Spring 2008, Volume 4

Poetry by Juanita Rivers

Trains Go By

a train whistle burrows deep in the west side
All over the city, creatures are devout and full of purpose.
                                                        Frank X. Gaspar

A train whistle burrows deep in the west side
of a small north Texas town. It's gone around
the hills and past the fenced pastures where cows
graze in the humid lazy heat of summer. I remember,
when I was young, the lonesome wale of the steam
engine as it puffed and chugged in slow motion
around the hill by our pasture that lay on the east
side of our house. The white and gray smoke coming
from the stack on the engine curled up into the clouds.
The scent of burned coal filled the air. Then it would
scream a haunting cry as though in deep pain from
an invisible wound. It told of the approaching danger
to folks down the track.

There were pastures on both sides of our house, that
sat on top of the hill. My cousins and I would go
down to the one on the east side where a natural
spring bubbled up cold, clear water from the earth.
Sometimes we'd take twine with bacon fat tied to
one end, and an empty bucket, that Granny let us use.
We'd play this game of catch the crawdad. We'd drop
the line into the spring and the one who caught the most
crawdads and put them in the bucket, won the game.
I don't believe the crawdads cared too much for
this game. They'd bug out their beady eyes, flash
their red claws and try to pinch us by lashing out.
But when we heard the four o'clock whistle of the
slow moving freight, we knew it was time to head
for home. So we'd dump the crawdads back into
their watery home and watch them skittle away.

Town was a mile down the west side of the hill.
Every Saturday we'd get all dressed up and start
our journey into town, walking on the railroad tracks.
We balanced on the rails, the first one to slip off was
a sissy and had to wash the supper dishes that night.
There was a long trestle with a road running perpendicular
below. I didn't like it here. There was no place to step off,
only the ties in the middle of the track to walk on. One day
we were half way across when we heard the warning whistle.
The train would be there soon, it was on an incline coming
into town. We ran as fast as we could on the rough rail bed,
barely making it to the other side just as the train entered
the bridge. We went home along the old dirt road that
climbed up the hill. The black walnut and oak trees rustled
their leaves in the late summer breeze. The choir of birds
and crickets sang their songs and ducks swam in the distant pond.

Juanita Rivers reading

BIO:  Juanita Rivers is enrolled in writing classes at Long Beach City College. She has published poetry in Verdad Magazine and The Long Beach Press Telegram. Her interests are novel and poetry writing and watercolor. She graduated from LBCC and the University of LaVerne.