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Post Road Magazine #31

Ode to Trains Departing Billings Railyard

Jeffrey Alfier

You wake the world like a hammer dropped,

like morning's aftertaste of a drink at last call.

Trestle and ballast shoulder you through towns

made of rivers and mines, north country

stops held by grace and dirty snow.

Coalers, grainers, flatcars and tankers

clocked by a shimmer of diesel

heat, move the world on your back.

All forks in the road are settled by the fists

of switchmen. The iron smell of your departures

is the perfect hunger of that one phone call

granted a fugitive trapped on his way out of town.

River Country

July, and a man fishes the Yellowstone

from the trestle of a derelict rail bridge.

In the near distance, a young woman

with a new backpack, stares down

Route 89 toward the interstate.

She hangs a thumb in the air

for southbound traffic. The worries

of her parents back home

in White Sulphur Springs are carried

by the soles of her new Sketchers.

Her ears still hold to the Van Morrison

an old man played in his Dodge truck

as he gave her a lift the length

of Meagher County.

A Bozeman busboy hangs from her heart.

There is, in her coat pocket, a gift for him,

a song she wrote to unfold in his voice

as he laces her lines between the strings

of his guitar, his fingertips calloused

with chords she wants the night air to touch.

What they have is not boxed candy

or a Hallmark crush—it is earth

and humid sky, railroad ballast, coarse

stones of the Gallatin River they'll steal

barefoot over, to a palm reader

back in town, on West Main, their music

weaving into their skin, unrinsed

by water, nor the miles between

them, even when she lifts her hand again

on that highway north, her lifeline in the air.

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