By Lowell Jaeger

We follow the rails through town

behind the pulp mill and the log shed.

Behind the tire shop with its leaning stacks

of bald re-treads.  Behind the foundry’s

soot black windows, welders’ torches

cascading sparks, casting devilish silhouettes

of forge tenders in hardhats shoveling coal.


Might you be who done this?

a man on the tire shop loading dock

calls out to us, spreads his arms

beyond the tracks downhill to the river

where dozens of cast-off spares have rolled

out on a thin crust of ice.


Once we squinted and pressed our gaze

into a smudged foundry window and found

an ash and sweat streaked broken-tooth

face staring back.  He was palming a black rock

that looked like a rock we’d thrown.

I’d bet you’d be who done this, he said.


But we’re not.  It’s not us,

we tell the cops.  They’re showing us photos

of a girl’s body buried under brush

and scrabble.  A waitress, walking to work

and back along the tracks.  Blade wiped

on a rag hung frozen beneath a trestle.


Same trestle where we’d carved our names.

But the rag’s not ours.  Never dreamt for an instant

a guy could get away with something like that.

Her, casting scared glances over her shoulder,

walking home along the tracks.


Behind the pulp mill.  Behind the tire shop.

Behind the foundry.  The forge tenders

blinded by showering sparks,

heads bent to shoveling coal, more coal.


As editor of Many Voices Press, Lowell Jaeger compiled New Poets of the American West, an anthology of poets from 11 Western states.  He is author of five collections of poems, including and WE (Main Street Rag Press 2010) and How Quickly What’s Passing Goes Past (Grayson Books 2013). Most recently, Jaeger was awarded the Montana Governor’s Humanities Award for his work in promoting thoughtful civic discourse. 

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