This train will not run on time.
The string of aluminum skinned coaches lays motionless along
the hollow platform of narrowing
perspective, for now.
Passengers are all aboard as
I arrive last.
A whistle, a ricochet lurch, a series of shudders,
passengers from small rude compartments gather in the gondola.
Mediocre champagne is served.
Few notice the empty sand lots, ugly maintenance shed and tractor trailers
parked for the evening,
on the siding,
we gather fragments of speed,
Blue sky clouds with flat undersides
Tagged backs of buildings frame
three barefoot punk chicks,
balancing on the sidetracks
running through their meager guarded existence.
Desolate, isolated remnants of green bushes hold hobo camp grounds.
Puddle skeeters run the stagnant trackside pools
of suspect drainage.
Viaduct riveted iron, oblivious to our passing gondola
holds up contradictory automobile traffic.
Coach yard limits,
curved tracks, and greased gravel
surrounds our cramped quarters.
Quaffing of bubbly severely moderates
departure with moderate expectation, from Vancouver.
Engine smoke bathes our
temporary, station polished windows.
We surely begin the journey.
Back alley walls yell
spray bomb anecdotes of rebellious intentions.
Trailered lots and houses of lesser value, filled with hungry tables
arrive and disappear across the windows of this train.
Three people and myself, sit at this cramped table.
For an unknown reason,
two seats face backwards.
We move through, out of the old neighbourhood.
Bulldozed crow rookeries have given over to developers
of warehouse buildings.
A quiet lake and a stilled Still Creek have been severely stripped,
of deep alder bushes which shaded childhood adventures.
of this train and its passengers hardly matters.
My son warned me of this “silver tube”
filled with strangers,
forty minutes in and a long ways from Hope
Anxiety hangs on the chill of too cold, condition, air.
Barbed wire industrial fence surrounds the warehouses.
An old glamourized coach, named “Avant Guard”
painted in gold yellow, lays alone on a siding.
Our capacity filled dome car
of flagged and tattered consequences of business as usual,
through the glass of ‘nice prison’ rolls by.
We are captured. Only some of us understand.
From the graded trestle
muddy Fraser River flows into the windowed view.
I notice, from this table of limited personal space,
I sit across from a man I do not know.
At no other time, or place would this occur
except on our train.
We cross the Fraser on the Pattullo Railbridge.
Barges, scows and tugs churn the brown water
finding small docks attached to junk lot dreams.
The waterfront, the backside of street front business
gives up glimpses
of the ruination of a once fertile and pungent flood plain
now a dirtied delta of discards draining.
What do those two mallards find, beaks down
tail feathers up in the stagnant side eddies
of industrial pressure.
Finally, the train, speeding, rushes
beyond the blight to no obvious signs of people.
High water grabs at low brushed banks,
swirling in the evening, sun daubed valley.
Tourists talk of past scenarios,
past excursions, past dollars,
past gas pumps, past middle-class meanderings,
general entitlements and general deservings.
The tilled soil of adjacent fields lays barely noticed.
Good intentions won’t feed these lolly gagging travellers
warmth from a stable, old, sun star,
the bent backs of toiling workers is forgotten,
in the flamboyant conversations, void of nutrients.
Railbridge at Mission 7:45 evening.
We are stopped, suspended over the tumultuous eddies
held aloft by old box beam plate.
The ticketed passengers build sentences of personal history
and mediocre moments within this coach.
“Excuse me where is dining car B?”
Too early to enquire about buffalo.
“Second call for supper dining car B.”
“Is this the bar car?”
“One moment, I have to disappear
to reset a toilet button.”
“Now, may I give you undivided
attention to take your drink order?”
“Do you have Irish whiskey?”
“I’ll be on board for 4 days,
can I run a tab”?
“I guess I’ll have Canadian clubbed”
Fishers wait under a small bridge.
Jiggling ice, rocks in my drink.
Quickly goes the train.
Quarries have been cut in the side hills above the manured flats.
Coddled civilizations create puddled cultivations
along both sides of the gravel bed rail.
Broke down attempts to exist, lie beneath furrows
that could provide plenty,
as trees stand up to their knees in old floodwater.
Feeling the tears of the prairies, ahead,
long down the ribboned steel,
Fresh cut flowers, a whiskey, alone,
finally, with a Claude Rouselle sketch
in the bar car.
One window frames the bluff.
One window shows the lake.
One window shows free horses.
One window reflects a fake.
Comes a common twilight
we need to sleep or stay awake.
Evening 9:00 pm, continues
Winding through the canyon of childhood,
of anxious adventures, avoiding Hell’s Gate.
Earth does not quake here, tonight,
buildings sit fine in the evening.
I slide the bed from the cubby cabinet,
jostle into the crisp sheets,
dim the lights,
wheels scream on the turns,
glimpsing sidings and few lights from solitary
Tuesday, morning, eleven, next day.
Poplars resist, tensing in the wildness of the crags
nooks and crannies.
Ravens flutter, water falls
a forgotten dump truck eaten by the ground,
existing, holds forth,
surrounded by graceful birch.
I am awakened for lunch of disposable incomes.
