- Great Plains Food Bank, and: Listening to a Rail in Mandan, and: Moorcroft, and: County 19, and: Butte
Great Plains Food Bank
The wind is in the trees again, and I’m thinking it’s a wonderthe body can move. The way the mother at the food bankfingers a can of concentrated juice. The way the line keepsheaving forward. The way the child tugs the heavy skirt.My job is to look for the weak and the elderly, like the guywho grew up in Oslo and is still trying to make it to Bergen.It’s a straight shot on the train, he says, but you have to bein Norway to catch it. I load his meat and his yogurt on a cart.I wait as he chooses nine of the least bruised carrots.The trunk of his car has the smell of dried flowers, and hisbaguettes fit lengthwise easily. But before I help him lowerhimself into the driver’s seat, and before his hands pass overone another, turning into the northbound traffic, he tells meI’m young. Tells me it’s spring. Says I should be out of here,heading for Bergen. I know he’s right. I know he’sso goddamn right. I stand as still as I can as he leaves. [End Page 155]
Listening to a Rail in Mandan
I’ve heard it said that you can feel it comingin the tremor of the tracks, that you can cockyour head and cup an ear to the smooth steeland sense it coming in vibrations, in rattles,that you can gather the blaze of frictionas it builds, the heart murmur climbing the passthrough the mountains inside your head.I stand at the edge of the brake and listenfor far-off signs: whistles, footfalls, gravelground under truck tires. I crawl up the gradeto the raised beds and the rails, the bull-runon the far side of the yard lit by overheads,each pool of light like a crude betrayalof the darknesses between. The railstake parallel trails of light past the sidings,past the curve at the end of the yard,past the bottleneck at the Heart River bridge—two aisles of light like childhood brothers adrift,like a father’s eyes carving the dark landbeside the dark river. The shape of a tree.The shape of an owl grinding the sky.I’ve heard it said that you can feel it comingfrom as far off as a mile, the distance erasedin the pump of a vein, in the flicker of overhead lights,the bull-run lying in its own dust wasted,the tire tracks zigzagged and stackedwhere the rail cop makes fate his listless routine.I shoulder against a fishplate and lowermy head to the rail. I wait for a chime, a shiver,some thunder to ride past the overland silence.I’ve heard it said that the kingdom of heavensurrounds us, though we fail to see.No stars tonight. No fire. No brother by the junkersawaiting my call. No father walking toward me [End Page 156] on the tar-blackened ties. No dog’s eyecatching the searchlights. Not a single soundfleshing this tank town as the rail begins to shake,as the train begins to whisper my name. [End Page 157]
You gave me a ride when I was lostin Wyoming. Took me to your home.Showed me your gun collectionyou had to go shoulder-deepthrough the clothes in the closet to reach.They were old and unloaded,you told me, and you didn’t shoot themanymore, just oiled them and kept themperfectly clean. I was careful not to flinchas I watched the double-barrelraise and train on my face.The tooth-hole you flashedin the grin after. The spasm in your handsas you swung the gun and pointed itat yourself to show evenness.You told me about doing five yearsfor murder, asked if I would’ve doneanything different, finding a...