—for Bill

We went to North Platte to watch trains.

Up before dawn, we found them
at Sutherland, in the park by the tracks.
And when the sun came up, we saw—too—
the fields, where hundreds of cows stood,
stinking together.  We took
photos from the bridge that safely took
schoolchildren over the mainlines.

The sky was a wash, but it didn’t really rain.
An engine idled—ditch lights glowing—
as dawn brightened near a convenience store,
where Luke the conductor was gone for coffee.
Then talking to Bill,
he said his inter-modal had left the night before
from Cheyenne:  UP 5117—
bottle-necked now with the other trains:
trains carrying cars, oil, the ones
from the Powder River Basin with their weighty
loads of low-sulfur coal—waiting,
ten miles west of North Platte, for orders to move.

Then, on—both we and the trains—
to the famous Bailey Yard,
eight miles in length, and cold as north wind could
manage in October, as we stood on the Visitor’s Center
platform.  Below us were more cows.
And “Oh!” said my urban nose, “Where’s the bathroom?”
I said it, too. (Check the tape).  Evergreens
swayed with the wind, twittered with gathering birds.

UP’s yard engines pushed railroad cars—
squealing and screeching—down from the hump,
sorting by destination—both the loaded and the empty—
while 5117 and other road engines refueled
at the Diesel Shop, off to our right.
first published in The Centrifugal Eye