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The Book of Lost Railroad Photographs


ISSUE:  Fall 2010

Something in a locomotive, that black-clad traffic’s rush,
            something in the silver-tinted background: always
that tally of progress & catastrophe, engines wrecked
            those dark men bunched, clutching shovels, indistinct
in coils of smoke, and engines whole: here a crowd of
            dusty workers clustered far from the lens
capped townsmen on a new bridge cutting ribbon;
            with their teeth a flash in shadow of wide brims
still the Author grieves for photos junked, reciting
            ching chong chinaman give me hongkong money give me
names of engines never photographed enough: Sunset Limited
            those nameless ones who laid the iron miles for

the Century, White Star, Zephyr. Admitting he’s grateful for
            what this book calls Empire. Their sole remains:
coincidental & emergent chance that brought the railway
            tools, mahjong tiles, pipe bits; graves unearthed
into being with the means to capture it on film, still
            full of glass & willowware, & in no living memory:
he mourns plates shattered or deliberately erased, mourns
            the tunnels, drill & dynamite, supplies cut off for strike,
the glass used for greenhouses, wifely frivolities: unforgivable
            the real loss of life. All ghosts of smoke & motion now
waste & error; the famed electric bridal sleeper Gladiolus
            in the golden city’s dream dominion, the rumor of America

long-gone & slumbering, that even thus lost rushes on—

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