Leaving Chetek on Sunday Night
Homeward, I park by the shuttered canning plant
and walk along the ditch behind the grain elevator.
The trains have rolled through town at this time,
heading to Norma Junction to drop their hoppers
at the UP rail yard. Tonight’s no different. Two green
diesels pull their loads slowly in from the north,
their speed limited by poor rail joints and rotted
crossties. The headlights and a Leslie air horn warn
of their arrival, but I stand firm, a few yards from
the tracks. As the last sand-filled car lumbers by me
and moves south out of town, I step onto the tracks,
light up, and watch the F.R.E.D. light blinking back
at me. I lift the cigarette to my lips, and as the freight
crosses the Chetek River trestle and fades from sight,
I drop the butt onto the ballast between the rails,
walk back to my car, prepared for the darkness ahead.
Two Bedroom House For Sale in Chetek, WI
The bulbous shadow of the water tower falls over
the crossing gates where freight trains run alongside
the Keg-and-Cork. I came to this town with a woman
named Keary Lea, and we looked at houses to buy.
She died in Chicago several years later, mostly alone.
I still have the ticket in my wallet. I can leave anytime,
but the streamlined passenger train hasn’t stopped
here for almost forty-seven years and the railroad depot
is just a sun-burnt shadow in the weeds across the tracks
from the lumberyard. An entire forest of mixed hardwoods
was chopped and milled into thick rectangles to support
ninety pound jointed rail shipped across the country
from Pittsburgh steel mills now shuttered and turned
into malls. The house we bought is back on the market.
The Ice Finally Goes Out on Lake Chetek
There are frequent cracks this morning
from out on the lake as the ice goes out,
followed by musical minutes that sound
as if someone was scattering chandeliers
on a wood floor one handful of crystals
at a time. You lie there for hours until
it goes silent, and when you get out of bed
and walk out on the deck for a smoke,
the lake is calm, a deep blue-black that barely
rises against the small beachfront outside
your parent’s house. The pier that runs
into the lake from the foot of the stairs
is twisted. Posts lean hard left while planks
of wood are snapped and separated from frame.
A large gap has formed between where stairs
end and pier begins, as if it were an organ
rejected by the body of a sand and rock-filled
shoreline. You think about making the leap
from the bottom step onto the wounded decking,
but the odd angle of it, plus the dark cold color
of the water gives you pause. Instead, you slip
from your shoes and walk down to the sand
and let the icy water rise against your feet.
You’re aware of being watched, and if you turn
around you’ll see your mother up in the bay
window, a worried look on her face. The same
look she has been wearing since you drove
up last week to get away from the lawyers,
the paperwork, and the angry phone calls, all
the non-stop reminders of another failure.
Although this time you think it’s not your fault,
even if it still seems like frozen needles penetrate
your skin, and a thin layer of bluish ice stretches
across every surface that is not yet numb.