Northern Alberta Railway

No cars. No trucks. No roads.
20 miles from the nearest town.
A shopping trip anywhere
two days, at least, by rail.
Three times a week the locomotive
steams in with groceries and visitors,
shatters the forever forest peace
with whistle shrieks, engine pants,
coal smoke billow spark fountain,
steel wheel on steel rail rumble,
the undercarriage jet fog hiss.
On hot summer days children
crowd the dining car confectionary
for chocolate ice cream, rare as cheese
from the backside of the moon.

Forty years he tends the steel,
wrestles the creosoted timbers,
disappears all day on his speeder,
checks trestles, spikes and sidings
and always home in time for supper.

Today cars and trucks
race up the highway,
snort carbon monoxide,
stuff their trunks with money,
and roar home to the city.

~ Gary Garrison

Gary Garrison is the President of the Edmonton Stroll of Poets Society. For three years he has been a volunteer with the Artist on the Wards program at the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton and has written many poems for patients and visitors. These poems grew out of experiences people shared with him at the hospital.

“My parents moved 25 times during their first 25 years of marriage, and so I’m fundamentally a nomad. I came to Canada as a draft dodger in 1970, and I’ve lived in Edmonton since 1973. I’m most at home in my own skin, even though, at the age of 60, it’s starting to sag and wrinkle and dry up. I frequently live in my dreams and imagination and memory. They are transitional homes for me, which I carry inside me as a caterpillar carries the thread to spin its own chrysalis.”

Editor’s note: This poem is from Home and Away – a sequel to the bestselling Writing the Land (2007). Look for one poet to be featured each day as Alberta poets ponder the question “what is home?” and explore our complex relationship with working on, living with, exploiting and protecting our land and our home. For more information about the project, click here.

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