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The Barnum & Bailey Train

Boones Ferry Crossing, 1949

I roll the morning papers one
by one, stuff my bags tight, ride
my bike head and shoulders above
thick fog hunkered in the hollow,
strain against the steep hill
hovering beyond the tracks.

In a blink, the Barnum & Bailey
train appears! Cars with molded
curlicues of gold and ruby, silver
and jade, hug the cotton plane
like a row of candy-sprinkled
cookies floating in a bowl of milk.
I brake at the crossing sign, hold
my breath, stand as still as I can.

The engine stops at the water tank.
Steam swirls about its wheels
like drifting snow. The calliope
sounds a string of shrill notes.
Roustabouts bob in the fog
like shipwreck victims, pitching
hay, filling water troughs
from wooden buckets, ribbed
undershirts, felt hats, suspenders
the uniform of the day.

Baffled windows squint
in the pearly light. Elephant's
trunk, giraffe's head, tiger's tail,
flashes of pale flesh, brocades
and bright feathers. Agog,
I peek inside a universe
reserved for those with passes,
today's news already old,
cold, forgotten in fog.

[Published in Northwest Magazine]