Coal trains sometimes wake me up at night,
their brakes wailing as they slow through town,
freighted with coal for Minnesota power plants.
Soon they clatter back for more like empty buckets.
The freeway runs east and west a few miles north,
carrying semi loads of wheat for bread and breakfast cereal.
Even the wind goes east and west here,
delivering mountain cold to the pothole farms,
bringing back manure and moans from the sales ring.
Out at the national park last fall I saw some geese
laboring south across the flow of commerce,
following the Little Missouri to its source
and beyond toward the ruins of Spain’s vanished empire.
The Poppers thought we too must abandon our settlements,
give the place back to the buffalo for safe keeping,
and obey the east-west tug of our national heart.
But the darkness south and north of town,
weightless and persistent as a goose quill,
still pulls at the occasional probing headlights,
that work their way up the section line,
like a cowboy keeping the fences strung tight.
Mark Trechock has lived in North Dakota since 1993. He retired last year from a career in rural community organizing. His poems have recently appeared in Canary, Limestone, Off The Coast, Wilderness House Literary Journal, Raven Chronicles, and Fracture, a collection of essays, poems and stories on fracking in America.