How Quickly What’s Passing Goes Past

By Lowell Jaeger

When trains rumbled in the switchyard

—coupling and clanging, hissing and charging forth—

we threw down our fielder’s mitts,

dropped the ball on the mound,

abandoned bats at home plate,

and sprinted like our pants were on fire

 

for wigwag signals at the crossing

on the far side of City Park.

Spit on pennies and laid them down on the rails.

Hid like saboteurs in tall grass

until the black beast had lumbered beyond us.

Coal-fired steam engines, the last few

 

to chug and huff loads of pulp logs

for the mills surrounding our town.

The same locomotives now enshrined

—rusted mechanical dinosaurs—

on courthouse lawns and county fairgrounds

in Millersburg, Springville, Harper Siding.

 

The mills, soon after, collapsed—cannibalized for salvage,

auctioned for scrap, gutted by scavengers.

Easy targets for tribes of stone-throwers

like us who strode boldly into vacant

log yards and pitched rocks, fastballs crashing

through however many windows still held glass.

 

We’d outlasted the turf upon which we tread,

surprised when we lifted our heads how steam engines

streamlined into sleek aluminum dream-liners.

Strangers’ glances strung window after window

after window, and if we waved

we shuddered how quickly what’s passing goes past.

___

As founding editor of Many Voices Press, Lowell Jaeger compiled Poems Across the Big Sky, an anthology of Montana poets, and  New Poets of the American West, an anthology of poets from 11 Western states. His third collection of poems, Suddenly Out of a Long Sleep (Arctos Press), was published in 2009 and was a finalist for the Paterson Award.  His fourth collection, WE (Main Street Rag Press), was published in 2010.  He is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Montana Arts Council and winner of the Grolier Poetry Peace Prize. Most recently Jaeger was awarded the Montana Governor’s Humanities Award for his work in promoting thoughtful civic discourse.


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