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On the Pioneer

STORY: “Pioneer,” an Amtrak train that once ran from Chicago, through Wyoming, to Portland, Oregon. I’ve met and lusted over 100s and 100s of men over the years, many of whom have been lost to my memory. This cowboy remains strong and clear in my mind. Here is the original poem:


We meet on the Pioneer

somewhere near Rawlins.

Each headed west to Portland

another twenty hours away.

Your shy grin wins me over instantly.

Wyoming cowboy with sweet blue eyes

and a hint of melancholy.

No frills, no hype, not even an outfit.

You nurse a Coke.

Young daughter at your side

drawing sea creatures.

She spent Christmas in Rawlins with Grandma.

Usual Amtrak small talk…

– Where you headed?

– Where you from?

– Long ride, ain’t it?

But small talk turns deep.

Two strangers bare souls.

Just a single train trip to describe a lifetime.

We’ll not meet again so what the hell?

You speak of lost love and

a marriage gone sour.

Grew up on a ranch near Sundance

and worked as a stonemason.

You moved with your wife to Portland

to put her through school.

But things didn’t work out.

We talk about art, education, and

the Dakota Badlands.

We share a love of the landscapes

Of the American West.

I describe disappointment in myself

for unmet goals as an artist,

But you strongly encourage me not to give up.

Still, neither of us talks about

what really needs to be shared.

Fear of rejection.

We get to Portland –

me to stay with a friend

you to return your daughter to her mother

and then go back to Wyoming.

In the station waiting for baggage

you break away from the others

and join me

to escape the tense quiet with your wife.

Oh! Do I want to take you home!

Not the right time or place.

So we warmly embrace

with a parting goodbye

Real nice talking with you.

I miss you.

Have a good life.

– Kirk Bell


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