Jerome (part one): A Figure from the Common Lot
Book Two: 1876
On an oxbow
The current passes
A fallen tree, submerged
At a cross-angle, green murky-brown
Depths, hot from the sun
The surface still, gnats rise
Kingfishers, blackbirds, bank swallows
The river has right-of-way
The month was August. The steam-whistle blasted a warning, for the Cookesville spur was the end of the line, and the locomotive was about to be decoupled and moved to the turn-table. The platform’s exchange of humanity numbered in the dozens. And most of these―few Cookesville citizens being in the habit of startling their relatives by meeting them at the depot―had just left the cars.
Porters strode, one man in front, ushering, one behind, pushing, at a single luggage cart laden with travel trunks; this went down the ramp and up the alley, making for the Columbia Hotel. The station master checked his watch; others, noticing this, felt prompted to check their own watches. The two-faced clock that hung from an iron bracket bolted to the station house exterior pitched in, and tolled its own clanging note that rang across the platform.
A traveler, resting his back against the same wall, flinched; and for a moment, his weary face became animated. He set his lips in a sour line, his expression that of a man harried by yet another thing. He had, for ten minutes, held his portmanteau and witnessed with relief the clearing of the cars; he now dropped the bag at his feet. He withdrew his own watch, and saw that it was, as the depot clock had wound down to confirming, eleven in the morning.
The bag was not heavy, but to the traveler, it seemed so. The brim of his hat cast shadows that accentuated the hollows under his eyes. Among hats, this was a quality specimen, purchased from one of dozens of specialty shops that lined Denver’s Laramie Street. The traveler had found downtown Denver to be something like an Exposition that went on for all time. The hat bore his name, inked onto the maker’s label, affixed to the band inside the crown. He was dressed, somewhat to the detriment of the posh prosperity at which he aimed (for he was very thin), in a closely tailored suit. The traveler had known the extremity of poverty, and had always felt well with himself when his clothes were good.
(2017, Stephanie Foster)