Passing headwater lakes,
disposable outcomes, outfalls,
down falls, lingering doubts.
I prepare for uninvited lunch guests,
type “eh” conversations, missed scenery,
angry wife at late husband
and a late man bringing tea to his second wife.
He talks engineering, industry, water on Mars,
expiry dates on cars, philosophical stars,
beautiful women, primitive culture,
durable good, if and should,
earth-quaked adobe and mine faces of could.
“Madame et Monsieur. L’train, Jasper
approximately 45 minutes”
The prairie unfolds, just down the line
lunch a turkey wrap, a cup of tea
a missed lunch, oh sleepy me.
A blight of roads,
and interrelated calamity.
ten tracks of commerce,
prairie dog, upright
washing of windows,
swirling snows on towering peaks, within sight.
Back seat of the dome
hot back of the coach
go, go figure.
quality of rhyme wearing quite thin,
see the end, way past begin,
gray hair and a white hare
and shades in between
travelling for romance, a tourist dream.
burning up diesel, valuable track time,
out running the quagmire,
spending a dime.
chugging to the prairies
of buffalo sublime.
A well of emotion from a time,
where buffalo roamed freely
long before cow.
Pulling out, a rocking, a clack
headed down east, clicking steel track.
There goes a young grizzly,
black bear too,
elk and goats
escaped postcard zoo.
Lonely white stone covered grave
watched over by wild situations,
way up passed a skeleton
of a burned down forest.
Athabaska — “Free River of Rage.”
originating in the Columbia ice field
seventh longest river in the world.
Windings of the river,
swath of human endeavour,
railings and the roadbeds
exploitation bound for never.
Board room treasure maps of theft
check-mated by stormy weather.
Tunnelling through a bluff so bold
science pushed learned thoughts wobbling,
drove the paradigm through broken pain
and buried plots.
Buried lay the forest,
oxygen for all the land,
beetles were called our enemy
and tar sand oh so grand.
Given to the stealing
and massive crooked schemes
hearts were just so worried,
by the damage to our dreams.
Decisions belonged to the future,
were written on the winds,
excuses reined hypocrisy
on techno monster driven sins.
Complex lay the circumstance,
and tacky lay the malls,
hurricanes were brewing mighty fast,
with dangerous bitter squalls.
Too many ignored the music,
believing in outer space,
tilting pleasant whiskey
betting on the human race.
First Sighting of Buffalo
Three men sit at the dining car table,
conversations of community,
carpet baggers politicians, durable brakes,
crumbling infrastructure, treason,
and the usual suspects,
phony front page freedoms
rural native poverty,
boil water advisories
and stacked decks,
closing steel mills and
I stare out the train window
and “there, there,” the first sighting
“There, there,” the
huge backs of…
“fenced in” buffalo.
Nobody had a winchester,
windows did not roll down
these buffalo were not wild, not mild,
not endless numbers on grassland plains
not sacred beasts of Indian names,
willows remain still,
no thundering herds.
The heavens keep damning
lost historical words.
What was forever,
got shot down for sport.
Perspectives were shallow
by drunken kill report.
History came closing,
a scarcity of drying meat,
ancient old ways faded
in the gunpowder of deceit.
Where walked a vision,
a balance in a chance,
buffalo legends came and died
faded in a dance.
Trophies hung in the parlours of varnish,
protected privilege avoided the tarnish.
Empire would rise with the snapping of flags,
modernity aced eternity, appropriate coughing gags.
Gone were the buffalo,
massive waves so strong,
harmony and sustenance now
hid out in a song.
Powerful were the ricochets
down to our vacant time,
horizons are only grey now
the buffalo sun will never shine.
you choose of the tattered fragile dream,
the poison of your commerce
threatens every scene.
Careful now giddy partners
at last moment of our truths,
prairies mostly fenced now
and sold at booths.
Gone is our balanced power
and strength to just survive,
others work hard beyond the horizon
to keep us just alive.
Tied to life’s web
we will surely come to know
Or faltering and stumbling
we will die off, not so slow.
How will we learn
and how do we make the change,
following the ghosts of buffalo
bleached bones upon the range.
The Demands of the Shortest, Long Story
Couples in the early morning
nothing much to say
experienced a single, old geezer
mubbling toward dawn of day.
Tiny houses, tiny town,
along grain sidings from the past,
determinations ducking elements
in the prairie oh so vast.
Dove and coyote
crossed fallow field,
searching for a rearing place
so far, not revealed.
Success was not an option,
but a deep and driven need,
fences of poison stood in their path
and yet they did proceed.
And coming to the river
they flew and swam across,
their home was of the natural world,
their relation the albatross.
Mankind dominated their surroundings
and filled the bitter sky,
progress was their mandate
perhaps a tired worn out lie.
Their relations were trapped by the barbwire
and sobbed a yearning cry.
The time of trampled Nations
demanded true change of course,
dove and coyote called out,
to selfish man’s remorse.
Gone are the wild old buffalo,
and many an innocent beast
driven to extinction
by desperate men who would not cease.
Gone are the magnificent herds,
hard history of slaughtered shame.
But today I kept heart’s promise,
I shot no buffalo
from this train.