Atlantic Coast Line by Charles Cantrell

Atlantic Coast Line

I smiled when I dropped the capsule
in the smokestack of my toy train’s engine.
A gust of smoke, and the train rolled down
and around the brass narrow-gauge track.
Sometimes before sleep I’d sneak down
and rub the rails, click my nails on the tracks—
a kind of music. Not far away around 3 a.m.
a real train would hoot like an owl.
I pictured it hauling boxcars past the marsh
where I played cowboys and Indians
with my brother and buddies. Whooping
and hollering, we would run across the tops
of boxcars parked beside Maxwell House Coffee.

My father got tired of me playing
with the train while he watched TV,
so, while I was at school, he took it
to the Salvation Army.
I think he was drinking that day,
because he forgot the track, which later
I hid under my bed. Whenever my parents
arguing, woke me, I’d reach under
and touch the smooth rails,
then go to my window and wait
for that owl-like horn. I saw myself,
cap and coveralls, as the engineer
pulling the lever, then reaching for the cord
to sound the horn—my eyes looking down
the tracks, those parallel lines that seem
to meet if you can see far enough.


Charles Cantrell has poems in recent or forthcoming issues of Miramar Poetry Journal, The Café Review, The Hamilton Stone Review, and Stand. A book of poetry, Wild Wreckage, was recently published (2020) by Cervena Barva Press. He’s also been nominated 3 times for a Pushcart Prize, and has received fellowships form Ragdale, Ucross, the Vermont Studio Center, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.

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