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Robert Wrigley

Prayer For The Winter

I place two pennies, one on either rail:
warm from my pocket they melt the frost there
then harden into place against the coming tremors.

The ties too are tufted white, and fibrous mounds
of coyote scat, and the next occasional spike
worked loose, which I fling like the others in the river.

A crooked volunteer tree offers up its last
or its only apple, hard and thick-skinned,
bitter still but sweetened a bit by the cold.

Along this mile long arc of track, four springs
and four steep chutes choked with blackberries,
and four cold pools crowded with cress.

It's a black fly wind, all ice and bite,
and the usual fishermen have all gone home.
Trainmen hate those pennies. I'll hide

until the engine's past, hide again
for the obsolete caboose this short-line throwback
still uses. They hate the clunk and jump,

the eighty ton shudder pummeling their bones.
But I want something to show for this day
other than a mile of awkward walking,

a wind so fierce and relentless the chimney smokes
lay out in rigid lines and vanish and the only smell
is snow, snow, snow, like a fat and generous relative

coming all day but still too far off to see.
And when it arrives, the lead cloud billowy and black,
the first icy spits will sting like tiny fires.

Already the downstream train plows from under it
and rounds the corner flocked, a thunderous cake.
a mile of steel, a birth-water umbilicus

harkening storm, and I, who must ply
the deadman roads and walk the skin-tingling
right-of-way corridor, I don't ever want it to stop.

Not the train, not the snow, not the winterkill wind
that blows and blows. No, let it snow,
let the earth go blind and the highway unlined.

Let it come down like sleep, let the deep drifts
extend their leeward fingers and the springs spill
into long random sculptures of ice.

Wouldn't it be nice, marooned in a frozen world
for a night one long winter long, home
where the fire burns the years and wind

sings its one note wavery aria over and over.
and we are alive, alive, in a place
where nothing matters but that we are warm

where the children toss their gossamer
untenderable coins against the weather.
and never lose, and never, never lose.

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