Power Line

That first time when the yellow trucks rolled in,
One gray day down the meadow by the slough,
He glimpsed red hard-hats scouting the forged terrain
And wondered just what it was they planned to do.
To and from a hired ranch-hand's employ
Each morning and each evening as he'd drive
His pickup on the highway, he'd observe them,
Astir like work-bound bees out from a hive.

Stout woodmen came. They commenced the task.
They chain-sawed brush and trees beside the stream;
Bulldozed them to a pile. Set them ablaze.
Surveymen took their place by numbered team
To put flagged stakes all sprouting from the ground
From east to west as far as one could see;
Stark geometric lines shot straight and true,
Each spaced and marked as perfectly as could be.

Another road? That wouldn't do. There was
No need to transect fields of grain and grass
In this locale. What was it then? He could
Not guess. An addition to the overpass?
But soon, one evening, at the skyline east
There appeared two poles projecting toward the clouds;
So tiny to the eye, but yet how tall,
So staunchly set in earth and, yes, how proud.

"Of course. A power line!" Now he understood.
From that point on his comprehension paced
The march of twin poles down across the slope –
The stakes and colored flaglets all displaced
By concrete anchors and guide wires to grip
Against the coming pull of power and time;
A crew then fastened stacks of bell-shaped glass
Below crossbars, oil-dipped to keep their prime –

Glass insulators shiny, smooth and round
As dinner plates upon a kitchen shelf.
What symmetry! Such grace! He wished that he
Could claim some stock in that design himself.
Then rolling from the hills spread to the east
Approached gigantic spools like dinosaurs
Unwinding mammoth strands of pristine wire,
Slim pole by pole, hour by laborious hour.

Until at last the wires hung above his head
Like some great gardener's Brobdingnagian vine;
He'd almost feel their shadows as he'd pass,
So awesome was their vast unbroken line.
They stretched up to the highest western ridge
And thereupon, for some queer reason, quit:
The last festoon against a silent sky,
The last two poles in somber silhouette.

"Now why," he asked, "should dedicated men
Of industry abandon this undone?"
Had something in their blueprint proved awry?
Some fiscal combat that could not be won?
The questions nettled him. For weeks on end
In his humdrum commuting he'd reflect;
Until one evening with an hour to spare
He resolved he'd grant that mystery less respect.

He took a sideroad that meandered west
And then another north that brought him near
The wire's untimely termination point –
And that was where his error became clear.
The line, indeed, continued past the ridge;
What from the highway seemed to be an end,
Was simply three poles set to form a brace,
Comprising nothing more than just a bend.

An illusion then. But how far did it go?
The resulting question teased upon his mind;
He had to take the next faint pasture trail,
Which climbed that ridge, to see what he might find.
He crossed a wooden culvert by a hedge
And passed along a rock vine-covered fence,
Straddling ruts and wash-outs all the way,
Spurred on by perseverance and suspense.

But when he reached the crown: supernal joy!
There stretched his power line golden in the sun,
Spanning hills and valleys, fields and sky,
Festoons ad infinitum, one by one.
The twin poles in perspective across the land
Continued, he felt sure, to heaven's door.
"Ah power line!" he cried out. "Were choice but mine,
I'd track your train of gold forevermore."

- Mark Scheel


Originally published in the Emporia Journal
Used by permission of the poet

November 12, 1999 / John & Susan Howell / Wichita, Kansas / howell@kotn.org

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