| Switch Engine at Night
The firefly dance of the switchmen
talking with light:
Vertical lanternstreak printed on darkness
The engineer widens the throttle,
wheels spin, sand spurts under them,
crash of couplers as slack runs out
cars lurch into motion.
Sharp, swift arc of a lantern:
Gloved hand smacks brake valve, sand valve and throttle,
howl of diesel subsides, air hisses,
one worn brake shoe screams.
black elephants trunk to tail in the darkness
walk quietly down a siding.
Slow, stupid, blind, they bump
tusk into rump
into a line of their brothers:
the crash echoes.
More lanternchalk on the blackboard of night:
this time a circle. The engine backs off,
grumbling and clanking.
The lanterns climb onto the footboards,
each dragging a switchman.
Paul J. Sampson
Paul J. Sampson (firstname.lastname@example.org) still regrets leaving his job as a locomotive fireman on the Rock Island Line.