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.
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.
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.