The Texas Eagle

 

They flew back 12 months later

A new goal on their mind

To LA now via Texas

Chicago left behind.

 

As out from Union Station

The loco pulled away

Their journey lay before them

Ahead the USA.

 

Their Zephyr now an Eagle

Part of the Amtrak fleet

Leaving sidings in their wake

And crowded city street.

 

Skyscrapers disappearing

Behind the urban sprawl

Once more they heard the siren’s

Mournful, haunting call.

 

Settled in there starts the card game

Out comes wine box then the snacks

Dealing hands of friendly rummy

As they shift along the tracks.

 

Illinois unrolling

Beneath a leaden sky

Refineries and lorry parks

And scrapyards passing by.

 

Glistening strips of tarmac

Great trucks immersed in spray

Pounding through the wheatfields

Towards the end of day.

 

Little townships linked by rails

Snaking ‘cross the dark’ning land

While cutting through the lowering grey

Beamed the sunset’s orange band.

 

Over dinner tales of journeys

Why they came and where they go

Beautiful the single mother

Spilling out her family’s woe.

 

Heading South to see her parents

Her mother’s heart due for an op

Strong father’s neck now triply broken

With them both she’ll have to stop.

                                                                       

Mexican the landscape gardener

Crossed the border – ne’er return

His sights now turning to Chicago

If more dollars he can earn.

 

Into Missouri speeds the train now

St Louis city reached at night

Its spirit reaching ever skyward

With an archway etched in light.

 

Cabin quickly turned to bedroom

Bunks made up and sheets turned back

Up the steps and strapped in safely

Like hand luggage on a rack.

 

In the night the creaks and rattles

Magnified as others sleep

Rocked by the continual motion

As across the miles they leap.

 

In the homesteads passed in darkness

In children’s bedrooms scattered round

Do they fire imagination

With the Amtrak’s siren sound?

 

A new day dawns in Arkinsaw

En route now to Little Rock

Its name still steeped in infamy

That engendered worldwide shock.

 

Far behind them lakes in Winter

Closing now on bursting Spring

Cherry trees in pink haze blossom

Making hope and heart take wing.

 

And yet their journey has a shadow

Explaining why they were delayed

On the track a soul despairing

Sadly down a life was laid.

 

Creeks and lakes and green-tipped woodland

Hem the rails on either side

Opening then to grazing pastures

Above an eagle – wings spread wide.

 

Then the swamplands draped in purple

Egrets wading ‘neath the gaze

Of raptors circling ever higher

While in their lounge the travellers laze.

 

 Calves just racing for the pleasure

While mothers feed on fresh, sweet grass

Scenes of rural contemplation

Outside the windows swiftly pass.

 

Another hamlet filled with glimpses

Of other peoples, other ways

School buses waiting for their charges

Who gaily greet the lengthening days.

 

They crossed the line at Texakarna

Entering the Lone Star State

The faded Ritz Motel a witness

To seedy life and secret date.

 

The run-down station had a sign there

It said the city’s Twice As Nice

But in the neighbouring prison compound

The inmates stared with eyes of ice.

 

Behind the fence of silver barbed wire

In groups or singly there they stood

One gave the train the single finger

His farewell wave was all but good.

 

In the woodland new leaf bursting

White blossom bright among the green

Turning swamp to sylvan beauty

Giving glades a vibrant sheen.

 

Wild wisteria garlands trackside

Exuberant in its natural state

More at home in free profusion

Than trained to frame a garden gate.

 

Past graveyards filled with Southern flowers

Past scrapyards filled with Southern cars

Piled in heaps of crumpled metal

Detritus of the Stripes and Stars.

 

Lunching then on salmon seared

With happy sisters saying Grace

Joined together with their Christ now

After one had seen Death’s face.

 

A life of husbands, drink and drugging

Discarded now for her own good

Descendant of a pioneer, she’s

Finally living as she should.

 

Now the fields give way to streets

Brash Dallas fills the April sky

‘Cross 40 years the echoes come

Here JFK did cruelly die.

 

Mirrored blocks he never saw

Not built before the day he fell

Where are now the dreams he wove?

For some they still retain their spell.

 

After miles of factory silos

Smoking tower and storage shed

Back to rolling, peaceful pasture

Filling vistas far ahead.

 

Now in meadows clumps of cacti

As the further South they go

All too soon the shadows lengthen

Light takes on a molten glow.

 

As night rolls in, distant horizon

Retaining still the sun’s gold fire

While above light blue to navy

Darkens sky o’er day’s bright pyre.

 

In San Antone they broke their journey

City of the Alamo

Here the heroes lost the battle

But in dying beat their foe.

