Guest Poet Cheryl L. Higgins

Lonesome Sound

Old man said
he could hear that whistle blow a hundred miles
and they could write a song about that.
Said he could tell how many cars a train freighted
just by how sad was its wail.

Old man said
trains usually sounded out
at crossings or towns
or coming upon another train.
Said No. 149 out of Sioux City
left the towns 200 miles back.  Had no call
to think about meeting another train
'til Lander. Or maybe Crawford.

Old man said
keening cross the plains like that
only thing took it to heart
was coyotes and jack rabbits.
Mayhap a snake or two
sunning hisself on the rails.

Said, last run she made, leaned on her whistle
from the Missouri straight through to the Rockies
Never let up just hollered cross the land
like the world come undone.
Like something lost
couldn't never be right again.

I said how that train was probly thinking
of the long empty plains ahead.
Of fenceposts ticking by and cattle
scabbing up the buffalo grass.

Thinking of passing unseen and unheard
the grassed-over soddies
hunched at springs once piped
now trickling through old stock ponds.

Of empty match-box homesteads
timber-bleached and bowed
before the vast order of sun and sky.

Of tilted windmills
wheeling, listless, as a fly
wing-plucked and turning, turning
round on bleary heat-cracked panes
what look myopic upon the prairie
the grass, the sky, the land to come.

Old man looked at the middle distance.
Said life's blood of the rail line was the livestock.
With the ranchers went that train.
Don't know but she wailed for
the thought of her last pull through
the pass into Lander stockyards.
Or for what she maybe wouldn't find
coming out t'other side.

September, 1998

Cheryl L. Higgins's Questions:

I am most interested in technical comments regarding line endings, and what isn't working for a reader with this, if anything. 

I have let myself sit away from this for a couple months, having 'worked it to death'.  I love it, but the second and last stanzas, while integral to the poem's balance/meaning bog down to me.  Unless, in reading it, you all enjoy them just fine?  Please let me know what works and doesn't for you all.  I am also fiddling and re-fiddling with line breaks and not happy with these, but not able to like any others any better, effect-wise. 

Please note, any that are astute enough to notice  the geograpy may be wrong.  I am not going to submit this to any publication until I can be certain historically of the rail line I am going to refer to.  This one may not have gone into lander, it also may not have this history.  There are other old rail lines I migiht be able to use across Neb/Ok/Wyom and maybe montana.  Anyone who knows some old rail history on the plains especially one that ran through the rocky mountains and would like to share privately e-mail, perhaps, would be appreciated...



Correspond with Cheryl L. Higgins at
with your ideas about this poem.

The Albany Poetry Workshop