Nebraska Center for Writers

CROSSING IOWA ON AMTRAK
by STEPHEN C. BEHRENDT

Where did the people go
who left these railside towns,
these interrupted rows of red-brick buildings
like some gap-toothed smile that creases Main Street?
The old buildings that remain, too tall now
for the shortened stature of street and town,
present the rail line their back windows--
blind and empty, lensless--
while their stuccoed, panelled, metal-fronted faces
mar the empty noon of the town square
where cars are rust-eaten, trucks old,
overalled men bent and sidling.

There are no young faces; schools boarded up,
churches peeling, their brown lawns
straggling in the humid breeze;
even the plastic flowers in the ragged cemetery
tilt and pale where no one comes.

Unkempt piles of torn-up crossties tip and spill
in trackside stretches where other rails once lay
when thirty trains a day brought life,
and news, and wagons filled these streets
that now bake empty at midday.

The train slices through them one after another,
a line drawn through their hearts
like the slash that cuts the null,
stopping no more at any.
Their numbers grow, their people falling away
like bricks from the cornices,
glass from the shattered, blinded windows.

Reprinted with permission
from A Step in the Dark
Copyright © 1997
by Stephen C. Behrendt
Mid-List Press


STORM WARNING
by STEPHEN C. BEHRENDT

The air takes on a certain edge--
the distinctive tinge of fine dry dust
sprinkled lightly before the rush of southwest wind--
as we stand here, dry still on this south-fronting porch,
faces lifted slightly in anticipation
in this fragrant surge, this breeze portending rain.
Hot: this day lies fading, sloping thick and heavy
down the western horizon, tracking the weary sun
even as a wedge of clouds swells up from the south.

We wait, pausing like the late bathing cardinals
that cool in the final fan of sprinkler-spray
before we shut it off, certain now
the soaking rains will come, will come.
The sky darkens slowly from the east,
abruptly from the southwest, rumbling.
The wind has gone: the leaves hang limp and soundless
like pennants in the humid air that wraps them, clinging.

And the wind rises again, after the pause.
The birds move off swiftly: at once
the yard is empty, the street silent
but for the sound of this straight, high wind
building above the trees--
building where our aging maples reach,
like the blighted elms that line the stretch,
for the chill relief impending from the dark:
this high and driving rain coming on,
coming in hard from the south.

Reprinted with permission
from Instruments of the Bones
Copyright © 1992
by Stephen C. Behrendt
Mid-List Press

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