 

Along the river tamed in concrete

Tourist bustle ‘neath the trees

Terrace cafes, arching bridges

Jazz and birdsong on the breeze.

 

Back aboard the Texas Eagle

Even though the hour was late

Ready to resume their journey

Out across the dark’ned state.

 

From the green of river valleys

Through the scrubland now they pound

Where the cream of yucca flowers

Punctuates the sandy ground.

 

Overhead the vultures circling

Black against the wide blue sky

While below the long train passes

Over river beds bone dry.

 

Del Rio gives a chance for smokers

To stretch their legs along the track

Lighting up with urgent action

Before attendants call them back.

 

Palm trees mixed with ramrod poplars

Where US touches Mexico

Then the recreation area

Where lakes within the desert show.

 

Ahead the names that live in legend

El Paso, Tuscon down the line

Home to boyhood cowboy heroes

Their image branded on their time.

 

In the parched and empty landscape

A sudden movement takes the eye

Three deer disturbed from peaceful grazing

From the man-made monster fly.

 

Red-tipped stalks of flowering cactus

Before the crossing of ravine

On the towering Pacos High Bridge

Far below the river green.

 

Through sandstone cuttings driving on

Ever-edged by trackside wire

Amid the rock-strewn barren wasteland

A cactus bursts in blossom fire.

 

Yellow blooms and purple flowers

Thanks to all the Springtime rain

Line the route past rocky gulches

As the lunch is served again.

 

Table talk with lady farmer

Travelling now because she could

Next to her a trainee film girl

Heading out to Hollywood.

 

Then from out the desert flatness

Rise the mountains stark and proud

Dappled now with stripes of sunlight

Filtered through the thickening cloud.

 

Rollercoaster ridge in profile

Etched against a sky of blue

As the distant peaks are shrouded

And the rain obscures the view.

 

Who can bemoan the change in weather

As the windows streak with drops

The colour’s there because of water

They just hope it quickly stops.

 

In the lounge a plucky lady

Round trip journey near complete

Armed with crosswords and her rations

Sleeping in a budget seat.

 

A brief halt in Alpine, Texas

Gateway to the Big Bend Park

Changing here to Mountain Timescale

One hour closer to the dark.

 

Rolling hills and open grassland

Stretching far as eye can see

All around prime cattle country

Prairies of West history.

 

Vast tracts of land with ghosts a –plenty

Running on to El Paso

Warrior Indians riding mustangs

Cowboys taming wild bronco.

 

Freight train traffic heading Eastward

Brings their progress to a stand

Time to savour now the stillness

Of this sea of scrub and sand.

 

Silence broken by the rumble

Union Pacific wagons roll

Containers shipped across the oceans

Hauled by diesel now not coal.

 

From El Paso farewell to Texas

New Mexico now lies ahead

Then to enter Arizona

Time for dinner then to bed.

 

On a hillside o’er El Paso

Outlined in lights a giant lone star

Shining out the pride of statehood

Visible from near and far.

 

In the rail cars, children playing

People talking, while some sleep

Warmly curling under blankets

Counting miles instead of sheep.

 

In the morning in the desert

Saugauro cactus standing tall

Arms aloft to greet the new day

And to catch the rare rainfall.

 

Past stockyards filled with shuffling cattle

Past massive walls of golden hay

An immigrant who built a business

The signs proclaiming McElhay.

 

Breakfast with a farmer’s son

Who turned to teaching musically

A rail trip now his dream vacation

From hard graft running B&B

 

Under peaks of sandstone starkness

Curves the train around a bend

The desert merging into scrubland

Seemingly without an end.

 

On a bluff at old Fort Yuma

Indian church with walls of cream

Looks across the cultivation

Oasis in the desert scene.

 

From the dry and sandy dullness

To the edge of Salton Sea

Pleasant looking by the date palms

Yet death to fish and you and me.

 

Into Palm Springs through the palm trees

Then past towers shining white

Farming wind with giant propellers

On the plains and mountain height.

 

Meet a black cap-wearing artist

His Dutch descent here all too clear

Unpacking now his well-used sketch pad

Like a latter-day Vermeer.

 

Now they passed by grassy foothills

Orchards filled with orange fruit

Heading coastwards through vast suburbs

Drawn behind the loco’s toot.

 

Journey’s end at Union Station

Halls of marble, wood and glass

Echoes here of Thirties glamour

Where the movie stars did pass.

 

Back again in California

Once more clocks show Pacific Time

LA waiting there to greet them

Come on in, the weather’s fine.

 

                                                                                                                                                                   April, 2004