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After a life lived lying down on the job,
(Mostly with an uninterrupted view of the sky
Save for the occasional blinding blur of bogies
And clanking carriages overhead
Which rattled ribs in serried rank
And spattered their unblinking wooden eyes
With great gobs and gouts of grease and oil),
They were unceremoniously
From their hard-hoggin beds:
Stripped of the twin steels that measured their meaning;
Craned onto a rickety old flat-bed
That had seen better days itself
And carted slowly up the line
As the line itself was being steadily ripped up behind,
To be racked and stacked
And stranded in some siding somewhere:
Then stamped:
‘Surplus to Railway Requirement’.

Jammed cheek by jowl,
Having ridden the rails now themselves
(Apologising all the while to their wooden brethren
Passing away below),
They reflected, in the way only the old and retired may do,
Upon all that had ridden rough-shod and unaware over them:-

The mail-train racing billets-doux between beloveds
Faster than her fragrance could fade from the pores of the paper,
So her essence could caress him
Even before her words could kiss his heartache
And leave so much lipstick upon his longing
It’d last til their lips touched again.
All this at the same speed as the last red bill before the bailiffs
Could hunger and salivate its un-thinly-veiled threats
Onto some poor sod’s unwelcome mat.

The troop trains of two sides in two wars,
Chock-full of bravado-fuelled fodder for the frontline.
Standing room only for the outward journey
Towards the known, but never spoken, statistics of attrition
Whose deathly truth has its living memorial
Graven in the granite countenances of widows and combat veterans:
That the return service will have seats to spare
Whilst new ghosts strap-hang a silence the living may not dare.

Freightliners hauling and drudging coal, ores or other heavy-duty cargoes
Bound for the factories and furnaces,
Then returning with the gleaming first-fruits of their productivity:
Cars hitching a free ride like well-heeled hobos;
White goods heading for the family kitchen and indispensability;
DIY bits ‘n’ bobs looking for a mug like me.

Passengers from first to economy class
Eating up the meals and miles
Trying to make sense of the high-velocity scenery
Streaming past them more rapidly than the eye can see.
Sabbath-keepers herded more cruelly than cattle:
Compressed, choking, dehydrated, starving
To freeze or fry the distance to death or death camp.

The sleepers, they remember –
And their memories are long,
They’re deep ingrained with our joy and pain,
Our silences and song.

The sleepers, they remember –
They have nothing else to do
But to pour over the sounds they’ve been under,
And wonder about me and you.