Boxcar Betty Catches The Westbound – by Leslie Casey

There wasn’t a place could lure you to stay, you said, feet planted,

that big bosom swagger every tramp’s dream. You swore an afterlife

on trains, rocked in a cradle of wooden crates as you shot the flat

plains in a boxcar, smoke from a cigar and the sun

warming your dusty shroud.

Your love affair with trains–more than the need to work, follow the harvest

for the feel of cotton, coins warming your hand. Nights, the moan

of the whistle in the dark became your mother’s weeping, your father

telling you the money was gone.

He sent you out young. Click of the rails and the reek of creosote,

At every jungle you emptied your pockets: navy beans, an ear of corn,

feeding the night with hobo tales.

Eyes in the firelight cast a distance

no train could span. Loneliness,

and something beyond your grasp–

the way the canyon swam in the moon

as the train bore you over the trestle.

An open freight car, wind keening

through the slats, low-flying cloud.

* “Catching the Westbound”: an expression used by hobos when one of their own dies.

Woman Walking on a Train Rail – Photo by Victor Freitas

Leslie Casey’s poetry has appeared in CV2, Queen’s Alumni Magazine and The Amethyst Review, as well as numerous anthologies. She won the 2009 Whittaker Poetry Competition and Queen’s 2008 Well-Versed Poetry Competition. Leslie’s poetry won first place in CV2’s 2015 2-Day Poem Contest, and was a finalist in The Malahat Review’s 2015 Open Season Awards. She placed first in the Scugog Arts 2020 Ekphrastic Poem Contest. Leslie is working (slowly) on a full-length manuscript.

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