No longer her signature in his deft hand,
blues sounding the crossing of U.S. nine,
awakening the village at half past five,
announcing the day about to expand,
soft sunshine and bird song that could combine
in simple joy of knowing one's alive.
No more does hissing steam drive home the rod,
steel wheels wildly spinning on trails of iron,
its circulation's veins, coal the life blood
of a giant grown old. Progress, the god
worshipped, has withdrawn, a far flown icon
to a past without rainbows or the flood.
No more the hard workers, hard-living men,
engineers, hand on the throttle, fixed eye
on the rail, and soot-streaked firemen stoking
steam boilers, brawny backs, not acumen,
translating water into work, or die
trying, the laws of physics invoking.
No heroes hallowed shrines...John Henry died
racing with a machine. Riding the rails
from one hobo jungle to the next,
dirty, despairing, lonely men tried
to be faithful to their holy grails,
sirens that sang from a happier text.
No past worth remembering, flying first class,
or future to insure for the iron horse
whose lines bound east to west, that made us one
indivisible nation, Cape Hatteras
to the snow capped mountains, staying the course,
unifying from dawn to setting sun.
No sad song's wistful tune or elegy
put to words can describe the emptiness
of a day without sound of its coming
or going. The schedules, once meant to be
Greenwich to the clock noting day progress,
died, train towns, the old days and ways summing.