Scenes from an Epic 1

Detail of the BX Building in St. Thomas, Ontario.
Photo by Eric Adriaans

Scene 1

Old engine 5700 sits solid and quiet
As winter snow drifts and glides down. Ceaselessly down.
This town is more than two hundred years old
But nobody seems to notice the history standing silent in the air.

5700’s massive boiler sits hollowed, humbled; empty in the empty yard
Black and green. Militarily austere. Her working days long dead.
And the town hustles along, quietly losing its history.
Maybe we’re all too busy, too tired or too hungry to care.

5700. Exposed. Frozen. Standing with a gaudy tour car bundled in a tarp;
Green. Cold.  Tiny hints of summertime thrills peek out
From the gawker-car’s shawl. Remembering disposable income spent on…
...What? Maybe history. Receding from memory in a seasonal burial.

5700 hunches under the pristine white power of a cellular tower
Beaming communications around the globe – through space and time.
5700 glares down the tracks past the BX tower from whose windows
You can’t see the future, only a bloody century’s war memorial

And a vacant lot, still haunted by memories of the Sutherland Press
Whence issued biscuits, chocolates, tobacco boxes and paper products;
Now just another main-street vacancy,  idled for an indefinite future
Whether an hour, a year or a decade. The mean times' homilies.

Further on, the Old St. Thomas Church sits emptied but of trees and graves
The voices of the annual carol perhaps still resonating a quiet tradition
Though the caroling is done, the cider done, the tarts and cookies gone
I seem to hear the old bell's toll, toll, tolling of years and families.

And I’m staring out this window as winter comes floating down
A vibrant colouring of history lays at my feet
This yard once radiated the smoke and power of young industries
Radiates now through twists of optic fibres carrying my voice

I want to clamber over that blue fence there blocking access to 5700
Keep off.  The tangible past is off limits. But,
I want to embrace two hundred years of history churning forward still
I want to chuff chuff chuff down the tracks to live and rejoice

Instead, my voice smokes down the fibre optics
To New York. Vancouver.  New Orleans.  Chicago. Wherever.
Plastic and glass. Digital memories of 5700 and parallel rails
This place, this work and its ghosts sitting at town's heart after 200 years

The spirit of the community boils along, though 5700 sits frozen 
And the wind that blasts down the long avenue 
No longer carries shrieking steam-whistles nor billowing coal smoke 
The past long-yielded to the demands of new electronic frontiers. 

The locomotive idles in the quietly piling winter snow 
And the past has never been closer at hand. 
In another few hours I’ll crunch crunch crunch along the cold streets
To home, warm with family and filled with the promise of a New Year.