grew up, words meandered
like water down a side-creek mid-Sierra
on its way to find the North Fork; like a fawn
following its mother through manzanita,
or porch-talk between supper and bed, before TV
or even radio, way out there. No need for
succinct, just let the words sprawl tired legs
over the stoop waiting for an evening breeze.
Venison was deer-meat, and nobody
asked if it was legal. She grew up pretty much
out of sight—except for the railroad.
She’d sit unblinking in the three-walled out-
house as the train rolled by, trainmen waving
at her but they’d soon be gone, out to Caldor
for another load of logs for milling into doors.
Did she dream the outhouse might
have a door someday? The train stopped
running decades ago, the mill shut down,
maybe the open-air privy’s gone now too.
THE CALDOR LINE
News photo: a tailgate briefing on the Branch
rail line: volunteers learn to cut brush, clean out
culverts, lubricate rail joiner bolts; how
to operate the CP& No. 4 speeder. Renovating
for the museum.
Remember Rita telling us how she
lived in the old days, way out miles of canyons
long before the new bridge over the river.
Railroad ran up Cosumnes, Diamond Springs
to Caldor, hauled logs for milling into doors.
Miles of uncut timber out beyond.
Years later, we used to hike there;
let down the tailgate, our dogs ran free. Miles
of uncut woods—long after the old mill
burned down. A new electric mill, in town.
Now there’s only one Shay locomotive
left, renovating for museum.
Rita’s gone too.
WHAT’S LOST, WHAT STAYS
You tell me limestone used to be the big export here—plain old sedimentary rock surfacing in pale golden outcroppings. Right here where we train our dogs, just off to the west—near the quarry edge: by ore car to grizzly, jaw-crusher, hammer-mill; 36”-gauge railroad to the kiln. Where are the tracks? Disappeared into county road and gated access to a subdivision, you say—but the kiln stands somewhere in these limestone hills. Haunt of ghost-pine and chaparral scrub. A place we train our dogs to find the lost; casual suburban litter, 4-wheel ruts through brush, homeless camps. October’s getting colder. Remember how it is in spring?
these hills burst out in
chamise with white blossom—red-
bud, pink heather-bells
You were way-back in line. Eight o’clock
and already trucks, SUVs, sedans were idling
from bus-station overflow parking, past
the water district, waiting their turn to unload
into dumpsters half a year’s trash too awkward
for curbside pickup or just too yuck to deal
with. Early morning, cold! You really wanted
to get rid of the broken-useless you were
hauling. Next best thing to cleaning out the
soul. A tough week. Traffic officer knocked
on your window, said the guys behind
would take your bit of trash in their pickup.
They had room. Driver met you
at the trunk of your dusty little car, big grin
on his face. Said, you don’t have much
and I like your bumper sticker. How could you
wipe his grin off your face? He grabbed
your trash can, your garbage bags full of who
knows what; handed the trash can back, empty.
There were lightning-bugs in his eyes.
You wore his grin all the way back home,
making room for every driver. Sometimes
it takes so little to bring you to tears.
SKY AT MORNING
We scuttled our plans
having to do with a wobbling warble
in the plumbing—
so much for makeshift fix-its.
October wind was a snitch whispering
our follies through the keyhole.
When we opened the door,
it was no handyman
but fluorescent-red dawn hitting
the flank of our familiar hill,
the call of wild geese telling us to leave
everything undone and just fly.
Many thanks to Taylor Graham for these fine poems on the rails and her wonderful photos to go alongside, celebrating our recent Seed of the Week: Railroad Tracks. The smoke in some of her photos is what has blown up our way from the Santa Rosa (and other) fires.
Lots to do in our area today, poetry-wise, starting at noon with Third Thursdays in the Central Library on I St. in Sacramento. Bring poems, preferably by a writer other than yourself, about the spooky or some aspect of tricks or treats. Then, this evening, the writing group Escritores del Nuevo Sol will release an anthology for their 25th anniversary at Luna’s Cafe in Sacramento, 8pm. And Poetry in Davis features Viola Weinberg and Traci Gourdine (plus open mic) at John Natsoulas Gallery in Davis tonight, 8pm. Lots of choices! Scroll down to the blue column (under the green column at the right) for info about these and other upcoming poetry events in our area—and note that more may be added at the last minute.
The latest edition of The Poeming Pigeon (Love Poems) is coming out soon; pre-orders are available through Nov. 1 at www.thepoetrybox.com/_DetailPagesBookstore/TPP-LovePoemsOrderPage.html?mc_cid=2f9765d770&mc_eid=b02a0f9fa2/. Next call for submissions (Poems from the News) will be from Dec. 15-Jan. 31; see www.thepoetrybox.com/ThePoemingPigeon.html#opencalls/.
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